slow cooked lentil stew with root vegetables

Originally, this was intended to be a post about “Flexitarian” cooking. I wanted to include a recipe that could easily be adapted for a group of people that included both meat-eaters and vegans. But things didn’t work out as planned.

I started out with a base recipe that I’ve been making for years, yet another Mark Bittman special. This one is from his days as the Minimalist. (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/27/dining/the-minimalist-lamb-lentils-and-time.html) My go-to version differs from his in that I generally add parsnips and more carrots. But the original is wonderful and I stick fairly close. This time, however, I decided to switch things up by using my slow cooker. I thought it would be a perfect fit for the recipe, which cooks for a long time at a relatively low temperature.

As you know, I was wrong. I don’t know whether to blame the slow cooker or the (really) cheap wine that I used, but while the lamb itself tasted okay, the lentils and vegetables that cooked with the lamb were, for lack of a better word, nasty. Terrible. Disgusting. Very disappointing and sad. So much so that they are now gone, frozen solid, outside.

Happily, I wasn’t able to make both versions simultaneously, and therefore was able to learn from my mistake. The second version, the one that follows, doesn’t call for wine. It’s also vegan. And while it is still in need of some work to be company-worthy, it’s really quite good for a simple, healthy winter meal. Especially when served as part of a meal.

I used carrots, parsnips, and potatoes, but feel free to vary the vegetables as you wish. For example, I bet celeriac would be amazing instead of (or in addition to) the potato. Fennel might be nice instead of carrots. Also, this can easily be doubled or even tripled. But note that you only need enough water to cover the surface by about an inch.

2 c. lentils, brown or French green (the brown will fall apart a bit)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped, about 1-1/2 cups
1 baking potato, peeled and chopped, about 1-1/2 cups
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu, if you have any (this isn’t essential)
1-1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dried thyme
4 c. water

Add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on high for 4-6 hours, until most of the water is absorbed. Taste and correct seasonings if necessary. For dinner, I ate this with sauteed Brussels sprouts and bread, but it would also be good with another green vegetable or a salad. And it was good today with a cheese and arugula sandwich.