It's only been in this last year or so that I've occasionally bought soups for myself. I'm not a huge fan of soups - be they thick or thin - though I will gladly consume them if they're offered. It's certainly unlikely that this blog will ever feature a home-made soup (that said, knowing me, my very next post will be a recipe for a home-made soup!), but now my local supermarkets are stocking more than their own-brand cartons, there may well be more posts like this...
The main problem with lentil and bean soups, I've found, is that they tend to be very soggy. Lentils have to be soaked thoroughly before they can be used or it's like eating lead shot. Cook them just right, and everything's dandy... cook them wrong, however, and they're just mush. Beans, meanwhile, when fresh, are already soft, yet each kind has its unique texture. When making something like a bean and lentil soup at home, it's all too easy to create mush... and, by and large, most of the ready-made kind I've tried have been at the mush end of the spectrum. Better that than crunchy pellets, I guess, but surely there's a balance to be had?
My local shops seem to carry only two varieties of New York Soup Co. 'Fully Loaded' soups, while they have a range of four, along with two other ranges of three each, and the occasional Limited Edition. Given the choice between Tomato & Meatball and Chunky Lentil & Bean, then, I picked the latter due to my inherent distrust of meaty chunks drowned and disguised in sauce. The packaging claims that their products are "inspired by the fresh delis of New York", but this soup seems to be New York via Texas, labelled with the following: This hotpot is inspired by the cowboys of the Midwest who would stop for a feast of beans during vast cattle drives. This soup is packed full of protein and antioxidants... "ta keep ya full o'life boy!"
Seems to be a confusing case of multiple identities or just one of those situations where a company doesn't let their corporate identity get in the way of a good recipe.
But all this is just the packaging... what about the contents?
First impressions weren't good. Despite the packaging's insistence that "no artificial ingredients are used in our soup", the colour looked that little bit too vibrant... and the moment I dumped it into the saucepan (you didn't think I'd use the microwave for this, did you? I mean, sure, it's an option... but it's always better to heat a soup on the hob), I noticed the kind of oily sheen that I've learned to dread, since that's precisely the kind of thing that sets off my stomach acid.
A mere five to six minutes of warming on the hob later, I decanted the soup into a bowl, grabbed myself a couple of slices of bread, tucked in... And was very surprised.
It's difficult to say which surprised me first or most, but the main surprises were the sheer spiciness of the soup - bearing in mind that spiciness is not mentioned at all on the packaging - and the texture of it. It's called "Fully Loaded" and "Chunky and Hearty" and it really lives up to those epithets. The lentils are just firm enough that you know they're in there, and the skin on the beans is just tough enough that they feel substantial... and the innards are soft without being squishy, moist without being sludge.
The aforementioned oily sheen remains when the soup is heated, but it comes from what the ingredients list calls "Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1.5%)" and, even coupled with the spicy kick, my stomach had no complaints afterwards.
The spiciness isn't overpowering, then, but it adds a welcome kick to the hot soup, and keeps it from being the kind of flat, bland, almost woody soup that puts me off anything involving beans. In some cases, a substantial tomato component in this kind of soup would be enough to prevent it from becoming a flavourless mess, but that's only if you're especially fond of tomato... Since I'm not, the addition of garlic, black pepper and red chilli turns it into exactly the kind of soup I'm likely to pick up again in future.