Smoky Lentil Soup | Cooking With Bells On

Smoky Lentil Soup

Given the name of my website, I hope the fact that I love cooking is self-evident. I love that name I came up with, Cooking with Bells On. I love the exuberance and integrity that it implies, as well as the allusions that the distinctly British phrase draws to my heritage. Most of all, I love that the title emphasizes the act of cooking, rather than the food I cook, as the process is for me just as important as the product it bears forth.

What the moniker doesn’t covey is that my love for cooking reaches out past my own kitchen. Sure, the photos I post here are, for the time being, shot in my own apartment, and the ingredients are prepared by my own hands. But what really gets me excited isn’t my own cooking that I document here – it’s the cooking that I might enable you to do on your own. Every time I hear that one of you has learned a new technique through one of my recipes, or simplified your cooking using one of my kitchen hacks, I get a little thrill.

Selfishly, I want to keep having those thrilling moments of shared kitchen success, and so whenever possible I try and ask my friends and family for blog post ideas that would be helpful to them. To make this easier for all the rest of you, I’ve built a suggestion box into the website. Look up to the top of your page – there it is, hanging up over the title banner! Of course, you can continue to bounce ideas off of me on Facebook or Twitter, but now you also have the option of submitting ideas or questions to me directly on this website.

This post came from a conversation with my amazing friend Sarah, who was thinking about making lentil soup for dinner with a friend. Upon her suggestion, I was instantly reminded of the lentil soup I had made a few weeks ago. When I made that last batch, I was inspired by Southwestern flavors – flavors that remind me of home – and so I used smoky bacon, earthy charred poblanos, and toasty ground cumin. Feel free to incorporate your own inspiration into this recipe, which is a wonderful canvas to explore different flavor profiles. Substitute celery for the poblanos and add thyme and tomatoes for a Mediterranean take, or add some chipotles in adobo for a spicier flavor.

Tweet: I can't wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell I can’t wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell

Smoky Lentil Soup

Serves 6

This recipe makes a lot of soup, as I believe all soup recipes should. Making a giant pot of soup that you can enjoy over the course of several days makes dinner so much easier for the nights that follow. At home, I like to vary the garnishes night by night. We might have avocado and salsa over the soup one night, yogurt and cilantro the next, and eggs (poached in the soup) the last.

You could make this recipe vegan by skipping the bacon (substitute 2 tsp coconut or olive oil to cook the vegetables in) and using a good quality vegetable stock.


2 poblano peppers

4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ peices

2 large carrots, peeled, 1/4″ dice

1 large onion, 1/4″ dice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground)

3 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (de Puy)

2 bay leaves

1 quart chicken stock + 2 cups water

1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar of choice):

olive oil, for garnish

minced cilantro, for garnish

Char the poblanos: Turn the gas flame on your stove up to high heat. Using tongs, place one poblano pepper over the flames and allow to char. Rotate as each side blackens until the entire pepper has charred, about 5 minutes. Remove to a tinfoil-lined baking sheet and wrap the pepper in the foil to steam. Repeat with second pepper. Rinse the charred peppers under water to remove the blackened skin. Dice the peppers to approximately the same size as the carrots and onions (discarding seeds and stem).

Render the bacon: Heat a large dutch oven or pot over high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and reserve for garnish.

Sweat the vegetables: Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the diced carrots, onion, and poblano. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and add the cumin. Sweat* the vegetables until they begin to soften (3-5 minutes), then add the lentils, bay leaves, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through but not mushy.

Blend the lentils: Using a stick blender, blend the lentils for about 30 seconds. Most of the lentils will be left intact, but the ones that have been blended will thicken the soup and give it body. Alternatively, process 1/3 of the cooked lentils in a conventional blender or food processor until smooth, then return to the pot.

Finish the soup: Add the vinegar at the end of the cooking process, then taste and reseason if necessary (I added more salt at the end). Serve the soup and garnish with olive oil, cilantro, and the reserved bacon.

*To sweat vegetables is essentially to sauté them without allowing them to take on any color. It is important that the vegetables be well salted, so that they shed enough water to avoid caramelization. If you find that your vegetables are beginning to color more than you would like, put a lid on the pot and let them steam a bit.



Thai Green Curry With Crispy Roast Chicken | Cooking With Bells On

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

It is way too tempting to order in for dinner in New York City, particularly when the temperature outside is 12° and any of 200 or so nearby restaurants will bring food to you at the click of the button.

