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Italian lentil soup is a dish usually made with a mix of vegetables and lentils. It can have water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock as the soup base according to different recipes. Some cooks like to add Italian sausage or chicken pieces while others prefer to make meatless lentil soup. Lentil products are fairly common in vegetarian dishes because they are good sources of protein, fiber, and iron. Cooking with lentils for soup often involves soaking them in water ahead of time prior to softening them in boiling water and adding the rest of the flavoring ingredients.
In addition to lentils, various soup recipes can include chopped onions, diced olives, corn, and rice. Some cooks also like to add other classic Italian ingredients, such as cheese tortellini. Many of these lentil soup recipes call for sauteing the vegetables in a frying pan before adding them to the water or soup stock. Tomato sauce, salt, and black pepper are then typically stirred into the cooking Italian lentil soup.
Cooks have several options if they decide to add meat to their Italian lentil soup recipes. Lean ground beef or shredded chicken make good choices for lentil soup with lower amounts of saturated fat. Spicy or sweet Italian sausages are also popular choices with a good deal of flavor. Any types of meat added to lentil soup generally need to be browned in a stove top pan beforehand.
Some cooks like to use canned lentils that do not need to be soaked while others prefer fresh lentils. Canned lentils are normally packed in flavoring liquid with added preservatives, so most cooks drain and rinse them prior to mixing them in with the rest of the Italian lentil soup. Soaking dried lentils normally takes about eight to ten hours, although some recipes instruct the cook to soak them overnight for the best results. Adding rice to lentil soup also involves cooking it first until tender, and this step can usually be done in a rice cooker or stove pot.
Once all the desired ingredients are prepared, the Italian lentil soup is usually bought to a boil for a few minutes. Many cooks then turn down the heat and then leave the mixture to simmer for about 30 minutes. Heartier and thicker lentil soup can be achieved by adding cornstarch, although experienced cooks caution that adding too much can result in an uneven soup texture.