I'm not usually a huge fan of lentils, and I often find them rather bland. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when you add bacon, preserved lemons, and feta cheese, they're no longer bland! I'm now a huge fan of this lentil soup recipe. I originally found it about a month ago after I started some preserved lemons. If you've never made them before, they take about a month of sitting on the shelf (tempting you) before they're ready to use. Torture! Luckily, the month was finally up last week and I was ready to give the preserved lemons a try in a recipe. They're wonderful here, and you could even add more than the amount called for. They add a fantastic zing to the dish. You can purchase preserved lemons ready to use, or make your own and wait a month - there are recipes all over the internet which all look pretty much the same.
The bacon added a lovely smoky flavor to the soup, but didn't make it feel "meaty". If you'd like more of that type of soup, I think sausage or lamb would be terrific here (maybe lamb sausage!). You could also switch up the cheese, although I found Bulgarian feta to be fantastic. I discovered this cheese at a local store and absolutely fell in love with it - it's moister, tangier, and more flavorful than the usual feta cheese (especially the kind that's already broken up and sold in plastic tubs). If you can find it, it's a perfect pair for the soup.
Lentils with Spinach, Potatoes, and Preserved Lemons (adapted from The Perfect Pantry, original recipe here)
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small squares
3/4 pound brown lentils
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Olive oil, as needed
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
16 frozen chopped spinach leaves
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely minced preserved lemons
Feta cheese, to serve (preferably Bulgarian feta)
1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and stir occasionally until browned and crisp. Reserving the bacon fat, scoop out the bacon bits and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
2. Meanwhile, place the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, adding more water as needed so the lentils are submerged in water.
3. While the lentils are cooking, add the onion to the bacon fat in the Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until softened and starting to brown, adding more olive oil if needed. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Add the cilantro and spinach and cook for another 4-5 minutes until everything is nicely softened and combined.
4. Add the lentils along with their cooking liquid and the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, undersalting a bit as the preserved lemons will add salt at the end. Add enough water to cover the ingredients, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for one hour, until thick and soupy.
5. Stir in the reserved bacon and the preserved lemons. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.