Mexican Lentil Soup with Roasted Garlic and Chiles

from Fields of Greens by Annie Somerville Bantam Books, 1993

Note from Weekend All Things Considered: This recipe looks a bit complicated, and it is a bit time-consuming, but it's worth it -- it's delicious.


  • 1 c lentils
  • 6 c cold water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 fresh oregano or marjoram sprig
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 tbs light olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded (about 1 1/2 c) or 12 oz canned tomatoes with juice
  • 1 red onion, diced salt
  • 1 tsp cumin seed, toasted and ground (see below)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano, toasted
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbs Ancho Chili Puree (see below)
  • 1/2 tsp Chipotle Puree (see below)
  • 1 tbs chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh oregano

    Sort and rinse the lentils and place them in a soup pot with the water, bay leaf, sage and oregano sprig (if you can't find fresh herbs, a pinch or two of dried herbs will do). Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove the herbs.

    While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the head of garlic with a little oil, place it on a baking sheet, and roast it for about 30 minutes until it is soft. When the garlic has cooled, slice off the top of the head and squeeze the garlic out of its skin. Puree with the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and set it aside.

    Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin and the dried oregano; saute over medium heat until the onion is soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the carrot and peppers and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chili purees, the pureed tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt, and simmer for 10 minutes.

    Combine the beans and their broth with the vegetables, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. For more spice, add more ancho or chipotle puree to taste. Sprinkle in the fresh cilantro and oregano just before serving.

    Ancho Chili Puree
    Pull dried ancho chiles apart at the stem end to remove the seeds. If you wish, you can roast them in a 350 oven until they puff up and smell toasty, about 5 minutes. Then place the chilies in a small bowl and cover with hot water, allowing them to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Place them in a blender or food processor; add a small amount of liquid and process to a smooth puree, adding more liquid as needed.

    Chipotle Puree
    Use canned chipotle chiles packed in adobo sauce. Puree a whole can at a time. It will keep in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.

    Toasting dried herbs and seeds brings out their unique flavors. In this recipe, you can toast the cumin seeds and the oregano together, but in general it is a good idea to toast them separately so that the flavors don't mingle when you don't want them to. Place them in a dry saute pan over low heat. Stir and shake until they release their aroma and darken slightly, just a minute or two. If you use whole cumin seeds, you may want to grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle after toasting them.

    This page and all contents are 1997, National Public Radio.