When my husband and I were freshman in college, and had just started dating, we discovered that we both loved the restaurant Carrabbas. There wasn't one in Hickory yet, but we found one right outside Charlotte. Of course we wanted to spend as much time together as possible, without really saying that to each other, so driving to Charlotte "for Carrabbas" was our favorite date. I didn't have a car at school, but JJ did. One Saturday night each month, he'd pick me up at my dorm room (on the third floor, his was on the second), we'd walk down to the parking lot and he'd even open the car door for me.
We would almost always order the same exact thing, I'd get Chicken Marsala with Mashed Potatoes and Lentil and Sausage Soup, he'd get Pollo Rosa Maria with the same sides. While I can't proclaim my love for Mushrooms in Marsala anymore than I already do, the lentil soup was just as delicious. It was so spicy, full of flavor and very hearty. These days we rarely go to Carrabbas, and I wouldn't eat those dishes anymore since I went back to vegetarianism, so I'm left with trying to recreate the flavors at home.
The basics of this soup were easy to imitate, lentils, vegetables, tomato broth and spice. What was a bit more challenging was getting the sausage flavor in a vegetarian soup. To do this, I added sage and fennel. Those two distinct flavors scream sausage! I didn't add any sausage texture, but you could chop some Field Roast Italian Sausage, crumble in some tempeh, or even add some rehydrated TVP flakes. Since my husband is always in need of a soup dipper, I pulled some artichokes, roasted red peppers and mozzarella from the fridge and made a simple Italian Quesadilla, but some plain crusty bread would be equally delicious!
*To speed up cooking time, I simmer lentils separately while soup gets cooking, but you can also add all ingredients to a crock pot and cook.
Spicy Lentil Vegetable Soup
inspired by Carrabbas
1 c. dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tbsp. EVOO
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 celery stalk, minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. white or red wine (I used Malbec)
1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes (crushed or whole, depending on your chunk preference)
4 c. vegetable stock
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried rubbed sage
1 tsp. whole fennel seed, crushed with a mortar and pestle (preferred, or use ground)
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Parmesan Cheese, for serving
Fill a stock pot with water, bring to a boil, salt heavily and add lentils.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
Heat a soup pot over medium.
Add EVOO, onion, garlic, carrots and celery.
Season with salt and pepper, saute' for 10 minutes, until slightly caramelized and softened.
Add wine, reduce, and tomatoes.
Use a potato masher, if whole, to crush tomatoes to large chunks.
Add vegetable stock, lentils, red pepper flakes, sage, fennel and paprika to soup pot.
Bring to a light boil, reduce to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.