Yoga classes have been concentrating on decongesting and detoxing this spring.  Nutritionally there are some easy and extremely beneficial ways to enhance cleansing the liver and detoxifying the digestive system.  Now is the time to let go of the heavy foods of winter and transition to gradually eating smaller quantities as the outside temperature rises.  Spring is the time to increase our consumption of bitter foods such as dandelion greens, mustard greens, kale, swiss chard, escarole, and leeks.  These bitter foods aid in cleansing the liver and detoxifying the digestive system.

The following “recipe” illustrates an easy way to add bitter greens to your diet this spring.  You can use any kind of lentil in this recipe.  I have used the brown lentils and green lentils.  If you want to keep your soup vegetarian, just use a vegetable stock in place of the ham stock.  I have done this with leftover bits of smoked duck instead of the ham hock with great success.  As a chef I am all about teaching techniques and not so much about following a recipe.  Use what you have and make it your own.  Give yourself this gift this spring.

If your family is like mine, we always have ham on Easter Sunday.  So there is always a ham bone to put to good use.  I also wanted to highlight the Umbrian Lentil as an homage to the Gourmet Cooking Tour and Inner Beauty Yoga Retreat that I am leading  to Umbria in November.  Here’s a recipe template that I have been enjoying this spring.  I first make a “stock” with the ham hock or ham shank to flavor the soup.  I treat the lentils as I would arborio rice when I make a risotto and I ramp up the bitter component by adding a variety of greens.  Enjoy.  À votre santé!

Umbrian Lentil Soup with Carrots, Greens, and Ham

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  • Ham bone, ham hock, ham shank, or smoked duck carcass
  • bay leaf
  • water to cover by 1 inch

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Bring ham bone, bay leaf, and water to a boil and immediately turn heat down to gently simmer for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Strain the stock and pick through, reserving bits of ham.  Discard ham bone and bay leaf.  De-fat the stock using a fat separator or by spooning the fat off the top.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups dried Umbrian, green, or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.  Add carrots, onion, and celery and cook, stirring regularly, until veggies are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add lentils and stir until grains are warm and coated with oil, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and stir to cook garlic, about 30 seconds.  Add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute.  Add Pepper flakes, 7 cups ham stock or vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.

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  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped large (1/2 in)
  • 1 1/2 pounds greens such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, escarole, stemmed and leaves chopped
  • optional 2 cups leftover ham, chopped

Stir in greens, carrots, and ham, if using.  Simmer until greens and carrots are tender, about 10 – 12 minutes.  Serves 6-8.  Soup freezes well too.

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