I have always added smoked ham to my Lentil Soup, my absolute favorite being a John Morrell E-Z Cut (Black Label if you can get your hands on it). The problem is the prices! They've gone through the roof the past few years, at least where I live. When I was living in New Orleans, I could wait until the day after a holiday and pick up a ham for $15, but here it would cost me $45-$65!! Needless to say, I've cut back on my ham consumption. That's too bad, because it is an awesome ham! :(
Of course you can use any ham, but it's just not the same without that sweet, juicy, smoky Morrell (sniffle, sniffle, sob). Having made Kale and Panchetta Stuffed Shells recently, I had some pancetta (yup, just realized I have been spelling pancetta wrong - there's no "h") left in the fridge, so I decided to pick up some more and try that for a change. I definitely like this version, but the pancetta was the star of the show this time around; usually the ham and dill share the spotlight.
2-3 T olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 lg onions, diced
3-4 stalks celery, small dice
14-16 oz bag of lentils
Two 32 oz cartons of beef broth
1 can Delmonte Zesty Jalapeno Diced Tomatoes
(or Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles)
Salt and Pepper
Dry and/or fresh dill
4-6 oz diced pancetta (or a nice chunk of ham, diced)
Normally, I would start off by sauteing the onions and garlic, then add the celery and move on from there - with the ham going in at the end. Because I was using pancetta this time, I decided to start off with the garlic and pancetta. I really should had started with just the pancetta, because the garlic started to brown too fast and I didn't want it to burn, so I ended up adding the celery and onion more quickly than I planned. I was hoping to get a little crisp on the pancetta. So, if you're using ham, set that aside for now, saute your garlic and onion until the onions are translucent, then add in the celery until it's well coated with the olive oil and starts to sweat.
Add the lentils and enough water just to cover everything, then stir in your beef broth. When it comes to a boil, season with salt and pepper, a good 3T or so of dill, and reduce to a simmer. For some reason, as much as I love fresh dill, I prefer the taste of dry dill in my soup. If I happen to have fresh dill in the fridge or growing on the deck, I'll garnish with it when serving. Totally up to you.
Let that cook for about 45 minutes, then add the tomatoes and ham (if you didn't already use pancetta) and continue to simmer until the lentils are to your desired doneness. Garnish with more dill.