A makeover for ham and lentil soup

There is nothing sexy about lentil soup.

It’s a frumpy brown. It’s got the texture of troublesome cellulite.

The smell takes me to my grandmother’s. It was a thrifty way to use the left over ham from family functions, after slices had been carved with a serrated electric knife – for ease of cutting.

Yet like many deeply unsexy things (flight socks, dental floss, flesh coloured underwear), it’s incredibly useful.

A caveat. I actually don’t believe in flesh toned underwear. I’ve just been told by other people that it works if you’re wearing white. Which I never do. Except on my wedding day.(And while I’ve revealed lots of personal stuff here, I don’t think anyone needs to know the details of my underwear on my wedding day.)

It makes a sturdy lunch. It’s a soup that actually works for supper.  It’s so robust it’s almost closer to a stew. And it fits the bill if you’re persisting on a low carb/ no sugar thing like The Hungry One is.  Pulses are high in protein. They also stick to your ribs, preventing the need for a second dinner at 9.30pm

I figure all it needs is a little makeover. Not a nose job, just a few odds and ends to gussy it up.  Think of it as a new lip colour and a blow dry.

The things that grate on me most are its flabby texture and the flat fatty flavour.

So I started scratching about for things to give it a little more kick.  A gritty topping of almonds, garlic, and lemon zest  ground and toasted together could work.

A little parsley for colour. And some chorizo, to show the ham hock how pork can really be a star.

It’s not that far off from the chorizo nut crumble that I’ve used to dress up beans.

A few sliced cherry tomatoes over the top would add some and bounce. I find it better to add them at the end rather than cook tomatoes in with the soup- their acidity can alter the texture of the lentils and make a mushier soup.

As for the cellulite texture, the quickest way for a lentil soup to remind me less of  cottage cheese-thighs is to top it with something that absolutely will.

Ham, lentils, curds and a little zesty crunch.

It’s not the sexiest meal going around. But it will do.

Ham and lentil soup with savoury crumble

Serves six


1 large casserole dish/ le creuset/ slow cooker


500 grams of green lentils
1 small ham hock, skin and fat removed
2 brown onions, cut into small dice
2 cloves of garlic, grated or crushed
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
1.25 litres of vegetable stock (nb, if you prefer a more watery soup use up to 2 litres and add a tin of diced tomatoes- they will help the lentils break down more).
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of olive oil
½ cup of white or pink wine
1 tablespoon of cottage cheese per person
3 cherry tomatoes, cut into thirds, per person

Here’s how we roll

1.    If you have time, soak the lentils in cold water for an hour or two first. While soaking isn’t a requirement for lentils, there’s some suggestion that soaking them and then disposing of the soaking liquid can help reduce one of the other, deeply unsexy effects of eating a lot of lentils.

2.    Gently sauté the garlic, onions and carrot in the olive oil until soft (10 minutes).

3.    Add the ham hock and brown on all sides.

4.    Add the wine, scrape up any residue that’s formed on the bottom of the pot.  Cook the wine down for a few minutes.

5.    Rinse the lentils. Add the lentils, the vegetable stock and the bay leaves to the pot.

6.    Cook for four to six hours on a low heat until the lentils are soft and the ham is falling off the bone.

7.    Remove the ham bone and shred the meat with forks. Fold it back into the lentils.

8.    Top each portion of soup with a teaspoon of cottage cheese, tomato segments, some extra parsley and the crumble.

Savoury crumble


50 grams almonds
50 grams chorizo, cut into small dice (though salami would also work)
2 cloves garlic
1 handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Zest of a lemon

Here’s how we roll

1.    Combine the almonds, chorizo, garlic and parsley in a small blender and whizz until it’s a small rubble.

2.    Add the zest of a lemon.

3.    Fry over a medium heat until the almonds are crispy and the chorizo has leaked oil and is cooked through.

4. Sprinkle over the top of the curds and soup.

  1. Wow, that is certainly a good way of jazzing up what many people think is a boring ingredient. I like lentils specially in middle eastern salads. I make one with pumpkin, bacon, walnuts, goats cheese and spinach/rocket and lentils… Ottolenghi some good ideas in Plenty.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  2. Lovely! So satisfying. I bet it would be great with a fried egg on top, too.

  3. Looks like you spiced up those lentils nicely. I love lentils but do think they need a little 'bling' to make things more exciting. Well done!

  4. I love lentils and your recipe looks fantastic! I use sausages with lentils but a ham hock is a great idea!

  5. i'm a new fan of lentil soup, and i love what you've done with it!! sounds particularly awesome 🙂

  6. This just hammers home the sad truth — already suspected — that I'm profoundly unsexy: I love everything about all types of boring old lentil soup, and I have a drawer full of flesh-colored underwear.

    Well, heck.

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