Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lentil Soup a la Jack Orr

Who's he, you ask? Well, Jack Orr was my Dad. And he made an extraordinary soup when the mood struck him. It didn't strike often, and only when he was away from home. This is the only cooked thing my dad ever made except for grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and an occasional steak. And those were all on the outdoor grill. At home, if he had a hankering for this soup at home, he insisted my mother had to make it. But when he was on a trip visiting relatives or friends, and it was the right season, he'd offer to make "his" lentil soup.

My Dad was an engineer. He liked things to be lined up just so, whether it was transistors on the workbench, ohmeter manuals on the shelf, pencils in his pocket (you know, those little plastic sleeves? yep, he had them) or vegetables on the cutting board. When dicing and mincing for this soup, each vegetable also needed to be cut "just so" in size. And he didn't like to make this alone. He always wanted somebody to be there to fetch things for him. When my parents would come to visit over Christmas, this soup was a fairly standard event one evening for sure. I did my best to have all the ingredients on hand every year. My Dad would pamper this soup for several hours, although once you add the lentils, they do reach a point when the texture of the lentil may go over the hill if it continues to cook.

The first order of business was the bacon. It was minced up fairly small, then allowed to render in a moderately warm pan for awhile. Meanwhile, you began chopping and mincing the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Part of the fun of making this was the drama my dad made out of it. He really wanted an audience, and because it was my kitchen, that would normally be me as his number one fan club and schlepper. We tasted things often, added this and that, tasted again. Thyme was a necessary addition. I love the herb, so was glad to fetch that. Sometimes a quick trip to the market was required for something - maybe a fresh bag of dried lentils or an additional can of chopped tomatoes. When it was finally done everybody needed to ooh and aah a lot, otherwise my dad's feelings would be hurt. He wanted his efforts to be recognized. And appreciate them we did.

One visit I decided I'd best write down his recipe. Although I will admit that his recipe was not precise in the least. Unlike the engineer in him, this was adaptable to what you had on hand, or from his whim to add something different.

My daughter Dana doesn't like soup. Or stew. Still doesn't particularly like soup or stew, but will eat a few kinds if push comes to shove. When she was young she wouldn't eat this. My Dad simply couldn't understand how anybody wouldn't like his lentil soup. He did everything in his power to cajole Dana to have just a little bit. And maybe she did try a couple of mini-spoons, but she didn't like doing it. But she's come around as an adult. Maybe it's just because it's her grandpa's soup. I don't know, but at least she will eat it now. My Dad has been gone about 11 years now, but his legacy lives on in this recipe. I hope when you make this, somebody will ooh and aah about it. My dad will be smiling from heaven.

Ideally this should be made a day ahead. You know how soups and stews are - they really like to meld their flavors over a 24+ hour period. But most times this was started in the morning and eaten for dinner along with some sourdough rolls. You might want to work this into your fall repertoire so it's ready for cooler weather when it arrives. Here in So. California it's going to be 86 today, so I'm not quite ready to slave over a hot stove. But this will be on my list as soon as it turns cooler. I don't have any left in my freezer, so it needs a new supply.

Lentil Soup a la Jack Orr
Recipe By : John Barron Orr, my dear dad
Servings: 10
1/2 pound bacon -- chopped
2 whole onions -- chopped
3 stalks celery -- with leaves
2 whole carrots -- diced
3 cloves garlic -- minced
1 pound lentils -- washed
2 pounds canned tomatoes -- with juice
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or more if you like thyme
1 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
1 tablespoon salt
In a large, heavy pot sauté the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered. If you are using grocery store bacon, you may want to pour off some of the fat. If using meaty bacon, leave the fat in the pan. Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are semi-transparent. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, herbs and chiles and lentils, then add water to about 1-2 inches above the level of the bean mixture in the pot. You may have to add additional water as the lentils cook.
Simmer for about 45 minutes or an hour until the lentils are completely cooked through, adding additional water if needed. Add salt to taste, and add pepper if desired.
Serving Ideas : You can also add ground beef or ham if you would like to, but it certainly isn't necessary. If you don't have the carrots, that's fine too, and one onion will do if that's all you have on hand.
(photo from
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 328 Calories; 12g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 1294mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat.
To print a PDF recipe only, click on title at top.

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