This hearty lentil stew is perfect for a chilly winter evening. French lentils give the stew body, while root vegetables and lightly wilted leafy greens finish the stew. Plenty of good broth gives the stew a boost of protein, and it's excellent served with a hunk of crusty sourdough bread.
What is it?
Lentil stew is a type of thick soup made with lentils. Versions of the dish are popular throughout the world. In European recipes, lentil stew often includes vegetables and a form of cured pork such as bacon or ham, while in Southwest Asian recipes, spices, such as turmeric or ginger, are a common addition.
In this version, we combine lentils with winter root vegetables, leafy greens, broth, and bacon which gives the stew a deep savory note. It's a lighter stew and an excellent alternative to heavier options such as beef and bacon stew or even mushroom stew.
What's in it?
Root vegetables and lentils make the bulk of this stew, with leafy greens added at the very end. If you're lucky, you'll be able to find most of the ingredients at your local farmers market in autumn or winter; however, any well-stocked grocer should sell the ingredients that make up the dish.
- French Lentils (Puy Lentils) are a special variety of very small lentils. They have a dark green, marbled appearance. Like brown and green lentils, they're rich in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They're also especially rich in folate (1), a B vitamin essential in the prevention of neural tube defects. They also keep their form during cooking, making them perfect for both soup and stew.
- Bacon gives the stew a savory, rich flavor. When produced from pasture-raised hogs, it's also a good source of vitamin D (2). A spoonful of smoked paprika can lend a little smoky, savory note to the recipe if you prefer to skip the bacon.
- Onion gives this recipe a savory, sweet note that balances well with both bacon and lentils. Onions, as with other alliums, have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in many beneficial phytonutrients (3).
- Root vegetables in this recipe include celeriac (or celery), parsnips, and carrots. These vegetables give the soup body and flavor and are generally a good source of complex carbohydrates.
- Broth is rich in a protein called gelatin. While gelatin isn't a complete protein, it is a protein sparer, meaning that it helps you to get more protein from other foods. For this reason, gelatin-rich bone broth is a perfect partner for lentils, helping to extend the plant-based protein they contain.
- Mustard greens are leafy vegetables related to broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. They're rich in beta carotene and vitamin K as well as many healthy-promoting phytonutrients (4). They're excellent cooked as in this stew recipe but are equally good served fresh and raw as in this mustard green pesto recipe.
Tips for making lentil stew
Like most soup and stew recipes, lentil stew is easy to make with a lot of room for both error and invention. It's easy to add a little more of one ingredient, a little less of another, or swap one ingredient for the next, but, there are a few tips you'll want to keep in mind to make sure the recipe comes out right every time.
- Use fresh, dried lentils. Make sure your lentils are fresh. If you're buying from bulk bins, they should have a frequent turnover. Older pulses, including lentils, will take longer to cook, depending on their age.
- Cook your lentils in advance. Cook your lentils either on the stove in a soup pot or in an electric pressure cooker in advance. This practice saves you time if you make them ahead and also helps to prevent the root vegetables from overcooking if your lentils take longer than you expect to soften.
- Dice the root vegetables so that they're all the same size. They should be diced into ¼-inch pieces. If you chop them in uneven sizes, they'll cook unevenly, meaning some will be fall-apart soft while others aren't yet tender at all by the time you're ready to eat.
- Incorporate the cooked lentils and fresh greens at the very end. That way, they won't overcook. Remember, your greens should still have a little life and color to them when you serve the stew.
- Your stew will be brothy at first and then thicken upon sitting. When first finished, your lentil stew will look less like a stew and more like a brothy soup. As it cools, the starches present in lentils will thicken the broth, turning it from soup to stew.
Make it vegan. For a vegan lentil stew, skip the bacon and increase the olive oil to 2 tablespoons. Substitute vegetable stock for bone broth, and add 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika at the time you cook the onions. A tablespoon of miso paste stirred into the soup can give it a nice savory flavor, too.
Make a summer lentil stew. Instead of using winter root vegetables, make a summer version. Substitute 5 ribs celery for the celeriac, and swap crookneck squash and zucchini for the parsnips and carrots. Substitute 1 cup crushed tomatoes, and then use 3 cups broth instead of 4. Try adding chopped basil instead of mustard greens.
Swap the greens. If you can't find mustard greens, you can swap in other leafy greens such as kale, beet greens, or collards. Herbs such as parsley and basil also make a fine stand-in for mustard greens in this recipe.
Try brown or green lentils. If you can't find French lentils (also called puy lentils), you can substitute brown or green lentils instead. Keep in mind that these varieties cook more quickly and are less likely to keep their form.
While beans benefit from a long soak before cooking, lentils don't need to be soaked. However, soaking will reduce the cooking time by about half.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Keep in mind that the lentil stew will thicken with time in the fridge, so you will need to add up a few tablespoons to ¼ cup of water when reheating it.
You can freeze lentil stew in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Remember that the stew contains a fair amount of liquid which expands when frozen, so allow plenty of headspace to prevent your jar or container from cracking.
Yes, you can cook the lentils in advance and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days before making the stew.
You can find French lentils (Puy lentils) in most well-stocked grocery stores or in the bulk section of your local natural foods market. If you can't find them locally, consider ordering them online through Azure Standard, a buying club focused on natural and organic foods.
Other hearty soups and stews you might like
- Sen Gupta, Debjyoti et al. “Lentils (Lens culinaris L.), a rich source of folates.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 61,32 (2013): 7794-9.
- Larson-Meyer, D Enette et al. “Sun exposure in pigs increases the vitamin D nutritional quality of pork.” PloS one vol. 12,11 e0187877. 14 Nov. 2017
- Suleria, Hafiz Ansar Rasul et al. “Onion: nature protection against physiological threats.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition vol. 55,1 (2015): 50-66.
- Frazie, Marissa D et al. “Health-Promoting Phytochemicals from 11 Mustard Cultivars at Baby Leaf and Mature Stages.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 22,10 1749. 17 Oct. 2017