Given the time we all now have at home, cooking has become a central activity for most of us. Among the many dishes I prepare is a lentil stew whose recipe was handed down to me by my mother (and I have now handed it down to my son!). It's a pretty free form recipe that depends on whatever ingredients you have around the house, but it was a distinctively Galician recipe I learned from my mother and have embellished over time. When I prepare it for me and perhaps one other person, it can last 3 or 4 days. When my son is around we don't mind eating it for a few meals. So let me share the recipe with everyone here.
I usually use a pound of lentils bought at your local grocery store. I empty the bag into a pot and pour in 2 cups of water and let the lentils soak for a few hours or even over night. The lentils get plump and absorb all of the water. Once the lentils are ready I add a couple of table spoons of salt and pour in another 2-3 cups of water and place the pot on a slow boil for about 45 minutes to an hour. The water -and the time you cook it- can vary depending on whether you want the stew to end up soupy or pasty.
To begin with I add a head of garlic. When my mother would make it she would drop the whole garlic into the pot, I peel the garlic and simply drop in the cloves. Add a couple of beef bouillon cubes along with the salt and garlic as the lentils simmer. I also cut up one whole onion into 4-5 big chunks and drop that in for the same reasons, it cooks for a long time and adds flavor.
Among the first vegetables I drop into the simmering lentils are carrots. They take longer to cook, get soft and add flavor to the broth. I then add one or two ham hocks, usually smoked to enhance the flavors as well. The ham hocks have some meat on them but not much, so I tend to add more ham in small pieces. You have to add chorizos (Spanish sausages), a basic ingredient, which also enhance the flavors. Usually 2 or 3 links with all the saffron and paprika that oozes out of them. I'll also add some meat, when in Galicia it tended to be meat for stew, I prefer a better cut of lean beef cut up in cubes. No more than half a pound.
Late in the process, with about 10-15 minutes to go, I've now begun to add broccoli, cilantro and sweet potato, boiled and cut up in small pieces and added to the broth. You can add one or two tomatoes if you so desire. All of this will settle into a rich, thick broth of lentils that have now opened up and deposited all of their glorious, healthy essence.
The lentil stew is usually served with a side of rice, but I've begun to mix it with Quinoa, a substantive, protein rich grain like ingredient that reminds me of the Italian polenta or couscous. It goes well with the lentil stew. I also sprinkle some shredded cheese on top as a dressing.
As I write this my mouth is beginning to water and I think on my next grocery run, will buy some more lentils and begin another stew. If you try this - ENJOY!!