Hold to the French good-luck tradition and ladle out prosperity, warmth, and a feeling of comfort for the new year with this hearty soup that features one of France's very best products: Du Puy lentils, for which there is no substitution in my kitchen. Where other lentils lose their shape and flavor easily, these stay firm and meaty, rich in taste; seek them out and you'll know why they're called poor man's caviar. In this recipe, adapted from a David Waltuck favorite, the lentils are given a smoky boost with Canadian bacon, and the soup is versatile: you can serve it in bowls at the start of a meal or cook it down to a thick, no-liquid state and plate it alongside any main course. In fact, this dish is so good, it often becomes the one-and-only course for our family's traditional January 1st meal. Bonne année! —Allison Cay Parker
Rinse lentils in a colander. (There is no need to soak them.) Sift through them carefully and extract any debris you may find. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add Canadian bacon, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic releases its aroma and the onion appears translucent.
Add the lentils, chicken broth, bay leaves, and thyme. Stir once and increase the heat to high. When soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer the lentils for 1 hour, removing the cover periodically to stir.
Taste and, if desired, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Continue to simmer until the soup reaches your desired consistency. To serve the lentils as a soup, watch the pot closely to make sure all the broth does not cook out; it can go quickly at the end. You can also deliberately simmer until very thick and suitable for plating as a side dish. Just make sure that the lentils do not scorch on the bottom of the pot.