Lentil and Potato Stew:
Cheap and Easy Vegetarian
This recipe originated from a copy of the Darkover Cookbook, a fan publication that MZB did not see a penny from. I lost the publication long ago, loaned it to a fellow worker the day before I was let go, and didn't know how to find them again. It's such a simple recipe though that I've just kept doing it from memory. One year at Chattacon, science fiction convention in Chattanooga, we went in with some friends in Mercedes Lackey fandom, got a suite, and declared it the heralds' way station. Since I had both the skill and the willingness to do it, I was the cook, and put together three full crockpots of this dish to hand out to folks over the weekend. Once word got around that we were serving real food, actual hot meals as an alternative to the cheap peanut butter and white bread and carrot sticks the con suite was putting out, a lot of people showed up. And nobody complained about it being vegetarian.
I'm an Old White Hippie. This is my kitchen. Let's make something easy.
PREP TIME30 minutes
Cook TIME2 hours
- 1 lb dry lentils
- 1 onion
- 4 potatoes
- Pumpkin pie spice
Ingredients marshalled. I'm using sesame oil because I like the flavor. We have yellow onions this time round instead of the sweet onions I usually buy because middle kid went on the grocery run and got insistent with his mother that yellow onions are more versatile. Whatever, I prefer a sweet onion in my cooking and will have words with him to that effect. McCormick pumpkin pie spice is cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Always check your spices for freshness and don't expect much from McCormick, they're selling cheap spices for mid range prices. This is what I had in the cupboard, but the rest is getting thrown out at the end of this batch and replaced as there's just not much flavor left in it.
Treat the lentils kind of like rice and kind of like beans. Wash thoroughly and pick them over. It doesn't matter if they're the fancy Goya brand, you don't want a pebble in there.
Fill the pot to the first joint of your finger with water above the top of the lentils. You'll let it cook down, but this is where you start. Note that I'm using the big stewpot here. Everything will end up in here eventually, so make sure you have room to start with.
Chop the onion. This looks like a bit much onion for the amount of lentils, but I'm going to throw it in anyway, remembering that the lentils will triple in volume while cooking.
Partly-fried onions in a cast iron skillet. I'm very fond of my cast iron and take special care of it. There's more sesame oil in there that may seem necessary, but we're going to be adding potatoes, and potatoes are notorious for sticking even in a well seasoned cast iron skillet.
Lentils are on the small front burner on medium heat. I want them to start cooking, but not come to a boil. Ideally, they'll be about as far along as the potatoes when I combine them, and both will finish at the same time. Salt these heavily. Lentils and potatoes both need a lot of salt.
Once the onions are starting to brown, the pumpkin pie spice goes over top of them in what may seem far too generous an amount. Use lots, as you're seasoning an entire pot of stew here. I also went heavy on it because mine was old and starting to go stale, and needed a lot to get anything out of it at all. Really should have bought fresh spices when I got the potatoes.
I started the onions and taters a notch higher than medium, and added water before putting the lid on. Halfway through, when I stirred them after 5 minutes or so, I added a little more water, just enough for the taters to be wet but not soupy, and cut the heat by half, down to mid low.
I topped up the water in the lentils a little, not much. This is a stew, not a soup. Don't be afraid to keep turning down the heat. Better it take longer to finish than it scorches.
The potatoes and onions are just about done here. You want the taters still a little on the firm side. They'll finish cooking in with the lentils.
Scrape the entire skillet into the stewpot and stir it all in. Move quickly, as your skillet will be hot, and the potatoes will stick the instant the liquid is off them. You can see here the cast iron skillet in the background with a bit of water in it, reheating to cook loose the stuck potato bits.
Let it stew down for a while over low heat. You want it just barely simmering, and stir frequently, lentils and potatoes will both stick and scorch if you don't watch them. (Yes, I know I've said that multiple times. Someone is still going to forget it.) Simmer it until the lentils start to break down a bit and the potatoes are soft.
This made enough for two of us to have a bowl when it was ready, three of the large screwtop containers in the freezer, and three smaller single-serving portions in the fridge. Doubling the recipe is straightforward if you want to make a stewpot full. Youngest child tried it and added a spoonful of Huy Fong chili garlic sauce, but then she puts Chili Crisp on pretty much everything that makes it to the table. Note that this is seriously filling stuff due to all the fiber, so portion size is going to be a little smaller than you think, unless you're well versed in cooking with beans.