Monday, December 7, 2009

Sweet potato lentil stew

On Saturday, it finally snowed in Pittsburgh!  (Maybe not "finally" to some of you, but if it's going to be cold outside, it better snow... at least then my shivering walks to work are aesthetically pleasing.)  Snow and colder weather mean many things to me, two of my favorites being: 1) Christmas decorations, and 2) warm soups/stews.  And, being in a small apartment, both are the perfect ingredients for a cozy day/night in, especially when ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas is added to the mix.  Nope, try as you might, but you won't get me to feel ashamed about that last part.

With sweet potatoes being in season and thus so inexpensive at the grocery store, I knew I wanted to use them for something.  And it was stew season.  Basic stew formula: liquid + vegetables + shredded or cubed meat (if desired) + spices + whatever the heck else you want.  Seriously.  I basically picked ingredients based on the fact that I wanted it to be a colorful stew.  Red tomatoes, green beans and celery, orange carrots and potatoes... you get the idea.  As for the lentils, I wanted a fairly mild (aka versatile) dried legume to add some protein and substance.  If you choose another bean or even use barley, just make sure to read the package to see what the dry to wet conversion rate is.  Unlike baking, cooking allows for much more experimentation without fear of failure.  If it's too dry, add more water.  If it's too watery, well, remove some liquid. 

This is the quickest soup/stew I've ever made.  No special equipment needed.  And it's so easy!  And super healthy/vegetarian/kosher (even pareve without the sour cream!)  ("But Katy, there is no meat!"  Oh friends, if you aren't familiar with lentils, read about their high protein content and other benefits here.  Now you have no excuses.)  Because this makes so much, I actually froze half in a take-out container for later snowy day use.  If you do this, move container from freezer to fridge a few days before to thaw.  You can always pour it into a saucepan and warm.

And ooooooooooooooh is it delicious!  I didn't even want dessert, nor was I tempted with concession food at Mellon Arena for the Pens game right after this. However, I did eat a few Oreos when I got home at 11 o'clock, so yeah.

(I now understand why Julia Child and her husband set up lighting in their kitchen in order to properly photograph food.  I go through an absurd amount of shots before I get one I kinda like that isn't overwhelmed with the yellowish artificial light.  If only I had more natural light.  If only I were home in the middle of the day and my job was just to cook.  Dear Santa...)

Sidebar -- I've been reading lots of comments (thank you!) and noticed a few questions have been posed regarding certain recipes, techniques, etc.  I'm going to have a question answer post coming up at the end of this week/early next week, so if you have any queries (in addition to those already posted) please leave them in a comment on this entry.  Thanks! :)

(P.S. Thanks to Nick who helped me figure out how to insert links that open a new window when you click on them!)

Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew
(if you're not crazy about sweet potatoes, you can easily substitute regular russet potatoes)
-makes about 8 cups

2 T canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium celery ribs, chopped
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced (or 1/2 tsp already minced jarred garlic)
2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound total), peeled and diced into 1/2 inch chunks
1 package (9 ounces) frozen cut green beans, or
1 (14 1/2) can diced tomatoes in juice
Salt and black pepper
Sour cream, for serving

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high.  Add onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf.  Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

Add 7 cups of water and lentils.  (I had 32 oz. or 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock on hand, so I used that and then 3 cups of water for some extra flavor.  Not necessary, of course, but adds even more flavor.)  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 10 minutes.  Add potatoes and continue to cook covered, until lentils and potato are just tender, about 15 minutes.

Add green beans and tomatoes with juice.  Cook until warmed through, 2 to 4 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with sour cream and maybe some crusty bread for sopping up the broth.  Look how pretty! 


  1. I have a question. In you opinion, what is the best/easiest way to chop an onion? I know this sounds silly and may be hard to answer, but when I watch food network, the cooks are always so fast at chopping them, but it takes me forever.

  2. I realized AFTER you left lunch yesterday that I had sour cream in the fridge! Oh well, it was still delicious without it :)