Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lentil and Barley "Spring Cleaning" Soup

The past week has been marked with lots of events- erratic weather, the equinox and the first official day of spring- that have all indicated the seasons are changing and spring is coming.  That means it's time for spring cleaning! And your fridge should be no exception. Like any spring cleaning act, it's time to get rid of everything to start fresh for spring.  I always find myself frustrated with what to do with a few leftover carrots, greens that are about to wilt or a half used container of mushrooms.  The spring cleaning solution? Put it all in a soup!

Soups are a great way to use up all your winter veggies before they expire.  For my soup, I added lentils as a source of protein and fiber as well as barley to add whole grains (but also because they had to go!). Carrots, mushrooms and butternut squash made up a bulk of the veggie content and I had fresh dill lying around that I used to season.   Choose your own beans and grains and add any additional veggies you need to get rid of.  You will create a balanced, healthy meal that prevents waste.  In addition, you will be satisfied by that amazingly freeing "spring cleaning" feeling and you will have an easy, hearty soup to help get you through the last of the rainy days.

You can add anything to this soup that you need to get rid of. Based on the vegetables you use, experiment with some spices or seasoning.  Also, while your in your fridge, take the opportunity to get rid of anything that has been lurking there all winter.  Check expiration dates, get rid of that old jar of capers and for god's sake throw away the desserts you've been hoarding since the holidays.  Once the old is out, it's in with the new and soon I will be posting the must have's to stock your kitchen for spring.

Lentil and Barley Spring Cleaning Soup

1 small onion
2 cups of lentils
2 cups of barley (already cooked)
Butternut squash

Begin with a large pot.  Drizzle olive oil and heat over medium.  Dice the onion and saute until translucent.  Soak the lentils in cold water and remove anything that floats, then rinse again to make sure you have removed any debris.  Add the lentils and saute for a few minutes.  Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Add the vegetables and spices and reduce to a simmer.  Allow the lentils to become tender.  Then, add additional water until you reach your desired thickness.  Remember to account for the barley that will be added at the end.  I added 8 cups total.  Once the lentils and vegetables have fully cooked, add the barley.   Simmer for 15 more minutes then serve and enjoy :)

Note: If you are using a grain that is not cooked, add it at the same time as the lentils and add the required amount of water it will absorb during cooking, in addition to the 4 cups for the lentils.

What makes this bite better?
Lentils are loaded with fiber, protein and important nutrients.  The high fiber content helps regulate blood sugar levels to keep you fuller longer and they also have cholesterol lowering effects. At about 230 calories per cup, they are a dietary gold mine! They make an amazing base for any soup because they blend well with lots of different flavors.  If you are experimenting in the kitchen this is the perfect base to begin with.  Plus, unlike other legumes, lentils do not require a long pre-soak period so they can be made quickly and easily!

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