This is one of those dishes that I carried home from Spain in my heart – on days that I worked with Kay and missed lunch at home with my host family, there would be a bowl of lentejas (lentil stew) or fabada (Asturian bean stew) waiting for me. On days when I was extra lucky, there were also salchichas, delicious little sausages, and pureed potatoes. Our family’s maid, Leo, was the master of making comfort food. Making anything that is remotely similar to her food makes me feel like I’m getting a big hug.
I never watched Leo make lentejas, but I know they were made with love – I could tell. Her lentejas came out more like a stew, sort of like fabada, but had more types of meat and vegetables in it than what I make. I know she must have had carrots and onions, but I’m not sure if there was celery or garlic. I can say with certainty that my favorite thing was finding this little bits of chorizo that were hiding. I avoided the little bits of fat that were running through it (pork fat, maybe?), just because I didn’t like the mouth-feel. I think she must have made these in a pressure cooker.
I didn’t even attempt to make my own lentejas until more than a year after I came home from studying in Madrid. I spoke to my go-to Spaniard for help on getting started, and she suggested using a slow-cooker to make this delectable dish. I followed her directions (ok, somewhat) and came to develop my own general recipe. The beauty of this is that, in my opinion, these basic ideas can be applies to other legumes.
Here’s what I do… And let me warn you, do not read on if you are a purist when it comes to Spanish food – I completely understand. Case in point, Spanish tortilla… Don’t you DARE add onions, I say! Say NO to cheese! Say NO to bell peppers! But I digress… My point here is that I have molded this dish to fit what we have here in VT and what we feel we really need when it comes to comfort food.
First off, this is not something you can just make on the fly. It is not quick food by any standard. You must know at least 24 hours in advance that you will be eating this for dinner – Spaniards traditionally eat this as a lunch food because it is a classically heavy dish, but I have lightened it up a bit and morphed it into a dinner food.
Kat’s Lentejas (Lentil Stew) – Basic directions for yummy slow-cooked legumes.
- The night before I plan to cook these, I soak the lentils. I tend to use between 1 and 2 cups of dried lentils, depending on what we have. I most often use green lentils – brown would work here, too, but not red lentils, as they tend to be sold out of the husk and will result in a considerably different end product. Soak the lentils in twice their volume of lukewarm water with a good amount of salt – I use a teaspoon of coarse sea salt that we picked up in Ibiza last summer. If you don’t add salt, they will take on so much water that they burst open – if this happens, your lentil stew will be mush. =/ I use a glass bowl and cover it with a plate so that I can monitor them, if need be. Now, just let them hang out overnight.
- Early the next morning, before I go to work, I drain the lentils. You could rinse them here, but I don’t. Next, I put them into the slow cooker.
- Along with the lentils, I add: 2-3 sausages or one package’s worth (fresh or dried chorizo, or fresh linguica – cut into chunks or bite-sized pieces), 2 big spoonfuls of Spanish smoked sweet paprika, 1 spoonful of dried smoked onion, 1 big spoonful of minced fresh garlic, a small spoonful of Ibiza salt, 3-4 big spoonfuls of homemade salsa, and if I have it, half of a medium white or yellow onion, diced. Cover everything with water, enough so that just the top bits of sausage are sticking out. I don’t add any fat, because the sausage will give off enough lovely orange oil to keep everything moist and delicious.
- Cook on high in the slow-cooker until I get home from work (mid- to late afternoon). If I am going to be home later in the evening, I cook it on low, but add a little less water.
- If you’re feeling really fancy, or need to use up some taters, cut some into bite-sized pieces and add to the lentils about an hour before you are going to serve them. That way, they hold their shape and add another texture (and color) to the dish. I don’t often add taters, but I did this time.
- I serve the lentejas over rice. In the picture here, we had a mixture of red and forbidden rice. I cook the rice in chicken stock with seasoned salt and dried roasted garlic slices (I use a rice cooker).
As you can see, my methods result in lentils that mostly hold their shape. If you wanted a smoother consistency, you could do one of two things: add a roux to the slow-cooker along with your ingredients (back in Step 3) or use an immersion blender to partially blend the stew. My lentejas are definitely a lighter version of the Spanish dish. All in all, they are energy-packed and most importantly, flavor-packed. I make a slow-cooker-ful of these delicious lentils and they last us the greater part of a week. We might vary the rice, of course, or even have them on their own. I’ve even been known to eat these cold on my lunch break at work (Shhh… I’m sure I must have broken an unwritten Spanish rule). I know I have broken at least one rule here, by eating these in the summer, but that’s a risk I have to take.