I know T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month, but in New York City, it’s March. The winter seems to be over, as daylight savings time kicks in and temperatures finally creep above freezing. You might even get a day or two of sunshine, and at 47 degrees, it’ll feel practically balmy. But a spate of flurries or a week’s worth of chilly rain quickly puts an end to optimism and it’s time to retreat back to those comforting foods that provide a buffer against the month’s injustices.
Although I rarely ate them growing up, lentils have become a major comfort food for me. Usually they factor into my favorite quickie Indian dishes, like rasam, but their versatility makes them appealing when I need to rustle something up at the last minute and want to work with whatever I have on hand. Occasionally, these kitchen-sink meals turn out to be keepers.
I like this stew because it uses ingredients that are cheap and incredibly healthy: sweet potatoes, cabbage and lentils. You can keep it vegetarian/vegan or bulk it up with some leftover meat. Eat it by itself, with crusty bread or over your grain of choice. But most importantly, don’t leave out the garnish: That vinegar adds a crucial acidity to flavors that would otherwise taste a little muddled.
End-of-Winter Lentil Stew
– 1 Tbs. oil or fat of choice (I like bacon grease)
– 1-2 tsp. black mustard seeds
– 1 med. yellow onion, thinly sliced
– 1-2 tsp. sweet paprika
– 1 Tbs. tomato paste
– 4-6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
– 1/2 med. head of cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
– 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
– 2 cups brown or green lentils
– 3 cups orange sweet potato, cubed (about two medium sweet potatoes)
– 1 tsp. white pepper
– (optional) 6-8 ounces cooked shredded meat, such as pork shoulder
– sherry vinegar for garnish (can substitute red wine or rice wine vinegar)
1. Put oil/fat in a large dutch oven or heavy pot over med-high heat; add black mustard seeds and let them heat until popping. Then toss in onion and salt to taste and sauté 4 to 6 minutes until the onion is soft and a bit browned. Add paprika and tomato paste and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
2. Lower the heat to medium and add the cabbage and garlic, mixing well. Salt again. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cabbage has softened.
3. Deglaze with a little bit of the broth, then add the remaining broth and the lentils, sweet potato, white pepper, and (optional) shredded meat. Cover, bring to simmer and hold there, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have softened, about 30-40 minutes.
4. Check for seasoning and take off heat. After serving the stew into bowls, finish with a splash of sherry vinegar.