Harvest time on our farm can be crazy. There always seems to be something calling out to be attended to, or a raging fire waiting to be doused. At the end of the growing season, I'm so tired I sometimes ignore the callers, and the fires, hoping they might each keep each other company. Freezers and pantry shelves fill to bursting, housework goes undone, and we all sleep like bricks for as many hours as can be stolen from the night.
This is the time I don't feel guilty for mining my trusty recipe box, or the dusty corners of my memory for meal ideas. Today's recipe is not only easy, for me, it's comfort food, having been raised on it during the rainy years of my youth in the Pacific Northwest.
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!