February and March are tough months for food around here. The freezer stash from last year has dwindled down to a few bags of cherries and some odd purple beans, and the glass jars in my pantry are few (I miss you, pear sauce!) It’s not quite time to start growing yet, but Daylight Savings Time is on the horizon. This is slim pickin’s time…but the budget doesn’t care. It’s still tight, reeling from oil deliveries and missed days of work due to icy roads and snow days.
Luckily, good friends tend to have your back when times get tough, and lentils have long been a BFF of mine. They’re really inexpensive, easy to store and just as easy to cook, with the added bonus of being packed with fiber, folate and magnesium. They can even help increase your iron stores, which is something my doctor just told me to do.
Dried beans can be a little intimidating, what with all the soaking and texture and (ahem) concerns about gassiness. Lentils are different. They don’t need to be presoaked, so you can boil up a pot with very little forethought. They come in red, yellow and green, and while I love a good spiced dal, my favorite way to make them is in a stew, which also allows me to use my vegetable scraps and anything else that might otherwise go to waste. Because, you know, buying organic may be a little more expensive, but if you end up throwing it out, the price essentially skyrockets.
This is a hard recipe to nail down, because it’s so fluid. That’s a good thing, because it means it’s accommodating. Add some greens, leave out the ham…whatever you like, whatever fits your budget. You really can’t do it wrong. I figure the whole shebang costs us about $12 and it makes dinner for all of us, including the kids, for 2 days (and sometimes even lunch, too.)
Cheap and Easy Lentil Stew
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 pound cooked ham (a note about the ham: You can use any type, really, and using more or less as desired won’t hurt your stew. Just add a little extra water if you’re using a lot. We like to use leftover holiday ham that we freeze for soups, and when we don’t have any, we just make this recipe without it. Either way. Like I said, cheap and easy.)
- 1 16 oz package of green lentils, rinsed and sorted
- 1 32 oz carton of broth (we like either homemade or Nature’s Promise organic culinary chicken broth)
- 32 oz water (or double up on the broth if you like a stronger flavor)
- 3 medium-sized potatoes
- 6 medium-sized carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp sage
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Parmesan cheese, if desired
Pour olive oil into the bottom of a large stock pot. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and ham; saute a minute or two until fragrant. Add broth and water to pot; bring to a boil. Add lentils, carrots and potatoes to boiling water. Add bay leaves and sage. Cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for approx. 1 hour (maybe 15 minutes more if you prefer softer lentils), stirring frequently. Keep an eye on the water, and add a little more if lentils get too thick. Remove bay leaves before serving; season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.