Lentils, long popular in India, the Middle East, and Europe, have been gaining an enthusiastic following in the United States over the past few decades. This small, relatively quick-cooking pulse (defined by Webster's as "the edible seeds of various crops . . . of the legume family) is loaded with protein and fiber and extremely low in fat. Lentils provide folate, vitamins A and B, potassium, phosphorus, and iron ~ all without cholesterol. (Make any healthy-eating New Year's resolutions this year? You may want to cozy up to the lentil.)
There are several varieties of lentils. French green lentils cook a bit more slowly than other varieties but hold their shape well and are considered the gold standard for cold salads. Also known as lentilles de Puy, these lentils were originally grown exclusively in the volcanic earth of Puy, France. Red lentils, such as the Egyptian lentil, cook quickly but tend to lose their shape. Use these for soups, stews, and purees. Their pinkish red hue turns golden upon cooking. Brown lentils are the grocery-store standard. They are mildly flavored and cook in a jiffy. Don't overcook these or they'll turn to mush. Petite Beluga black lentils take on a glossy, caviar-like sheen when cooked.
Unlike beans, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
Curried Lentil Stew
- Olive oil
- 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 7 cups water
- 1 pound dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 3 teaspoons beef or vegetable bouillon
- 1 cup tomato puree or 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 8 ounces frozen cut-leaf spinach (no need to thaw)
- Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- 1. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a dutch oven or stockpot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add chopped carrots, celery, and onion to make a mirepoix*. Saute until the vegetables are just beginning to get tender. Add garlic and sprinkle the curry powder over the vegetables. Continue to saute, stirring, for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add one cup of water to the pot to deglaze, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom. Then stir in the remaining water, the lentils, and the bouillon. Place a cover on the pot at an angle so that steam can escape, and bring to a boil. Once the stew comes to a boil, stir, reduce heat, and simmer for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Check the lentils for tenderness at about 30 minutes. When they are fairly tender, stir in the tomato puree and the spinach. Let simmer until the desired texture and consistency are reached. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
- A mirepoix [pronounced Meer-PWAH] is a combination of diced carrots, celery, and onion sauteed ~ most typically in butter, but sometimes in olive oil or bacon drippings ~ and used to flavor soups, stocks, or sauces. A blanc version of the mirepoix replaces the carrots with parsnips or mushrooms.
- This stew freezes nicely. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat the next day. If it thickens too much, just thin it with a bit of stock.
- For an interesting flavor twist, stir in a splash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice. To make a delicious, more indulgent variation, stir in a cup of light cream or half and half right before serving.
- I paired this with garlic-herb fried bread, a variation on naan, for a very satisfying lunch. If you want to make a heartier meal of it, add some sliced sausage, kielbasa, or cubed ham.