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.



Pickled Purple Cauliflower | Cooking With Bells On

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

You’ve seen Portlandia, right? Wait, you haven’t? Okay, take a minute to consume the spot-on hilarity that is this clip and then I’ll get back to you.

Now that we are on the same page, let’s talk about pickles. Somehow pickles recently got cool, and they have been making a trendy appearance on restaurant menus everywhere. Chefs have been utilizing little bits of pickled vegetables as an alternative to citrus or vinegar, a new way of bringing acidic contrast to a dish. And while I’m sure that pickles will one day be as cliché as foams or truffle oil, I am at the moment really excited to experiment with pickling in my own kitchen.

To tell you the truth, I actually never imagined I would pickle my own vegetables until recently. Pickling seemed to fall into the category of Too Much Work For Home – something I think is a great idea, but too weird and time consuming to bother doing myself. As a result of media inundation (thanks Bon Appetit), though, pickling has gone the way of grinding coffee beans and making ice cream: it’s something I now enthusiastically do.

The purple cauliflower recipe you see here is actually a recipe I developed based on my initial foray into pickling, which was an unexpected success. I made those cauliflower pickles on a whim, an attempt to use up this beautiful hunk of purple mass I had brought home from the grocery store that day. The ratios for vinegar, salt, and water were at best an educated guess, and after mixing everything together I stuck the heavy jar of liquid and vegetable in the back of the fridge, expecting that I would pull it out in the morning to find it perhaps halfway palatable.

What I found the following day really caught me off guard. Not only had the cauliflower actually pickled, but it had taken on the spices I had added in a surprisingly effective way. Where I had expected to find muddy taste and crunchy texture, I instead found toasty heat and pungent anise flavor with a tender bite. I was an instant convert.

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

Makes 1 quart

I call for whole spices in this recipe, and I unfortunately can’t recommend that you substitute with ground spices, which would create a muddy flavor and coating on the vegetables. Feel free to make this recipe without spices, it will still create deliciously pungent pickled vegetables.


1 tsp cumin seeds

3/4 tsp coriander seeds

3/4 tsp fennel seeds

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1 tsp salt

1 head purple (or white) cauliflower, cut into florets

1 1/2 cup boiling water

Toast the spices: Combine the spices in a pan and toast over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and crush with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, grind in a spice grinder or small food processor.) You only need to crack open the spices; do not grind into a powder.

Combine ingredients: In a large bowl or quart-sized jar, mix together the toasted and crushed spices with the vinegar, honey, and salt. Add the cauliflower, then top off with boiling water. Stir or shake to combine.

Pickle overnight: Place this bowl or jar in the refrigerator to pickle overnight. Pickled cauliflower will keep up to 2 weeks.