Confession time: I used to hate lentils.
My only exposure to them was my mom’s lentil salad, which I thought was just the nastiest thing ever. However, when I was 21 I decided to expand my culinary pursuits in an effort to heal my body, and I found that lentils actually weren’t that bad! The problem with the salad was that it was cold and had a vinegar dressing. This has happened to me so many times in the past two years – finding out foods I thought I hated were actually delicious.
A few months after that lentil rediscovery, I started on an elimination diet to heal my eczema. One of the first dishes I made was a lentil stew with Indian spices. To this day, this and Nourishing Meal’s mung bean stew are my favorite dishes. However, I don’t always have all the ingredients on hand when I’m craving a nice, hearty stew. As a result, I have played with and adapted the basic lentil stew recipe until I could make it easily with any of the ingredients in my fridge.
My “kitchen sink” budget-friendly lentil stew uses a basic blueprint for ingredients and techniques that allows you to use whatever foods you enjoy or have on hand. Ultimately, this saves you time and money. Instead of making an ingredient list and going out to buy what you need, you use what you have. My usual technique for this stew involves making it on “clean out the refrigerator” day. I pull out all my wilted greens, veggies that are about to turn, and those bags of frozen vegetables that we haven’t gotten around to finishing yet. By finding a use for these foods, I don’t throw money in the compost.
Finally, lentils are an incredibly frugal way to stretch any meal.
This stew is more of an art than a science, but don’t let that intimidate you. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m a scaredy cat in the kitchen yet I can make and adapt this stew without any help from my husband. For this “kitchen-sink” budget-friendly lentil soup, just decide what ingredients you want to use, read through the instructions, and note which ones apply to you.
Notes on ingredients:
Meat: The meat you use can be cooked or raw when you start and anything minus a whole chicken works. Your options are to use precooked meat (such as chicken leftover from the roast chicken two days ago), ground meat prepared while the lentils are cooking, or raw meat (like budget-friendly chicken thighs) cooked along with everything else. If you don’t want to use meat, that’s okay, too! Sometimes I prefer this stew vegetarian.
Vegetables: Vegetables can be raw, cooked, or frozen. Like the meat, what you use will affect when you add them. Vegetables should be chopped into relatively the same size or minced (example: broccoli and carrots cut into the same size, mushrooms minced because I can’t stand the texture).
Spices and Herbs: I always make my stews with lots of Indian spices. If you are concerned about using too much, start small and add more as you feel it is necessary. The exact amounts you need will also vary based on how many additional ingredients you are adding and how much of them you are adding. If you prefer a different taste, you can also use herbs instead of Indian spices. I don’t use herbs much, so I don’t have any good recommendations – add whichever flavors you like!
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil (or your favorite fat for cooking; we love this coconut oil)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Spices - I use 1 Tbsp garam masala, 1 Tbsp turmeric, 1 Tbsp cumin, and 3 Tbsp fresh ginger, optional (organic, non-irradiated spices like this brand)
- 1 pound lentils (sorted and rinsed, soaked, or sprouted based on your preference)
- Bone broth or water (learn to make bone broth here)
- 1-2 pounds meat, cooked or raw, optional
- Herbs - If you do not use the Indian spices, select the dried or fresh herbs of your choice, optional
- 2-4 cups vegetables, chopped
- 2-4 cups leafy greens, chopped
- Unrefined sea salt to taste (this is our favorite unrefined sea salt)
- Melt coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.
- Add onions and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. If using Indian spices, add spices and saute another minute.
- Add any raw vegetables and stir to coat with oil and spices.
- Add raw meat and lentils. Pour in enough bone broth/water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Ensure that any meat is totally covered. Also add any herbs at this time.
- Increase heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and add water if needed
- After 35 minutes (10 minutes before the lentils are done), add any cooked vegetables or meat (this includes frozen vegetables).
- If you are cooking raw meat, check that it is fully cooked when the 45 minutes are up. If not, continue to cook until it is.
- When the meat and lentils are fully cooked, add leafy greens. Cook for another couple minutes or until the stew is your desired consistency. Add salt to taste.
- Serve and enjoy! This recipe freezes very well.
Variations I’ve Loved:
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs cooked with the lentils, last of the carrots, the last of the garden greens and broccoli (very budget friendly).
- Leftovers from a roast chicken, 4 carrots, minced mushrooms, a bag of frozen peas, Swiss chard, and kale.