Lentil & Ham Soup

One of the first things my mother taught me how to cook was lentil soup. We ate it regularly as I grew up. I would ask for it constantly in any weather. Maybe her idea to teach me, was that if I wanted it all the time, I could cook it myself, thereby saving her a job! Whatever the reason, It’s still one of my favourites. So, as the temperature in Sydney cools for winter – it’s time for lentil soup. It warms every inch of the body and takes me back to bitter English winters where there was always a pan on the go. My mother’s recipe would see the ham hock cooked in the soup. I’ve slightly changed her recipe, in that I create my ham stock first before cooking the lentils. For whatever reason, the ham hocks in Australia aren’t quite as smoky or intense as I remember the British ones being, so the soup needs all the help it can get to draw out that salty bacon flavour. It takes longer, but it’s that flavour that makes this soup so special – so I’m happy I’ve struck upon this slight variation. She also left hers chunky, which I like too, but prefer to blend mine ’til smooth. Either way, you must make this etc…

For the stock:

1 ham hock (5-6 deep cuts in the flesh – to the bone)
1 medium onion (quartered)
1 carrot (cut into chunks)
1 stem rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 stems fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves
4 peppercorns

For the soup:
2 cups split red lentils
1 onion (chopped)
1 carrot (chopped)
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
salt & pepper

To make the stock:
Place all the stock ingredients into a large pan along with 3 litres of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 2 hours. Remove from the heat.

Take out the hock and cool slightly. Remove as much meat from the bone as you can – set aside and discard any fat and sinew.

Drain the liquid into another large pan and discard the vegetables and herbs. Add the bone to the liquid along with the lentils, onion, carrot and potatoes. Place this over a moderate heat until just simmering. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes until the lentils have pretty much disintegrated. Remove from the heat. Remove the bone and discard then using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth. Season generously with salt & pepper before serving.

Serve with a little of the ham sprinkled over the soup along with some black pepper and a little drizzle of good quality olive oil or melted butter.

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