Lentil Chili

This one’s for all you housebound, half-frozen friends in subzero temperatures waiting for your world to thaw. What you need is a big pot of something delicious simmering on the stove, something that doesn’t take too much effort but will feed the family for a day or two.

lentil_chiliLike a big pot of lentil bean and veggie chili.

Confession: I forgot to put veggies in mine. Well, not entirely. I did saute come carrots and onion and add a can of whole tomatoes, but I meant to add bell peppers and zucchini, too. Once I had the chili simmering in the pot, I turned around and there they were, 2 bell peppers and a zucchini, just sitting on the counter starting at me. Oh, well. That’s what happens when you’re cooking with a 3 year old.

Second confession: I adapted this recipe from an Ina Garten recipe for stewed tomatoes and lentils via Smitten Kitchen, and I actually like her version a little better, using curry powder instead of chili seasonings. The curry version is especially good with sauteed greens (like Swiss chard) on the side. So make whichever version makes you hungry, this one for chili, or that one for simple stewed tomatoes with lentils. Either way, make sure to top it with a large dollop of whole fat Greek yogurt or sour cream.

For both versions, I use black lentils instead of green lentils. I like the way they hold their shape, giving the dish more texture. Plus, you can occupy a 3 year old for a solid five minutes by giving them the task of rinsing the black lentils in a big bowl of water. They’ll be mesmerized both by the feel and the color of the beans.

black lentils

black lentils

Although over here in LA the weather is far from frigid, I’ve been a little bit housebound anyway, focusing on spring cleaning. Since LA doesn’t have spring, January has always felt like a great time to shoo away all the dust bunnies, sort closets, scan a year’s worth of receipts I was supposed to be taking out of my wallet and scanning on a daily basis, and generally taking care of all those little tasks I’m sick of seeing on my to-do list. Like hemming the pants that I’ve worn too long for a year, or surreptitiously removing a few of the 7,000 stuffed animals that have taken over O’s room (she hasn’t missed any of them yet) or finally washing out and deflating the blow-up turtle pool in our backyard that has become a swimming hole for raccoons.

All of it is incredibly boring and tedious, but I really feel like I need to start with a clean slate this year. The cobwebs must be swept out before I can really get down to the business of being productive and creative and successful and all that. Or maybe I’m just procrastinating. But at least I’ll be a procrastinator with well-organized closets, and that’s something. Right?

Lentil Chili
Adapted from the delicious lentils with stewed tomatoes on Smitten Kitchen.

I had intended to also add a few chopped bell peppers and zucchini to this pot of chili, but forgot. I think they’d be quite good.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced or pressed
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes
1 cup black or green lentils
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar


Break up and squish the canned tomatoes in a large bowl with your hands or give them a few whirls in a food processor. Rinse the lentils. Set both aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and the carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Stir occasionally. If using other veggies, like bell peppers or zucchini, add them now and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the tomatoes, lentils, broth, spices and salt.

Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and gently simmer covered for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Black lentils, even when tender, will have a little bit of firmness to them. Turn off the heat and let the lentils to sit covered for another 10 minutes. Add the vinegar, season with salt to taste.

Serve with a big dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.


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