Lentil Soup

I’m looking for a new job right now. I spend a lot of time sitting on my sofa on my computer shuffling through job listings, sending out emails and resumes… all the while staring longingly towards my sunny little kitchen. I’m always just a little big hungry, and leave my post at my computer often to wander into the kitchen for a piece of cheddar cheese dipped in honey, one little oatcake slathered in peanut butter, half of an avocado sprinkled with salt and lemon juice, a spoonful of yogurt… my days of working at home are fueled by just such little frequent snacks. Yesterday afternoon as I rustled through my fridge on one of my snack breaks, I realized I had all the ingredients I needed to try this lentil soup recipe I had been eyeing from The Cook’s Illustrated book The Best Soups & Stews so I gave up looking for jobs and started cooking.  Laced with bacon fat and haunted by a slight tang of balsamic vinegar, this soup is rich and warming and most certainly a meal in itself.

Lentil Soup
Serves 4 to 6 (depending on portion size

2 Tbs. bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
2 large pieces of bacon, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
1 cup lentils, rinsed
1 tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
¾ cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Heat the fat in a large heavy pot (a Dutch oven works well), then add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp, 3-5 minutes.
Add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and drained tomatoes, and cook over medium-high heat until the veggies begin to soften, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot, letting the veggies “sweat” until softened and the lentils look darker, about 8 minutes.
Uncover the pot and increase the heat to high, add the wine and simmer for 1 minutes.
Add the stock, the juice from the canned tomatoes, and 1½ cups water, bring to a boil.
Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to low and let simmer until the lentils are cooked but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.
Remove and discard the bay leaf.
Pour about half of the soup into a blender and puree until smooth, then add it back into the pot and stir in the vinegar.
Serve immediately, garnished with a bit of sour cream and/or fresh herbs (or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days and reheat before serving).