- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

It’s nearly spring, and yet our heating costs are still through the roof. What better relief than a warm, comforting stew for dinner, so we can turn down the thermostats and dream of milder temperatures ahead.

One of my favorite ways to simmer supper is in the slow cooker. An often overlooked addition to the pot is the humble lentil.

The lentil’s shortcoming is that it is a bit bland, but that is where your creativity comes into play.

Add smoked sausage, cumin, a cinnamon stick, or whatever spices move you.

Chicken broth gives this recipe more body than mere water, so even if you don’t have the full four cups, add as much as you can and make up the difference with water.

Feel free to omit the sausage and add a cup of chopped cooked ham, instead.

Served with crusty bread and a spinach salad, this is a feel-good and an eat-well menu at the same time.

Five time-shaving ways to cook with lentils

Whether green or red, lentils make a distinctively different main dish or side dish, and they are quick to prepare.

• Cook 1 pound dried lentils, washed and sorted, in 3 cups cold liquid (water or broth) with a little salt and pepper until tender, 45 minutes.

• Toss with your favorite vinaigrette and crisp vegetables, then chill for a nice hearty salad.

• Spoon cooked lentils onto a plate and garnish with a lamb chop straight from the grill.

• Spoon lentils onto a plate, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and chives, and lay several grilled shrimp on top.

• Add curry powder and chopped fresh parsley to taste and serve the lentils with cooked rice for an Indian rendition.

Lentil and sausage stew

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is 8 hours.

2 cups dry lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 medium-size onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

½ cup chopped pre-peeled baby carrots

4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or water

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches)

8 ounces reduced-fat smoked pork or beef sausage, cut into 2-inch pieces

Place lentils, onion, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, chicken broth or water, cumin, bay leaf and cinnamon stick in a 4½- to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir to combine. Place sausage pieces on top.

Cover cooker and cook lentils on low heat until they have absorbed all the liquid and are tender, 8 hours. If possible, check during the last hour of cooking to see if lentils need more liquid. Add up to 1 cup more broth or water if they seem too dry. To serve, remove and discard bay leaf and cinnamon stick and spoon stew into deep bowls. Makes 6 servings.


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