Spinach-lentil soup with saffron and manchego

Spinach-lentil soup with saffron and manchego

There are two star ingredients in today’s soup — and if you asked me which one I liked best, I’d be hard-pressed to choose. These two ingredients, although entirely different, are on the same pedestal, at least for me.

Lentilles du Puy are little French green lentils that have been cultivated in the region of Le Puy-en-Velay, in the Haute-Loire, for more than 2000 years. They are so prized that they have their own AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) seal.

These are the diamonds of lentils, blessed with a nutty, earthy flavor and a delicate texture that no other lentil can rival. The tiny legumes acquire their distinct flavor from the thin volcanic soil they grow in, and the abundant sunshine that drenches their native land.

As if that weren’t enough to distinguish them, lentilles du Puy also are very high in protein yet very low in carbohydrates, which allows them to hold their shape as they cook without getting mushy. It’s easy to see why these lentils find their way into many of my recipes — including today’s soup.

And what of saffron? This regal spice fetches a king’s ransom for sure, but it also delivers considerable flavor. The spice lives inside the three tiny stigmas of the female saffron crocus flower (crocus sativus), each of which must be hand-harvested. (No wonder saffron is, by weight, the world’s most expensive spice!)

True saffron threads (another name for the stigmas) or powder should have a deep orangey-red hue, so don’t be fooled by pale yellow-orange copycats! The best way to tell is by paying close attention to its color — and its price tag. If you want true saffron, you will have to be willing to loosen your purse strings.

But what a divine flavor those microscopic stigmas conceal! Saffron has a lovely, mellow and yet potent fragrance and a positively intoxicating flavor.

On a side note, I always use saffron threads in my recipes, rather than saffron powder. Perhaps it’s my suspicious nature… but I want to make sure that I am buying the real thing. Some recommend soaking the threads before cooking with them, but I like to gently pound them to a powder instead.

Two star ingredients, one mighty delicious soup – and it only takes minutes to prepare. One instance where less truly is more.

Food & wine pairing: Rioja Crianza with spinach-lentil soup

Red wine iconFor this soup, a medium-bodied red with round flavors and a bit of spice would work very well, like a Rioja — not a Reserva (which could easily overwhelm the delicate flavors of the soup) but a Crianza, aged only about 2 years. Typically a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, Rioja Crianza boasts ripe cherry flavors, a hint of spice, smooth texture and balanced acidity, all of which pair beautifully with the spinach-lentil soup to make a truly palatable first course.

Saffron stigmas

Spinach-lentil soup with saffron and manchego

serves 4
active time: 20 min

  1. 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  2. 2 large shallots – skinned, quartered and finely sliced
  3. 1/2 cup dry white wine
  4. 4 large garlic cloves – finely chopped
  5. 1 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads (0.25 g) – gently pounded in a mortar
  6. 1 – 15 oz (425 g) can peeled plum tomatoes – puréed in the food processor
  7. 1/2 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils or black Beluga lentils are good substitutes)
  8. 3 cups vegetable stock
  9. 2 cups spring water
  10. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to taste
  11. freshly ground black pepper to taste
  12. 6 oz (170 g) baby spinach – rinsed and spun dry
  13. 1 teaspoon aged sherry vinegar (preferably 50 years old)
  1. freshly grated Manchego as garnish
  2. extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

  1. Heat a large heavy-bottomed soup pot at medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and shallots and sauté for 2 minutes until softened. Add the wine, garlic and saffron and simmer until the wine has evaporated and looks syrupy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the puréed tomatoes, lentils, stock, water, salt and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender. Uncover the pot, raise heat to medium and add the spinach leaves. Simmer uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes only, until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, add the vinegar and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Ladle the soup in bowls. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil, and serve immediately.

Spinach-lentil soup with saffron and manchego

soup, lentils, spinach

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  • Reply Bonnie September 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    After planning to make this soup for some time, I finally did and I loved it! The balance of flavors was wonderful with the saffron and Manchego. Delicious.

    At the end, I was curious about the sherry vinegar. I thought 1 teaspoon seemed such a small amount. So, I tasted the soup before and after I added it. I really could taste the difference.

    Another recipe I’ll make again and again. Thank you!

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre September 18, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      You are most welcome, Bonnie! Thank you so much for leaving such wonderful notes for me. For this particular soup, the tomatoes already have a good amount of acidity, hence only adding a small amount of vinegar. But even that little bit brightens the flavors. This is one of my favorite soups – it’s so delicious and yet so easy to make… Enjoy!

