Hello friends! We’re back from a little hiatus having to do with my wedding. I married my love of many years under the September full moon in upstate NY, and it was such a fun party. The wedding took all of our time and energy, since we did everything we could ourselves together with friends and family. That’s why it’s been extra quiet around here. I’m sharing a few wedding photos at the bottom of this post, but otherwise it’s back to regular programming! We’re excited to cook with all the fall produce popping up right now and have a few digital cookbook projects in the works for the coming months. We missed this space and YOU. On to this life saver of a stew.
I don’t know if this is the case for you, but in our house, when we say we have nothing to eat, most of the time it’s not really true. That type of talk usually comes from laziness or not being in the mood for whatever ingredients we do have on hand. Both my husband and I are avid home cooks and generally obsessed with good food, so we have a well-stocked pantry. This year, we’ve been trying to be more mindful of those ‘nothing-to-eat moments’ and have been cooking more from the pantry. The results always save us money and end up tasting more nourishing than any takeout ever would. This stew is something that we make all the time, using pantry staples and odds and ends from the fridge. It’s flavorful, soul-warming, and so easy.
Scrapping together meals out of seemingly nothing is one of my favorite ways to cook – I love anything having to do with economy in the kitchen. (Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is one of my favorite books). It’s like a game and so endlessly satisfying when that meal appears out of ‘thin air.’
I know everyone’s pantries are vastly different, but if you’re a vegan/vegetarian-inclined cook, I have a hunch that you’ll have at least some of these ingredients on hand. I love keeping red lentils around because they cook almost instantly and taste great – these make up the base of our stew. Then come the aromatics. Dig up those unused carrots and celery out of the crisper (soak them in cold water for a few hours if they’re really limp) and find an onion (or an unused half of one!), shallots, or leeks. That classic trio of onion, celery, and carrots help build great flavor for soup like nothing else does. Then, see if you have some leftover white wine in the fridge and grab a few cloves of garlic. Wine gives this stew that extra something and truly takes it to the next level. If you don’t have an open bottle, you could also open one to cook with and enjoy with dinner. Any other extras are up to you and your pantry/fridge. When it comes to spices, dried herbs are great, as well as turmeric, but you could also add coriander, cumin, or even curry. The stew pictured here has cherry tomatoes and sweet potato. Tomatoes add umami and I wouldn’t skip them, but if you don’t have fresh ones, you could add a little bit of canned tomatoes or even tomato paste. Sweet potato is totally optional, but use it here if you have one, or a regular potato, squash, or even cauliflower. At the end, wilt in some greens and finish the stew off with lemon juice for brightness. Add any garnish you like or have, like yogurt, herbs, or pan-fried mushrooms (as pictured), and you’re done! The description is long because I wanted to lay out our logic, but the stew itself comes together very quickly. Hope you’ll give this one a try :)
<3 <3 <3
Wedding photos by Freda Banks
- olive oil, avocado oil, or other cooking oil of choice
- 1 large yellow onion, 3 shallots, or 2-3 leeks - diced or sliced
- 2-3 stalks celery - sliced
- 2 carrots - sliced into half-moons
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper - to taste
- pinch of red pepper flakes - to taste
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric, or other spice of choice like coriander, cumin, etc.
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs of choice and/or dried/fresh ginger (all optional)
- 4 cloves of garlic - minced
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup split red lentils
- ¼ cup white rice (optional)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes or about 1 large regular tomato - halved, quartered, or cubed for regular tomato
- 1 medium sweet potato, regular potato, or winter squash - finely cubed (optional)
- 6-8 cups of water
- spinach or other tender greens - to taste
- juice from 1 lemon
- Warm a good pour of oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion/shallot/leeks, celery, carrots, a pinch of salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, turmeric/other spices, and dried herbs/ginger, if using. Sauté over medium-low heat for 7 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, bring it up to a simmer, and let reduce almost completely for 8-10 minutes.
- Add the lentils, rice, tomatoes, and potato/squash, if using, along with another pinch of salt and stir to incorporate. Add the water and more salt, cover, and bring up to a simmer. The amount of water you'll need will depend on whether you used rice and potato. Add a full 8 cups if using both, and start with about 6 cups if using neither. Simmer the stew for 30-35 minutes, until the lentils, rice, and potato are soft. Check the liquid level periodically and add more water if the stew becomes too thick.
- Once the soup is done, turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper, adjusting if needed. Wilt in the spinach, as much as you like. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with any preferred garnishes: herbs, yogurt, pesto, or pan-fried mushrooms as pictured. Enjoy!