Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated plants and are eaten in many parts of the world, since ancient days also in Europe. Today we present a recipe for a classic lentil stew as our grandparents in Germany would have cooked it – with some tips on how to refine it without distorting the dish.
The lentil stew can be prepared vegetarian and also vegan. In the past, however, one would not have liked to do without some bacon and sausages.
We choose mountain lentils, of which there are many varieties from different parts of the world. What they have in common is that they do not need to be soaked, require relatively little cooking time and keep their shape after cooking.
We also need soup vegetables (carrots, celery) and some potatoes, plus some onion and garlic. We also use the rest of a leek. We will finish with the parsley as a garnish.
We cook the stew classically today and add smoked bacon and sausages. In Germany, you would often use Vienna / Frankfurt sausage, but here we use the slightly spicier Debrecziner.
You should remove the rind, i.e. the skin, from the bacon, it will stay quite tough. We first cut our bacon into slices of 3 – 4 mm and then remove the thin strip of rind before cutting the slices into strips and then into cubes.
We cut the ends off the sausages finely and then cut the main part into thin wheels, also about 3 mm thick.
Peel the carrots, celery and potatoes and cut them into equal cubes. We chop the onions and garlic a little finer, as well as the leeks.
You can cook the stew in one go. However, all ingredients have different cooking points, which is why you will achieve a much better result if you pre-cook the lentils.
If you don’t do this, you first have to wash the lentils thoroughly. We simply boil them in plenty of water (double to triple the amount of lentils) for 20 minutes until half-cooked.
Important: When cooking pulses, do not add salt – otherwise they take much longer or sometimes do not become soft at all.
Meanwhile, we prepare the initial seasonings. Bay leaf is hardly dispensable. We add some juniper berries and dried chillies, just for a touch of spiciness. You could also add a clove or two.
Some recipes add whole peppercorns, but we prefer to grind our pepper fresh into the stew later.
We then heat plenty of butter on medium heat. If you want to eat vegan, use a little vegetable oil.
First we add the root vegetables and potatoes, as these firm vegetables need longer to cook. Gently sweat the cubes for about 4 – 5 minutes and enjoy the aroma.
Only then you add the onions and garlic to the pot and sauté for another 4 – 5 minutes so that the flavours can develop.
Now we add the bacon and sausages, stirring occasionally, and let all the ingredients sweat gently again without browning them too much.
After 20 minutes, pour the lentils through a sieve.
Once you are satisfied with the state of the other ingredients – you can tell by the colours and aroma – add the pre-cooked lentils and fill up with 1.2 l of stock. We use vegetable stock for this.
We put the spices we selected earlier into a spice ball, tea infuser or spice bag and let them cook and release their flavour into the broth. Otherwise they would be very difficult to remove later.
If you are using leek, it can also be added now. It is very tender and therefore does not need a long cooking time.
From adding the lentils, we simmer the whole dish for another good 20 minutes, so that the lentils have had a total of 40 – 45 time to soften and develop their great flavour. Depending on the type of lentils, this may take a little longer and you may need to add water if necessary. You decide how thick or thin you want your lentil stew.
Now we add the final seasoning: salt, ground pepper, (dried) marjoram and sweet paprika powder (we almost always use Spanish smoked paprika).
In addition – and this is very important – we now season with a little dark vinegar. Aceto balsamico is ideal because it contains acidity and sweetness.
If you want, you can also grate in a little lemon zest.
Two important tips:
When seasoning with vinegar, stir it in well and let it cook briefly before tasting. The sharpness and some of the acidity of the vinegar dissipate quickly. Add a little, wait, taste, etc.
The amazingly complex taste of such a lentil stew comes from the balance between sweetness, acidity, bitterness and the deep, earthy flavour of the lentils. The sweetness comes from the slowly sautéed vegetables, the acidity from the vinegar and the bitterness from the bay leaf. Play with it and you’ll find the mix for your taste.
The lentils add a lot of dark colour to the dish. We sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley over our bowls and the meal is ready.
And may the taste be with you.
Ingredients (for 4 people):
250 g mountain lentils (more if you cook vegan / vegetarian)
250 g waxy potatoes
250 g carrots
100 g celeriac
1 – 2 onions
1 – 2 cloves of garlic
1.2 l stock
Some butter or vegetable oil
Spices: Bay leaf, pepper, marjoram, paprika, dark vinegar (optional: juniper berries, chilli, cloves, lemon zest…).
If you like:
150 g bacon
4 sausages (Vienna / Frankfurt, Debrecziner)