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken and Basil and Lime Wedge Garnishes

But now that Spring has arrived it’s time to muster up a little resilience against the lure of take-out containers and bicycle delivery men. In the name of saving a little more money to go towards our dream projects, Brian and I sat down a week ago and decided that our beloved takeout had to go. You see, even though we eat well, we still have a general budget of how much we spend on food each week; our weekly $30+ ramen/sushi/thai delivery indulgence ends up tacking an extra 20% onto that budget. Listen guys, if I learned anything from my job in finance, it’s that you don’t want drive up your expenses.

Crispy Roast Chicken, Basil, and Lime Wedges to Top the Curry

Well, delivery dinner may be so last week, but that doesn’t mean the food we had delivered has to go, as well. Recently I found myself craving some warm and spicy thai green curry, and so I sent myself into the kitchen to recreate this take-out favorite. As I was planning the dish, it occurred to me that I might be able to improve it a bit by giving the protein some respect and cooking it separately. For the rest of the dish, I played it fairly traditional, staying true to the flavors I craved – peppery ginger, fragrant lemongrass, creamy coconut milk, and tender Asian vegetables. What resulted was a lush bowl of thai curry, topped with a bit of succulent roast chicken that had a perfectly crispy skin. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken, Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

Serves 2

Thai Green Curry With Crispy Roast Chicken | Cooking With Bells On

I loved this curry served on its own, almost as more of a soup. However, if you feel like you’re missing some starch, or if you just can’t imagine having curry without anything to sop up all the delicious liquid, go ahead and serve it over rice.

I noted in the ingredients that the fish sauce is optional… but saying so pains me. I made this dish twice, once forgetting the fish sauce and once including it, and I have to say that the fish sauce really brings the dish together. It’s like the anchovies in Caesar salad – you don’t know that they’re there, but it definitely doesn’t taste right without them. Having said that, if you’re the type that is iffy about the idea of anchovies in your salad dressing, then you can certainly leave the fish sauce out of your curry. You can find fish sauce (nam pla) in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores.


2 chicken thighs, skin-on and preferably bone-in

2 tbsp butter or ghee

sea salt and red chili flakes

1 14 oz can coconut milk

2 tbsp green curry paste

1 finger-sized piece of ginger, cut into 3 strips vertically

2 stalks lemongrass, split lengthwise and bashed with the blunt side of a heavy knife

2 tsp. fish sauce (optional)

1 cup chicken broth

2 large handfuls shiitake mushrooms, sliced (substitute cremini or button, if necessary)

2 baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise

small handful basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, to garnish (optional)

2 lime wedges, to garnish

Sear and roast the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375º and place a pan over high heat. Allow the pan to heat for several minutes until it’s blazing hot. Meanwhile, coat the chicken thighs with the butter or ghee and season the skin with salt and chili flakes. (The best way to do this is to allow one hand to get messy with the butter and use the other hand for seasoning.) Place the chicken thighs skin side down in the hot pan and season the upward facing side. Sear for two or three minutes until the skin gets crispy, then flip and cook for two more minutes on the opposite side. Remove the chicken to a baking dish and place in the oven to finish cooking, about 15 minutes.

Prepare the curry: While the chicken is cooking, place a saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Allow to reduce by 1/3. After the coconut milk has concentrated a bit you can whisk in the curry paste. Add the ginger slices, bashed lemongrass stalks, fish sauce, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Once the ginger and garlic have steeped and fully perfumed the curry base, fish them out with tongs.

Add the vegetables: Set the chicken aside to cool a bit after it has finished cooking in the oven. With the curry base over medium heat, add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for about three minutes, until they begin to get tender. Add the bok choy to the curry, cover, and allow to steam for another two or three minutes. The curry is ready when a fork will pierce the bok choy with little resistance.

Serve: Slice the chicken thighs, discarding bones. (Actually, don’t discard – toss them in a freezer bag for future broth-making!) Serve the curry in large bowls, over rice or on its own. Place the chicken meat over the curry, and garnish with basil and lime wedges.


