With traditional tomato-basil flavor and lots of healthy red lentils, this delicious, unique soup has a classic Caprese topping.
I was getting a little worried. We’ve had an unseasonably mild winter here in North Carolina with many days climbing into the 60’s and 70’s – a few even in the low 80’s! Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen new blooms and buds here, there and everywhere. Definitely not normal in this part of the country in February. Daffodils sway cheerfully in the warm breezes, Bradford pears line the streets in soft puffs of white, and pointy green tulip tips, drawn by the warm sun, are popping up prolifically throughout the neighborhood.
It wasn’t the early arrival of spring that had me worried, as it’s wonderful to be able to get out and enjoy the lovely weather. Scott’s even begun planting the gardens and we’ve got neat little rows of lettuce, spinach, kale, snow peas and Swiss chard coming up in the raised beds as well as early spring herbs flourishing in pots on the deck.
This may sound crazy but my concern with a February spring was soup. Soup? Yes, soup. For me, one of the big draws of the winter culinary season is soup. I love making a big pot, loaded with healthy veggies and lean protein. A favorite, casual winter dinner for us is soup, salad and a loaf of warm, crusty bread. Soup is also perfect for lunches and meals on the run. (Don’t tell anyone, but I even like it for breakfast.)
But soup doesn’t really go well with balmy breezes and mild temperatures, so I was thrilled when our thermometer started dipping again into the 30’s at night with cool, crisp days.
Out came the soup pot and this wonderful Roasted Tomato Lentil Soup was conceived. It’s hearty, healthy and incredibly delicious.
I wanted something a bit different for a topping and after throwing around a few ideas, I decided on a classic Caprese combination: fresh mozzarella, tiny tomatoes, fresh basil and a drizzle of good olive oil.
As the name suggests, the tomatoes are roasted in the oven along with onions and lots of garlic. Everything gets a nice caramelization before it’s added to the soup pot with red lentils and chicken broth. Roasting transforms even tasteless grocery-store-winter-tomatoes into something wonderful!
Why lentils? Because they’re delicious but also because they add such great nutritional value to this soup. Lentils are so nutrient-dense, it’s hard to even know where to start when listing their health benefits. They’re good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K an are particularly rich in dietary fiber, folate and iron. I love that, in addition, lentils are high in lean protein so they make the soup much more filling. “Stick to the ribs” food, as my mom used to say. I chose red lentils because they cook really quickly and they also help keep the soup a pretty color.
The cook time on the stovetop is short, just about 15 minutes to soften the lentils and meld the flavors together. All that’s left is a handful of fresh basil and a quick puree with a immersion or stand blender. I like to leave the soup a bit chunky as the texture adds a nice dimension and goes nicely with the wonderful Caprese topping.
So take advantage of these next few weeks and enjoy a pot of this Roasted Tomato Lentil Soup Caprese . Time is fleeting and before we know the parade of spring summer produce will begin and the soup pot will be put away for the season. Bon Appetit!
A few items I used to make and serve this soup:
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Roasted Tomato Lentil Soup Caprese
With classic tomato-basil flavor and lots of healthy red lentils, this delicious, unique soup has a wonderful Caprese topping – fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil leaves.
- Yield: 10-12
- Category: Soup
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 3 pounds plum or roma tomatoes, washed and halved, lengthwise
- 1 large sweet onoin, peeled, halved and cut into wedges
- 6 medium cloves garlic, crushed (with the back of a knife) and peeled
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup red lentils*, about 7 ounces
- 5 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 7-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 medium bay leaves
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the topping:
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella**
- 1 pint yellow and red cherry tomatoes, or use one color
- small fresh basil leaves , for garnish
- extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
- fresh ground black pepper, for garnish
- Makes 6-8 generous servings***
- Preheat oven to 450˚F. Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar in a large bowl. Stir gently with a large spoon or spatula to coat. Turn mixture out onto a rimmed sheet pan and arrange tomatoes cut side down. Nestle garlic cloves in the center of the pan. Be sure to scrape out all the good oil and juice in the bowl.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then flip tomatoes to opposite side and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until most of the liquid has been evaporated. Depending on the size of your tomatoes, cooking time can vary a bit so keep an eye on them at the end.
- Remove from oven and transfer the tomato mixture (and any liquid left in the pan) to a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the lentils, broth, tomato paste, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a steady low simmer. Cook for 20 minutes then remove from heat.
- Remove bay leaves then blend soup with an immersion blender or stand blender. If using a stand blender, allow the mixture to cool a bit before blending. It’s also a good idea to leave the center cap of the blender lid off and cover it with several layers of paper toweling. (If too much heat builds up in the blender container, it can cause an explosion.) Leave the soup a bit chunky, not super smooth.
- Taste and add a bit more salt, if needed. Serve soup hot topped with halved Ciliegine (see note below), cherry tomato halves and small fresh basil leaves. If your basil leaves are large, just slice them thinly. Drizzle each serving with a teaspoon of olive oil and a shower of fresh ground black pepper.
* – red lentils are a fairly common variety. You’ll find them in the dried bean section of most larger grocery stores.
** – most larger grocery stores (including Super Walmart) carry the small balls of mozzarella called Ciliegine or Bocconcini. If you can’t find either of these varieties, just use a bigger ball and dice it into 1/2-inch pieces for the topping.
– ***this recipe makes a large pot (will feed 6-8 easily) but it can be halved. You might be sad with yourself if you half it though as it makes wonderful lunches and quick meals on the run.