Lentil vegetable stew is a dense combination of lentils, vegetables such as onions and carrots, and some spices. It can be made in a very traditional style with bay leaves and thyme, or it can be cooked with Indian spices to create a more complex flavor. Lentils are very versatile, so nearly any type of vegetable can be used to add depth and substance. The cooking time for lentil vegetable stew also is very fluid, so it can be prepared in advanced and then simmered over low heat until needed later. The stew can be served on its own as a main course or as an appetizer.
All versions of lentil vegetable stew start with preparing the lentils for cooking. They usually come dried in a bag and need to be checked for any small debris or stones that might have made it through the packaging process. The lentils also need to be thoroughly washed until the water passing through them is clear. If they are not washed, then they will impart a dark brown-black color to the dish and a dusty, earthy undertone that some people find disagreeable.
The most classic preparation for a lentil vegetable stew begins by frying garlic, onions, carrots and celery in a heated pan. The vegetables should be chopped so they are roughly the same size and can cook at the same rate. The size of the vegetable pieces is a matter of personal preference, although smaller pieces will cook much more quickly. The ingredients are cooked until soft. In a non-vegetarian preparation, bacon or ham can be added to provide an additional rich, yet subtle, flavor.
Once the vegetables are cooked, lentils are added to the pot along with enough water to cover them. The spices also are added at this point and the entire mixture is allowed to simmer. Depending on the age of the lentils, it might take a long time for them to soften completely. Throughout the time lentil vegetable stew is cooking, the pot needs to be checked regularly to ensure that there is always some water available for the lentils to absorb. Once the lentils are soft, the stew is done.
Indian variations exclude the carrots and celery and instead use eggplants, chili peppers, tomatoes or cauliflower. The spices also are usually fried at the beginning and include coriander, turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom and cumin. An Indian lentil vegetable stew can be served over rice or with bread.
Other vegetables that can be added to a lentil vegetable stew include kale, spinach, squash or potatoes. The lentils also can be complemented with the addition of navy beans or yellow split peas. When served, the stew can be mixed with meats such as chicken or pork, or made creamy with a spoonful of sour cream.