When it comes to vegetarian and vegan cooking, lentils are a favorite ingredient of mine. Lentils are fairly inexpensive, and they're a total workhorse in recipes. I’ve been known to use them as a vegan sloppy joe base, make them into meatball-like bites, and put them to work in about fifty different versions of soups, chilis, and stews.
Plus, unlike their bean counterparts, lentils don’t need to be soaked and can go from pantry to bowl in about 30 minutes!
Which Lentils to Buy
I like to keep three different varieties of lentils on hand: red, brown, and black:
- Red lentils are actually lentils that have been split in half. This causes them to break down and makes them perfect for creamy stews and curries; this also means they cook the quickest.
- Brown lentils, like the ones in this stew, hold their shape but absorb all the flavors, and are the most versatile. They can be used in soups, stews, or in something like a lentil-loaf. If I can find them, I use green lentils as a swap for brown lentils.
- Black lentils are beautiful and I typically reserve them for salads and grain bowls because they hold their shape and color well.
I'm using brown lentils in this recipe because they hold up well throughout the cook time. These lentils are really the basis for the texture of the stew.
The Fresher the Better
If you’re picking out bagged lentils, check the date for when the lentils were packaged or when they expire. If you’re buying from a bulk bin, ask how often the products are cycled through and make sure you’re buying lentils that have not been sitting for more than six months.
Lentils older than a year can be tougher to cook and often stay crunchy, even after long cooking.
Smoke It If You’ve Got It!
For this lentil stew, the smoky essence from smoked paprika and smoked salt provides the smoky flavor.
I love keeping both of these ingredients on hand, but it’s really the smoked salt that adds depth—it reminds me a bit of sitting next to a campfire on a chilly night, which is why I love it in this stew. Smoked salt can be a purchased at most spice shops or online.
Add the Tomato Paste Last
Lentils and tomato products don’t always get along -- the acid in tomatoes can prevent the lentils from fully softening, leaving you with crunchy lentils. This is why for this lentil soup, I save adding the tomato paste for last.
What to Serve With This Vegan Stew
Finally, this stew makes an easy dinner during the cooler months. Serve it with a simple side salad and crusty bread.
You can also play around with toppings. More fresh herbs, whole milk yogurt, or even a sprinkle of salty cheese such as feta can be a nice finish. You can also add a dash of Frank’s hot sauce to perk things up if you like.
More Easy Weeknight Soups
Smoky Vegan Lentil Stew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium)
- 1 1/2 cups diced carrots (about 2 large carrots)
- 1 cup diced celery (about 2 to 3 medium stalks)
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup diced Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 medium-sized potato)
- 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and drained
- 4 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked salt
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cups vegetable broth or water
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnish
- Bread, for serving
Cook the vegetables:
Place a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil followed by the onion, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and potatoes, cooking for another 2 minutes.
Simmer the stew:
Add the lentils, smoked paprika, smoked salt, thyme, bay leaf, and vegetable broth or water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
Cook uncovered until the lentils are just about tender, 22 to 24 minutes.
Add the tomato paste:
Stir in the tomato paste and lemon juice, and cook for another 5 minutes until the lentils are completely tender. Taste and add more smoked salt if desired.
Divide the soup into 4 bowls and top with fresh parsley before serving. Leftovers will keep for up to 5 days refrigerated.