Lentils don't get a very good rep. Cooked improperly, they can be really bland, really mushy, or worst of all, bland and mushy.
To make this budget friendly staple more delicious and less like baby food, I add salt/spices/oil and plenty of flavorful vegetables to make lentil stew.
As a warning, the lentil stew recipe is quite vegetable heavy. If you would like to modify the vegetable quantities, check out the Ingredient Discussion below.
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- spices: 1 tablespoon of oregano, 1 tablespoon of thyme, 1 tablespoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 onions, diced
- 1 pound of carrots, diced
- 4 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 cup of dry lentils
- 28 ounces of canned tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups of water
- 2 tablespoons of vinegar
- Heat up the oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add the spices. Toast the spices in the oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir frequently to make sure the spices don’t burn.
- Add the diced onions, carrots, and celery. Stir often and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, water, lentils, and bay leaf. Stir to combine.
- After the mixture boils, reduce the heat to low heat. Cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 20-30 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Add in the vinegar. Add additional salt, pepper to taste. Serve immediately. You can store leftovers in the fridge for a week.
- Olive oil: Adds richness and improves taste of spices and vegetables. Reducing the amount of oil will make the stew less velvety. Substituting canola oil or butter works. If using butter, you can use half butter and half olive oil to get buttery flavor with less saturated fat.
- Spices: Adds flavor. Using oregano, thyme, and paprika gives you Italian seasoning. Alternatively, you can use curry powder for curry lentil stew.
- Onions: Required for lentil stew. Add sweetness and depth. You can use 1-3 onions depending on what you have on hand.
- Carrots: You can use up to 1 pound of carrots, approximately 4 large carrots. I do not suggest using more than a pound unless you really like carrots. Can omit.
- Celery: You can use up to 4 stalks of celery. I do not suggest using more unless you really like celery. Can omit.
- Lentils: Required for lentil stew. I used 1 cup of red split lentils. Here is a reference for how lentil cook times vary depending on the type of lentil. If you use more lentils, add 2 cups of water for every additional cup of lentils.
- Tomatoes: I used two 14.5 ounce cans of unsalted diced tomatoes. If you have salted canned tomatoes, you may not want to add salt at the beginning. If you have pre-seasoned canned tomatoes, you may not want to add as many spices.
- Bay leaf: Adds woodsy flavor. Can omit.
- Water: Provides enough liquid for the lentils to cook. You can substitute broth. If you have very salty store-bought broth, be careful with the saltiness of the stew. I suggest leaving out the 1 teaspoon of salt and only using 1 cup of store-bought broth with 1 cup of water.
- Vinegar: Acid enhances the flavor of the stew. I used apple cider vinegar. Using 2 tablespoons will brighten up the stew without adding tartness. Using 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) will make the stew more tart. Can substitute lemon juice, white vinegar, or rice vinegar.
Step by Step Photos
Here are the main ingredients you need for lentil stew. Start by prepping your vegetables. I used 2 medium yellow onions, 4 stalks of celery, and 1 pound of carrots. Washing and dicing all of the vegetables took me 25 minutes.
If you are new to cooking, I suggest chopping all of the vegetables first. If you are capable of multi-tasking, to save time, you can start toasting the spices after you chop the onions. Then, you can finish chopping vegetables as you cook the stew.
Start by dicing the onion. Cut the onion in half from pole-to-pole, which is from one sprouty end to the other. For each onion half, cut off the two ends. Peel off the papery outer skin and the green-ish layer.
Make horizontal cuts nearly all of the way through. Make vertical slices and dice. Here is an article with more detailed instructions.
Wash the carrots. Cut off the top and bottom of each carrot as well as any gross looking parts. Cut into shorter segments. Cut length-wise to form a flat surface and dice.
Wash the celery stalks. Cut off the top and bottom of each stalk as well as any gross looking parts. Cut into shorter segments. Make thin cuts length-wise and dice.
You want small pieces of carrots and celery so that they cook faster. The finished stew should not have hard carrot or celery chunks.
Here are the chopped vegetables. You should have this bowl close to the stovetop so you can add in the vegetables after toasting the spices.
Heat up 1/4 cup of oil in a large pot/pan over medium heat. Since I normally cook with 1-2 tablespoons of oil, I cannot eyeball this amount. I measured out this quantity with a 1/4 cup dry measuring spoon.
Add in 1 tablespoon of oregano, 1 tablespoon of thyme, 1 tablespoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. I estimate these quantities - the picture above shows about 1 tablespoon of oregano.
If the spices do burn, you should clean out the pot and try again with fresh spices. Stew made with burnt spices will taste bad.
Add in all of the vegetables. Stir often and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. To tell if the vegetables have softened, try a few pieces of carrots and celery. If they are crunchy, you should continue cooking.
I would suggest sautéing the vegetables for longer so that the carrots and celery are mostly cooked before cooking the lentils. When I did not cook the celery for long enough, I had hard celery pieces in my stew.
Add the 28 ounces of tomatoes, 2 cups of water, 1 cup of dry lentils, and a bay leaf. Make sure not to pour in the lid of the cans. To measure around 2 cups of water, I fill the empty 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes with water and pour it in.
Stir to combine. The pot is still on medium heat. After the mixture boils, reduce the heat to low heat. Cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils and vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes. To tell if the stew is done, try a bite and check for any hard pieces of lentils or vegetables.