Flu-fighting lentil soup

Two days ago the temperature dropped by whole 12 degrees Celsius, introducing proper winter for the New Year’s Eve. And while the kids were patiently waiting for snow, I decided to make my special wintertime lentil soup to warm us up a bit.

The secret ingredient

My family had not been terribly fond of lentils until I came up with this particular recipe. The secret is in the specific blend I use for basis: 3 tomatoes, 2 small (or 1 big) cloves of garlic, pepper, a pinch of sea salt and an abundance of basil and thyme (at least a tablespoon of each). I am not a big fan of chopping, not with a perfectly functional blender I’ve got, so I just put everything in and turn it on for a minute or two. Another good point about using a blender is that you can put fresh herbs instead of dry ones, if you’ve got them. Some years ago my husband got tired of looking for bags of fresh basil and thyme in the supermarket so he bought me two plants, which have turned into a proper jungle on my balcony. But dry ones are just as good, and they save you time, so don’t stress too much about using them alternatively. Also, I understand that not everybody lives in the Mediterranean, like us, so feel free to use tomato in any form available to you. Apart from the blend, I lately started adding caramelized onions and my younger kid’s recent favourite, carrots, but you can also include mushrooms, potatoes, celery, or any other vegetable your child might like.

A bowlful of goodness

The flu-fighting powers of this soup come from its ingredients. Lentils contain zinc and selenium, which help white cells combat illness and provide protection from oxidative damage and infection. Proteins, also found in lentils, support recovery and assist in reparation of our body system. If you add some chicken stock instead of water for cooking, the soup will be packed with protein groups known for their anti-viral activities. Furthermore, foods that contain protein provide B complex vitamins, which keep your immune system functioning properly. And, while on the subject of vitamin B, folic acid in tomatoes helps your body heal faster. Tomatoes are also an important source of sodium, crucial for fluid maintenance, especially when flu symptoms include loss of bodily liquids due to fever, sweating, etc. Both olive oil and tomatoes contain the immune-boosting antioxidant vitamin E, effective in preventing colds and respiratory infections. Other antioxidants found in the soup include glutathione (garlic and onion), beta-carotene (carrots), flavonoids (legumes, vegetables, herbs), allion and allicin (garlic and onion, again), all of which posses significant anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Thyme is well-known for its healing benefits, whereas volatile oils found in basil provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth and prevent inflammation.

Soak’n’sprout

However, in order to get all the nutrients you can from this amazing soup, you need to deal with phytates present in lentils and other legumes. Phytic acid can bind certain dietary minerals, such as iron, zinc, manganese and B vitamins, in the gut and slow their absorption. That is why you need to leave the lentils overnight to soak, to increase phytase activity (i.e. break down phytic acid). Lentils, of course, are not the only food you need to soak, so I strongly suggest using a soak&sprout chart to get it right. I usually rinse lentils several times before leaving them in a pan filled with salted water for at least 8 hours before cooking.

The recipe

300g lentils
1 big onion
3 fresh tomatoes, or 500ml of tomato sauce or canned tomatoes
2 small cloves garlic
pepper and sea salt to taste
herbs of choice: basil and thyme in my case
2 carrots
a few sprigs of broccoli for serving

Rinse the soaked lentils a few times and then put them in a saucepan filled with water (or chicken stock). The water should cover the lentils by at least an inch. Put on medium heat, bring to boil and then lower the heat and cook for an hour, or until the lentils soften.

In the meantime chop a nicely sized onion and stir-fry it in olive oil. Once it turns golden, add the blend of 3 tomatoes, 2 small cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and herbs and cook for 15 minutes, more or less. Add to saucepan with lentils, along with two chopped carrots and any other vegetable you deem fit for the soup.

Cook some more, another half an hour or so, or until you get the salad ready. And that’s it.

Serve it with steamed or just very slightly boiled broccoli, or lacto-fermented pickles, for additional immunity-boosting powers.

Bon appétit!

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