Spring is finally here and getting out of bed has never been this easy. By 7 AM the sun has already taken over the bedroom and gently woken me up to a warm and bright morning. However, it does bring one thing to mind: Soup. This winter has not seen as much soup making as I would have liked, and soon enough the time to brew will be over as the Sydney heat starts heading up. And so, walking through the food court at David Jones on my lunch break, I started eyeing out their beef mince which they advertised “Preservative free, consume within 24 hours”. That sold me. So I ended up buying two kilos of mince, one for soup and one for the freezer. In my mind I could already see the soup being made and I could already taste it. Earthy with lentils, thick, beefy and stocky and brimming with vegetables.
I got home and before I got changed out of my slave clothes, I immediately reached for my large stainless steel pan, covered the base with canola oil and fried 1 Kilo of mince on high heat. When the mince started yielding its liquid, I drained the juices into a separate bowl, added a bit more oil and returned the mince to the heat. There were two things I wanted to achieve by doing this. The first was to extract some of the beefy flavours in liquid form. The second was fry the meat instead of boiling it and by doing that, get some of the meat sticking to the bottom of the frying pan in order to form a basis for my stock. It is essential that you don’t use a non-stick pan as that would prevent the meat from sticking and as a result your stock will have no flavour. Once well browned, remove the meat and set aside without scraping the pan.
Next are the vegetables: two large onions, three large carrots, two celery sticks all chopped into half centimeter cubes, and four finely diced garlic cloves. For some spice, prepare 4 teaspoons of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 4 bay leaves and 2 whole star anise. To me, cinnamon and star anise are the perfect flavour partners with meat. Add a bit more oil to the pan, throw all the vegetables and spices in there and fry for around 20 minutes on medium heat stirring around every 5 minutes, giving the veggies time to caramelise. Next deglaze the pan with the liquid you reserved from the mince making sure you remove all the flavour stuck to the pan. Add the mince and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and top up with boiling water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer.
In a separate large stock pot, add your washed lentils (as much as you want really, 3 cups brown, 1 cup split perhaps), and half fill the pot with salted cold water. Bring to the boil, remove the scum and top up with the beef and veggies. Here you can add some quartered button mushrooms. Cover and boil until the lentils are nicely cooked. If the liquid is not thick enough, you can add some rice porridge which absorbs two and a half times its size in liquid.
Season with salt and pepper and enjoy.