‘Twas the night before Christmas and I could think of was beans. Beans and more beans. It’s the staple food in this casa. I was thinking of what my mom asked me to cook for our NocheBuena meal and it occurred to me I’ve never talked about brown lentils here on Flanboyant Eats. Turns out, this is the perfect time.
The little earthy pod is one amazing thing filled with awesomeness. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As as kid, I loathed them. I put them right up there with the disdain I had for eggplant. Nothing about them was appealing. It was mostly the color. You know how food is so much about its aesthetic appeal. Funny enough, I don’t think most casera food is at all pretty.
But goodness gracious how yummy those little brown legumes are. Full of protein (third to soybeans and hemp) and iron, they are eaten in most of Asia and some of Latin America. And since they harvest in different varieties, their cooking diversity is spectacular. Indians eat dahl. We eat potaje de lenteja. Southeners eat gumbo.
So the gumbo reference goes like this. I went to hot pepper country, otherwise known as Avery Island, LA, where Tabasco lives, late this past summer. As a tastemaker and recipe developer for the first ever hot sauce brand, I was invited to go play nice with the CEO, a man who impressively called me ‘B’ the entire 4 days we were there, and learn all things hot sauce. The plush retreat, lined in Spanish moss tress and lovely homes for family and employees, exposed me to aromatic but stifling fumes of potent mash which would turn into the 5 oz bottles we keep in our pantries.
(View of Spanish moss tress from my suite at the Marsh House)
Our stay involved tours of the plants, the fermenting grounds, the Country store replete with everything branded Tabasco — I literally mean everything — and meandering fan boat rides through the bayou. In between saucy experiences, we had cooking demos and tastings. Naturally, everything we cooked had one or another Tabasco sauce.
(Sue’s gumbo for dinner; Sue making gumbo; pepper mash in barrel that seared my tongue and throat; ready to fan boat ride on bayou)
One of the lunch demos and tastings was hosted by Top Chef contestant Sue Zemanick. This girl here made a bad mama jama Louisiana gumbo des herbes to talk about. I hovered as close to her pot as possible, suppressing my coughs from a horrible on-coming flu of some sort, just to soak in the smell and watch the ingredients simmer. Fortunately for me, it was vegetarian and I could eat it later on for our formal dinner.
I’m not exactly sure what she added to it other than Tabasco’s original red and chipotle pepper sauces and a whole lot of collard greens, but it was hearty and soulful goodness. For our formal sit down dinner, the CEO whom I sat next to, was full of fancy offerings. The table was beautifully set in the Marsh House dining room. As you can imagine, the length of the table was decked out with every Tabasco flavored bottle. It was rustic and pretty, but I was ready to get down after the niceties. This was our 3rd sit down meal, so the exchanges were less and less formal.
It was more about the food.
She poached a quail egg and topped the soup with the dainty protein. I had a bowl, which was entirely too conservative, and quietly asked the servers for another. Remember, it was vegetarian so I was all over not missing out on what otherwise would have been a traditional bowl of seafood.
Sue’s gumbo and a lot of what we enjoyed on Avery Island those lovely four days in October is what inspired my lentil soup last weekend. Our family gathered for Christmas cheer and I was tasked with something savory for dinner. I knew what the rest of the menu looked like so making a lentil soup a la gumbo des herbes made complete sense. It would complement the menu so nicely. And it sure did.
But I did this. I totally cheated. Well, a bit. My fave new food obsession is Trader Joe’s organic selection. I bought some canned lentil soup and doctored it all the way up. Don’t judge, but it was such a delicous fix. And truthfully, those cans aren’t so bad.
I made a basic sofrito, diced up some carrots, added some parsley and arugula, and made it kick with Tabasco’s garlic and original hot sauces. Our side of the family doesn’t do heat so much but there other half hailing from Nicaragua (my aunt’s husbands fam) is all for it. I had to find happy medium. That combo did the trick.
I enjoyed a big bowl while everyone poured some over their rice. And another bowl last night after the seasonings had a real chance to settle in. You know, beans get better day after day.
I’m terribly pleased with the way these came out especially since I didn’t have to pull out one of my pressure cookers which is how I typically make our traditional recipe. But since was kind of on the fly and not really our tried and true recipe I grew up enjoying, I was excited about playing around with a canned version I could make my own. It was super simple, had phenomenal taste, and seemed to have satisfied everyone. Plus, the cold weather finally decided to appear again, making this the perfect 30 minute meal.
It’s Christmas Eve. It’s a great time to enjoy bowls and bowls of love. This my friends, is it. From mi casa to yours, have a lovely, delicious, and blessed Christmas.
* This post is part of my work with Tabasco as recipe developer and ambassador. All stories, opinions, and recipes are my own, authentic and real. Enjoy!
SPICY LENTIL SOUP
- 2 cans organic lentil beans
- one medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups arugula
- 1/2 cup carrots, diced
- 1/4 cup parsley
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. Tabasco Garlic pepper sauce
- 2 Tbsp. Tabasco Original pepper sauce
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. paprika
- salt to taste
In medium to large sauce pan, warm lentils on medium heat. In medium skillet, heat olive oil. Sauté onions, garlic, and green pepper with cumin until onions are translucent. Stir in sofrito. Add carrots, Tabasco sauces, arugula, paprika and salt. Stir with wooden spoon and cover. Cook for 20 minutes on low to medium heat. Add parsley. Lower heat to simmer until parsley cooks in.