The Secret Ingredient To Flavorful Lentil Soup Is A Dash Of Tarragon

Lentil soup may not be the most glamorous of recipes, but that doesn't mean that there aren't ways to elevate the humble and hearty dish. While you can mix and match flavorful ingredients and condiments, there's a complex herb that might have yet to cross your mind, and that's tarragon. A gustatory powerhouse, tarragon is all it takes to turn lentil soup from lackluster to loveable! 

Tarragon is teeming with flavor. Beyond its delicate, licorice-forward profile, the herb also displays notes of spice and citrus. Additionally, tarragon has a distinctly herbal earthiness that makes it unique but also tricky to pair with certain ingredients — luckily, lentils aren't one of them. With such diversity on the palate, tarragon is capable of imparting huge amounts of flavor to all sorts of legume-based recipes, rich and robust lentil soup included. 

Lentils tend to be mellow and mild, making them the perfect partner for tarragon. That said, sweet and toasty red lentils can play with the bittersweet quality of the herb, much like peppery green lentils. Otherwise, intensely earthy brown and black lentils fare well against the woodsier and grassier side of tarragon. But, that's not all: As lentils stew and simmer with other ingredients in a soup, tarragon is even able to complement grassy aromatics and fresh pops of citrus as well as balance a savory broth or traces of decadent brown butter. In essence, tarragon works to keep every aspect of lentil soup cohesive.

Take a chance on tarragon, but don't do it blindly

Fresh and dried tarragon can both be found at grocery stores, but it's worth noting that each version needs to be used differently. Since fresh tarragon is so delicate, it's best worked into lentil soup towards the end of simmering or as a final touch. In contrast, dried tarragon lacks the same varied nuances and must be added earlier in the cooking process to fully infuse its flavor.

A tablespoon of fresh (or a teaspoon of dried) tarragon is more than enough to boost complexity and revamp a one-dimensional lentil stew. Likewise, it also doesn't hurt to use other herbs in conjunction. Earthy parsley, peppery thyme, or anise-y chervil are all fabulous flavor enhancers that can amplify multidimensional tarragon. 

Not sure what else to toss into a lentil soup besides legumes and tarragon? Since it's a relatively neutral base, there aren't many rules as to which ingredients can and can't make their way into a simmering pot. Experiment with different colored legumes, swap chicken broth for veal stock, and add unlikely ingredients like a handful of savory shiitakes or sweetly tart dried cranberries. You can even play with texture and flavor through garnishes like crunchy lardons, a creamy dollop of labneh, or a jammy poached egg — lentil soup has never been more limitless! For even more uses for tarragon, try using it as a substitute for dill or as the secret ingredient to elevate french fries.