It’s probably a bit late for this post; most of you have eaten up whatever leftovers you had from Christmas already. But I thought I’d pass this one along, now that I’ve tested it for several days in a row. It’s good eating, and it’s a versatile recipe that goes from soup to stew as you wish. The basic recipe is the one for lentil soup in Joy of Cooking, but the base of that recipe is the heart of just about any vegetable based soup out there. I just amped it up a bit. Ok, a lot. We had a rather large amount of leftover ham, and this was one way to get rid of most of it. This recipe starts out as lentil soup, but winds up a a really hearty ham stew. A never ending, seemingly bottomless pot of stew
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
5 stalks of celery, sliced
2 large onions, chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups of dried lentils ( 1lb bag), rinsed off and set aside to soak in hot water for a few minutes
Put a good splash of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot that can hold at least 10 quarts. Heat the oil on medium and add the onions. Stir them around for 2 minutes then add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Keep stirring until the veg start to soften but not brown. Call it about 8 minutes. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme in and give it a stir. Drain off the lentils and pour stir in. Add a bay leaf if you want. Now pour in a quart of low sodium chicken broth and a quart of water. Stir. Raise the heat until the soup starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover, and let it cook 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, gather up 3 medium potatoes or 2 large ones. Peel them and dice them. Get out the leftover ham and carve off a big thick slice. About a pound. Dice it.
After the basic soup has been simmering for half an hour, add the potatoes. Let them cook for 10 minutes, then add the ham. If things look too thick, add a half cup or so of water. Cook things up for another 15 minutes until the lentils are soft. Give the soup a dozen or so big grinds of rough ground black pepper, stir that in, fish out the bay leaf and serve it. This makes a tasty full-flavor, full-bodied soup. The smoky ham adds a nice depth to the flavor, and there is sufficient amounts of veg floating around so that you know you’re having soup instead of some slightly enhanced broth. Even though we soaked our ham in water for more than a day to get most of the salt out, and even though I specified low-sodium chicken broth, there is no need to add any salt at all to this soup. If you stop right there you’ve got a nice soup for about 10 people. It’s just the 2 of us here, so we did that, ate some, had some more, and still had plenty left. Put what’s left in the fridge.
Take the leftover soup out of the fridge and run it through a blender or a food processor to puree it. Heat it up again and serve it. A little steamed broccolli on the side, maybe a bit of cheese and some crackers. It’s still good, and the puree blends in the carrots, which some people would rather leave in her bowl. Eat your fill, then put what’s left in the fridge.
Damn, we still have loads of ham left. And look at that wonderful shank bone ... can’t wait to make some awesome split pea soup, but first we have to finish off this massive pot of soup.
Carve off two thick slices of ham this time, and discard any excess fat and leathery pieces of skin. Roughly dice the meat. Call it another pound, or a generous double handful. Whatever. Add the ham to the puree and heat it up again. Finely dice another stalk of celery into the pot. It is now officially stew. Serve in large bowls with some fresh French or Italian bread on the side and something to drink. Eat your fill and put what’s left in the fridge.
Crivens, this is never going to end, is it? Good thing it tastes so damn good. Take the ham stew out of the fridge, dice up another 2 potatoes, and add them to the pot along with 1 cup of low sodium broth. See if you can whittle another handful or two of ham bits off the bone. In they go. Heat it up and let it simmer half an hour. Serve in big bowls and convince each other that, yes, you really do have room for a second bowl. Eat. Eat. Eat it up already!! Put what’s left back in the fridge.
Invite the neighbors over for some wonderful homemade ham stew! Open up some red wine ahead of time, and make up a big shaker full of Manhattans. Do that thing with the rosemary, roasted garlic, and Camembert cheese I wrote about last week as an appetizer, then after refilling everyone’s glasses serve up the stew in great big latte bowls with the rest of the bread on the side. Have some more wine! Hey, have some more stew, we’ve got plenty!