Slow-Cooker Lentil and Sausage Soup

October is Work and Family month, and as a working mom some days are easier than others to get a nutritious meal on the table that works with everyone’s schedules. This is the time of year I love to pull out the crockpot and get a main dish going in the morning so  when I get home at night all I need to do is add a salad or side dish and we are ready to eat.

Soups and stews are a great way to lower fat in your diet, extend the protein and save money! Recipes can easily be altered to include more vegetables and less meat and not lose flavor. In addition, high fiber items like barley, couscous and dried lentils can be included to increase the nutritive value. Remember, to make your dish as healthy as possible, refrigerate the finished soup overnight in a shallow container (no more that 3 inches deep) which will cause the fat to rise to the surface and solidify, making it easy to remove the unwanted fat.

As you trim and peel the last of the vegetables from your garden for canning, freezing or everyday cooking, save the clean, undamaged bits and pieces and store them in your freezer. This will be your stock supply, ready to add to your next soup or stew. Freeze your small amounts of potato water, beef broth and other liquids in ice cube trays to add to your base when making a big pot of soup. Many soups, stews, chilis and gumbos taste even better when refrigerated a day or so to allow the flavors to blend. For that reason, soups are an ideal item to make ahead for a busy night’s supper. Here’s a recipe you might like to try:

Lentil and Sausage Soup
1 (16-oz) pkg. dry lentils, rinsed and drained
1 (16-oz) can diced tomatoes (or the last few from your garden!)
2 (14-oz) cans beef broth or 2 cups water and 2 bouillon cubes
3 cups water
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ t. salt free seasoning blend
2 lbs. Turkey kielbasa or Polish sausage, cut into ½ inch pieces

Makes 12 servings

In a slow cooker, stir together all ingredients. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6-7 hours. Stir well before serving. If you are only cooking for the short time, wait and add the tomatoes until the lentils are softened. The acid in them prohibits the cooking in shorter times.

What is the best way to cool down a whole pot of soup? Place the pot in a sink full of ice water to bring the temperature down quickly (within a half hour). Stirring also helps in the cooldown process. Place soup into small containers and into the refrigerator within the 30 minute time guide. Containers can then be frozen and reheated without heating the whole pot each time. Most soups freeze well in airtight plastic containers or freezer bags. Use within 3-4 months for the optimum flavor. Why not put on a pot of your favorite soup or try something new? Add a salad and a glass of milk for a healthy, hearty, complete meal for your family.