Chestnut and Lentil Vegetable Soup

The first time I had chestnuts was at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. They were handing them out still hot from the charcoal. This was a novelty in Hong Kong.  Years later, I was still buying them off the streets of New York.
I thought it would be a great idea to combine both chestnuts and lentils, a legume I reserve for the winter. I found this recipe on The Bojon Gourmet but before I started serving I looked at the soup with a questionable eye. I wasn’t sure how the tomato paste would mix with the chestnut toppings. But once we sat down and started eating, we couldn’t stop. The tomato paste produced a bold flavor that went perfectly well with the more mildly flavored soup. I would suggest not skipping that last step.

Chestnut and Lentil Vegetable Soup
Makes 6 – 8 servings

Soak: 1-2 hours
Preparation time: 40 min
Cooking time: 40 min
The lentils: 
1 cup green lentils (preferably soaked for 1 – 2 hours to reduce cook time by 20 min) 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 small yellow onion, finely diced 
1 small fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed, the rest finely diced 
2 medium carrots, diced (1/2 cup) 
2 celery stalks, diced (1/2 cup)  
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 bay leaf 
2 sprigs of thyme 
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano (I added rosemary instead)
1 teaspoon salt 
The chestnuts: 
One 10-ounce can chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1/2 cup dry white wine
Pinch of salt
Optional garnish:
Little cubes of bread

Place the lentils in a large bowl and soak in water for 1-2 hours. If you didn’t have time to do so just add hot water to the lentils while you prepare the rest of the recipe. 
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, fennel, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and thyme. Cook over medium heat until tender for about 5-10 minutes. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot along with 4 cups of water if lentils were soaked or 6 cups of water if they weren’t and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender for about 20 (if lentils were previously soaked) or 40 minutes (if they weren’t soaked). Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs and taste to see if it needs more salt.
While the lentils are cooking, cut up the chestnuts in small chunks. Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add the chestnuts, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium heat for a few minutes then add the tomato paste then the wine. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the liquid has reduced and thickened.
When the lentils are cooked, add the chestnut mixture to the pot. Simmer for a few minutes.
Serve the soup with a few croutons and parmesan.

Keeps in the fridge for a few days. It will become thick over time so add water when reheating.

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