  • Reply Chris Powell January 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Viviane, I just serve the Spinach Lentil soup for dinner this evening. It is delicious! Dave enjoyed it, even with lentils and spinach! Although he mentioned that the spinach could be chopped. I only had a half teaspoon of saffron, so I suspect that the flavor would even be better with more. And I used a Wilson Daniels Chardonnay, which is wonderfull at room temperature; not dry but well balanced. Since I did not have a Sherry Vinegar, I substituted a teaspoon of a 1929 Cuvee Dom Perignon Champagne. We had opened it two years ago; the fizz had already dissipated from it before then, but it still had some flavor. So I saved it, hoping for some interesting vinegar. It still is not a strong vinegar but the flavor is still there. In the recipe, I did not see when to add the vinegar, although I surmised that it was after the spinach was wilted. Thank you also for introducing us to the Manchego cheese. It is mild and flavorful. I definitely enjoy your recipes and suggestions. Thank you so much.

    • Reply Viviane January 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      Dear Chris, How lovely to get such a detailed comment from you – thank you! I’m delighted the soup turned out well and I must apologize for the omission of the vinegar in the recipe. I actually became aware of this last week and corrected the recipe (if you printed it, make sure you get another copy now). The vinegar should be added at the very end. Sherry vinegar has a lovely mellow flavor, hence my using it in this recipe, but just about any vinegar would do as a teaspoon is very little, and it is only added to brighten the flavors. I’m very proud of Dave for being brave enough to try both the spinach and the lentils – Kudos! Thank you so much for letting me know how the recipe turned out. Your feedback is always so wonderful and so welcomed. Happy cooking dear Chris… and happy eating too!

  • Reply Viviane January 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Deb! Thank you so much for letting me know about the soup. Brown lentils will do perfectly well for the soup of course… I am so glad everyone enjoyed it! I do hope you can find green lentils though… They are truly superb. I get mine in my local health food store.

  • Reply Deb January 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I made this soup for dinner and everyone found it enjoyable! With saffron and Manchego cheese already in my pantry I set out to purchase the green lentils and baby spinach. Living in Salinas, CA fresh spinach is readily availabe but I was unable to locate green lentils. I used regular brown lentils from my pantry and had a stellar soup for dinner.

  • Reply Donna Ford January 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for the education Viviane. There’s so much to learn. Great photo’s. Looking forward to cooking some for Rich & I. 🙂

  • Reply Laurie Iseman November 30, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Can’t wait to make this. I adore Lentilles du Puy! Beautiful post.

  • Reply jean January 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    What a gorgeous, hearty soup. Will have to put French green lentils on my list of things to try. The manchego and saffron are calling my name, too.

  • Reply Carol Peterman/TableFare January 9, 2011 at 1:57 am

    I love French green lentils. What a beautiful soup.

  • Reply Katie August 25, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Just made this tonight and it was delicious! I used a variety of beans and lentils and my family and I couldn’t get enough of it!

  • Reply Lentil Soup Recipe June 15, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    This lentil soup looks amazing, I love the idea that it has spinach in it, looks very healthy indeed.

  • Reply Sonia Baxter March 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Viviane- This looks and sounds wonderful. I was thinking of something like this for tonight but it never materialized! I am going to try your recipe soon. See you on Sunday.

  • Reply Fuji Mama March 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    GORGEOUS soup! I LOVE those lentils. Maybe I can convince my hubby to cook tonight so I can have some of this. It sounds perfect for someone feeling under the weather!

  • Reply Megan February 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Yum, this soup sounds so heart-warming and satisfying, and I love the Manchego shredded on top-that’s one of my favorite cheeses!

  • Reply Claudia February 24, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I have the hardest time finding these lentils and I am tasting this soup… wanting it… needing it. The saffron is just a luscious addition.

  • Reply Divina February 23, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I absolutely love Lentilles de Puy because of their earthy flavor. Thank you for so much for this recipe and for making it extra special.

  • Reply Sheskis February 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I’ll have to follow your advice on the saffron, in the past I haven’t been so impressed by it-possibly by buying the cheap stuff. What a stunningly cute little bowl!

  • Reply Vegetable Matter February 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Beautiful soup, Viviane. And vegetarian too! I’m a Manchego addict, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it with soup before. It’s an inspired idea, though, that I’ll be sure to copy!

  • Reply Debi(Table Talk) February 22, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Ooh, look at that Manchego just melting into the soup! I may need a crouton to dunk into the middle 🙂

  • Reply Dana Treat February 21, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Manchego! Genius! I am not a cheese person, but I absolutely love manchego and can’t even imagine how delicious it is garnishing this soup. I love all lentils but those are my favorite.

  • Reply Alessio February 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Ach so! Bread coming your way 😀 Plain or with orange zest? 😉

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre February 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

      Alex! I think a plain, crusty loaf sounds great!

      Dana & Debi… I’m so glad you both love Manchego. I must say it’s one of my favorite cheeses too… especially when it melts in a warm soup!

      Thank you all for your comments – as always, they just warm my heart!

  • Reply Alessio February 20, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Sounds like a very hearth-warming soup 🙂 Earthy, fresh and aromatic but, where is the bread? eheh

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre February 20, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      Oh Alex… I thought you were making me a loaf of bread to go with that soup!

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