Thursday, September 1, 2011

5-Spice Lentil Soup

It’s not exactly soup weather. It’s 90 something today, with a heat index of 100 something. Which means the air conditioning is on, so maybe it is soup weather? Plus I hear by Labor day it will be 68, so I don’t feel too silly that yesterday I pulled out the crockpot and made my first lentil soup of the season.

I received leeks in this week’s CSA box, which are a perfect soup ingredient and a great match for lentils, one of my favorite ingredients. In fact, as I look at my recipe index I realize I must have had the exact same idea last year at this time when I started to embrace fall and the wonder that is soup. I even made Curried Leek and Lentil Soup which calls for many of the ingredients in my CSA box this week including kale.

I’m saving the kale for another recipe, so I kept the leek and lentil soup simple this time, using a tomato and a red pepper in addition to a cup of lentils, one leek and some water. But the magic ingredient was Chinese 5-spice powder.

My friend Heidi picked it up on a trip we took to Chinatown in Chicago this spring and was nice enough to share some with me. I hadn’t thought about it since before I moved and was glad to find it hiding in the back of my spice drawer.

She had made a point of asking the owner of the store what the blend included, since recipes for 5-spice powder can vary, but I can’t remember what he said. Five-spice powder mixtures seem to vary with some including star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds, and others including ginger or nutmeg.

In any case, the 5-spices added the perfect blend of spicy, sweet and salty against the tangy tomatoes and Earthy lentils. I used a full teaspoon, which I worried might overpower the soup as I poured it in, but it turned out to be the right call. I’m anxious to use the rest of my 5-spice blend in more soup recipes this fall.

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