I have a confession to make. Here in Charlotte, tiny, bright green leaves cover trees and tulips blossom with a host of other flowers. The temperature is hovering around 80. It’s gorgeous and I’m wishing for just a little more winter. Have I lost my mind?
Born and raised in Florida, I never thought I would mourn the loss of winter, but this year spring came just a little too early. I like to ease into my seasons. The arrival of asparagus to my dinner plate should be accompanied by meals that say farewell to colder temperatures. I need to have time to adjust. I need to make my favorite winter meals, before I dust off my grill.
So I’m taking a stand. I’m ignoring the sunshine outside my window and the yellow pollen that covers my car and making one last dish for winter. Lentil stew became a go-to meal in our home over the past year. Easy, economical, hearty and healthy, it’s versatile and delicious. A big pot of stew comes together in about an hour and it reheats wonderfully, meaning it nourishes us well over the course of a week.
While garlic isn’t a major player in this soup, I want to take a moment to talk about it. I buy whole bulbs of garlic and I’m always surprised by how many people don’t know how to use it. Jarred minced garlic has found its way into many pantries which is a shame as its flavor pales in comparison to mincing your own. So with that in mind, here’s a garlic primer.
You purchase garlic as a bulb. It’s composed of cloves. When a recipe calls for 3 cloves of garlic, it doesn’t mean three large bulbs, but rather three cloves from a bulb. This is important; especially if you are single and looking for a mate.
Each clove of garlic has a papery skin around it that needs to be removed before using. The easiest way to do this is to place the clove on your cutting board and place the side of your knife on top of it. Use the heel of your hand to “pop” the knife. You need to hit it hard enough to break the skin, but not so hard that it smashes. Remove the knife and pull the skin off with your fingers. Does it look like this picture?
Each clove will have a hard end where it attached to the bulb. I like to cut this off and discard it. I envision it getting stuck in someone’s back molar. This would not be good.
If you cut a clove in half lengthwise, you may notice a green sprout. This is the germ and it has a bitter taste. Some chefs swear that it must be taken out using a paring knife and discarded to avoid making your dish taste bitter. While I usually remove it, when teaching classes I take a more moderate approach. If making garlic bread or a dish where garlic is the star, I urge you to take the time to remove the germ. If you are in a rush or making a dish where there are lots of others flavors, don’t fret about leaving it in. In short, if the thought of having to take out the germ means you reach for the jarred stuff, leave the germ in. Seriously. No more jarred stuff.
So with that I leave you with this recipe for lentil and vegetable stew. Make it. Enjoy it. And then let’s get ready for spring.
Lentil and Vegetable Stew – Printer Friendly Recipe
This stew saves beautifully, but will thicken as it sits in your fridge. Simply add a little more water or broth to the stew when you are ready to enjoy it.
2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
1 celery rib, sliced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes (I like to use fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 ½ cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
½ cup basmati brown rice (optional)
6 cups water, vegetable, or less-sodium chicken stock
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
2-3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Garnish: fresh minced parsley or cilantro
Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the carrots, celery, and onion and cook until just soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes, lentils, brown rice (if using), and the bay leaf. Stir to combine. Add the water or broth, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let simmer for 50 minutes. If the stew thickens too much, add a little more water or broth.
Stir in the balsamic vinegar to taste and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed. Serve the stew garnished with minced parsley or cilantro.