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.


  • 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:

The beginning of Hazan’s original recipe: Zuppa di lenticchie

I then added my own annotations and have evolved it to be more practical. For instance, the above is doubled, since that uses up the full can of tomatoes (and this reheats beautifully).

The original recipe calls for meat (pancetta) and dairy (butter, parmesan). To cover for the missing pancetta I add the dash of smoke, to trigger an association with meatiness. Olive oil works well in place of her mix of olive oil & butter.

Use whatever vegetable stock you like. As someone who goes through a lot of the stuff, I have settled on Edwards & Sons bouillon cubes, reconstituted at about two-thirds the recommended ratio. For this recipe either their Not-Beef or Not-Chik’n is fine, I use 2.5 or 3 cubes (the label says to use 1 per two cups of water, or 4 for this recipe – I find that too salty).

Pick through your lentils for small rocks before starting. I find some suppliers of lentils to have more foreign objects/grit/stones than others. My go-to is bulk lentils from the People’s Food Co-op, which I don’t bother rinsing and in which I’ve never found rocks, but if I’m cooking this soup on vacation I’m vigilant for stones.

You can save a couple of minutes by chopping the onion in a food processor, then after adding them to the pot, switch to the slicing blade and slice the carrots and celery that way.

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