Brazilians eat lentils in a variety of dishes all year round, especially on New Year’s Eve (Reveillón).
This tradition was brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants, and as mentioned in our last post, is believed to bring good luck and abundance, most likely on account of their round, coin-like shape.
In light of this, I thought that it would be a great idea to feature a dish made from lentils as our first post of the year. Due to the cold winter weather, I preferred to incorporate them into a warm soup instead of a refreshing salad. Beef, the most popular type of meat in Brazil, was added to the dish, and of course vegetables to finish its composition. The result was a hearty, delicious soup that you will crave the whole year long.
Before detailing the recipe though, a few facts and cooking tips are worth reviewing and bearing in mind:
1. Lentils are legumes with high nutritional value (dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins, minerals, protein, and few calories) that generally have either a rich nutty or earthy flavor, depending upon their type. They cook much faster than dried beans and do not require soaking. Green and brown lentils, which hold their shape well after cooking, are the most commonly used types both United States and in Brazil.
2. If making soups or stews:
Any type of lentil is suitable for use in soups, but particularly the yellow, red, and orange types, which tend not to hold their shape after cooking. Keep in mind that the red, yellow, and orange lentils also cook faster (20-30 minutes) than the green and brown ones (40-45 minutes).
Wash and rinse the lentils prior cooking.
As soups and stews are saucy dishes, be sure to use a substantially higher ratio of liquid to lentils than 2 : 1 (e.g. one could use a 4-10 cups of water/broth to 1 cup of lentils).
Lentils should be simmered uncovered rather than boiled (this way, they will plump up nicely without splitting their skins or becoming mushy).
Salt should be added at the end when the lentils are already fully cooked in order to avoid causing them to become tough, although some find this to be an old culinary fable.
If using acids (e.g. wine or tomato paste) in the recipe, add a pinch of baking soda to help avoid toughening the lentils.
3. If making salads:
Green and brown lentils are the best type for salads because they tend to hold their shape well after cooking;
Wash and rinse the lentils prior cooking (Remember: soaking is not required!!); Cook them using a 2 :1 ratio of water or broth to lentils (e.g. 2 cups water or broth to 1 cup lentils)
The lentils should be simmered uncovered rather than boiled (this way, they will plump up nicely without splitting their skins or becoming mushy). Cooking time varies between 40 – 45 minutes if using the green or brown lentils, and between 20-30 minutes if using the yellow, red, or orange ones.
Season lentils with salt after they are cooked but are still warm so they will absorb the salt just enough to taste fully seasoned, but without becoming tough;
Acidic components such as vinegar and lemon juice should be added after the lentils are cooked, both to avoid toughening them and in order to acentuate their flavor.
Finally, please note that lentils which are 6 months or older take more time to cook and tend to shed their outer skins as they cook. You may also see tiny white flecks where the lentils have begun to sprout– while these are still fully edible and tasty for sure, the white flecks may diminish the dish’s visual appeal, so keep this fact in mind if the presentation of the dish is important.
With all that said, let us now present today’s recipe, which was prepared observing the above guidelines. Enjoy!
Beef and Lentil Soup
By Denise Browning
Segment: Brazilian Cuisine/ Inspired
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ( about 450 g ) boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large carrots, peeled and medium diced
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups red wine
10 cups beef broth
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup rinsed green or brown lentils (which are the types most commonly used in Brazil)
A pinch of baking soda
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
In a medium bowl, season the beef with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a large stainless steel saucepan (not a aluminum pan)**, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned ( 6-8 minutes).
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a clean bowl. Add the carrots, onion, and garlic to the pot. Sauté until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juices from the bowl to the pan. Add the wine, broth, and tomato paste. Stir well.
Bring the soup to a boil; then, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the meat is just tender, stirring occasionally (about 50 minutes). Add the lentils and the baking soda, and continue simmering but uncovered until the lentils are tender (usually about 40 minutes, although please check for doneness after about 20-30 minutes to avoid overcooking).
With salt and pepper, season the soup to taste. Remove pot from the stove and stir in the lemon juice (to bring out all the flavors) and parsley.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. It can be accompained by a hard crust bread and a glass of red wine. Enjoy!
** Avoid cooking acids in aluminum cookwares because the acids react with the aluminum pitting in the cooking surface of the pan and affecting the taste of the food.
Receita em Português:
Sopa de Lentilha
Serve 4 pessoas
Por Denise Browning
2 colheres de (sopa) de azeite de oliva
450 g coxão mole, cortada em cubos
Sal e pimenta do reino moída à gosto
1/2 colher de (chá) de cominho em pó
1 cenoura grande, despelada e cortada em cubos médios
1/2 cebola amarela grande picada
3 dentes de alho, picados
2 xícaras de (chá) de vinho tinto
10 xícaras de (chá) de caldo de carne (líquido)
1/2 colher de sopa de extrato de tomate
1 xícara de (chá) de lentilha verde ou marrom, lavada e escorrida
Uma pitada de bicarbonato de sódio
Suco de 1/2 limão
1/4 xícara de (chá) de salsinha fresca picada
Modo de Preparo:
Em tigela, tempere a carne com sal, pimenta e cominho. Cubra e deixe descansar por 30 minutos na geladeira.
Em uma panela grande de aço inoxidável (não use uma de alumínio)**, aqueça o óleo sobre fogo médio-alto. Adicione a carne e deixe dourar ( cerca de 6 a 8 minutos). Usando uma escumadeira, transfira a carne para uma tigela limpa. Adicione a cenoura, a cebola e o alho à panela. Refogue até que a cebola fique translúcida ( cerca de 4 minutos). Retorne a carne e todo o molho acumulado na tigela para a panela. Adicione o vinho, o caldo de carne líquido e o extrato de tomate. Mexa bem.
Quando a sopa levantar fervura, reduza o fogo para médio-baixo, tampe e deixe cozinhar até a carne ficar macia, mexendo ocasionalmente (cerca de 50 minutos).
Acrescente a lentilha e o bicarbonato de sódio. Deixe cozinhar sobre fogo médio-baixo (destampada) até que a lentilha esteja macia (cerca de 40 minutos). Por favor, verifique se as lentilhas já estão cozidas depois de 20 minutos de cozimento.
Tempere a sopa à gosto com sal e pimenta. Remova a panela do fogo e acrescente o suco de limão (para acentuar o sabor) e a salsinha. Mexa e sirva acompanhada com pão ou torrada e uma taça de vinho tinto. Bom apetite!
** Evite cozinhar ácidos (vinho, extrato de tomate) em panela de alumínio pois eles reagem com o alumínio afetando o sabor da comida.
* The Three Lentils image is a file from Wikimedia Commons.