Fit for Fall: Shiitake Lentil Stew

Small, delicate, green lentils in an earthy mushroom soup
 Over the past week, I've been trying to eat healthy and get in extra sessions of Bikram yoga. I'm hoping the calorie deficit I create, and the water pounds I shed, will make up for all the beer-drinking, and sausage-eating I'll be doing next week. Yes, it's that time of year - Oktoberfest! After spending this weekend in London, we're off to Munich to join the party.

The only down-sides to being away for 9 days are that the houseplants might starve to death, and any unused produce will turn into rotten waste. We're not sure what to do about the houseplants, but the produce I can control. But how to use them all up in one meal? It would have to be a stew.

I've never cooked lentils before. I bought the only kind Fresh Direct had, the French Green Lentils, about 4 months ago. Every time I pick up the box I am reminded that they take over an hour to prepare. Why must it be so much work? I finally decided that a stew would be the easiest way after finding a helpful recipe from Ina Garten.

My version was a bit different, because I needed to use up mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and spinach. I also can't believe all the recipes I found call for an entire pound of lentils. Who are these people feeding? A family of 12? A small bowl of this soup goes a long way, especially if eaten with bread.

Lentils: a great source of protein, iron, folate, Vitamin B and fiber.

Shiitake Lentil Stew
Approx. 6 servings
1 hour +
1 C dry French Green Lentils (about 3 Cups once they’re cooked)
1 T Unsalted Butter
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ C Onion, roughly chopped
½ C Leeks, white and light green parts chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
¼ tsp ground Cumin
1 T fresh Thyme (1/4tsp dried)
1 C carrot, sliced
2 C Shiitake mushroom caps, sliced (8-10 caps)
2 C Tomatoes, chopped
4 C (32oz) Organic Vegetable Stock
2 Bay leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 T Red Wine Vinegar (optional)
2 Handfuls fresh baby Spinach
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

1.    Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Pour the cup of lentils onto a plate and sift through, removing any stones. Rinse in a fine wire strainer. Add the lentils to the boiling water, and reduce heat to simmer 30 minutes.
2.    In a soup/stock pot, melt butter and add olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, leeks, cumin and thyme – cooking and stirring for about 8 minutes over medium-low heat (you don’t want anything turning brown or getting crisp – just softened).
3.    Add chopped carrots, cooking 5 minutes.
4.    Mix in the mushrooms and tomatoes, cooking another 5 minutes.
5.    Pour in the 4 cups (entire 32oz box) of good quality organic vegetable stock, and add the bay leaves. Bring back to a gentle boil.
6.    Drain the cooked lentils and add them to the soup pot. Taste and season with salt and pepper – start with 2 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper and work from there.
7.    Simmer another 20-30 minutes, and add more cumin if needed. Try to find and remove the bay leaves, using tongs helps. Add the vinegar.
8.    About 5 minutes before serving, add the spinach to the pot and stir until wilted.
9.    Top with grated Parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper if you like things spicier. Serve with a nice crusty baguette for dipping.

**Make this Vegan by omitting the butter and cheese.
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