Thanks to their versatility, heft, and ample umami, lentils have universal (read: omnivore) appeal and may well be the MVP of the vegan home cooking arsenal. These miniature legumes are not only incredibly delicious and hearty, but also defy all the concerns that folks tend to have about plant-based foods. Lentils are packed with protein, extremely cheap, easy to prepare without any specialized cooking skills or tools, and have a deep, meaty flavor that’s impossible not to love.
I’ve been making Indian-style dals with red lentils for years, but it was only recently that I discovered the wonder that is black, aka beluga, lentils. These little guys are even more flavorful and umami-packed than their red and green counterparts. Even better, they create an impressively beefy gravy when simmered, while still staying toothsome and never turning to mush. (Also, some of you may be interested to know that a friend who suffers from, ahem, gastrointestinal discomfort after eating most legumes didn’t have any problem with belugas.)
Perfect for a still-chilly almost-spring evening, this easy-to-make stew pairs the aforementioned beefy gravy with meaty wild mushrooms and an array of bright, fresh veggies (feel free to sub in whatever variety you have on hand). This stew is great fresh off the stove, and even better reheated a few days later after the favors have had more time to meld.
Hearty Beluga Lentil Stew
- Olive oil
- 1 cup mushrooms, coarsely chopped (Oyster or other wild varieties are ideal, but any type will work.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 4 large carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1.5 cups lentils
- 7 cups water
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped (or a couple shakes dried)
- 3 tablespoons soy
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika*
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast**
- 1/2 cup green beans, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 zucchini, sliced into half-moons
*Don’t ask me why, but lentils love smokiness, so it’s no surprise that many traditional lentil soups are flavored with bacon or ham hock. Incredibly, a few shakes of smoked paprika will create virtually the same deep flavor. If you don’t have any on hand, substitute a splash of liquid smoke, a small piece of any smokey faux-meat, chipotle sauce, or just omit.
**Nutritional yeast is my go-to when it comes to deepening the flavor of vegan dishes. It’s available at health food stores, Whole Foods, and some large grocery stores. I guarantee you will find myriad uses for it once it’s in your pantry. If you don’t have any, though, feel free to omit.
- Heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or similar heavy, large pot until shimmering. Add mushrooms and sauté until browned and slightly crisp around the edges. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Lower heat and add an additional splash of oil to the pan. Add onions and sauté until soft and starting to brown. If they start sticking to the pan or browning too much, add a splash of water and scrape up any caramelized bits. Add garlic and carrots and sauté until beginning to soften.
- Add water, lentils, and seasonings (soy sauce through nutritional yeast). Bring to a low boil and lower heat. Cover and simmer for an hour.
- Add remaining vegetables, including mushrooms, and simmer an additional 30 minutes, until soft.
- Add additional water to thin consistency, if desired. This is a matter of personal preference, but I like mine to be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, but thin enough that it can still ladled (rather than scooped). Adjust seasonings.
- Serve with crusty bread or a scoop of rice.