The Columbia University campus exists in what I like to call a “lunchbreak wasteland.” Luckily, in the basement of the arts and architecture library there is a small and shitty cafeteria called Brownies and on Monday they serve a sausage and kale soup.
Is this the world’s greatest soup? No. But while Wednesday’s tomato bisque and Friday’s broccoli cheddar undoubtedly get glorped out of massive industrial soup-pouches delivered by the good folks at Sodexho, I believe this one is a Brownies Original. What corporation would mass-produce an aggressively spicy soup with lentils, sweet potatoes, kale, and enough Italian sausage to make getting through your afternoon classes a real gastrointestinal challenge? Who decided these ingredients worked together? It had to be a personal choice, and that’s what made it my favorite.
I haven’t lived in New York for two years, but this Monday I suddenly had to have this deeply visually unprepossessing but comfortingly hearty soup. All I had were some Sainsbury’s own-brand sausages, some elderly potatoes, and a dream.
Sainsbury’s own-brand sausages come all twisted together in a string like they should be flapping out of a cartoon dachshund’s mouth. They also taste like breakfast, and not like spicy Italian breakfast. However, you can absolutely squeeze the meat out and mash it with about two tablespoons of gochujang and an equal amount of dark soy sauce until its own mother wouldn’t recognize it.
You can then slap it into a heavy-bottomed saucepan on top of some shimmering canola oil and let it think about what it really wants to do with its one wild and precious life, flipping once the bottom has bronzed nicely and chopping into a spicy crispy meat hash.
Frying diced onions and carrots in rendered pork fat is one of life’s joys, as is adding chopped potatoes that have nearly lost the will to live, and the second half of a packet of ancient speckled green lentils that were definitely going to come in so handy at the beginning of quarantine oh for sure definitely.
After a half-hour’s hot-tubbing in some dangerously overseasoned stock (not ready to talk about that yet) with a funky sprig of rosemary, you have the kind of hearty soup that a brave young mouse and his otter companions would eat in a Redwall book if it were in any way vegetarian.
To help that along, add whatever leafy vegetables you might have on hand. I added about six frozen spinach nugs from my trusty freezer bag, and all of a sudden this brown sludge was lit up with bright green tendrils of Health and Vitality.
What I’m trying to say is, this soup is the kind of thing you’d eat in a smoky inn on the way to seek your fortune, this is a soup that would restore you after fighting off a cotillion of giant spiders, this is a soup that makes it possible to face the prospect of arguing for three hours with fifteen 22-year-olds about the viability of the Pirenne Thesis. This is a soup that will help you out in a tough time.
A Fortifying Soup for a Hard Winter:
- A pack of Sainsbury’s own-brand sausages (or about 8 of honestly whatever kind of sausage you have)
- Emergency Flavortown Residents (gochujang and soy sauce, 2 tbsps each)
- An onion
- Two carrots
- Celery would have been good
- Half a bag of potatoes (~6 or 7 medium baking or boiling potatoes). Sweet potato or butternut squash or turnips or anything else from your hearty fantasy kitchen garden works just fine here too.
- Half a bag of green lentils from before the dawn of time, rinsed and drained (1 cup or a bit more)
- About 8 cups of extremely overseasoned stock from a failed experimental garlic roast chicken. Or, like, normal good stock.
- Frozen spinach nugs (like 6 – or a half a head of cabbage, or as much kale as you feel you can take on at this time, chopped to edible size)
- Squeeze sausage from casings into medium bowl. Add 2 tbsp gochujang and 2tbsp soy sauce, mix well and leave to sit while you chop the vegetables.
- Dice carrot and onion and cut potato into bite-size pieces. Let the potato hang out in a bowl of cold salted water if you don’t want it to discolor, but it’s going in soup, so.
- Heat one tbsp of canola or other vegetable oil (not olive, smoke point too low) in a heavy-bottomed pot (Dutch oven, stock pot, whatever you want the soup to eventually be in).
- Once oil is shimmering but not smoking, place sausage in pot and leave undisturbed for 3 minutes or so – leaving it alone without stirring will help it form a crispy crust and begin building the flavor base for the rest of the soup. If you leave it be it should release just fine when you go to flip it, but don’t worry about things getting stuck on the bottom of the pot because you’ll get them in the end.
- Once sausage is brown on bottom, flip and chop to create a lovely hash and encourage it to just cook already, Hibachi-style. The idea here is not to have large sausage chunks in the soup, but a sort of all-over meaty yumness, like bacon bits. But it’s your soup, you’re the boss.
- Once it’s browned all over, remove from pot with slotted spoon to paper-towel covered plate to drain. You’re gonna cook it in the soup, but if you want to sneak crispy bites while you cook the rest of the stuff, make sure it’s cooked through.
- Dump onions and carrots into pot with pork grease and use their juices to start scraping up the bits. Hang out, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and carrots are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add lentils and potatoes and stir to combine. Salt and pepper the veg and let mingle for a minute or two. Don’t forget to add back your sausage and some rosemary if you have it (1/2tsp dried, or one sprig of fresh).
- Add about a cup of stock to deglaze, which means chase all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan and make them become productive members of society/the broth. Make sure nothing’s stuck to anything else, then add the rest of your stock and bring to a boil. I find it helps to have been boiling the stock while prepping the sausage and vegetables, but that’s because my stock is coming from the fridge. If you’re using boxed stock or cubes it matters much less but might take a minute to get hot.
- Boil for about half an hour, until lentils are done and potatoes are fully cooked.
- Taste for seasoning, then drop in your leafy veg and cook until wilted, or melted, if you’re using frozen stuff. Admire how responsible you’re being.
- Serve hot with a few extra drops of gochujang to garnish, and, if you’re lucky, Molly’s incredible cheddar bay biscuits and some crusty bread. You’re ready now, sir knight.