A taste of serious soup weather blew through East Tennessee over the last couple of weeks, which means it's time to share maybe the most satisfying vegetarian staple there is: lentil and spinach stew. It's easy, tasty, comforting, economical, full of protein, and can easily be a pantry dish.
This version purees a head of oven-toasted garlic, which you'll add into the broth along with a bit of red miso at the end of cooking to give the broth extra depth. The beauty of this method is that the garlic does its thing in the oven while the lentils cook. Which means the only time added by the garlic is peeling the cloves. But, in a pinch, or in the case of low energy, skip the fresh garlic and add a dose of garlic powder instead.
Unless you're feeding a crowd, this recipe makes a ton of leftovers. Keep it fresh by playing with side dishes and toppings. Fresh cantaloupe is especially nice on the first day. Try it with a fresh, crusty loaf on the second. Toast up some olive oil and rosemary croutons for a texture switch later in the week. When you're down to the final third, reheat the stew in a dose of olive oil with a minced fresh hot pepper. Then add garam masala and your other favorite curry-related spices (ground amchoor, coriander, and cumin always make for a nice combination) and serve the whole thing over rice.
Lentil and Spinach Stew
serves about 8
1 head garlic (about 10 large cloves), peeled
1 tsp oil
8 1/2 cups water, divided
1 lb small green (or brown) lentils
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
2 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cubes
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 TBSP red miso
freshly cracked black pepper
Heat oven to 400. Toss peeled garlic cloves with oil in a small baking dish or pie plate. When oven is ready, let garlic cook until just tender and light golden, about 15-20 minutes, watching very carefully toward the end to avoid burning. (If the garlic burns, the whole pot of stew will taste bitter.)
Set aside one half-cup of water and add remaining eight cups to a dutch oven or soup pot, then heat on the stove over high heat. Add lentils, spinach, bouillon cubes, nutritional yeast, marjoram, and paprika. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, or as needed to maintain a steady, strong simmer. Leave covered and cook until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.
When lentils are tender and garlic is ready, add remaining half-cup water to a small food processor (or use a wide-mouth mason jar with an immersion blender) along with garlic and miso. Blend until smooth. Stir into pot until thoroughly combined. Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.