resized Lentil soup.jpg

I’m sure you’ve noticed each month Yakima Magazine focuses on a different theme. In the course of a year we cover many topics relevant to life in the Yakima Valley — from home and garden to entertainment, art, wine and so much more. So it’s fitting as we proceed into the new year to focus this issue on health and wellness.

“Health” has become a bit of a buzzword in the last couple years. You can find every kind of expert (I use that term with a heavy dose of dry sarcasm) on the internet and very likely in your ear from a well-intentioned friend sharing their “secrets” and promising all sorts of results in the name of health for just $99 and a three-month contract.

I’ve thought a lot in the past couple years about how to be healthier. I’ve dieted and exercised. I’ve dabbled in Keto and intermittent fasting. I cut out dairy and attempted to give up sugar. But what I found was it only increased my obsession with “bad” foods and in general made me feel worse. My quest to be healthy was really just a thinly veiled effort at having a smaller body, which in reality has little to do with being healthy.

As I’ve muddled my way through what it means to be healthy (especially as somebody who loves to cook and eat) here’s where I’ve landed: food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed. Food is more than a transaction. Food is culture. It is memory. So my vow has been to make peace with it all. Nothing is off-limits. Food nourishes and restores the body but is also meant to be enjoyed and savored.

For me, this means eating mostly homemade food. More than anything what has helped me sift through all the noise surrounding health is simply to be mindful about what comes into my refrigerator and ultimately on my plate. I want to know what I’m eating and I want what I eat to be made from real ingredients. I try to incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables into my everyday recipes and take seriously what journalist and renowned food writer Michael Pollan recommends: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Living in Yakima we have the unique benefit of an abundance of real food right at our fingertips. We can visit local farmers markets and fruit stands almost half the year and find local produce at the grocery store all year long. We can watch our food grow almost anywhere we look in our Valley.

When I’m looking to add extra vegetables into my meals I often rely on soups to get me there, especially in the winter. Soup tends to be incredibly forgiving and lends itself to hiding ingredients I might otherwise avoid. Just about any kind of vegetable becomes appetizing simmering in a warm pot of broth.

This particular recipe for lentil soup with ham and potatoes is a family favorite. Everyone eats it and I often make a big batch on the weekends for easy lunches or a quick weeknight dinner. I add a couple big handfuls of kale or spinach just before serving to up the fiber content and add a bit of green to the pot. This soup is reminiscent of the lovely children’s book “Stone Soup” — it’s just a little bit of this and that added to the pot with a generous pinch of salt and a little bit of patience. The outcome is a hearty, vegetable-forward bowl of goodness, perfect for nourishing body and soul.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cups baby red potatoes diced
  • 1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 10-12 ounces ham steak or 4 pieces
  • center-cut bacon diced
  • 1 cup red lentils rinsed and drained
  • 2 32-ounce boxes low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-6 cups baby spinach OR chopped kale
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper divided
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large Dutch oven, sauté onions, carrots and celery in oil over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Add garlic to the pot and cook for an additional two minutes. Salt and pepper the vegetable mixture.

Add potatoes, ham and tomatoes to the pot along with the bay leaf and dried thyme. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring often, for an additional three or four minutes.

Add lentils and chicken stock to the pot. Stir in honey, balsamic vinegar and more salt and pepper. Simmer soup uncovered on low heat for at least an hour until lentils are tender and potatoes are cooked through.

Taste broth to make sure it’s rich and flavorful. Add a little more salt if necessary. Ten minutes before serving, stir in spinach or kale. Allow the greens to simmer for about five minutes before turning off the heat. Let the soup rest an additional five minutes before serving.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top with a sprinkle of freshly shaved Parmesan and a hunk of crusty bread. Soup serves 6 to 8 portions.