Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2024 and naturally, it is a vegetable-heavy soup with a plant-based protein. I’m aware of how predictable this recipe is. Just call me “basic” and be done with it. But despite all evidence to the contrary, this Creamy Kale Lentil Soup is not part of a larger scheme to eat healthier. While it’s true this vibrant green pick-me-up delivers an entire head of kale and an entire bulb of fennel in a velvety smooth slurp-able format, it is also true that I made it because I was craving it.
I don’t tend to make resolutions. If you have, I applaud you but resolutions are not for me. Every year I resolve to do one thing and that is to stay in the moment. Be aware and fully inhabit each day before it passes. Resolutions, particularly result-based resolutions, go against my resolve. If you’re focusing on where you’re going to be 12 months from now, it’s pretty difficult to live in the moment, don’t you think? So no this soup is part of a larger effort to shed pounds by the summer or run a marathon come fall. This soup is a celebration of cravings and giving into them as they hit.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, how can vegetable soup be a craving? And to that, I say, I don’t know. I’m a person who values novelty. And when January hits is there anything more novel than vegetables? I don’t think so. I’ve eaten my fair share of cheese, chips, and cookies in the past month. I’ve piled plates high with mashed potatoes, abused my gravy boat privileges, and generally over-indulged in overly rich food. My body was and is quite simply screaming out for greens. Simple vegetables prepared simply and that is exactly what this Creamy Kale Lentil Soup delivers.
One of my favorite things about this soup is it uses an entire bulb of fennel and an entire head of kale. There is nothing I hate more than a half-used produce knocking around my crisper for weeks. We’re going to start by breaking that fennel bulb down into a few separate components. The first thing we’re going to do is remove the fronds. Those delicate feathery sprouts that resemble dill? We’re going to use them as a garnish for our finished soup. So remove them and place them in the fridge, so they won’t wilt.
Next, we’re going to remove the stalks. You can certainly coarsely chop the stalks and add them to the soup along with the bulb. But the stalks are also perfect for pickling. Now, this is just a quick pickle, so all you have to do is thinly slice the stalks on a mandolin before covering them with a mixture of white wine vinegar, salt, and sugar. Set them aside to pickle while you make the soup. You may have noticed I make a lot of quick pickles on this blog. I think they are the perfect garnish for hearty dishes like this soup. That hit of acid livens up your palette and balances out the dish. If pickles aren’t your thing, you can skip this step and just add the stalks to the soup. Coarsely chop the remaining fennel bulb and set it aside.
Now, let’s move on from the pickles and get the soup underway. Start with olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot. Add some cumin seeds and black mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Throw in the shallots and celery and add a generous sprinkling of salt. Reduce the heat to low and sauté until the shallots are translucent. Stir in the garlic, the coarsely chopped fennel bulb, the torn kale, and the broccolini. Pour in vegetable stock and bring everything up to boil. The pot will look unmanageably full at this point but don’t panic, the kale will cook down quickly. Reduce the soup to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 20-30 minutes or until everything is very tender.
While the soup is simmering we can get the lentils underway. I’m using black lentils, also known as beluga lentils. I prefer their texture and, of course, I think they are stunning. But if you can’t find them, feel free to sub in brown or green lentils. Red lentils don’t work in this context as they don’t hold their shape all that well. Place the lentils in a small saucepan and add cold water. Add enough to cover the lentils with an inch of water. Add two bay leaves and place the pot over high heat. Once the water comes up to a boil, stir in some salt and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain the lentils and set them aside.
Cooking the lentils separately protects the gorgeously green hue of the soup. Black lentils tend to muddy the liquid they cook in, but once they are cooked and drained well, they don’t tend to bleed. I piled my lentils into a bowl and poured the soup around them. But you could just add the lentils to the pot and stir everything together. I did this with the leftover lentils and soup and the colors didn’t bleed together even after a few days of hanging out in the fridge.
When the soup and lentils are done, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and blitz until very smooth. Pile the lentils into bowls and add the soup. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, the pickled fennel, and a few fennel fronds. Serve immediately with bread and/or salad or a sleeve of saltines. There are no wrong answers here.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Creamy Kale Lentil Soup. While it’s loaded with veggies, is a good source of protein, and is generally virtuous it’s also just a damn good soup that’s well worth eating with or without New Year’s resolutions.
Creamy Kale Lentil Soup with Pickled Fennel
- 1 Food processor or blender
- 1 large heavy bottom pot
- 1 fennel bulb
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp kosher salt divided
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 3 shallots sliced into halfmoons
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 225g (8oz) broccolini cut into thirds
- 454g (1 lb) lacinato kale stalks removed, torn into pieces
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup black lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- Remove the fronds from the fennel bulb and transfer to the fridge so they don't wilt. Chop the stalks off of the fennel bulb and set them aside. Cut the bulb into wedges and set aside as well.1 fennel bulb
- Thinly shave the fennel stalks on a mandolin. Place them in a bowl and add the water, vinegar, sugar, and half of the salt. Stir to combine and set the fennel aside to pickle.½ cup white wine vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tsp kosher salt, 2 tsp granulated sugar
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottom pot until shimmering. Add the cumin and black mustard seed and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Stir in the shallots and celery. Add a generous sprinkling of salt and reduce the heat to low. Sauté until the shallots are just translucent. Stir in the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds more.2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp black mustard seeds, 3 shallots, 3 stalks celery, 4 cloves garlic
- Add the chopped fennel, kale, and broccolini to the pot. Pour in the stock and bring everything up to a boil. ** Reduce to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender.225g (8oz) broccolini, 454g (1 lb) lacinato kale, 4 cups vegetable stock
- While the soup is simmering, pour the lentils into a small saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the lentils by at least one inch. Place the bay leaves in the pot and bring to a boil. Add the remaining salt and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and discard the bay leaves. Set aside.1 cup black lentils, 2 bay leaves
- Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender. Carefully puree the soup until very smooth. *** Transfer to a pitcher and set aside.
- Divide the lentils across four bowls. Pour the soup around the lentils and garnish with the yogurt, the pickled fennel, and the fennel fronds. Serve immediately.½ cup Greek yogurt