Lentils are my love language
A bit about my lentil journey, plus a recipe for vegan lentil stew inside!
A couple of weeks ago when I interviewed David, I asked him to name a food he couldn’t live without. I got the initial idea from David’s brother, who likes to ask people their top five foods as an icebreaker.
The truth is, I find the question incredibly difficult to answer. For starters, my answers siempre van rotando1 depending on my season and mood. And then there’s the manner in which you answer the question. Do you go super indulgent and name dishes, like paella, French toast, vegan zucchini mac and cheese, escargot drenched in garlic-parsley butter, and falafel? Or do you choose the practical route and go with individual foods, like chickpeas, figs, Brussels sprouts, lubina (European bass), and sweet potato?
Lucky for me, one of my favorite foods fits the bill for both maneras2 of answering: lentils, or lentejas in Spanish. Both an individual food and a dish (at least in this house, we call a particular lentil stew we make simply lentejas—more about that later), they definitely deserve a spot on my top five foods, particularly in the fall and winter.
Lentils the legumes are not inherently Spanish, of course. They’re a staple in many cuisines around the world, and different varieties are used for specific dishes. Despite this, I don’t recall encountering lentils until after grad school, when healthy living blogs were on the upswing and suddenly oatmeal, quinoa, and Les Mills BodyPump were everywhere (disclaimer: I’ve still never tried BodyPump and probably never will; no shade to Mr. Mills).
I still remember the day I decided to make lentils for the first time. It was fall or winter—I don’t remember which, but it was definitely cold outside—and I had seen a cozy-looking bowl of lentil soup on a now-defunct blog. The blogger had included a recipe for the pictured lentils, and it just so happened that I had some of the dried legumes sitting in a pretty little Mason jar on my kitchen shelf.3 What I don’t remember is the exact recipe itself, but I do recall that after making it I was not impressed. These lentils looked delicious and inviting, but in reality they were quite bland. Back on the shelf went my Mason jar, probably no longer touched until the day I moved out of that apartment.
Fast forward several years to when I moved to Madrid and tried lentejas caseras con costillas y chorizo.4 Now these lentils had flavor! Of course just the addition of stewed pork ribs and cured sausage are going to enhance the seasoning of the dish (the version I had made was vegan), but it wasn’t just in the meat, it was also in the method of cooking them. Here, a sofrito is made from garlic, onion, and leek to infuse the dish with a rich, piquant base. If you’re not using the pork ribs and chorizo, it’s easy to achieve a similar savor by adding a healthy amount of paprika.
I’m leaving our house recipe below—the vegan version! It’s a staple for us in the fall and winter, and the perfect warming dish for when you’re feeling under the weather. Be forewarned that this recipe makes a lot: we like to portion it out for leftovers throughout the week, or it also freezes wonderfully—just plop the frozen lentils in a saucepan and add a bit of water to loosen when you reheat.
Lentejas veganas (Vegan lentils)
Yield: approximately 7-8 large portions (large meaning 450-500g per serving, or about the size of a standard US soup bowl)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Depending on the type of lentils you buy, you may need to soak them beforehand! Make sure to read the package and plan ahead accordingly.
Special equipment needed
Large pot for cooking (we like to use our Dutch oven)
Cutting board and knife for chopping vegetables
2 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 extra tbsp, divided
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 leek, white part only, peeled and finely sliced into half rounds
8 carrots, divided—2-3 peeled and finely chopped, and the rest peeled and cut into approximately 1 inch chunks
1 large green bell pepper, or 2 Italian green peppers, finely chopped
3 small tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp spicy paprika
500g dry brown lentils (see important note above!)
2 liters of water
2 bay leaves
10 white peppercorns, or a scant 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper
2 pinches of salt (to start—may need more so keep it handy!)
Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to your pot and heat over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic, onion, and leek and sauté for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, then the finely chopped carrots (save the chunks), green pepper, and tomatoes. Sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and push the vegetables to one side so that you can see the bottom of the pot. Add the paprika (beside the vegetables, in direct contact with the pot) and toast for 30 seconds.
Add water, carrot chunks, lentils, pepper, and bay leaves and give a quick stir to combine.
Raise heat and bring pot to boil.
Once boiling, add salt and lower heat to simmer.
Add lid and cook for 30 minutes.
Remove lid and cook for an additional 30 minutes.
Continue cooking uncovered until you reach desired consistency, up to 30 minutes. If they seem dry, add up to 200 ml of additional water.
We like our lentils with some liquid but not extremely soupy (see picture above). Lentils should be soft and tender when done, but you can cook them more or less time to achieve the consistency that you want.
Taste and add additional salt if needed. You’ll most likely need additional salt if you’ve added extra water; I would start with an additional pinch and add more if desired.
You can also use a pressure cooker to make these. If you go that route, follow the first three steps above. You can go ahead and add the vegetables and spices from the next step, but double check your pressure cooker and/or lentil package to see if the water amount changes—for us, we need to reduce the water to 1.5 liters (3x the amount of dry lentils). Follow your pressure cooker’s instructions from here on out. If you’d like the lentils a little more soupy, add water to reach your preferred consistency and adjust salt level if needed.
I hope you enjoy these; they really are a top food on my list and I look forward to lenteja season every year. If you try them, let me know, and I can also share the version with ribs and chorizo if anyone is interested!
Thanks for reading Come como Kiki! Subscribe for free to receive new posts every Wednesday and Friday.
Have you tried lentils? Do you have any favorite lentil dishes? Or do you feel like sharing your top five foods you can’t live without (no pressure!)? Comments are open below!
See you Friday!
Siempre van rotando: Are always changing
Maneras: Ways, or manners
On dried lentils in Mason jars: Does anyone else remember this trend of storing everything in Mason jars? It’s not a bad idea if you live near a bulk grain store, but since I didn’t at the time, I had both aesthetically-pleasing jars of dried beans and grains and the half-empty bags that the foods had come in when I bought them from the local grocery chain. Not exactly practical (or pretty).