Lentil Pheasant Soup

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Years ago, this soup recipe was my first exposure to lentils, and I’ve been in love with them ever since. The pheasant I used was some that my husband brought home after a hunting trip. I can’t give any credit for this recipe, it’s that old. But I’ve been making it for a long time, and it’s still a keeper.

Pheasant isn’t terribly popular as a protein, mostly because it can easily be overcooked. But in this soup it stays nice and tender. You can substitute chicken if necessary.

If you’re in the mood for a laugh, I wrote a post about discovering my husband was a hunter after we were married.

To make this soup recipe for the blog, I purchased whole pheasants from D’Artagnan. I guess the local Oklahoma birds have been hiding in the fields these days.

Make sure you don’t use “grocery store” lentils when you make this, because they will become overcooked and mushy. If that’s all you can find, omit the last 15 minutes of cooking.

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Lentil Pheasant Soup

1 pheasant, 1 1/2 – 2 pounds, quartered, backbone removed and reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 carrots, cut into 1/2” dice
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2” dice
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2” dice
1 medium parsnip, peeled, cut into 1/4” dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
4 cups pheasant or chicken broth
3 cups drained and crushed canned plum tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
6 tablespoons Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper
Sour cream, optional

Place the backbone and wings in a large pot with water, and make a quick broth, which only takes about 20 minutes. Include some onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, and celery leaves. Or, substitute chicken broth.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a soup pot. Add the carrots, onions, celery, parsnip and garlic. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes to wilt vegetables.

Season the pheasant legs and breasts with salt and pepper.

To the soup pot, when the vegetables have wilted, add the tomatoes, lentils, and pheasant legs. To add the pheasant stock, I measured from the pot in which I made the broth, and poured it through a strainer.

Stir well, and simmer the soup, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Add pheasant breasts and simmer another 15 minutes.


Remove legs and breasts; reserve and let cool. Also let the backbone and wings cool so the meat can be removed from the bones for the soup.

Cook the soup, completely covered, for another 15 minutes, over the lowest heat. Give the soup a stir and make sure you like the consistency. Adjust with more broth if necessary. Season with parsley, thyme, salt, and white pepper.

During the final simmer, remove skin from the pheasant parts and chop or slice the meat. Add to the soup and stir to combine.

Serve immediately.

I love serving this soup with sour cream.

It’s just nice with the tomato-rich lentils, and the pheasant.

This soup freezes well, so don’t hesitate to make a double batch! If you were paying attention, I used two birds for this recipe, and doubled the ingredients.

Lentils

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any time now, you’re probably aware that I’m in love with legumes of all kinds. White beans, black beans, beans of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, of course, all kinds of lentils. East Indian cuisine refers to all of these as dal, or dhal, but I am used to the word legume.

The wonderful thing about legumes is that they are terribly inexpensive. I made sure both of my daughters knew how to cook beans when they set off on their own. If you’re on a budget, it’s really good to know how to create a lovely pot of any kind of beans. Cooked beans can be dinner, lunch, or breakfast. They can be a soup, salad, entrée, dip, side dish, and much more.

Lentils are also healthy because they have protein, as well as a lot of fiber. So between that and the fact that they’re cheap, it’s a definite win-win! I actually learned everything I know about beans when times were tough. I refer to those as our “lean” years. I managed a food co-op, which also helped with the grocery bill at the time, and spent a couple of years eating beans. But I still love them!

Today I’m focusing on lentils, because they’re even easier than beans to prepare. Mostly because beans are their larger counterpart, so more cooking time is involved.

My favorite are the lentils called Le Puy, from France, that I can order online for approximately $8. – 10. per pound. But there are both Spanish and Italian lentils that look and taste the same to the Le Puy varietal. Plus I just learned but haven’t sampled a French variety called du Perry. And I’m sure lentils grow elsewhere in the world as well.
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The Le Puy are my favorite because they hold their shape, and they have a real meaty taste. But there is another, more popular and available lentil, at least to Americans. They are only called lentils. No other name. I used to turn my nose at this variety and think of them as inferior, because within minutes these lentils turn to mush. But they do taste good, they’re still healthy, and sometimes you want lentil soup. In that case, these are the ones to buy. They’re also less expensive than imported lentils, at approximately $1.20 per pound bag.

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

The Indian orange and yellow varieties also mush up easily, which makes them wonderful for soups as well, plus dips. If you want them to hold some semblance of shape, you just have to be vigilant when cooking.

Today I’m going to show how easy it is to prepare lentils. I’m doing a side by side cook of the regular “grocery store” lentils, and Le Puy lentils. By the photos, you’ll be able to see how differently these two varieties cook up, and I’ll give some suggestions on using them.

And speaking of photos, I need to apologize in advance. On this day, I’d taken a walk outside because it was warm and sunny, and when I came inside to cook the lentils, I completely forgot to change the white balance. What a difference that adjustment can make!

Lentils

12 ounces lentils, dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Approximately 18 ounces of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Weigh the lentils and place them in a large bowl.
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Fill the bowl with hot water to about 2″ above the top of the lentils. Set the bowl aside for one hour.

regular lentils

regular lentils

Le Puy lentils

Le Puy lentils

When you’re ready to continue with the recipe, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

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Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and sauté them for 5 minutes.

Once one hour has passed, the lentils will have hydrated and almost reached the top of the water. Drain the lentils in a colander.

these are the regular lentils

these are the regular lentils

Once the onion and garlic are ready, pour in the drained lentils. Then immediately add the chicken stock.
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Add the chicken stock till it hits right at the top of the lentils.
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Then bring the lentils and broth to a boil, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.

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For the regular lentils, cook them 10 minutes. They will look like this when they’re done. When you give them a stir, you can see that they mush up, or disintegrate. Notice also that there’s no liquid at the bottom of the pot.
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On the other hand, after 15 minutes, the Le Puy lentils have soaked up most of the liquid, and they hold their shape, even after vigorous stirring.

goodlentils
Remove the lentils from stove and let them cool. The regular lentils will continue to absorb liquid, but the Le Puy will not.

Because of the fact that the regular lentils disintegrate, I like to use them for soups. They can easily become a dip as well, but the dip won’t be pretty. Use your pink or yellow lentils for those dips.

Today I “souped” up the lentils by adding more chicken broth and giving them a good stir. I could have alternatively puréed the lentils in a blender for a smoother soup. Then I and added some grilled Kielbasa, or Polish sausage, and topped off the soup with a dollop of sour cream.
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The lentils, of course, can be seasoned in any way you desire, and other ingredients like leeks, red bell peppers, celery, and carrots can be added to the aromatics. Thyme is really nice with lentils, as is some white pepper. Today I kept things plain, because lentils really have good flavor on their own.

For the Le Puy lentils, I also kept them plain, but paired them for lunch with curry-seasoned chicken breast.
lentils

In fact, curry powder ingredients go really well in lentils, as do any seasonings. You can even make them Southwestern as well, adding jalapenos, ancho chile powder, some chipotle peppers, and cilantro. Lentils are very versatile.
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As you can see, the Le Puy lentils really hold their shape even though they’re fully cooked. That’s why they’re so perfect as a side dish like this, or on their own as an entrée.