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German Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup was a universal favorite in our family growing up.  The best feature, by far, were the slices of sausage, which would curl up into little bowl shapes.  I delighted in scooping each piece up on a saltine cracker and spooning broth into the miniature bowl before gobbling the whole.  My siblings and I would argue over who got the most pieces of sausage in their bowl, and one time my father thought he'd fix the squabbles by quartering the sausages lengthwise before slicing them.  He never made that mistake again after the resulting near-riot when he realized what he'd done.

My grandfather immigrated from Germany as a young man, and he took my father to the Shadows, his favorite German restaurant in San Francisco, several times.  "I always remembered the soup, having had it on each visit and could not believe my eyes when I found it published one month, featured in fact on the food page, of the little PG&E newsletteer that we got monthly. I always considered it one of my favorite family recipes and fixed it at least monthly in the fall and winter months, usually making it in a double batch and adhering as closely to the original as possible. A masterpiece is not something to tinker with."  That recipe became tattered and nearly illegible with repeated use, and eventually was saved only by being pasted onto an index card, itself now dog eared with age and use.  I was amazed, years later, to come upon the restaurant I'd only known as a name on that recipe card still existing in San Francisco, a menu in the window still featured the soup.  But they were closed, and I never did get back there to find out if it was still the same before the restaurant went out of business. 

Despite my father's injunction, however, I have tinkered with it, and this is now my version, not quite the original that he likes to write out in his beautiful calligraphy to give as a wedding present1

Serves 8-10.  It refrigerates well and freezes beautifully.
1 1/2 C dried lentils                

4 oz thinly sliced bacon, cut into small squares

1 large or two medium onions, chopped fine

2-3 medium carrots, diced
6 stalks of celery, diced

3-6 cloves of garlic, minced*

1 large or 2 medium potatoes, preferably a waxy variety like reds or yellow finns, diced
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 quarts best turkey stock**

2 T concentrated sun-dried tomato paste***
2 T red wine vinegar

2 large leeks, thinly sliced white portions only
Polish or german garlic sausage, sliced about 1/8 inch thick****
1 t salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Soak the lentils in cold water several hours or overnight.

In a 6 quart or larger pot, saute the bacon until becoming crisp.  Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute in the bacon fat until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minute more.  Add lentils, potatoes, cloves, bay leaves, and stock.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until lentils are tender.   You may need to add some water during the cooking if it gets too thick.

Add the tomato paste, vinegar, garlic sausage, leeks, salt, and pepper, and cook a few minutes more until the leeks are soft.   Correct the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste.

*The original version called for 1/2 clove, but that is not enough if you like garlic.

**This is the staple stock in my kitchen.  If you have at least a quart of good beef or pork stock, that's fine too.  You can use water for up to half of the liquid, but your soup will suffer if you don't use at least a quart of good stuff.

***The original called for 1/2 C of tomato puree, but this is an awkward quantity--canned versions don't come in that size.  I find this sun-dried tomatoe paste in toothpaste-like squeeze tubes to be very convenient to keep on hand for recipes like this that only need a little bit of tomato-ness.  When refrigerated after opening, it keeps for months.

****At least 2 cups when sliced, 3 to 5 4-inch links.

1I used to have the original version of the Shadows' recipe from that tattered clipping posted here, but have removed it at the request of the family of the chef who created the original recipe, because he later regretted giving it out.  They told me he was a very private person, and would not have wanted his name or personal story made public.   I have only left those details out at their request.

But the tradition in our family was always to share recipes, hoping to spread the joy around (as Brillat-Savarin said, 't
he discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.')  The basic theme of lentil and sausage soup, spiced with bay and often cloves, varying vegetables, herbs, and often starting with sauteed, crumbled bacon, has a long tradition in Germany, and appears many times on web sites featuring recipes of german heritage.  I realized that I no longer make it quite the same way as the Shadows' version, and have made the recipe my own.  Therefore I am sharing my version of the family recipe, knowing it is probably very like what my grandfather enjoyed during his childhood in Germany a century ago.

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