Slow-cooker beef, bacon, and lentil soup
Lentils are a great addition to your diet as they bring not only fiber but also vitamins and minerals to the table. And, since they are pretty much a blank-canvas, tastewise, in my opinion, you can pretty much include them in anything!
1 1/2 c. dried lentils, washed and drained
5 c. cold water
8 oz. bacon, cut into lardons
1 lb. stew meat
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter OR olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
2 c. warm water mixed with 1 tsp. beef soup base
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. good vinegar (balsamic or sherry would be great)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
Brown the bacon in a skillet; remove bacon to paper towels to drain and discard most of the bacon drippings (leave just a tad bit in the pan to add flavor to the beef and vegetables!). Turn the heat a little higher and sear the stew meat; remove to a plate to rest. In the same skillet, without cleaning it out, quickly sear the vegetables, except the garlic, in the butter or olive oil. When the vegetables have some nice color on them, stir in the flour, making a roulx. Stirring constantly, allow the roulx to cook for a few minutes, otherwise your soup will taste like paste. Then add in the salt, pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard and vinegar (standing too close when adding the vinegar will literally knock the breath out of you!). Pour in some of the beef soup base dissolved in water to deglaze the pan (scrape all of that wonderful color and flavor off the bottom of the pan!), then combine everything in your crockpot. Cook on low 7 hours or high for 3 hours.
Sidenotes: this recipe originally called for ground beef – I classed it up a bit with stew meat, but there is no reason you can’t go back to just ground beef; the difference would be that the ground beef should be cooked completely before you put it into your crock. A roulx is a mixture using (usually) flour or arrowroot (I’ve never used it) used to thicken sauces and soups; cornstarch dissolved in cold water is another technique for thickening a soup/stew or sauce. As far as I’m concerned, they are interchangeable, as long as you know that cornstarch is ALWAYS dissolved completely in cold water before adding to a hot liquid, brought to a boil, and then allowed to simmer. Flour and arrowroot are always added to some kind of fat in a hot pan and cooked off some before the liquid is added; to ensure that your roulx isn’t lumpy, I recommend whisking as you add your liquid to the pan. If you use a cold liquid, you deglaze your pan, pulling up all those lovely flavor notes from the bottom of the pan (as well as making clean-up easier as you’ve eliminated the need to scrub!). Also, you don’t need to cook/brown anything but the bacon (and ground beef, if using it) before adding it to the crock. But the browning step adds a definite depth of flavor, so if you have the time, make sure you do it – you won’t regret it!