Recipe post: the joy of lentils

This week I tested out a recipe first encountered at my family's Christmas dinner, via my uncle and aunt, two of the best cooks in the family. They themselves found it somewhere on the internet (possibly at Good Housekeeping) and tweaked it to their liking. Technically, it's a thick lentil soup studded with butternut squash, but really it's more of a casserole, as most of the liquid gets soaked up by the lentils while they cook.

I made this without the leeks, and with a mixture of leftover vegetable stock that needed using up and Seitenbacher vegetable broth. Nearly everything came from my local food co-op, including all the vegetables, the broth, and the lentils (I used little French green lentils). It was exactly the thing for a freezing January evening, and it made an excellent leftover for lunch today.

The roasted squash is one of my aunt and uncle's tweaks to this recipe: the roasting concentrates the flavor. You can roast the squash ahead of time if you prefer. If you want a vegan variation, you can substitute olive oil for melted butter. If you're a carnivore, you could add a little rendered bacon fat.

Lentil and butternut squash stew/casserole

  • half of a medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" chunks (about 1 lb. altogether)
  • 2 large stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 leeks, diced (optional)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 lb brown or green lentils
  • 1 can (14 to 14 1/2 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) dried rosemary or two fresh rosemary sprigs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped

First, preheat the oven to 400F while you prep the squash. Brush the squash cubes with some of the melted butter and a bit of salt, and roast for about 20 minutes, until they start to brown. Once squash is done, reduce the oven temperature to 300F.

Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. Boil 2 cups of vegetable broth vigorously and cook the lentils in it for 2 minutes. Take the lentils off the burner.

Heat up the remaining melted butter in a skillet or similar (I used a Dutch oven for both this step and the rest of the cooking). Saute the celery, onion, leeks (if using), scallions, and carrot shreds until the onions are soft.

In a Dutch oven or large oven-proof casserole, combine sauteed vegetables, lentils, butternut squash, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Add just enough extra vegetable broth or water to cover the lentils. Cover the pot with a lid or some tinfoil and bake in the 300F oven for about 90 minutes. Test for doneness and correct the seasoning. Do not, as I did, burn your tongue.

Makes a nice big pot of lentils. Serve as a hearty soup, a side dish, or a main dish in its own right, perhaps with some potatoes or crusty bread.

Other recent culinary successes: orecchiette with cauliflower, adapted from this recipe; boeuf Bourguignon; Christmas lima beans with caramelized onions and bacon. This is the time of year when you really want an excuse to run the oven for hours.

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