A few days ago I was greeted at the post office by an amazing gift basket that my food-inspired cousin Aubrey mailed to me. The Man and I were both under the weather. He had a root canal last week, and I have been fighting an unfortunate combination of a wicked sore throat and an allergy fit. Anything that arrived in the mail that day would have been a well-timed pick-me-up, but this gift basket couldn't have been better.
Amazing, right? Aubrey and his partner Jesse own Cacao in Portland, Oregon, a specialty chocolate shop selling the world's best in craft chocolate. So I clearly don't have to tell you how beautiful the bars are that Aubrey included in the vast array of provisions. But Aubrey and Jesse's fine food expertise is certainly not limited to the realm of chocolate. Their palates are extraordinary, and they have the knowledge to back it up. Aubrey is my personal food and beverage trend predictor. He saw maple coming before it appeared on every high-end menu, anticipated fir before it started flavoring the drinks at all the hip bars downtown, and was cooking shrubs in his kitchen before the colonials... No, that's not right. Before the mixologists revived the classic 17th century fruit liqueur. The point is, he's good. And an Aubrey-curated basket of treats is a fine, fine thing.
But I digress. Root canal, sore throat.... soup! I had gone out to buy ingredients for lentil soup that afternoon in conjunction with my post office errand. And after chatting with Aubrey for the entirety of the soup making process, I realized that not only was the gift basket amazing for the aforementioned reasons, but it also had brilliant accouterments for my soup! Tucked into the basket was a bag of Jacobsen Salt Co.'s Netart's Bay Smoked Sea Salt. Sometimes one little extra ingredient makes something far better than ever imagined. I love lentil soup as it is, but the combination of my usual fare with this smoky salty finish was unbelievable. It was like the vegan sodium-lover's version of cooking with bacon. Sans meat. But speaking of meat, also in the basket of treasures were three adorable boxes of Olympic Provisions' Pepperettes, each in a different flavor. The Man eagerly grabbed a knife and tossed slices of the Kleine Schweine caraway, coriander and chili flake smoked pork sticks onto his soup along with the finishing salt. Perfekt!
If you happen to have some smoked pork laying around, feel free to garnish at will, by all means. But I strongly suggest the smoked salt. If it's not already in your pantry, go find some. It was transformative. From delicious, to even more so! Give it a shot, and enjoy.
LENTIL PASTA SOUP WITH SMOKED SALT
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 1/4 cups lentils (I used French Green Lentils)
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground coriander
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 quarts vegetable broth (I use Organic Imagine No-Chicken Broth)
- 8 oz (1 box) quinoa pasta elbows (I use Ancient Harvest Organic)
- 3 large handfuls spinach
- a few splashes balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- smoked finishing salt (I used Jacobsen Salt Co.'s Netarts Bay Smoked Sea Salt)
Add a splash of olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrots and zucchini, and sauté until just softened, stirring periodically. Add the lentils, thyme, bay leaf, cumin, coriander, a couple pinches of sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and broth. Raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium, maintaining a low boil. Let cook until lentils are tender, approximately 30-40 minutes.
Add your pasta and cook 6-8 minutes until it is just tender. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems (thyme leaves will fall off while cooking) and discard. Add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, and your spinach. Stir to wilt the spinach. Ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish with grated Pecorino and a crushed pinch of smoked finishing salt.