Dana Slatkin

Lentil Mushroom Chili

lentil mushroom chili Ask any herbivore how they get their protein and, chances are, the answer will be lentils. What chicken is to an omnivore’s diet, lentils are to a meatless one. Nutrient-packed and amenable to endless preparations, lentils can dress a meal up or down. Here in the Farmgirl Kitchen, they are always on hand in a variety of colors (green, brown, orange, black). On Sunday nights, when the fridge has been cleaned out from a busy weekend, they’re a lifesaver.

I cook lentils ahead of time — like grains and quinoa — in a rice steamer, with a good pinch of salt (contrary to what you’ve heard, salt doesn’t sabotage cooking) and a glug of olive oil or knob of organic butter. Use two parts water or homemade stock to one part lentils. The “brown rice” setting on my steamer always cooks them perfectly. Once cooked, simply cool the lentils, put them in a Ziploc bag, and keep them in the freezer to toss into soups, stew into tacos, pat into veggie burgers or roll into vegan meatballs. This method lops off at least 30 minutes of cooking time, which in my household, means the difference between grouchy and happy.

This recent favorite is less a recipe than a blueprint for a hearty lentil stew. Last week I taught it as a vegan Shepherd’s Pie, topped with fluffy mashed potatoes made with coconut milk. But my students seemed more apt to skip the time-intensive topping and just make the lentils. Here they are in the form of a cozy chili, perfect for a crisp Sunday night or a pre- Trick-or-Treating meal.

Build upon this recipe according to your cravings. In the past week, I’ve given it an Indian slant (curry paste in place of the spices and coconut milk instead of beer), a Jamaican spin (Jerk spice, diced sweet potatoes and spinach), and a French twist (herbes de Provence and a splash of balsamic vinegar).

Serve the chili with tortilla chips, or over brown rice, quinoa, or couscous. Mound it into a roasted sweet potato, acorn squash or eggplant. Or serve it inside a toasted bun, Sloppy Joe-style. I like to ladle it into warmed bowls and top it with sliced scallions, grated cheese, a swirl of sour cream and diced avocado.

By the way, if you’ve got all the time in the world, use dried lentils. You’ll need to double the amount of stock and pour in the whole can of beer. But hey, that’s the cook’s prerogative. And if you’ve made it to Sunday, open a can for yourself.

Win something this month! Enter my Fall Giveaway for a chance to win these adorable and handy prep bowls.

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