I don’t live on campus anymore, so this year I was denied the pleasure of hearing the roar of (likely the first of many) First Rain as its devotees stampeded through the Porter quad. I get excited about the first rain of the season not because it means I get to be naked (seriously, who needs a day set aside for that? Be spontaneous!) but because it tends to mean that I get to cook different things. We both celebrate atmospheric discharge in our own way, First Rainers. And that’s okay.
This being Santa Cruz, the littlest hint of colder, wetter weather is immediately followed by weeks of mid-70’s sun, as if in defiance of my plans to make things that require all-day oven use or heavy root vegetables. I’m not easily dissuaded though, especially if I’ve already spent (admittedly not very much) time and money on autumnal ingredients. The weather told me it was time for stew, even if it was for just one day, and I listened.
Regardless, stew is what was made, and stew is what we got. Be cheered by how fundamentally perfect this stew is, never mind its poor timing in the seasonal cycle. This is reasonably quick, very healthy, and once again, very cheap. A theme is approaching in this blog– maybe next week I’ll have to compensate with something bourgeoisie and artery-clogging (like deep-fried foie gras, if that’s a thing).
The heart of this stew is lentils, but what makes it infinitely superior to other lentil stews is the curry powder and the unassuming red wine vinegar. Honestly, I don’t see the point in making vegetable stew without either now.
This makes a large pot. I really can’t be more specific than that, but you can freeze it and it will last indefinitely (well, probably not that long. Use common sense. If it moves, don’t eat it).
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Barefoot Contessa.
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups large-diced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 cups large-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 (28-ounce) canned tomatoes
1 cup French green lentils (sometimes called Puy lentils, they are smaller, nubbier, and don’t fall apart as easily as other lentils)
2 handfuls of torn fresh kale
2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 teaspoons mild curry powder, more to taste (Sun Brand Madras worked well, only a few dollars at New Leaf)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (1 tsp dried works, or you can buy a small thyme plant for a few dollars at a nursery. #futureinvestment)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and carrots and cook over medium low heat for eight to ten minutes, until the onions start to brown. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add garlic and cook for one minute more.
The original recipe calls for pureeing the canned tomatoes, but Emily and I decided that we liked tomato chunks and just mashed them with a wooden spoon as they cooked. Texture is everything.
Rinse the lentils so that you don’t bite down on a stone (tricky buggers).
Add the tomatoes, lentils, curry powder, broth, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan in which the onions and carrots should still be residing. Raise the heat to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer covered for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. About halfway through this process (20 minutes in), add the torn kale; if you add it at the beginning, it’ll cook down too much.
Remove from heat and allow to sit covered for about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar, season to taste, and serve hot.
Credit given to Ina Garten, to Smitten Kitchen, aka Deb, who thankfully has the time to consistently blog something engaging every week (ish), and to my girlfriend Emily, who’s brilliant about food. Seriously, this should be her blog.