Winter is not coming, winter is here. There has been snow on the ground for a solid week, it is cold, it is perpetually cloudy, it is time for some comfort food. And comfort doesn't necessarily equal rich, fatty and unhealthy. Comfort can also be flavorful, bright and full of veggies...like a comforting lentil stew.
I have never had lentils before...I am not sure if I will like them.
Lentils are considered a legume, which also is what beans are. They are small, kind of round, but when cooked have a similar texture to beans. They are great at absorbing flavors, making them ideal for stews and soups. Lentils are considered a nutritional powerhouse, full of protein, and are often a great protein-source substitute for vegetarians. And for us meat eaters who have been over indulging on meat basically all of December, this is a welcome change for a meal.
How do you cook lentils?
Lentils are cooked in liquid. If you are just doing lentils, you would boil with a 4:1 cups ratio water to lentils. For this particular recipe I cooked the lentils right in with the vegetables, wine and vegetable cooking stock.
Lentils come in many forms.
- Puy lentils - these are small French lentils that I used in this recipe. I like them because they are small, giving them a nice texture and not be too overpowering.
- Red lentils - These are a bigger and a bright orange color. These are not ideal for soups or stews. Red lentils cook super fast and turn to mushy garbage if overcooked. These are best cooked alone and used in salads.
- Green lentils - small and similar to a puy lentil, they are great in a stew like this because they hold their shape well.
- Black lentils - These are the most nutritionally dense of all the lentils. They take a while to cook, but are hearty, hold their shape and would be great in a stew or a soup.
What else is in this comforting lentil stew?
A sh-t ton of vegetables, of which you can use whatever you like or have on hand. I used carrots, mushrooms, celery, kale and tomatoes. I recommend a lot of hearty root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, rutabaga if you have on hand, but really anything will do. This stew is all about comfort, so whatever floats your comfort boat, go ahead and use it. And if you like mushrooms, I really recommend adding them - they give this stew a great earthy element.
Outside of the lentils and the vegetables, there is red wine, a lot of salt and thyme, tomato paste and vegetable stock. When finished cooking a quick splash of sherry vinegar is stirred in, use red wine or apple cider if you don't have sherry, which give this dish total balance - especially if using tomatoes which make it a bit sweet.
Comforting lentil stew
- 5 cups of vegetables of choice chopped I used mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, kale and roasted tomatoes (use canned whole tomatoes if you don't have roasted ones on hand
- 1 cup of lentils
- Handful of fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 cup of red wine
- 4 cups of vegetable stock use chicken stock or water if you don't have vegetable stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar use red wine or apple cider if you don't have sherry - do not use balsamic
- In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil.
- Add all your vegetables and cook until soft and having some good caramelization on them,, this takes about 8 minutes on a higher heat. Stir in the thyme sprigs and the tomato paste and continue to cook for another 5-8 minutes to cook and brown the tomato paste. Add your wine to deglaze, scraping up any caramelized bits on the bottom, and reduce until the wine is almost cooked out.
- Add the stock to the pot and stir to combine and bring up to a simmer. Add your lentil now and stir them in. Cover, reduce heat to keep at just a simmer and cover. Cook about 20-25 minutes until the lentils have softened and absorbed most of the stock.