Several things conspired to make this lentil soup–an overabundance of bacon in the fridge, some leftover juniper berries and a yen for soup on the chilly evening. Lentils and pork are a classic combination, and after consulting Niki Segnit’s The Flavor Thesaurus, I found that juniper berries (which I don’t use often) also have an affinity with pork. Deglazing the pan with a splash of sherry deepens the flavor while the juniper berries lend a bright counterpoint.
This recipe is inspired by British chef Nigel Slater’s book, Tender, Volume I, A Cook and His Vegetable Patch. Slater calls for blanching the whole Brussels sprouts before sauteing them in the bacon fat. Shredding the Brussels sprouts allows you to skip that step and yields a slaw-like side dish that’s great with roast beef, pork or fish. Juniper berries have an astringent quality that’s a nice counterpoint to the earthy sprouts and smoky bacon. If you don’t have them on hand, substitute a splash of gin (which is made from juniper berries) or, in a pinch, a squeeze of lemon. I like to season this dish with flaky Maldon salt, which comes from the town of Maldon, not far from where my husband’s family live in Essex.
I first encountered candied bacon while working in pastry kitchen, and the combination of salty, smoky and sweet was alluring. Center-cut bacon is a bit leaner than other types of bacon, but any kind of smoked bacon will work in this recipe. Blanching the bacon in simple syrup enhances its texture, while threading the bacon onto wood skewers creates a sort of Candied Bacon “lollipop”. Depending on the size of your broiler pan, you may need to bake the bacon in two batches. You can also jerry-rig a good setup by placing a cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet. This bacon is great in our Chocolate Chip Cookies with Candied Bacon, and leftover bacon will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container. This bacon candy also is tasty crumbled over vanilla bean, butter pecan or maple ice cream, and makes a great savory-sweet nibble with cocktails (especially bourbon-based sippers).