It is officially December, so I can’t gripe about talk of Christmas being “too bloody early!” any more. Everywhere I’m looking I’m seeing ads for decorations, recipes for wonderfully elaborate cookies, dishes, make-it-yourself gifts, etc, etc, etc. December is for covering our world in decoration.
But right now, all I want to do is strip back to the absolute basics.
Food should be a great pleasure to me: it satisfies so many aspects of my self – my love for beauty, my impulse to create, as well as the physical satiation of hunger, and over and above that, the joy of good flavour.
But sometimes, if I am being completely honest, food makes me feel stressed. The need to constantly be paying attention to what I am eating, as a predominantly plant-based eater; to focus always part of my mind on getting enough energy (and the right sort) – on a student budget, with limited time, can be exhausting. I’ve learned that it’s much easier and actually takes less energy in the end if I make the vast majority of my food myself, rather than worry about where I am going to find what I need between lectures (not to mention how I am going to pay for it.)
But to do this all the time requires a level of organisation that is simply not compatible with the chilled-out and relaxed attitude towards my body and the food I put into it that I’m working to cultivate. In the last week or so I’ve felt particularly exhausted. Not all to do with food, it has to be said – it’s partly suffering from disenchantment with work and study (none of it seems to matter very much) and partly the time of year, but all I want to do is sleep and if I want to cook anything it’s porridge or toast. Stirring up granola, baking biscuits, puddings and pies… all just a bit too much for me right now. I’m falling back instead on old reliables that tick all the boxes of 1. easy, 2. cheap, 3. minimal washing up and 4. yummy and comforting – like this lentil stew.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve cooked this or some variety of it over the past two years. It’s the perfect student dish, using ingredients that I always have in the (albeit teeny-tiny) freezer and the cupboards. Red lentils are my favourite fall-back pulse, because they are so versatile, they cook faster than other pulses with no need for soaking, they are very healthy, tasty and easy on the stomach – a bonus for one whose digestive system can be something of a diva!
I served it here with my sourdough rye toast, because I just can’t get enough of that stuff! But it would surely be lovely with brown rice or even as a topping for pasta too. It is completely vegan, and gluten-free if you go with rice.
Red-Lentil Tomato and Vegetable Stew
Serves 2-4 as a side.
1/2 heaped cup/100g red lentils, rinsed
1 cup/250ml vegetable stock or water
1 tsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 medium carrot
1/2 large head of broccolli, chopped into florets (I used frozen broccolli)
200g frozen or fresh spinach
Decent pinch of salt and black pepper.
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp molasses (just a drizzle) – you could also use brown sugar or honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tamari
Top with: sprouts (I used alfafa) and toasted seeds.
1. Start by heating the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, before adding the cumin, paprika and cinnamon. Cool for another minute or two until fragrant.
2. Add the lentils and grate the carrot into the saucepan with the coarse side of the grater. Stir and cook for about another minute until they are smelling delicious and toasty.
3. Add the stock and salt and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the lentils are cooked but not completely mushy.
4. Pour in the tomatoes, and add the broccoli and spinach (hold off on the spinach until the end if you are using fresh rather than frozen.) It’s also a good idea to add the molasses or sugar at this point. Raise to a medium heat.
5. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the broccoli is cooked through, the stew is quite thick and the lentils are very soft. Turn off the heat, pour in the balsamic vinegar and tamari and taste. If you are using fresh spinach, add it in now and stir until it is wilted.
6. Serve with rice or bread, and top with your favourite things. I suggest toasting some seeds and throwing some sprouts on top but anything pretty and green will do!