Warning: This easy lentil soup recipe is only for those with good appetites. My son spent the afternoon playing soccer on a cool fall day and he gobbled it up. You should plan on making it several hours before dinnertime and let your kitchen fill with its enticing aroma.
French Salt Pork - Petit Salé
In France we can buy a special sort of salt cured pork called petit salé. It comes in different cuts and the one I used for this lentil soup recipe was very meaty, although I did trim off some of the fat after cooking. If you can't find a good and meaty piece of salt pork, you may wish to substitute a ham hock, which would give you a result similar to the original French recipe.
To prepare a dish with petit salé, you must first get most of the salt out of the pork, otherwise the salt is overwhelming (I know because when I first got to France, I found out the hard way!) To blanche the salt out, place the meat in a large pot of cold water and allow it to sit for two hours, changing the water several times during the process.
OK, we're back to these. The lentil soup recipe I was following called for French green lentils, and as you may already know, these are a speciality of the Auvergne region in France. I happened to have plain old brown lentils in the cupboard, so I just used those and the results were delicious. However, if you want even more authentic French flavor on your plate, do try some Lentilles du Puy. They are absolutely divine tasting and hold up exceptionally well to cooking.
Have you tasted a juicy Toulouse sausage? They are often an ingredient in Cassoulet, the famous French stew featuring white beans and a variety of meats (good eating for those of strong heart). Toulouse sausage is made from pork, onions and wine and is just as delicious as you can imagine. You could substitute another sausage in this lentil soup recipe, but please make sure it is a quality substitution.
Now that you're familiar with some of the ingredients, let's get cooking. This recipe is very simple, but it takes a little time to prepare and cook, so start out early in the afternoon. Don't worry, actual kitchen time is minimal.
Petit Salé aux Lentilles Lentil Soup with Salt Pork
1 pound of Toulouse sausage, or other quality sausage
Blanche the salt pork to remove the salt, by soaking in cold water for two hours and changing the water several times. Drain the water one last time and than fill the pot with about 2 quarts of water, covering the salt pork. Place on low heat to simmer at a very low boil for one hour.
Push 4 or 5 cloves into the onion and add to the pot (this is called an oignon picquet and is a popular way to add subtle flavor to soups and stews in France). Add the lentils, baby onions or chopped onion, carrots, bouquet garni and several pinches of pepper. Cook on medium low heat for 40 minutes to an hour, adding more water if necessary. You want the final product to be just slightly soupy.
Meanwhile boil the sausage in a pot of water. The sausage I used required 25 minutes of boiling, but follow your package directions for cooking times.
Once the lentils are cooked, remove the salt pork and the bouquet garni. Cut the salt pork into bite sized pieces and return it to the pot. Cut the sausage into small pieces as well and add it to the soup.