Rainy Day Lentil Squash Soup, Slow-Cooker Style (gluten free, vegan, fat free)

It was a rainy, chilly day in Minneapolis. The warm, sunny days of the last few weeks finally gave way to much-needed rain; the wind had a bite and the rain was cool, providing a stark contrast to the recent heat.  I heard on the news that today was the coldest temperature for June 6 in 100 years - it only hit about 50º F.  Combined with the rain, it was not a great day to be outside.  But underfoot, the thirsty earth drank what the sky had to offer.  Like much of the Midwest, we are suffering a draught.  Gardens are dry, grass is brittle, and farmers are suffering.  This rain was exactly the kind of nourishing soak that we've been hoping for.  
I love rainy days. I like the diffused quality of the light, the fresh smell, that sound that cars make traveling down the wet street, and reflections in puddles.  This kind of weather that just calls for soup, something warming and gentle.  Something equally nourishing as this much-needed rain shower.  And thanks to the crock pot, I got just that; a pot of hot soup awaited me when I returned from afternoon of chemistry homework at the neighborhood cafe.    This soup was satisfying and delicious, bursting with lentils, kabocha squash, kale, celery, onion, and seasoned with a hint of thyme and savory.  Served up with some on-the-fly sorghum flat bread (leftover whole cooked sorghum grain, sorghum flour, lentil flour, flax meal, olive oil and water), this was the perfect dinner for a cool day.  

And besides being delicious, this soup offers massive amounts of nutrition and is totally free of added fats.  Lentils provide great protein, and like beans, are a great source of iron and fiber.  Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.  And kabocha squash is a great source vitamins, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates.  It is my favorite squash; it is sweet, dense, and vibrantly orange.   And best yet, you don't have to peel it - the skin softens during cooking and is totally edible.  Feel free to substitute Hubbard, Buttercup, or another dry-fleshed winter squash in its place if you'd like.  Full of fiber, protein, and loads of vitamins and minerals, this soup is easy, totally delicious, and lovely to behold.

yield: 4-6 servings

1 c dry French green lentils
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 or 4 stalks celery, sliced
2-3 cups unpeeled Kabocha squash, diced in 1"x 1/2" x 1/2" cubes
4-5 leaves kale, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 T dry thyme
1/2 T dry savory
salt to taste
4-6 c water

Soak the lentils in water for 4-6 hours. Rinse.

Place prepared onions, celery, and squash in slow cooker.  Add lentils, bay leaf, thyme, and savory.  Add 4-6 cups water, enough to cover ingredients by a couple inches.  Cover, and cook on high for 5-6 hours, until lentils are soft but still intact.  Do not uncover until the very end!

Before serving, thinly slice kale.  You now have two options: steam kale until tender, about 5 minutes, then add to soup.  Or, add raw kale to slow cooker, cover, and let cook 10-15 minutes or until kale is tender.
Add salt and pepper, or more thyme/savory, to taste.  Let cool a few minutes, then serve.  Would be delicious with a spoonful of yogurt or kefir (dairy or non-dairy, as you desire) swirled in the top.  An original recipe by Kim Christensen of www.affairsofliving.com.