Categories
Cooking Recipe

The essential lentil stew

This is the recipe I’ve cooked the most times in my life and my comfort food. It is the perfect bean soup, which is the perfect food. I’m amazed how flavorful this dish is despite being virtually unspiced.

Time: 55 minutes. Serves 8.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery (optional), chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz, including the juice
  • 1 lb regular brown lentils
  • 8 cups vegetable stock. For me, that’s 2.5 bouillon cubes from Edwards & Sons + 8 cups of water, thrown directly in the pot.
  • A dash or two of smoked paprika or smoked salt (optional)

Saute the onions in ~4 tbsp (1/4 cup) olive oil for a few minutes. Add carrots and celery, cook for a few minutes. Add the can of tomatoes, cook for a few minutes. Add the lentils, stir, add the stock, add the smoke if desired. Cook until the lentils are soft, check around ~30 minutes but it may take more like 40-45. Adjust levels of salt, pepper, smoke. The smoke is optional, skip it or keep it very light – it’s just providing a faint background note.

Optional additions that work well at the table are parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper. Freeze the leftovers.

Notes & Tips

This was a standby of my mother’s. She got it from Marcella Hazan and when I first lived on my own she photocopied the recipe for me:

Categories
Cooking Parenting

An Ode to Bean Soup

Fall in Michigan means it’s soup weather! I make a lot of bean soups (and related soups). I think I’ll write some of them up on this blog. It’ll be a reference for me, at least, when I can’t decide what to cook next. Maybe others will find it useful, perhaps even my kids someday.

Bean soup is the best genre of food. It’s not close. It checks every box:

  • Tasty. My reasons below are practical, but they would be for naught if the soups weren’t delicious.
  • Easy. They usually involve little or no chopping, few ingredients, and a single big pot. Add an easy carb like bread/rice/ pasta and a vegetable side and it’s a meal.
  • Kid-friendly. My kids like or love most of my bean soups and they make a great early food for babies.
  • Scales up. Because there’s little chopping, it’s as easy to make 2, 3, or 4x as much at once. That gives you 1, 2, or 3 bonus nights where dinner is already in the fridge, ready to go. And it…
  • Keeps well. It’s as good days later as fresh, and freezes perfectly. When I want to bring a meal on short notice to someone ill or grieving or celebrating, I grab a couple of quarts of frozen soup.
  • Healthy. They’re low in fat and carbs and high in fiber and protein, which is nice because they’re also..
  • Vegetarian or vegan. These are protein-heavy, savory, rich dishes that won’t leave omnivores feeling like the meat is missing.
  • Gluten-free. If you’re serving a crowd whose dietary preferences you don’t know, like at a potluck, it’s inclusive to make a dish that is vegan and gluten-free without compromising.
  • Made from nonperishable ingredients. Most soups are made from things that last indefinitely in the pantry. And when you don’t have something, they’re..
  • Forgiving. You can skip a vegetable, use powder instead of fresh onions, and change spices or even the legume. And the cooking techniques are hard to mess up – it’s hard to burn a soup, even if you’re not paying attention (though I’ll tell that story when I get to that soup).
  • Cheap. About as cheap as good healthy food gets.
  • Local. I can get Michigan-grown beans and lentils. And even if beans aren’t local to you, growing and transporting dried beans is very climate-friendly.

Bean soup may be the best class of food, but even it has a few limited downsides:

  • Not great in summer. People don’t want to eat hot soup when it’s sweltering out. Summer is the off-season for me, when I cook solid food. Fortunately, I live in Michigan, where it’s soup season from September until May.
  • People sometimes want solid food. I can eat soup every night when it’s cold, but I find that I can only cook soup so many consecutive days before someone in my family says they miss the sensation of using a fork and chewing their food. So I take care to throw some non-soups in the mix regularly.

Even in writing this I remembered more soups I’ve not cooked recently. Let’s see how many I can catalog as I cook my way through another busy soup season…