Rich bean soups are classic winter comfort food. They are filling, healthy and inexpensive, making them a worthy addition to the menu rotation. The downside to dried bean cookery is the time it takes to soak and then cook the beans. Canned beans are a reasonable substitute, although they cost more than three times the price of their dried, bagged counterparts.
An easy, money-saving solution is lentils, which you can find easily at any grocery store, next to the dried beans. Brown lentils, the type you’ll most likely find in inexpensive bags next to the rice, don’t require any soaking, although a good rinse is recommended. They are cooked to tender perfection in about a half-hour. Green lentils are a little thicker and firmer than brown lentils (and often a little pricier), so they take a few minutes more to cook. Red lentils are softer, holding their shape less, so they are best used for sauces or stews where you are seeking a thicker, creamier texture.
Don’t let the cheap price fool you: The everyday brown lentil is a nutrition powerhouse. One serving has more than 8 grams of filling fiber, 9 grams of protein and a nice array of vitamins and minerals, including over half the daily requirement of folate and nearly 20 percent of our daily iron.
Lentils have an earthy, mild flavor, so they easily take on the flavors of other ingredients. Today’s recipe for Smoky Lentil Soup is plant-based, which means it’s truly jam-packed with health-boosting foods but it’s also full of flavor. It gets its smokiness from smoked paprika, instead of the traditional ham bone, and a little bit of cumin. Finely chopped mushrooms add meaty depth of flavor.