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Feb 3, 2010
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Wine with...Random things thrown on the grill

Wine With . . . Lentil Soup

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Lentils are satisfying in every way. They're packed with nutrition and low in fat and calories. Their easygoing flavor makes them a great accompaniment to any number of different foods, from salmon to chicken, or combined with another grain (rice, for example) for a wholesome vegetarian meal. They're also good in any season. Lentil salad is a terrific summer dish, and nothing seems warmer and more inviting in cold weather than lentil soup.

Another thing we love about lentils is that they are inherently adaptable to any number of different styles of wine, depending on how they're prepared. Their slightly grainy taste marries beautifully with many other flavors, from delicate (olive oil) to spicy (curry), and their creamy texture embraces a wide range of wines. The lentil soup we made on a recent blustery winter night had a hefty flavor profile thanks to the addition of kielbasa sausage. (You certainly could use other sausages - chorizo, for example - or make the same soup and leave out the sausages for a meatless meal). A couple of spoonfuls of mustard stirred into the soup gave it additional subtle but pleasing depth of flavor (this was a tip we picked up from one of Nigella Lawson's recipes). A crispy loaf of bread and a big mixed green salad was all we needed to round out the meal.

Lentil Soup

4 carrots, peeled

1 medium onion

1 medium red pepper

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

16 ounces lentils

2 teaspoons dried thyme

one 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons grainy mustard (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 cups water

1 pound kielbasa

 

Coarsely chop the carrots, onion, red pepper, and garlic, and pulse them in the food processor until very finely diced (alternatively you can mince them by hand). Transfer to a stock pot and add the lentils and tomatoes. Stir in the mustard, add salt and pepper, and add the water. Simmer for about an hour, or until the lentils are very soft. Cut the sausage into one-inch (or smaller) pieces and add to soup, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. The soup may be made several hours or a day ahead of time and reheated.

Serves 6-8

Here was a case of confounded expectations. When choosing wines to try with this dish, we deliberately selected some with earthy or notable non-fruit flavors, expecting that they would marry well with the earthy character of the lentils. Boy were we wrong. The dish made a Cotes-du-Rhone, a Chianti, and a Barbera d'Asti all taste unpleasantly bitter. (Each of these three was quite tasty when tried on its own.) Instead, the wines that worked best with the lentils all were slightly sweet, and had a creamy, almost lush texture. We also were wrong in assuming that only red wines would have sufficient heft to work with this fairly hearty dish. We included one white among the baker's dozen we opened, just to see what would happen. As you'll see below, we're recommending it. Our conclusion? When it comes to wine and food pairing, you never know what will work well until you actually taste it - which, after all, is why we keep writing this column.

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

 

Cupcake Vineyards, Central Coast (California) Petite Sirah 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

$14

 

Softer and more accessible than most Petites, this blue and blackberry-flavored wine never overwhelmed the lentils. Instead, its inherent sweetness brought out a satisfying sweetness in the dish.

 

 

Festival 34 Collection, Central Coast (California) Merlot 2006

 

$15

 

A surprisingly good California Merlot, this wine delivered on the promise that Golden State renditions of the varietal too often betray. It was soft, supple, and very seductive - just what the lentils wanted.

 

 

 

Frei Brothers, Russian River Valley (California) Syrah 'Reserve' 2007

 

 

 

 $24

 

Fruit forward, with sweet rather than savory spice accents, this was a clear winner with the thick lentil soup (really almost a stew). It too had an appealingly supple, almost creamy texture.

 

 

 

Penfolds, Adelaide (Australia) Shiraz 'Thomas Hyland' 2006

(Imported by FEW Imports)

 

 

 

$15

 

While we had expected an earthy French style of Syrah to perform better than the fruit-forward Aussie Shiraz style, this ripe wine from Down Under starred with the lentils. It tasted succulent.

 

 

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2008

 

 

 

$15

 

This creamy, oak-influenced Chardonnay had just enough weight to hold its own with both the lentils and the sausage, and its creamy character made taking another sip all too easy.