After the last few times this month I’ve decided to make something special I would up spending more than my proletarian budget should allow. So to use up some perishables and mostly dip into my reserves of cheap, healthy staples I dreamed up this little number. Serves… a lot… let them who work, eat from the pot.
This particular lentil stew is thick but still has moats of sauce around the islands of brightly spiced vegetables and legumes. Paprika, cumin and sherry make it bright and exotic (I was thinking Spanish gypsies) but the addition of pesto made with tarragon and basil incorporated into yogurt to serve on top is a nice cool, refreshing contrast. So yeah, this is especially a good thing if you’ve got a special someone you want to impress, but also want to give the comfort of a basic stew.
You will need:
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (medium-sized too)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of diced potatoes (about one good-sized Yukon Gold or a very small Russet, no Redskins though.)
2 cups of french lentils. You can use green lentils if you must, but reduce the cooking time. Red or dhal is unacceptable.
1 small chili pepper, chopped (optional)
3 cups of stock or water, (plus extra nearby)
1/2 cup of sherry
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
The Herbed Yogurt:
1/2 cup of yogurt
about 5 sprigs of tarragon
about 3 sprigs/stalks of basil
1/2 clove of garlic, minced
coarse sea salt
Start by dicing the vegetables into little bits, don’t get chunky here as you don’t want big hunks of vegetable oppressing the lentil masses. The garlic and chili (if using as well.) Heat olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot on a medium heat and add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay and chili. Stir and cooking for about 5 minutes or when the onions start are translucent.
Next add in the cumin and paprika, your potatoes and the can of tomatoes. Let it go for a few minutes and meanwhile measure your lentils and your liquids. When everything is in, bring the heat up to a boil and then turn it down to a low/simmer. From here keep stirring every five minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the pot and keep the liquid level just above the lentils at all times. Add water/stock then stir if dry; the lentil that tries to rise above the stew will be watered down! It should take no less than 45 minutes for french lentils to be al dente. I like mine with a little bite to them, but you can keep tasting til it’s right for you. Also now you can add seasoning: salt and pepper.
During the time while your stew was cooking you have time for the topping. Start by making a very basic pesto. *Party Leader says, some purists will say this isn’t pesto because “pesto has to have only basil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese!” They’re wrong and foolish. Genoa’s sauce has a basic structure but was always adapted in tradition to how it was being used. There are many ways you can do this. A food processor, of course. I don’t have one; I use the old methods of revolutionary force. Start with your garlic (if using) and herbs. This is my way:
Take your 1/2 clove onto a cutting board, put a good sprinkle of coarse/sea salt over that, then grab your herbs in hand and press them into a tight package and place that onto the garlic. Take a good chef’s knife and begin working into the mix. Chop it like a mince, don’t be exact, just keep pulling big pieces that fly away back into the fray and go at it. Eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it’s not going to get any smaller. Place it into a ceramic bowl now with evenly rounded sides. I recommend putting just a tiny, bit of yogurt in, just to hold it in place, then get a large spoon and begin mashing it, at the same time adding olive oil in tiny drizzle portions. Mash-drizzle-mash-drizzle-season-taste and repeat any steps necessary to make you happy.
Now obviously, that little amount can’t be easily made in a food processor with tall blades. You’ll probably have to bulk up the recipe, maybe with parsley too because a little tarragon and basil isn’t too expensive, but a lot is during winter. The good news is this stuff would certainly make turkey or egg salad sandwiches actually taste appealing. If you want a relatively inexpensive gadget that solves both problems: a hand blender.
In any case, once this is made, spoon in your yogurt and mix. Now it’s real easy: put stew into bowls, spoon over the yogurt mixture. Eat it by mixing the two slowly until you get the right blend of yin and yang for yourself.