The one that got away – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup

Lentil Soup-0206

Shouldn’t Prairie Home Companion have a folksy sponsor like the American Soup Council to tout this most comforting of all dishes?  Imagine the catchphrases: “Soup – we’ve got your back,” or “Soup – a mom in every bowl,” or even, “Soup – at least the barn didn’t burn down.”  That’s how I feel about this week’s spicy makeover – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup.  I just had a bowl.  It was all the things soup should be – tasty and warm and reassuring.  It certainly dispelled some of the gloom attendant on my losing this week’s photographs.

That’s right, I lost them.

If you pick up a camera I guarantee you will eventually have a story to tell about botching a shoot.  I recently read a professional photographer’s account of taking outside group shots at the wedding of friends, only to discover the next day that wide black bands marred all of the photos (she had forgotten to change her camera settings after coming from a previous job).  This woman is famous for photographing celebrities in high-stress circumstances, say, two minutes between takes on a movie set.  My stomach clenched  just imagining the telephone call to those newlyweds.  “Uh, can we talk?”  That kind of experience would scar me too badly to ever pick up a camera again.  She went on to recount two more disasters.

We had a lot going on this weekend that needed photographing–including a managers’ brunch for 20 at our house–and I allowed myself–just this once–to break a cardinal rule: take the pictures and immediately upload them to a computer.  That way, if something happens to the CF card. . .   You know the next plot point, right?  One of the two cards with blog photos disappeared, the one with the exciting stovetop action and the finished dish.  Fortunately the remaining card contained some shots of ingredients and some photos of my lunch after the shoot.  Oh, and thank God, none of the superfluous arty takes on carrots were lost.

My negligence didn’t cost anyone their wedding pics–that’s a relief.  Jody’s been sympathetic–we’ve never had a disaster (not unless you count some of the photos that did make it into our early blog posts).  As for the missing photos, the soup is easy, you’ll figure it out.  Learn from me–upload your photos right now!  Then reward yourself with a bowl of Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup.  There now, don’t you feel better?  Enjoy.


Lentil Soup-0097


Makes 8 cups


  • 2 ancho peppers
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, washed well and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 stalk celery, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup small dark lentils, preferably Umbrian, picked over for dirt and stones and rinsed
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 6-8 cups stock or water
  • 1 large head escarole, leaves washed well and cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
  • 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into ¼-inch julienne
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (optional)
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. Soak the ancho peppers in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes.  They should be soft and pliable.  Remove the seeds and stem and chop into ¼-inch pieces,
  2. Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the leek, celery and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and lentils and cook 3 minutes.  Add the bay leaves, thyme sprig, the strained pepper water and 6 cups of water or stock. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 25 minutes or until the lentils are just done.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining ¼ cup of oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the escarole, season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing often, until wilted and seared.  Add the peppers and paprika reduce the heat to low.  Add several ladles of the broth, poured through a strainer and lentils put back in the soup pot.  Cover and cook 5 minutes.
  4. Add the escarole mixture to the lentils and simmer 5 minutes.  Add the oregano, and additional broth if needed/desired.  I added 2 more cups for a total of 8.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve with optional sherry vinegar and grated cheese.

Lentil Soup 2-1-2

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Lentil Soup 3-1-2

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Lentil Soup-0205

Jody Notes:

The resemblance of lentils to coins, at least in Italian eyes, makes them a symbol of good fortune, a natural choice for a traditional New Year’s Eve dish, when they’re served with cotechino, a yummy pork sausage.  I’m all for good fortune, but mindful of new beginnings, I kept our first soup of 2014 on the lean side.  Instead of depending on pork sausage to add depth, I infused the soup with the flavor of peppers, specifically ancho and paprika. But If your new beginning requires pork sausage, feel free. 

Long before Lacinato kale became the culinary silver bullet for all things evil I was in love with greens.  The spinach in the spinach and mozzarella pies from Federal Hill, in Providence, was an early attachment.  When someone introduced me to escarole its sharp flavor put the hook in me deep. One of my first inspirations as a newly-minted chef was to pair slow-roasted duck with braised escarole.  More than twenty years later I still serve duck that way. Lentil soup, which often needs a bit of perking up, seemed like another good partner for the bitter green. You might think from looking at the ingredients photo that the soup was going to be all about escarole, but it cooks down into a tender and silky co-star. Lentils are still the leading actor.   

