This lentil stew recipe was mainly inspired by the undeniable chill that has arrived here in the evenings as Autumnal weather asserts its presence more and more each day. And as the weather changes, I find myself yearning for wholesome, warming dishes.
As many of you know, I'm a big fan of lentils in every guise. Lentils add an earthy warmth to so many dishes, making them a perfect and natural comfort food. In search of inspiration for a new and easy lentil stew recipe, I found myself browsing through a book I love, Gil Marks' Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World.
Marks' book is not only a wonderful source of beautiful and unusual vegetarian recipes, it is also imbued with history, culture and a profound knowledge of food, making it as good a read as it is a cookbook. Today, the recipe that caught my eye was Marks' Syrian Lentil Stew Recipe with Chard. I think I was initially drawn to this recipe purely because it uses pomegranate molasses. I knew that I would love the combination of tart, fruity pomegranate with the rich earthiness of brown lentils.
Pomegranate molasses is an unusual ingredient in the West but common in Middle Eastern cooking. It is a thick, dark syrup with a tangy, almost sour flavor that adds wonderful zest to many dishes. It is frequently used as an ingredient in sauces, marinades and dressings.
The problem is that it can be a bit tricky to find. Middle Eastern specialty shops are the best option. Note that if you are looking for it, pomegranate molasses is known by a few different names including pomegranate paste, concentrated pomegranate or pomegranate concentrate. If you do not have access to a Middle Eastern store, pomegranate molasses is widely available online. A third option is to make your own. To do this, take 2 cups of unsweetened pomegranate juice, bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 hour until the liquid reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. Store it in a glass jar in the fridge and it will last for months.
The lentils in the stew are brown lentils. Any whole lentil that holds its shape when cooked will work but I like brown here. And since I have found that people are often confused by the different varieties of lentils, I thought I would clarify with a picture. A little smaller and rounder than green lentils, these have a slightly pinkish tinge and a dense, earthy flavor. They are one of the more widely available lentil varieties. This is what they look like....
By the way, I used spinach rather than chard in this recipe (I surprised myself because we've been eating a lot of chard in the last few weeks, thanks to a glut in my aunt's garden which I've been happily helping her out with!) In the original recipe, the chard is added with the water and lentils. Feel free to do this - I am quite sure it is more authentic - but I can never bring myself to cook these greens for more than a few minutes.
These amounts make a big batch - about 6-8 good sized servings but it will freeze well.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
6 cups/1½ litres of water
1 pound of brown lentils, soaked in plenty of cold water for a couple of hours or overnight.
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt
½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 pound/450g of chard or spinach, chopped. If you want to use frozen, defrost it and drain it very well
4 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro or fresh coriander
¼ cup/60ml of pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
The stew is incredibly easy to make. Rinse and drain the lentils well. Next heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, then toss in the onion and garlic. Cook slowly for 5-8 minutes until soft. Now stir in the cumin, cook for a minute then add the water, lentils, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Stir in the chard or spinach, then cook uncovered for 4-5 minutes. Finally add the cilantro/coriander, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice and continue to cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Serve with bulghur or rice.