Lentil soup

Lentil soup is a protein-rich and delicious meal during periods of cooler weather.

For the fourth consecutive year, the traditional Mediterranean diet was ranked the best overall diet by the U.S. News & World Report diet rankings. You can trust their ranking process, as they utilize highly credentialed nutrition experts who review the diets based on current scientific evidence, not celebrities or self-proclaimed diet and fitness experts.

As far as picking your protein, the Mediterranean diet encourages small amounts of lean meat and increased consumption of fish and plant-based protein sources. This includes nuts and high protein beans and legumes, such as soy, pinto, kidney, black beans and lentils.

I really like lentils because unlike many types of dried beans, you don’t have to soak them and they take less time to cook. They are a very affordable form of high quality protein for many people around the world.

Lentils contain a lot potassium and fiber, supporting healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels and digestion. They are also a good source of iron.

Worldwide, Canada produces the highest percentage of lentils, with India being the next highest producer.

This simple lentil soup recipe tastes great as it is. If you want a global flair, add a few ingredients as suggested in the Greek and Mexican recipes.

Simple Lentil Soup

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1/2 lb. (1¼ cups) black, green, brown, or red lentils, or yellow split peas, rinsed and picked over

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt or to taste

freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion and carrots until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste and cook until the lentils are tender, another 5 to 10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Makes 6 cups.

Greek Lentil Soup

3 cups simple lentil soup

4 cups cooking greens, such as spinach, kale or arugula, coarsely chopped

¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped or 1 ½ teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon sliced green onions

Bring basic soup to a simmer. Then stir in the dill and greens and continue to simmer until the greens are cooked to desired doneness. Top each cup of soup with a lemon zest and a scattering of sliced green onions. Serves 2-3.

Mexican Lentil Soup

3 cups simple lentil soup

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 tablespoons freshly minced cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 avocado, sliced

sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping (optional)

Bring basic soup to a simmer. Stir in chili powder, most of cilantro, and orange juice. Serve and top each bowl with avocado, a sprinkle of cilantro, and a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. Serves 2 — 3

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with NC Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. margie_mansure@ncsu.edu, (828)264-3061

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