Lentil and Ham Hock Soup
Straddling winter and summer really beautifully, this soup perfectly marries chilly spring nights spent inside in front of the telly and does not overwhelm just in case the weather turns surprisingly warm: Mona Farrugia is in love with soup.
Then it is cheap. But really, really cheap. A ham hock is around a couple of euro for enough bone, cartilage and meat to really give you wonderful depth of flavour. You use one big, fat onion. Then you also need around 200 grams of lentils, which, of course, are really cheap as well. If you can be bothered, you throw in a stalk of celery.
To vary, I sometimes use green, brown or yellow lentils, split peas, orange lentils or that bean and lentil mix which we still find 'by the gram' at the greengrocer's. Commercial companies such as Good Earth also package these. The latter two variants do not take heat like the first three. They tend to break down so that the soup is really thick within an hour. These mixes usually also include barley, which we are not that crazy about. Green, brown and yellow lentils tend to keep their shape. Lentil mixes also absorb an amazing quantity of water, so you need to keep an eye on the pot so that it does not dry out and the food inside it start to burn.
The loveliest thing about this soup, apart from how genuine it tastes, is that it gets better by the day. We usually make a big, fat borma of it, using around 500 grams of lentils. We have a portion on day one. Then on the second day, I fish the ham out and pull the lovely bits of salty ham out and add them to the soup before reheating. On the third day it tastes just amazing. On the fourth, there wont' be any left.
Heat a large soup pot, add the olive oil. When quite warm, add the ham hock and 'seal' its skin a little, turning it over until it crisps subtly. Add the lentils and celery and add enough water to cover everything well and then some. You can practically fill the pan, leaving a couple of inches off the top.
Bring to the boil. Just before the water boils you will see that a lot of white scum forms at the top of the water. Clean it with a wooden spoon but don't fuss. It won't kill you. Then simmer for as long as you possibly can, keeping an eye on the soup if you're using the soup mix. You may need to top up with water.
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