When I was a kid, my mom got very into “lite” cooking and would often scour magazines and newspaper food sections for low-calorie recipes. Somewhere, she came up with something called “Midwest Lentil Soup,” which supposedly had something like 150 calories per generous serving. The problem was, it was just okay…not bad enough to never make again, but really pretty bland, with a short ingredients list that included lots of zucchini or yellow squash, very little in the way of aromatics, and almost no seasoning.

Still, for some reason, we kept it in the meal rotation, tweaking here and substituting there. After all these years I think I’ve finally perfected it, and my version bears almost no resemblance to the original. I’ve renamed it more accurately as Chicken Lentil Soup (which it is, and always was), added more vegetables, amped up the seasoning, and made it heartier overall. It probably no longer contains 150 calories per serving, but honestly, aren’t we all glad we’re done with the diet fads of the ’90s anyway?

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers (I favor red, but you can use green), diced
4 medium carrots, sliced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash puree
3 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken

In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion, celery, garlic and bell peppers in the olive oil until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carrots, red pepper flakes, salt, thyme and basil and stir.
Pour in the chicken stock and add the lentils. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and pumpkin or squash puree. Stir well and continue to simmer, uncovered, for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the lentils are very tender.
Stir in the cooked chicken. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired; continue to cook gently until the chicken is warmed through. We like to serve this with a side of cornbread.