Turkey Lentil Soup

You know those recipes that run in families? Lentil soup runs in my family. I only discovered this when I sat down for dinner at my aunt’s house in Scotland and the first course was a soup just like my dad’s. They told me that my grandma taught all of them how to make it. Since moving to Canada, my dad adapted the recipe to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, so I used turkey to make this recipe – but chicken works well, or you can leave out the meat entirely for a lovely veggie soup.

Ingredients:
olive oil
2 fresh turkey legs (skin on, bone-in)
1 white onion
3 celery stalks
3 carrots
1 cup red lentils
1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon
salt and pepper
bay leaf
grated cheddar (for topping, optional)

Method:
I started out by browning the turkey legs in hot pan with a little olive oil. I left the skin on for flavour and a little fat (without it, there’s barely any in the recipe). While the legs were getting some colour, I filled our kettle and turned it on.

Next, I prepared the veggies: an onion, a couple stalks of celery, and a couple carrots (even though I prepped 4 here, I actually only used 2 or 3 carrots… the rest were snacks). This is a classic combination of vegetables that has its own culinary term (mirepoix). It’s often used in French cooking as a flavour base for soups or sauces. To begin, I washed the celery and scrubbed the carrots, then took the tops and bottoms off of each.

I then finely chopped the onion, finely sliced the celery, and grated the carrots. Grated carrots may seem unusual but it actually evens out the cooking time for the vegetables, allowing the carrots to cook at the same speed as the onion and celery. Otherwise, the carrots are usually the last to cook through. Mirepoix is technically supposed to be 2 parts onion to 1 part each of carrot and celery, but I tend to go more 1:1:1 when making a soup.

When the turkey legs were browned all over, I set them aside on a plate (careful, they’re still raw!). I quickly sauteed the mirepoix in a little olive oil in the same large pot where I browned the turkey legs. I made sure to use the moisture coming out of the vegetables to scrape up (deglaze) the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

I measured out 1 cup of red lentils and gave them a rinse under cool running water. Red lentils are the traditional lentil in my family and I, quite frankly, like them better than de Puy or other green/brown lentils. To me, they have a much milder taste. They also break down more when cooked, giving the illusion that the soup has been lightly pureed.

I added the lentils, turkey legs, a 1/2 teaspoon of chicken bouillon, a few grinds of pepper and a bay leaf to the pot. I then poured in boiling water to cover (about 1L, from the freshly boiled kettle).

I simmered this for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about every five minutes, until the turkey legs were cooked through. I checked the turkey throughout by pulling it out, slicing through to the bone, and looking at its doneness once or twice. When it was cooked, I removed the turkey legs to a cutting board and let them cool, letting the soup continue simmering.  When they were cool enough to handle, I removed and discarded the skin, then shredded the meat.

When my dad makes this soup with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey, he does this the other way around (since the meat is already cooked). The morning after Thanksgiving, he picks the meat off the bones and uses the bones to make a stock. He uses the stock instead of boiling water and chicken bouillon, then adds in the shredded turkey.

I then stirred the shredded turkey back into the soup, simmering an extra couple minutes (because my turkey looked a little pink!). I tasted to make sure the lentils were cooked, and adjusted the seasoning as needed, then it was done!

This is such a basic soup, but it’s so comforting and healthy. With the turkey left out (and vegetable broth swapped for chicken), it is a vegetarian meal that you can make when camping or elsewhere that you don’t have refrigeration, because its ingredients can be left at room temperature. I like both versions, but most of all I like to eat it the way my mom does – topped with a little cheddar!

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