Lentil and Brown Rice Stew

For the past couple months, I’ve been experimenting with a recipe for a lentil and rice stew. Like most things I cook, the initial inspiration for this recipe was necessity: what can I cook without having to go shopping? Here is the recipe for tonight’s incarnation:

Ingredients (makes about 6-8 entree-sized servings)

  • 1 small yellow onion, medium dice
  • 3 medium carrots, medium dice
  • 3 ribs of celery, medium dice
  • 4 tablespoons fat (I used half butter and half olive oil)
  • 1.5 cups dry lentils, soaked for a few hours
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons berbere spice mix, more if you like the heat (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water for cooking

Method (cook time ~7 hours, mostly unsupervised)

  1. Cover lentils with a few inches of water, and let them soak for about 4 hours. They will absorb quite a bit of water.
  2. Dice the onion, carrots and celery to about a quarter inch dice.
  3. Heat a large pot (enameled cast iron works well) to medium high heat. When the pot is hot, add the fat of your choosing, and once the fat is nice and hot, add the onion, carrots and celery. Turn down the heat to medium and saute until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. I usually let them brown a little bit too; it gives the final product a bit more sweetness.
  4. Add the berbere spice and a bit of salt and pepper to the mirepoix. I usually start with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt since the berbere has salt in it too. Stir until the spices are evenly distributed.
  5. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot. Add the rice and stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  6. Add 5 to 8 cups of water depending how thick you want the stew. Increase heat to high until the stew reaches a full boil. Then reduce heat to low/medium low and cover.
  7. Allow stew to simmer for about 2 hours stirring occasionally. If it seems to dry, you can add water, a little bit at a time. Once the lentils and rice are tender, add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes Like most stews, this one seems to improve with longer cooking times — it’s always better reheated the second day.

Berbere is a spice mix used in East African cuisine. It is possible to buy a mix, but I like to make my own and keep it sealed in the freezer. That way, I can personalize it to my taste. The mixture I use is primarily ground red chilies and paprika, but also includes salt, ginger, onion and garlic powders, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice.

This stew is a good base to use up just about any vegetables you have lying around. Roasted squash, baked (or microwaved) sweet potato, kale and tomatoes are all good additions. Additions of cooked vegetables or greens should go in after the rice and lentils are cooked tender, while tomatoes can go in after adding the spices to the mirepoix mixture and before adding remaining ingredients.

Will Rosenbaum

Saarbrücken, Germany

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