Ham lentil soup is a basic dish that brings instant comfort on a cold or dreary day. The ingredients are basic, yet they can be jazzed up with a variety of ingredients to change the basic recipe into something different. The soup can be spiced up for those who prefer more seasoning, or it can remain the traditionally simple but flavorful fare that relies chiefly on its main ingredients, lentils, small bits of cut-up ham or a weighty and meat-covered ham bone, along with carrots, celery and onions.
The choices belong to the cook, depending on the type of ham lentil soup he or she wants to create. Many times, cooks make no changes to their time-honored recipe, following the recipe for ham lentil soup that has been a family favorite for generations, including Southern and Italian variations. The soup is easy as well as versatile, because it can be changed into a whole new dish by substituting some ingredients, such as replacing the ham with beef.
Cooking with lentils, including ham lentil soup, usually involves dried lentils of the brown variety. Lentil products also include red and green varieties, and all types are good sources of fiber, protein, iron, potassium and folate. Lentils do not have a high fat or sodium content, but canned lentils usually contain more sodium. Some cooks rinse canned lentils before use to get rid of some of the sodium if it is a health concern.
Considered legumes, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking them in ham lentil soup, as some legumes need before use. The brown type of lentil is often used in soup because a package is affordable, and the lentils cook easily and soften relatively quickly in the simmering broth. Lentils also can be a flavorful and healthy addition to stews or vegetarian dishes, applied as a topping over vegetable or rice dishes.
Baking with lentils can lead to the creation of a tasty and meatless main course. Some cooks enjoy baked lentil dishes because they are hearty and easy to prepare. Other cooks like to bake with lentils by combining them with honey, cheese or barbecue sauce, while some people include lentils in baked chicken, ground beef or pork dishes. Still others enjoy lentils in a baked casserole, in a cheesy tuna pie or a sausage casserole.