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Lentils are a small but mighty member of the legume family. They get their modern name from their resemblance to an optic lens.

Cultivated for 10,000 years, lentils have been providing sustenance to humankind for millennia. Lentils are mentioned several times in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, Esau gives up his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Although the Bible isn’t specific on the type of lentil used, I like to imagine a big bowl of red lentil soup.

Many readers may be familiar with the traditional lentil soup. Made with brown lentils, the soup has a dark, murky color that may be a bit off-putting. Red lentils produce a soup that is bright and inviting.

Red lentils have another advantage. Unlike their brown and green cousins, they are sold already hulled and split. They produce a creamy soup that cooks in half the time with no soaking required.

Like all legumes, red lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. High in protein and fiber, they are also a good source of iron and magnesium. Unlike red meat, another source of iron, they are low in calories and cholesterol free.

Red lentils are available in most major supermarkets in the dried bean section. At about a dollar a pound, you won’t have to give up your inheritance to buy them.

The recipe below produces a vibrant, savory soup. Although it might seem like a strange addition to soup, don’t leave out the lemon juice. Added at the end, it enhances the other flavors and adds a bit of oomph.

Red Lentil Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

A few grindings of black pepper

1 teaspoon ground chile powder

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 cup red lentils

2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chile powder, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add the broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Using an immersion or regular blender, purée half the soup, then add it back to the pot. Then stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Serve hot.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.

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