Lentil Chili

Adapted from Still Life with Menu
Preparation time: About 1 1/2 hours
Yield: Easily serves 8

bowl and spoon
Lentils make great chili. Unlike beans, they don't need to be soaked first, so you can make this dish more spontaneously than traditional chili. If cooked long enough, lentils achieve a consistency similar to ground beef, and can give a similar satisfaction (for those who are nostalgic for beef barbecue and sloppy Joes).

This chili is full-bodied and richly seasoned. Serve it with Corn and Red Pepper Muffins, a green salad, and some hot spiced cider for a perfect cold-weather meal.

NOTE: This freezes beautifully.

4 cups dried lentils–any kind
6 to 7 cups water (tomato juice can be substituted for about 2 cups water)
One 1-pound can tomatoes, or 3 to 4 large ripe fresh tomatoes (peeling optional), chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or about 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste

Optional Toppings:
  • Thin slices of sharp cheddar
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • A handful of toasted cashews
  • Minced fresh parsley and/or cilantro
  1. Place lentils and 6 cups of water in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and lower the heat to a simmer. Leave it this way for about 30 minutes, checking it every now and then to be sure it isn't cooking any faster than a gentle simmer. (You can chop the vegetables during this time.)
  2. Add tomatoes, cumin, paprika, thyme, garlic, and onions. Stir, mostly cover again, and let it cook for another 30 minutes or so. Check the water level as it cooks, and add water or tomato juice in 1/4-cup increments as needed, to prevent dryness. Stir from the bottom every several minutes during the cooking.
  3. Add salt and tomato paste. Stir and continue to simmer slowly, partially covered, until the tomato paste is all blended in... about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vinegar, black pepper, and crushed red pepper, adjusting the seasonings to taste. Serve hot, with some or all of the optional toppings.
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