Last Bites of Umbria

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            Before my Umbria glow leaves me entirely, I want to post a keeper of a recipe.  This was sent to me a couple of years ago by my wonderful friend, Shelly, aka KayeSyrah.  The recipe looks simple, but it creates a fabulous combination of flavors in the mouth.  I do have to say, though, that I can never have it again without using Umbrian lentils, one of their agricultural specialties.  These teeny seeds are a world apart from the larger varieties that turn into a mushy gravy for dhal bhat, which we also love, but it’s different.  Umbrian lentils keep their shape and some firmness to the bite so they remain a nutty entity in the soup rather than becoming the background.
            Stone ground polenta is also characteristically Umbrian and I have developed a little meal around this soup and cheese stuffed roasted peppers on polenta.  It’s a vegetarian meal that no one will mind is missing meat.  If you need it, however, roast a rosemary chicken on the side.
Umbrian Lentil Soup with Lemon
Serves 4
3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-tablespoon tomato paste
1-teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1-quart chicken or vegetable broth
1-cup Umbrian lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of ½ lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering.  Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.  Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot.  Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low.  Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.  Taste and add salt if necessary.
Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, puree half the soup; it should be somewhat chunky.  Reheat soup if necessary and then stir in lemon juice and cilantro.  Serve with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.

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