Red Lentil Stew with Chard & Feta

This Senegalese-style stew is extremely versatile and forgiving.  Yes, the ingredient list is long.  But as long as you follow the general outline, the result will be tasty.  You can really use any combination of vegetables, and even some fruits!  Just be sure to stir in some greens.  Personally, no meal feels complete to me if it doesn’t include greens. My school garden and CSA farm are bursting with rainbow chard stalks this week, so Beta vulgaris, subsp. cicla it is.

Harvesting these plants is a pleasure.  I love snapping chard’s crisp and colorful stems. They grow vigorously and offer high yields, their only common trouble being leaf miners.  These pesky larva nibble away at the inner layers of leaves, and spread quickly. Promptly pick off affected leaves and get them the heck out of the garden – not into the compost.

Chard is one of the key edible members of Chenopodiaceae – the “goose foot” family.  Along with its close relatives spinach, beets, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, quinoa, and orach, it produces inconspicuous “goose foot” shaped flowers.  There is no need for large, showy flowers that attract insects and birds because these plants are wind-pollinated.  Chard originated in the salty climate of coastal Europe and boasts plenty of vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains high levels of calcium and iron, but these minerals can be bound up by its high levels of oxalic acid. This acid is responsible for the dry, scratchy feeling you get in your mouth when eating raw chard or spinach.  Be sure to prepare the greens with some lemon juice to counteract that effect and release the minerals.

Serves 8

3 T butter or olive oil                                  1 large apple, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced                               2 medium potatoes, diced
2 large onions, chopped                            1 large tomato, diced
2 bay leaves                                                    2 inches of fresh ginger root
2 T turmeric powder                                   6 cups vegetable broth
2 t ground cinnamon                                  1.5 cups red lentils
1 t chili powder                                             ¼ cup soy sauce (GF if needed)
1 T thyme                                                        ¼ cup brown sugar (optional)
1.5 t ground cumin                                      2 T tamarind concentrate (optional)
1 t freshly ground black pepper              Splash of apple cider vinegar
3 carrots, sliced into wheels                    1 bunch swiss chard, chopped
1 large sweet potato, diced                       2 T lemon juice
1 large summer squash, diced                 Salt to taste

1. Melt butter or olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.

2. Add garlic and onions and stir to coat, then reduce heat to caramelize them.  This takes at least fifteen minutes, but longer is even better, turning them soft, translucent, and golden.  Stir occasionally.

3. Mix in bay leaves, turmeric powder, ground cinnamon, chili powder, thyme, ground cumin, and ground black pepper.

4. Add all the veggies except for the chard. Grate in fresh ginger.  Add lentils.  Stir it all in, adding more olive oil or butter if needed to prevent sticking, then raise the temperature back to medium.

5. Add vegetable broth, stir well, and bring to a boil.

6. Cook at a medium boil for half an hour, stirring regularly.

7. Lower to a simmer.  Add soy sauce, brown sugar, tamarind concentrate, and apple cider vinegar.

8. If you would like to incorporate the chard into the stew, now is the time to stir it in.  If you would rather sauté it in garlic and olive oil separately and then use it as a topping, please do.

9. Cover the pot and let simmer on low for 30-60 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until pleasantly thick and mushy – and pretty much falling apart.  Add more vegetable broth or water if needed. Remove bay leaves, stir in lemon juice, and add salt and pepper to taste.  You can leave it nice and chunky, or puree it with an immersion blender if you’re into the consistency of baby food.

10. Serve over a bed of millet with feta crumbled on top.