Soup for Early Spring

Last weekend, New York City finally got its first glimpse of spring. In context of a winter that has been surprisingly harsh and enduring, with months on end of polar vortex blanketing the city in shades of grey and gloom, this flash of warmer weather seemed to spontaneously energize every small being in the city. As if choreographed by nature, New York, long asleep, awoke all at once. Trees that had been barren for so long shot out bright green leaves as sparrows sang out to each other on well-rested voices beneath a cloudless blue sky. New Yorkers ventured out of their stuffy apartments to bask with nature in refreshed enthusiasm, lingering in the sunlight on newly crowded streets and rediscovered park benches. And I, dressed in short sleeves and a smile that involved my whole body, set about to make a meal that expressed the glory of this early spring.

After so many months of heavy stews and chilies, spring inspired me to create a lighter take on soul-warming soup. It’s time to forget about root vegetables and heavy spices and turn my attention to bright, clean flavors that resonate with the season. While the spring’s best greens will hide under soil for yet a few more weeks, I can still prepare winter’s alliums in a way that hints of the season to come.

First, I prepare a rich chicken broth, which is necessary to warm in these still-chilly evenings. Then, to complement this base, I sweat loads of onions and fennel (whose bright licorice flavor and delicate green fronds make them the springiest of winter vegetables) until they have given up their pungent aliases and divulged a creamy and sweet character.  Finally, to bring the color and freshness I crave, I finish the soup with rosy radishes, a mess of cilantro, and saline olives. The overall effect is warming, but it warms in the manner of golden sunshine on lightly clothed skin. In other words, it’s exactly what you want during the week when New York weather teases with spring on the weekends.

Photo Mar 11, 6 39 24 PM

Soup for Early Spring

Serves 4


  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs (bones and skin on)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp cooking fat of choice (I used coconut oil for a clean flavor; you could use butter or ghee as well; or olive oil if that’s what you have around, though I don’t love that for higher heats)
  • 2 onions, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and sliced into half-moons, fronds reserved
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano (or fresh, using double the amount)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (or an abundance of fresh diced tomatoes, if in season)
  • 1 bunch radishes, cut vertically into quarters or eighths if very large
  • Cilantro or parsley (or whatever herb is in your fridge)
  • Black olives


Photo Mar 11, 4 05 55 PM

  1. Prepare all your ingredients. See recipe endnote for detailed slicing instructions if you need them.

Photo Mar 11, 4 11 45 PM

  1. Bring chicken broth to a boil. This is the part where we make store-bought chicken broth incredible (or homemade broth even better). Add the chicken thighs. If you want your broth to be, as I said, incredible, don’t try and cut a corner by using boneless-skinless thighs. The bones and skin add flavor and body, as well as loads of nutrition. Simmer the chicken in the broth for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove chicken to a plate and allow to cool. Set broth aside in a large bowl.

Photo Mar 11, 4 16 53 PM

  1. Heat the fat in a large pot over medium-high. Add the onions, fennel, garlic, and oregano, then season liberally with salt and pepper. The goal with all these alliums is to elicit a sweet and soft character, not a caramelized and crunchy one. Don’t skimp on salt here, as it is vital in drawing water out of the vegetables so that they soften. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to hang out for a good long while so that they reduce by about 50% (this could take up to 30 minutes). Stir occasionally to keep things from getting browned (though your onions will probably still taste great if that happens). While all this is happening on the stove, pull apart your now cooled chicken. If you’re like me, you’re going to toss the bones and skin into your special “Future Broth” bag in the freezer. If you can’t imagine ever making chicken broth at home, toss them out.

Photo Mar 11, 6 37 06 PM

  1. Once the vegetables have cooked down considerably, add back the chicken broth. Add the canned tomatoes, radishes, and shredded chicken. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the radishes are tender.

Photo Mar 11, 6 39 10 PM

  1. Stir in herbs and olives right before serving.

Photo Mar 11, 6 45 06 PM

  1. Serve soup warm and garnish with fennel fronds.


  • To slice onions into half-moons, cut first vertically (slicing through the stem) and peel. Cutting through the stem end leaves all the layers in each half bound together by the stem, so the onion doesn’t fall apart on your cutting board. The slice horizontally across each onion to produce half-moons.
  •  Fennels can be confusing creatures if you don’t know how to tackle them. Fear not, it’s easy and they’re delicious. First slice off all the stems and fronds, if attached. Then remove the tough outer layer, which might be stained brown. Placing the fennel upright on the cutting board, slice down through the stem. There is a core you can now see towards the bottom of each half of the bulb – slice that out with a diagonal cut on either side of it. Finally, put the fennel on its side and slice across into half-moons as you did with the onion.