Monastery Lentil Stew
This easy dish is adapted from a recipe my Mother got from a friend back in the 1970s in beautiful Whitefish, Montana. I really couldn't say why it is called "monastery" stew, although there are many similar recipes by the same name online. The only time-consuming part of this recipe is remembering to soak the lentils (although technically, lentils don't require soaking before cooking), and chopping and sautéing the vegetables. Any type of green or black (I've also seen black lentils sold as "French") lentils will work in this recipe (click here for more lentil facts.) Red lentils, on the other hand, will not work at all, since they cook down very quickly into a paste-like consistency. The flavor gets a nice improvement if you use some homemade chicken broth in the cooking liquid. Don't skip the sauté step in this recipe: adding fresh onions directly to the cooking lentils just doesn't turn out very tasty. This is delicious served over fresh brown rice.
2 cups green or black lentils (about 1 lb.), rinsed, picked over for pebbles, and soaked in filtered water overnight or for several hours beforehand
Chicken broth, 3-4 cups (here's how to make your own)
1/2 tsp. Celtic sea salt (to taste)
Ghee or butter
1/2 large white onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery with fresh leafy greens, chopped
Swiss cheese or full-fat sour cream, for garnish
In a 6-quart pot with lid, soak the lentils overnight, or for several hours beforehand. Drain soaking liquid and cover lentils with fresh water. Add 1/2 tsp. Celtic sea salt and bring to a gentle boil. Scoop off the foam that rises to the top and discard. Simmer with lid slightly ajar while working on the next step. Be sure to stir periodically, to make sure they're not scorching on the bottom.
In a large pan, sauté onions in ghee over medium heat until soft and aromatic, 8-10 minutes. (Watch out! never leave hot oils unattended or in reach of children, and don't set the heat so high that the oil "pops" and burns you.) If you are serving this dish over rice, now is a good time to start the rice, since you can use the same spoon to stir the rice and the onions with while working at the stove. Add carrots and celery to the onions, and cook for about 8-10 minutes more, stirring frequently so the onions don't burn. Stir lentils to make sure they're not scorching on the bottom, and add chicken broth, returning to a simmer.
Add sautéed vegetables to the lentils, and check lentils for doneness (they should be getting nice and tender by now.) Bring back up to a gentle simmer and add more salt, a little bit at a time, as needed. (Caution: DO NOT over-salt the soup! It's impossible to fix once you've added too much...better to salt it individually at the table than spoil the whole pot.) Cover partially with lid, and simmer until ready to serve.
The original recipe calls for grating 2/3 cups of Swiss cheese, then to put 2 Tablespoons in the bottom of each bowl, adding soup on top. If you don't have Swiss cheese, sour cream is very good on top instead.