Some dishes are tagged as comfort foods because of the emotional connections we have with them; they conjure memories of good times, feelings of being nurtured or being carefree. But there is a physical aspect to comfort food as well — the kind that warms you from the inside out, fills you up and leaves you awash with contentment.
This homey soup is definitely in that realm. It’s an earthy and filling bowl of lentils enhanced with Swiss chard, tomato and elbow macaroni, seasoned with a deeply flavorful yet mellow mix of Middle Eastern spices. While it is 100 percent comforting, unlike most feel-good foods that are best eaten only occasionally, this one is incredibly good for you.
Aside from its aromatic seasonings, a few ingredients make it stand apart. First, there’s the Swiss chard, which I consider a “sleeper” kind of greens because it’s just as wonderful but not used nearly as often as spinach or kale. This recipe makes the most of the chard by using both its leaves, added toward the end of cooking, and its tasty stems, added at the start along with the onion so they become tender. Then there are the whole canned tomatoes, squeezed by hand, one by one, before being adding to the pot. This technique yields an especially rustic, homestyle texture — and I personally get a kick out of the process of squishing them — but you could substitute diced tomatoes if you want to skip that step.
The whole-wheat pasta gives the soup a friendly, lighthearted appeal, breaks up consistency of the lentils and provides a satisfying toothsomeness. But you could leave them out.
This soup is one of those one-pot wonders that is perfect to make on a weekend so you have a nourishing meal at your fingertips for the week ahead. Knowing there is a satisfying meal in a bowl ready at home waiting for you is something of a comfort in itself.
Lentil and macaroni soup with Swiss chard
The soup thickens upon standing, so add a little more broth or water when you reheat it. It can be frozen, without the pasta, for up to three months.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
½ bunch Swiss chard (6 ounces) leaves and stems separated, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1¼ cups brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
8 cups no-salt-added chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
1 28-ounce can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, plus their juices
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
½ cup dried whole-wheat elbow macaroni
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the chopped chard stems, the garlic, cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper flakes; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lentils and the broth.
Add the tomatoes, one at a time, crushing them with your hands over the pot, plus any juice that’s remaining in the can. Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper; once the mixture is bubbling at the edges, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, until the lentils are tender; check the tomatoes during this time and break them down further with a spoon.
Increase the heat to medium-high; stir in the macaroni. Once the liquids come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook for about 10 minutes, at which point the pasta should be nearly done.
Discard the bay leaf, then stir in the Swiss chard leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, then taste and season with more salt and/or pepper, as needed.
Makes 6 servings 10 to 12 cups.
Nutrition per serving: 290 calories, 14 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 370 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber, 11 grams sugar.