This is one of my favorite lentil soups, one that tips its hat to Catalonia. It starts with a base of sofrito, the Spanish building blocks of onion, garlic, and tomatoes (though I’ve added carrot, as well, because I like the way its sweetness pairs with earthy lentils), and ends with almond picada, a dense paste of fried bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil, and parsley. The soup is delicious on its own, but it’s all the better because of the picada, which you can add during the final minutes of cooking to flavor, and then bring to the table as a garnish. I like a crumbly picada with this soup, but a smooth paste (almost purée) is more traditional. Feel free to go either route.
Notes: If you can't find piquillo peppers, use a smaller amount of regular roasted red peppers (jarred or freshly roasted). —EmilyC
extra-virgin olive oil
diced yellow onion (from 1 large onion)
diced carrot (from 1 large or 2 small carrots)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
28-oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed lightly
roasted piquillo peppers (jarred or freshly roasted), roughly chopped (about 1/2-cup), or 2 roasted red peppers
thyme, finely chopped
Spanish smoked paprika, or more to taste
French lentils or Spanish pardina lentils, rinsed
vegetable or chicken stock, plus water, as needed, to thin the soup
skinless (blanched) almonds (whole, slivered or sliced)
Kosher salt, to taste
In This Recipe
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and a pinch of salt, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Move the ingredients to one side of the pan to create a "hot spot" for the tomato paste. Add the tomato paste and toast for a minute or two, stirring the paste a few times to prevent burning, then combine with the onions, carrots, and garlic.
Add the tomatoes (I like to lightly crush them with my hands or cut them into coarse chunks with kitchen shears), piquillo peppers, thyme, smoked paprika, lentils, bay leaves, broth, 2 teaspoons of salt, and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, lower heat and simmer (uncovered) for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Add water to thin, if needed. Reduce heat to its lowest setting and add sherry vinegar. Adjust seasoning and acidity to taste. Stir in a few tablespoons of picada to flavor the soup, then cook for another minute or two. Turn off the heat, remove bay leaves, and serve, passing more picada at the table for sprinkling over the soup.
In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the bread and cook until toasted and uniformly golden (almost the color of cornflakes) on both sides. Turn the heat down if the bread starts to burn or color too quickly; it should gently sizzle in the oil. Remove bread from the pan, and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into small cubes.
Return the skillet to the burner (no need to wipe clean) leaving any leftover olive oil from toasting the bread in the pan. Lightly toast the almonds and garlic until lightly golden, stirring frequently, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the burner.
Transfer the cubes to a food processor. Add the almonds, garlic, any remaining olive oil from the skillet, and the parsley. Pulse until finely chopped for a crumbly picada, or pulse longer (drizzling in a few teaspoons more olive oil) for a more traditional smooth paste. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle to pound the picada into a crumbly or smooth paste.