You can eat the soup as is, but Roxanne and I wanted a touch more acid, so we each added a splash of sherry vinegar to our bowls.  Ken thought a bit of grated cheese might be a nice option as well.  

25 thoughts

  1. Perfect soup for a snowy/rainy day in MA! And also a perfect way to break the GOOP 7-day detox which my cousins and I have been on, today is Day 6, so Sunday is the day to technically be a glutton, but we have been warned to wean our way back to the eliminated foods/drinks (including alcohol, caffeine, sugar, soy, meat, shellfish, dairy, grains containing gluten, processed foods, condiments, nightshade vegetables), else risk getting sick. This might be just the ticket and it looks so yummy and so comforting, also good for a crowd and we have Bookclub on Sunday. THANKS!!

    • Thank you. The soup is humble, but tasty. We were blogging today for next week and as soon as we finished I transferred the photos. I don’t want to get to the “fool me twice” stage. Ken

  2. A mom in every bowl! I love that. I always tell my children that I’m going to follow them to college in order to make soup. And, I was that newlywed who received that phone call. Ugh! Still married 21 years later!

    • It took me a second to get your comment (I was imagining a newlywed being offered soup advice from her mother). How awful! My sister, remarked on the photos of one her children’s recent marriage. “We got a lot of nice pictures of THINGS [atmosphere shots] but wedding photos, no, not a lot of those.” Oh, well. Glad to hear you’re still married. We were actually foolish enough to cook for our wedding reception. Ha! And we lived to tell the tale. Ken

  3. Phew, we still have the arty shots of carrots! The soup sounds delicious, pity husband is not into soup, maybe I can use less stock and call it stew.. When you say Chinese vinegar works well, did you use black rice vinegar, or something else? Thanks!

    • You know, after I wrote that line, I thought, “People will know I’m being sarcastic, right?” Regarding the vinegar–yes, black rice vinegar. Ours says CHINKIANG VINEGAR on the label. It’s a great condiment.


  4. I cannot imagine the horror of messing up someone’s wedding photos. With that said, this soup sounds wonderful (I love the catch-phrases!) and your photos are always amazing…thank goodness some of them made it on this page! I love escarole and don’t think it gets enough credit in the food world. Once in a while I make a very simple dish of it sauteed with garlic and white beans…ahhh…heaven. Another great post, Ken! :)

  5. Beautiful soup, lentils are always the star of many a dish in my opinion. Great for making vegetarian dishes almost meaty, especially puy. It’s hard to get endive here, let alone escarole, although i should perhaps therefore be growing it!

    • Thanks. Lentils are always in our larder, in different colors. Escarole, on the other hand, is something I need to remind myself to buy, then after cooking and eating it I always wonder why we eat so much kale and not more escarole. Its got a great flavor and texture, though perhaps a bit less PR. I’m curious about whether you get enough sun and warm days for escarole and endive. Good luck. Ken

    • Thanks, Michelle. I agree. Pretty bland. I think my problem comes from having dated too many women in college who thought either lentils or carrots with curry was wildly exotic. BUT, with a little forethought, quite tasty. Thanks for the photo sympathy. Ken

  6. I could definitely use some of this soup for Denver winters. We made a more humble lentils recipe over the weekend, and it was good, too. I’ve had an aversion to lentils for several years now, but I’ve changed my tune this year. Sorry to hear about the photo problem.

  7. The soup was amazing with so many different layers of flavor. This is a keeper! One note, is that you didn’t direct to remove the thyme stalks or bay leaves. thanks!

    • Thanks, Julie. You’re right–we didn’t mention it. We go back and forth: Do we need to say that? Need to tell people not to serve it with the herbs in it? Part of the reason is that we often have leftovers and we like leaving the herbs in the soup. But the fact that it was of concern to you says we probably ought to say something. Glad you enjoyed it anyhow. Thanks. Ken

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