Brian Murphy, a sous chef at Oliveto, mixes up lentils for one of his signature soups.
Brian Murphy, a sous chef at Oliveto, mixes up lentils for one of his signature soups

A recent posting on the Food Blog Alliance site urged writers not to use overused adjectives such as “nice,” “wonderful” or “delicious” when writing about food.

Since I tend to dislike edicts even more than clichés, let me say this about the lentil soup recipe I am about to offer:

It is wonderful. It would be nice for you to try it. And if you did, you’d find this soup to be delicious.

Okay, maybe I could work harder in describing why a mere lentil soup deserves the forbidden D-word.

But believe me, it does. There is something about slow cooking of dried porcini mushrooms, wine and lentils that leads to magic. If you properly execute this dish, throwing in generous amounts of finely diced vegetables and finely chopped herbs, you will have a soup that is as complex and brooding as Caravaggio painting.

Some might say that lentil soup is an odd thing to prepare in the summer. That would be true in Sacramento (where I live). But in the Bay Area, where it is often cold and foggy, a lentil soup is just the thing to be enjoying on a back patio. I learned this basic recipe at Oliveto, one of many perks of working as a galley slave (intern) there.

Credit for this particular combination goes to Brian Murphy, an Oliveto sous chef who consistently turns out the kitchen’s finest soups. Brian’s nickname is “Chateau,” as in “Chateau Brian.”

So here’s to you, Chateau. Salut!

Lentil soup with porcini and herbs. Why wait until fall to enjoy?
Lentil soup with porcini and herbs. Why wait until fall to enjoy?

Chateau’s lentil soup

Serves: 8-10


1 1/4 pounds green lentils
2 red onions, medium dice
1 large carrot, medium dice
2 stocks celery, medium dice
1 head of garlic, clove peeled and finely sliced
1/2 bunch rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 bunch sage, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon finely ground coriander seed
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in dry red wine
Up to one gallon of water
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt to taste

Equipment needed:
Heavy stew pot or soup pot; hand blender or regular blender; sharp knives.


1. Dice onions, celery and carrot, and finely slice garlic cloves. Video: Basic instructions on peeling and dicing onion.

2. Soak dried porcini in wine, and have a glass for yourself. Grind the coriander. Open the can of the finest tomato paste you can afford.

3. Chop the heck out of the herbs. Get them really fine, but watch your fingers. Don’t even think about using a food processor for this.

4. When onions, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs are ready, heat up your soup pot and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Throw in your veggies and herbs. Salt rigorously and cook under medium heat until vegetables are soft.

5. As veggies are cooking, pull dried porcini out of your wine and finely chop. Filter sediments out of wine and reserve.

6. When veggies are soft, add tomato paste to the pot, stir it around for a minute and then add reserved wine. Stir, and add half of your ground coriander.

7. Add lentils to pot and fill with the gallon of water. Add any wine from the bottle you haven’t already enjoyed (about 1/2 bottle). Raise heat until lentils boil and then reduce heat to a generous simmer. Cook until lentils are tender and done.

8. Blend soup rigorously with a hand blender. If too thin, cook to desired thickness. If too thick, add water, judiciously. Add salt to taste. Add more coriander, if desired. When perfect, ladle into soup bowls and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

(Note: Aftering ladling soup into soup bowls, Oliveto drizzles each with “Olio santa” — olive oil cooked briefly with rosemary and red pepper flakes. Give it a try.)

Chateau’s Lentil Soup: A soup rich in food clichés 13 August,2009Stuart Leavenworth

  • Scott

    I am making this soup right now. It smells heavenly in my house. I see where the recipe says to pull the porcini out and chop, but I don’t see where it says to put them back in. I just guessed and put them in at step 7. Hope I was right!

  • Out of all the lentil soup recipes I’ve read online today, I’ve decided to make this one. Part of it is because you hooked me on salting rigorously and watering judiciously. And plus the wine and porcini sound Delicious.


Stuart Leavenworth

I am a veteran newspaper reporter who has transcended to the life of a kitchen slave. In April, I took a leave from The Sacramento Bee, where I work as a columnist and editorial writer, to intern at Oliveto, an Italian restaurant in Oakland. Until at least September, I will be working five days a week at the restaurant, learning basic culinary skills and helping Oliveto prepare its nightly dishes. What will happen at the end of my sabbatical? Who knows? At the very least, I’ll be a far better chef than when I started. I’ve been a dedicated home cook for more than 20 years, largely because of the inspiration of my wife, Micaela Massimino. Mickie and I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively in Italy, France, the Deep South, New Mexico, Vietnam and Japan, and we enjoy cooking food from all of those places. I also have some experience in writing about food — particularly the environmental consequences of food production. In the 1990s, I covered the rise of industrial hog farming in North Carolina, while working at the Raleigh News & Observer. Since moving back to California in 1999 and joining The Bee, I’ve specialized in coverage of water issues and threats to the state’s fisheries. When I am not cooking, eating or writing, I like to take long rides on my various bicycles, which helps build an appetite for more cooking, eating and writing.

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