Lentils are not something that I grew up eating as a kid, and so, they haven’t been something I’ve cooked much as an adult. In fact, I think this spiced lentil stew might have been my first attempt ever at making lentils, which is kinda crazy, given how much and how often I cook.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have thought to make a lentil-based dish but, a few months ago, my husband called me to ask whether he should bring home a few bags of dry grains, beans and various other sundries from his work, where they were about to throw out tons and tons of food that they no longer needed. To me, there are few greater sins than wasting perfectly good food, and so I told him to go ahead and bring the lot of it home. One of the bags he brought home was full of these absolutely GORGEOUS orange lentils, and I knew immediately that I needed to come up with a way to start using them, pronto.
Lentil stew is probably not the most inventive way to present these beautiful legumes (they’re legumes, right…?) but, in the age of quarantine, it was something I could throw together without going to the store, so it won out over other, more inventive ideas (that I didn’t have anyhow).
The stew turned out great on the first try and has come out flawlessly every time I’ve made it since. The lentils cook in a snap, and the flavors are perfectly rich and comforting, but also nice and fresh, which is perfect for April and May, when temps start to creep upward and the nights are a bit longer, but still cool.
This recipe is incredibly versatile and adaptable and could easily be made vegan or vegetarian. I threw in some leftover chicken breasts, but you don’t have to use meat, or you could chuck in tofu or just more veggies (I think carrots would be great in this) and it wouldn’t suffer at all. If you don’t (or can’t) use cream, coconut milk would be a great substitute here and give this stew a distinctly Thai feel, which I would not get mad about. No matter how you do it, this dinner will hit the spot. Here’s the basic recipe to get you going:
Spiced Lentil Stew
- 3/4 cup orange lentils
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp paprika *I use hot paprika
- 1/2 tsp chili powder *I use hot chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne or crushed red chilies *if desired for added spice
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups sliced white mushrooms
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 small can whole peeled tomatoes with juices
- 2 chicken breasts *cooked and shredded or diced
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper *to taste
- toasted cumin seeds *optional
- sour cream, fresh cilantro and lime juice *garnish
Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil in a small pot.
Meanwhile, to a dry, large soup pot over high heat, add the lentils and all of the spices.
Stir the lentils and spices briefly and continue toasting until the spices are fragrant.
Add the boiling chicken stock and boiling water and stir everything to combine.
Add the mushrooms and tomatoes, reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 8 minutes, or until the lentils and mushrooms are just soft and the tomatoes have burst. The lentils will absord some of the liquid, but not all of it. The consistency will be somewhere between a soup and a stew, but nowhere near a risotto. There will be a good amount of broth.
Add the chicken and simmer briefly, about 2 minutes.
Add the cream, stir to incorporate it completely, and simmer another 2 minutes, until everything is heated through completely.
Taste, and add salt and/or pepper, if desired.
Top with toasted cumin seeds, sour cream, fresh chopped cilantro and lime juice, if desired. Enjoy hot.