Two branches on legume family tree

Beans, peas and lentils are branches on the legume family tree, as are peanuts, asparagus beans, soybeans, black-eyed peas and sugar snap peas. Besides being versatile, legumes are high in fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous. Naturally low in fat, contain slim to none of saturated fat, and cholesterol free as well, they are almost a perfect little food within themselves. Almost, except that they contain a compound known as an “anti-nutrient”.
This compound, phytic acid, when legumes are eaten raw, can bind to essential minerals and prevent the body from absorbing them. To fix this, soaking, sprouting, and boiling will reduce the level of the phytic acid, allowing the body to absorb needed minerals for good health. Since boiling was mentioned, this will be a good lead in to soups, specifically lentil and split pea soups.
Lentils, I do not know why folks cringe and/or make faces when they hear that word. The lentil is actually a seed which has its outer coating removed once dried. In taste and texture, they are similar to beans, but cook more quickly. While they can be served as a side dish (combined with caramelized onions, garlic and thyme), my favorite way of eating them is in soup.
When it comes to a bean, split pea or lentil soup of any kind, I am more of a purist; the legume should be the star while the other ingredients are supporting actors. Depending on how spontaneous my want of soup is, or if it is for a later meal, decides how the soup is cooked; stove top or crock pot. For my Lentil Soup recipe, I am going to make it all vegetarian first; then will post options for adding different spices, herbs and meats.
Lentil Soup for the Crock Pot
Ingredients: 2 cups dry lentils, 4 cups water, 4 cups vegetable broth, 1 medium onion, diced, 2 large stalks of celery, diced, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. fine sea salt, 1 tsp. Italian herbal mix, 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
Put the lentils in a large bowl, cover with the water; cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. Next day, strain lentils from water; place in a 6-quart crockpot with all other ingredients listed. Set on low and cook for 8 to 10 hours; until lentils are tender.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Lentil Soup for the Stove Top
Ingredients: 2 Tbsp vegetable, canola or peanut oil, 1 medium onion, diced, 2 large stalks of celery, diced, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 2 cups dry lentils, 4 cups vegetable broth, 1 tsp. fine sea salt, 1 tsp. Italian herbal mix, 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
In a large soup pot, sauté the onion and celery on medium heat until softened (about 10 minutes); add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes being careful that the garlic does not brown or burn. Stir in remaining ingredients from the list; when bubbles begin to form around edge of pot, reduce to low, cover and cook for 60 to 90 minutes; until lentils are tender.
Makes 6-8 servings.
• before serving, add 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill.
• for a spicier taste, add ground chile powder; the amount is dependent on how you want it.
• skip the onion, celery and minced garlic; roast two heads of garlic, squeeze the pulp into soup mix and let cook according to crockpot or stove top time.
• brown a 1/2 pound of bacon, ground lamb, ground beef or sausage (mild, hot, Italian), drain fat, and add with the other ingredients at cooking start.
• use beef broth instead of vegetable broth
When it comes to split pea soup, I use my maternal grandmother’s recipe. She immigrated, from Croatia, in 1925, with her husband, and was pregnant with my uncle. In 1935, she gave birth to my mother. My mother recalls, when she was a little girl that she would go to the butcher for ham shanks, and four would only cost 25 cents. My grandmother began teaching me how to cook when I was five years old. To pass on the cooking tradition, when he was six years old, I began teaching my son. His first job, at age 15, was at a pizzeria, and to this day, he continues to work in the food industry.
Split peas are field peas which are hulled, then split in half along the natural seam. Splitting them in half allows them to cook faster than if they remained whole. Some folks claim that there is no need to pre-soak overnight, but in my experience, this did not work out well for my soup. So, yes, I will stick to what my nanny taught me.
Split Pea Soup
Ingredients: 2 cups dried split peas, cold water, 1 large smoked ham shank,
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices, 3 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes, 1 large onion, chopped, 2 cups fine egg noodles, uncooked
In a large bowl, cover the split peas with water; soak overnight and drain.
In a 5-quart stock pot, on high heat, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; add in the peas, carrots, potatoes, onion and ham shank, cover. Occasionally stirring, let these cook until the meat can easily leave the bone; about 30 minutes. Remove the ham shank, pull off and shred the meat, return meat to stock pot.
Let the soup cook another 30 minutes before adding in the egg noodles. Cook an additional 10 minutes and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings.
If ham shanks cannot be found, shred up some nicely roasted ham.
Healthy, hardy and comforting, lentil and split peas soups are definitely a must have.

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