This is one of my favourite soups and one of the most comforting bowls of food you could eat –or does one drink soup? One of those cup a soup brands used to have the tagline “a hug in a mug”-slightly nauseating but it really could apply to this soup. I do see that it might seem a bit much to cook the ham hock for 3 hours but a good soup lives and dies by the quality of its stock base- and here it makes all the difference. You can flake the cooked ham hock into the soup or shred it finely and spread it on buttered toast as an accompaniment to the soup.
- For the stock
- 1 large ham hock
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tablespoon black peppercorns
- For the soup
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground mace
- 150g red lentils
- 300ml chicken or vegetable stock
- For the stock, put the ham in a large stockpot and add the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Pour in 3 litres cold water. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 3 hours, skimming off any scum that accumulates on the surface of the water. Leave to cool then lift out the ham hock. Remove the fat and lift the meat off the bone. Discard the bone and flake or shred the meat. Pour the stock through a sieve and discard the solids. You should have about 950ml stock. You can do this a few days in advance. If you chill the stock remove any fat that solidifies on the surface before using in the soup.
- For the soup, heat the oil in a saucepan and add the vegetables. Cook over a moderate heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring often. Add the mace and cook for one minute.
- Add the lentils, reserved ham stock and chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer the soup for 30 minutes.
- Leave to cool then liquidise until the soup is silky smooth. Taste and season with salt and ground black pepper. Serve the soup warm, either with the shredded ham stirred in or on hot buttered toast.