RED LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CHILLI SOUP (serves 3 as a main meal)
1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 red onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 large red chilli pepper, de-seeded and diced finely
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
half a butternut squash (I used the stalk end), peeled and diced
3 large juicy tomatoes, cored, diced and as much juice as possible included
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp low salt chicken stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
1 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
500ml hot water
150g dried red lentils
ground black pepper.
Use a large sized saucepan and heat the olive oil over a moderate heat. Add the streaky bacon lardons and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden.
Add the onion, garlic, chilli pepper, carrots and celery and continue to cook, sweating the vegetables down and stirring regularly until they have just begun to soften - around 10-15 minutes.
Add the butternut squash pieces and give them enough time - stirring regularly - to warm up.
Next, add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato puree and stir to combine. Cook on until the tomatoes have begun to break down.
Add the dried basil, the two stock powders (or stock cubes), hot water and red lentils. Stir through until well combined, then cover the saucepan and bring to a lively simmer.
Remember to stir the contents regularly, as red lentils can sink to the bottom and singe if left unstirred.
Once the lentils are almost cooked and the butternut squash is tender, taste to test for seasoning and add sea salt and ground black pepper as necessary.
Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils, carrots and butternut squash are tender, then taking a potato masher, press it through the soup some three or four times to just break up some of the vegetables which will have the effect of thickening the soup. You can, if you prefer, whizz the soup with a stick blender, but I much prefer to have some chunky texture to it - I think it keeps you interested as you eat it.
Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with warm, buttered chunks of bread for dipping.