January 20, 2024

Cold Weather Lentil Soup with Chard, kale and Garlic

A robust and delicious cold weather soup

Before you start thinking this soup will require a day in the kitchen using 8 prep bowls and every pot and pan in the cabinet to make a single soup, it will not.

This morning I am writing to you from my small 1930s vintage home in Historic Beaufort. I love getting up in the early morning hours before most of the world starts stirring. By the time the church bells ring 6 times across the street at St. Helena's church, circa 1712, I have had several cups of my favorite dark roast coffee. My porch thermometer has dipped into the 30s and when it does, I think of steaming hot bowls of soup loaded with nutritious vegetables. I collected some gorgeous chard at the Port Royal Farmer's market and some farm fresh kale. It will make the most delicious soup. I can't wait to get started.

I look forward to winter every sticky, steaming summer, but when the thermometer on my porch reads below 30, I shiver, hurry inside, and start thinking of cozy, comforting soups. While most of the nation is under a blanket of snow with arctic-like temperatures, this brittle South Carolina cold snap sends me into the kitchen, stirring and simmering a delicious pot of this magical elixir. Days like this one require their own comforting meal. I’ve chosen to make Lentil and Chard Soup because it is one of the most delicious, nutritious, hearty soups with sizzling garlic oil on top - perfect for a frigid January day.

I believe soup making is one of the most gratifying experiences of all in the vast spectrum of culinary activities. The process of stirring and simmering brings forth the nurturing instincts inside every soup maker. It nourishes the soul in truly magical ways. One of the things I love most about living in this corner of the South is the spectacular array of abundantly grown vegetables available the year around. Every Saturday, they are displayed on rickety tables throughout the morning at the Port Royal Farmers Market. This time of year, it’s hard to resist the spinach, chard, and kale fresh from the gardens of the Lowcountry. I have never tasted more intensely flavored and perfect vegetables anywhere in the world. They concentrate the earthy taste of our salt-misted shores and refresh us like the froth of our ocean waves. Use the freshest ingredients you can find, and this soup will be irresistible.

There are several different types of lentils in different colors and any of them will work just fine. The leafy vegetable with touches of red and green leaves is chard and the other is kale. All are sure to work great in this recipe or any combination of them. Of course, spinach is a veggie we all know.

Serves 6-8

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced or diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in the recipe)
  • Kosher salt
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup green lentils, sorted and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6 cups water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves, spinach or kale or any combination
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish
  • 2 large links of sweet Italian sausage, optional
  • On the stove: Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to generously coat the bottom of the pot) in a large pot on medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the optional sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like your soup spicy. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften for another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, 6 cups water, more salt, and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender about 40 minutes. (It might be necessary to add more water if the soup gets too thick, though we preferred ours on the thick side.)
    Once the lentils are cooked, add the chard, spinach, or kale and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few more minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

Just before serving: Divide the soup into bowls and add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a skillet over medium heat until the garlic softens. This is a game-changer. Drizzled this over the soup bowls and top with fresh Romano. Keep any leftovers in the fridge for several days or freeze.