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German Lentil Soup
1 1/2 C dried lentils
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
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
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
calligraphy to give as a wedding present1.
Serves 8-10. It refrigerates
well and freezes beautifully.
4 oz thinly sliced bacon, cut into
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
2 T red wine vinegar
2 large leeks, thinly sliced white
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.
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, 'the discovery of a new dish confers more
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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