Every now and again, I come across a recipe that really intrigues me.  I saw this one from the New York Times and thought the concept too good to pass up.

And the concept was perfect – plus I had all the ingredients in the house! It’s vegetarian – actually vegan – but I didn’t let that stop me. I cheated just a bit. I had about 8 ounces of bottom round steak in the ‘fridge, so I sliced it thin and after browning it off in a bit of olive oil, cooked it with the lentils. It definitely didn’t need it – I was using up something from the ‘fridge – but it was a nice addition. (I doubt I would add it next time, although a spicy sausage might be a nice addition, if you’re so inclined…)

Other changes…

  • instead of the onion with whole cloves, I cooked a few tablespoons of dehydrated onions with the lentils along with some allspice – no cloves in the house! (I know, right?!?)
  • used dried thyme.
  • used a full can of diced tomatoes with their juice.
  • doubled the Saffron – I have a lot due to an error by my favorite spice company.
  • chopped a jalapeño pepper instead of cayenne to use up fresh items

Smoky Lentil Stew With Leeks and Potatoes

adapted from the New York Times

  • 1 ½ cups small lentils, such as Pardina or Puy (12 ounces), or use any size green or brown lentil
  • 1 medium onion, halved, plus 2 bay leaves and 2 whole cloves
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 or 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced 3/4-inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 large thyme or rosemary sprig
  • 2 tablespoons pimentón dulce or smoked sweet paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
  • Small pinch of saffron (about 12 strands), soaked in 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomato with juice
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Rinse lentils. Put them in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot and add 8 cups water.

Pin a bay leaf to each onion half using a whole clove and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, add a large pinch of salt, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook with lid ajar for about 30 minutes, until soft. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to boil, and cook the potato slices until just done, about 10 minutes, then drain and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.

Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is wavy, add leeks and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Let leeks cook briskly, stirring frequently until soft but still bright green, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn heat to medium, stir in chopped garlic, thyme, pimentón and cayenne.

Add saffron and soaking water, the chopped tomato and vinegar. Turn heat to high and let everything simmer for a few minutes.

Pour contents of skillet into Dutch oven with lentils. Add the reserved potatoes.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered with lid ajar for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cook for 10 more minutes. The lentils will be quite soft and the potatoes will start to break. Discard onion and thyme sprig.

Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and chopped parsley, if you wish.

It’s a dish that just entered our regular rotation. I ordered more lentils from my favorite site – Palouse Brands in Washington state – and for this version I used Puy lentils. I ordered more Padina lentils as well as Black Beluga Lentils. Any of them will work, but you do want something that will hold their shape.

In the NY Times comments, several people complained of using three pots and gave their versions of making it a one-pot meal.

Yes, you can cook it all in one pot, but in doing so, lose out on building layers of flavor. Cooking the leek and spice mixture separately really concentrates the flavor. Cooking the potatoes separately allows for a perfectly-cooked potato in the final dish. And do slice those spuds thick. It’s essential to the dish! Russets will work better than Yukon gold. You want them to just barely start to fall apart in the finished dish. and russets will do it, better.

And for those who changed every ingredient, cooked it entirely differently, and then said they didn’t like it… well… you’re idiots.

It’s also a dish that benefits from being cooked in advance. If you can, cook it early and reheat it for dinner. The above picture is yesterday’s dinner reheated this afternoon for lunch.

Totally delicious.