Wednesday, October 3, 2012

DinnerLove: Lentil & Pepperoni Stew

 In Oregon in the 1970's, my mother eagerly explored the many menu possibilities of the new "back-to-the-land" movement. My sister and I enjoyed Welsh Rarebit, made with local Tillamook cheddar and a touch of Portland's emerging microbeer. We dined on salmon with local fresh dill and potatoes. My mother would scour our woods for sweet woodruff to mix into a light punch that she kept in the refrigerator. While searching for the sweet woodruff, she'd stop by the Oregon Grape bushes at the bottom of our property and pick a bucket-full to make into jam and syrup. There were plastic bags of oats and other grains which she baked into granola.  There was always a tin of trail mix with carob drops and every so often we'd go and pick concord grapes from a friend's farm. We had a cherry tree, an apple tree and a plum tree that lined the driveway, and she'd make the most wonderful preserves from the plums, each glass jam jar covered with a layer of paraffin to seal it against the air.
Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff

Along with these wonderful food products, there were newspapers and magazines that were loaded with new and innovative recipes (for the time).  My mother had a subscription to Sunset Magazine, and the Oregonian was delivered every day. Among the piles of recipes she collected, was a little snip of paper taped to a 3x5 index card that was titled: Lentil Stew.
I don't even remember when she started serving this wonderful concoction. I do remember that we always had rustic, heavy, full-grain hearth bread slathered with butter to accompany the stew.  I also remember that there was always enough left over for breakfast the next day. It's a wonderful, healthy, soulful dish that will warm you on cold and warm days alike. Here is my version of the recipe (which is nearly identical except it includes more onions and garlic).

One package of grocery-store sliced pepperoni or whatever kind you like (turkey pepperoni works well, but you'll need to add some oil to the pot)
3 cups lentils or a 1 pound store bag (any kind you like)
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cumin
1 white or yellow onion, diced
3 carrots chopped fine
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or run through a microplane
2-3 quarts water or stock (chicken, pork or beef work well equally)
1 cup dry vermouth, brandy, vodka, white or red wine, or 1 can of beer (again, whatever you have on hand and like...the trick is to get some alcohol into the mix)
The juice of one lemon or the equivalent bottled amount (if you can't get lemon, don't worry, it just punches up the flavor without adding additional salt.)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, dump the entire package of pepperoni and allow the fat to render out, on medium for about 20-30 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to coat them in the fat. Add the onions, garlic and carrot. Stir and allow the vegetables to caramelize (add a little olive oil if you see that the mixture is drying out). At this point, add the wet ingredients, including the lemon, and bring to a boil.  Drop in your bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours. This stew will be more soup-like the first day, and thereafter will tighten up to be more stew-like.

This dish also freezes well and is very budget-friendly. Don't just save it for a cold or rainy day. It's wonderful served in a wide pasta dish with a drizzle of EVOO and some grilled flat bread or bruschetta on the hottest summer day!

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