Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Many times I hear people say, “I just don’t have enough time to cook good food.” While I totally understand that the average person doesn’t have six hours to prepare dinner, and believe me, I certainly do not as well, I do think that people assume a fabulous tasting dish must have taken numerous hours of work to prepare. I’m here to tell you that this simply isn’t true in every case. For instance, the stew, or casserole, dish is a wonderful example of a delicious meal, which does not require that much of your effort or time. It is true that a stew needs to cook for a number of hours (usually anywhere from 2-4 hours), but once you’ve added all the ingredients into the pot, you are pretty much good to go. Sit back, relax, and let the stew “stew” itself away. (That is, unless you still have to hang up the laundry, mop the floors, put the toys away for the umpteenth time, and replace an entire shelf of books which are now on the floor because your child is playing librarian! Ha!) Stews are also great for those of us who work outside the home. If you own a slow-cooker, simply add the ingredients and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and when you return home from a hard day’s work, your home will smell divine and your meal will be ready for immediate consumption. Now, who wouldn’t love that?!?!

The Greek cuisine, much to my joy, includes many such dishes. I plan to let you know of them over time. However, I made a stew yesterday with Moroccan seasonings. My husband and I once ordered a similar dish at one of the many now famous NYC “restaurant-on-wheels” trucks. It was delicious, and so, of course, being the Greek that he is, my husband asked for the recipe! I came across his notes the other day and decided to attempt a recreation. I liked the results, as well as the rest of my family, so now, without further ado, I give you, Moroccan Lamb Stew. (By the way, if you haven’t had lamb before, please do try it, as it is a very delicious meat. If you absolutely do not want it in your stew, you could substitute beef or goat meat, or you could simply omit the meat altogether.)

Yield: 6 main portions

2 lbs. lamb stew meat (if you buy it with the bone still in, the stew’s taste develops more fully, but if you don’t want to, buy it without the bone)

1 acorn or butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 1″ cubes

1 small onion, diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced

1/2 c. chickpeas (you can used dried chickpeas, but be sure to soak them in water for a couple of hours prior to cooking)

3-4 md-sized carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces

2 inch piece of ginger, grated (if you have a ginger grater-it’s a ceramic dish with a bumpy center, which turns the ginger into a pretty fine paste-use it; otherwise finely chop the ginger with a knife)

1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. curry powder

1-1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, depending on your taste

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1/2 c. tomato (either from can or if fresh, chopped)

1/4 c. golden raisins or chopped dried apricots

2 c. water (you may need slightly more; just keep an eye on the stew while it cooks and add more water if needed after the 2nd hour)

salt and pepper to taste

handful chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 c. sliced almonds (garnish; may be omitted)

After you have rinsed and patted-dry your stew meat, sprinkle with a good helping of salt and fresh ground pepper, massaging the seasonings into the meat. Do not attempt to remove any of the meat’s fat, since it will be cooking for so many hours. You will want the moisture of the fat so the meat does not become too dry.

Add appx. a 1/4 c. olive oil to a large pot (one that can be covered) on high heat. Once the oil is hot, brown your meat for about three minutes per side. Add the squash, onion, garlic, carrots,  ginger, chickpeas, ground coriander, cumin, and curry powder. Stir together and sauté for 2-3 minutes to allow the spices to cook. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, tomatoes, and dried fruit of your choice. Add the water. You want to just cover the top of the ingredients with water, so adjust the amount accordingly. Let stew come to a low boil, cover, then turn the heat down to about as low as it will go. Allow to cook for about three hours, stirring occasionally. Add more water if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper to your liking.

Once your stew has finished cooking, the meat should melt in your mouth, and the vegetables will have softened and thickened into a lovely tasting mash. Stir in a handful of chopped cilantro. If you like, and I highly recommend this step, dollop each stew serving with some Greek yogurt. If you don’t have a Greek or thick yogurt available to you, you could use sour cream, but it just doesn’t taste the same! I usually cook a side of couscous or quinoa to accompany the stew, but you could always cook some rice, or even small pasta, like orzo. It’s really up to you, so be creative!