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FRENCH LENTIL & BARLEY SOUP

This lentil soup is delicious, filling, and reheats very well (ditto for freezing it, and not all lentil dishes do well after being frozen).  It is adapted from the wonderful cookbook Essential Pépin, and from a family recipe.  I use tiny, dark green "French lentils," sometimes labeled differently from store to store, because they hold up much better than green ones in the soup.  Please DO NOT substitute red lentils in this recipe, as they turn to mush. You can substitute chicken broth for beef broth, or just use water if you're in a real bind, but the best flavor I've found in this soup is the beef stock.  

Serves: 5-6
Allergen List: none, but please check the ingredients in whatever sausage you choose

INGREDIENTS

2 cups French lentils, picked over and soaked for about 6 hours ahead of time, in enough filtered water to cover the lentils                  (plus abut 1/4 tsp. sea salt added to the soak water--boosts the lentils' flavor)
1 quart (4 cups) organic beef broth (one of those boxes of broth from the store is a quart)
4 cups filtered water, plus more as needed
1/2 cup pearled barley
2 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1/2 of a white or yellow onion, chopped
Minced garlic to taste (I usually do 2 cloves) or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
Fresh thyme and oregano leaves, to taste, or a little bit of the dried herbs
1/2 tsp. dried fennel seed (opt.)

DIRECTIONS

In a 6-quart Dutch oven with lid, soak lentils as directed (above).  Drain soaking water off the lentils (a lot will get absorbed) and add beef broth and water.  Bring to a boil, and skim off the worst of the foamy residue that rises to the top as the soup heats up...won't hurt you to eat it, but doesn't look all that pretty, either.  Give the soup a stir to make sure the lentils aren't sticking to the bottom.  Add the barley, chopped onion, garlic, carrots, sausage (kind of crumble it into the soup as you take it out of the casing), and herbs.  Add more water if you need to--lentils will continue to absorb water as they cook.  

Turn the heat down some so the soup is simmering nicely but not boiling, cover pot with lid (the whole way), and cook for 50 minutes.  Ladle into soup bowls and top off with grated cheese (Monterey Jack, Swiss, and parmesan are all good candidates), let your guests salt & pepper their soup to taste, and serve with a side of garlic bread.

Enjoy!