Friday, February 11, 2011

Recipe: Lentil Stew

Lentils are the best friend for people on a budget, both vegetarians and carnivores alike. They are a great meatless protein option and only cost around 0.82 cents a bag.  Chains like Walmart usually carry the split red lentils.  These do not have to be soaked overnight like lots of dried "bean" products simply washed and picked through to avoid any rocks/dirt.  They can be used as a rice type side, or added to soups and stews for body, flavor, and mass.  This is a great stew that offers a lot of customization options depending on whats on sale and what you have in your pantry.

What you will need:

1 cup split red lentils, washed and checked
1/2 cup split peas, washed and checked (another great cheap product)
1 large onion (yellow preferred but white works well too), chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 bag spinach leaves (optional, great if you find it on sale to add vitamins and volume)
Oil or meat drippings
Paprika (optional)
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)

4+ cups liquid:
I like 3 cups chicken stock, one cup red wine (Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon), then thin with stock or water as necessary.  You can use all water or all stock if you'd like.

Meat Options:
Kielbasa (one loop)
Ground Beef (one pound)
Stew Meat
Chicken Breast or Thigh (cut into bite sized pieces)

In a large pot begin by cooking meat (if using) and then removing from pot.  For any beef product reserve some of the drippings in the pan to cook the veggies.  If no meat is being used heat olive or vegetable oil in the pot instead.  Add the onion to the pot and let it sweat on medium heat for 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.  When soft, add the carrots and celery and cook an additional 7 minutes. Add the garlic 4 minutes after the carrots and celery.  Season all with salt and pepper.  After all the vegetables have finished cooking season with paprika and red pepper flakes if desired and stir to coat.  I use a small palm full of paprika and a large pinch of the red pepper flakes.

Add liquid.  Follow the liquid with the lentils and the split peas.  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover the pot, and let cook ~30-40 minutes.  Hold off on adding more salt until later as it could cause the lentils to cook more slowly.  Stir occasionally. While the soup is cooking, prepare the spinach and parsley if you are using it.  The spinach can go in as the whole leaf or can be torn or chopped.  The same goes with the parsley.  At 25 minutes into the cooking process begin adding the spinach into the stew, stirring to wilt the leaves.  Taste for any salt/pepper needs.  Add in any meat.  Stir in parsley.  Serve hot.

Feeds ~8(+) Depending on how much of the ingredients you add this makes A LOT of stew.  For 1 person it made dinner, 1-2 large plastic containers to freeze, plus about 4 lunch sized plastic containers.  The stew is wonderful left over and it freezes great if you have extra and will keep in the freezer for a long time.

Lentil Stew with Chicken Thighs (a reheated portion from freezer, you will need a much bigger pan for the whole batch)

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