It's officially the end of January. And where did the last month go? Even though I live in Rwanda, where I am lucky enough to have 25°C (77°F) weather everyday, I definitely hibernated. 2013 already feels like a long time ago, yet I still find myself feeling the need to just relax and given into the slow pace of life in Kigali. So even though I love cooking, when I'm in hibernation mode I find it's best to prepare large batches of things to keep in the freezer. They make for quick lunches and dinners that I can grab and eat, and feel nourished.
That's the theme of today's recipe - easy, warming, nutritious and PACKED FULL OF FLAVOUR. Just because you're feeling sluggish doesn't mean your food needs to be that way too. And if you are feeling a bit blasé, get out and do something! This dish will certainly give you energy and inspiration to be creative. It's one of those - look in fridge, take out what is left, throw it into a pot, and voila.
So with that in mind, I present to you, the most Delicious One-Pot Wonder - Warming Lentil Stew.
What makes this stew so great? For starters, the preparation takes just 15 minutes, and the cooking time 45 minutes, without having to watch it! Also, the base of the soup is a delicious mix of aromatic spices, that fill the air and provide so much flavour. You can eat it on its own, put it over rice, have with warm bread, crisp crackers, corn bread, and steamed greens. You can also make a light soup, or a thick, hearty stew, simply by adding water. And, the longer it sits, the better it tastes!
The key spices are:
Nothing beats fresh ginger - I slice it or grate it into something everyday. Aromatic, pungent and zesty, ginger is easily available, cheap, and has numerous health benefits. Ginger is great for easing an achy tummy. Studies have shown that ginger can prevent symptoms of motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, cold sweats and indigestion. Calling all pregnant women - look into ginger as a way to reduce morning sickness (or all-day sickness if you are so unlucky). You can add about an inch piece (peeled) to warm water to make a tea, put it in cooking, or even chew a small sliver. Its antioxidant effects also make it a great anti-inflammatory, as it contains gingerols, a substance that is believed to help with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Lastly, ginger helps to boost the immune system and regulates sweating, so take it when you have a cold or flu for some relief. Ginger and I really are good friends.
Turmeric is very warming, with a peppery flavour and a scent that is reminiscent of orange and ginger. It’s the base of most curry recipes, and is used to give foods their bright yellow colour. There are many claimed health benefits, although scientific evidence is still somewhat limited. These include using tumeric: as an anti-inflammatory; to help with flatulence and cramping, toothaches, bruises and colic. In this recipe, it simply warms the body and gives the stew some soul!
Cumin and cumin seeds add a nutty and spicy flavour to any foods. They are good on the digestive system and contain high amounts of iron. Now I see why they are a common feature in curry! You can add them to so many things for an extra punch - potatoes, rice, quinoa, beans.
Coriander is a common fresh herb, used to add colour and flavour to all sorts of dishes. Dried coriander has a pungent aroma, and is a great addition to soups. There is emerging evidence that coriander can help stimulate the release of insulin to control blood sugar, along with lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and acting as an antibacterial (helping to fend off any unwanted germs or food bacteria). Regardless, it tastes delicious and I always sprinkle fresh leaves on my dishes.
What's the deal with cinnamon? Everyone knows cinnamon, but it seems to be the latest "in vogue" these days. Numerous health bloggers are promoting the addition of cinnamon to the diet, particular as a weight loss tool. Some are even claiming that you can lose 10 pounds a week by eating more cinnamon - buyers beware! Anything that seems ridiculous to believe, probably is! However, I can say, that there is scientific evidence proving a range of benefits from cinnamon.
Cinnamon contains large amounts of iron, calcium, fiber and manganese. It is also an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and helps with stomach indigestion, stomach ulcers, bloating, and diarrhea. indigestion and bloating. Like cumin, it is claimed to lower blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol (LDL). As it regulates blood sugar, this is where the weight loss claims come in - “it prevents the storage of glucose into fat”. Well yes, high blood sugar levels mean that there is too much sugar in the body, which is either burned off or stored as fat (glycogen). However, keeping your blood sugar levels low and eating foods rich in fibre are also perfectly good substitutes for downing tubes of cinnamon! However, its sweet and aromatic taste really do add depth to food, both sweet and savoury. So I’d use it because I love it, not as a reason to get skinny!
Oh do I have a love-hate relationship with cayenne pepper. I love that it adds a kick to foods, warms me up, and is also a great anti-inflammatory. I hate that I can't handle spice. Every week, I try to add a bit more to my food, and suddenly while eating my face is sweating and my nose is running. And my mouth feels like it's catching fire! You really don't need much to add heat and taste to food. I will say that it's the perfect addition when in hibernating mode, as it really wakes you up and makes you want to sweat! Next time I have a cold I'll be drinking ginger tea with cayenne pepper!
So now you see all the spices to add flavour, aroma, depth and heat to this stew. And oh baby will you love it. Now, it's time to add the veggies! What's in your fridge?
For this dish, I would recommend both lentils (green, brown, red, yellow, orange, adzuki beans, try anything!) and something starchy but flavourful (sweet potatoes, kabocha squash, butternut squash - you name it!) If you go to the market and see a new kind of squash, try it out. It will be delicious in this soup.
The lentils and the squash are the kinds of vegetables/legumes that will keep you going all day long. They have everything - fibre, minerals, vitamins, and they absorb so perfectly the variation of spices.
Many people are hesitant to add lentils to their meals, as they worry about "gas". The complain that they get bloated and feel so icky that it's not worth it. This is true, as lentils contain raffinose sugars, and we do not have the enzyme in our body to break this down, leading to gas and indigestion.
Here are some tips on how to take the gas out of lentils and beans:
1. While you are preparing the other veg, add boiling water to lentils and let them soak for 3-4 minutes. This will release some of raffinose sugars. Then drain them, rise with water, and add to your stew.
2. You can also soak beans and lentils overnight to have the same effect.
3. Add acidic ingredients to your recipe, which will prevent the lentils from releasing the sugars. These types of foods can be: lemons/limes, tomatoes, molasses, chocolate, pineapple or apple cider vinegar.
These steps will reduce any uncomfortable issues, so that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy this delicious meal!
One-Pot Curried Lentil Stew
This aromatic and easy stew will warming your soul and give you energy all day long. With a slight curry taste, it can be served with rice, bread, cornbread, quinoa, grains or eaten on it's own. Be creative with the veggies and lentils!
- 3 tablespoons oil or ghee
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 can tomatoes, or 2 fresh, diced
- 2 cups squash (kabocha, butternut, etc), cut into one-inch pieces
- 1 cup mushrooms, cut into one-inch pieces
- 1 cup carrots, cut into one-inch pieces
- 1 cup lentils (any colour will do)
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons tumeric
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1.5 litres of vegetable broth
- Use as big a soup pot as you can find, and put it on medium heat on the stove.
- Add the oil, and once heated, add the onion - cook until soft.
- Add the ginger and tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
- Then add spices, and stir, cooking until you smell this delicious aroma. If you feel you need to add more spices at this stage, go ahead, experiment.
- Add the rest of the vegetables, lentils (or beans) and the vegetable stock. Put on the lid, turn the heat down, and leave it for 30-45 minutes. If the pot is too full you can spread it over two pots. Once the squash and lentils are soft, you're ready to go!