The temperature has dipped below 85 degrees, and that can only mean one thing in Houston: Fall has arrived. I know what you northerners are thinking, and you are probably right. Sixty-five degrees is hardly bundle-up weather, but in Houston it can still elicit the desire for wool socks and bowls of thick and steaming autumn stews.

Stew can be quick if you use the right ingredients. This recipe from New Vegetarian Cuisine is a perfect example. The trick is to use red lentils if you can find them, which are actually yellow lentils with the outer husk removed. Whole Foods has them in the bulk section, but you may also be able to find them at larger grocery stores amongst the dried beans. They are a bright orange color and turn yellow once they are cooked. Bonus points: Lentils have plenty of iron, protein and fiber. If you can’t find red lentils you can substitute green or brown, but the cooking time will need to be extended by 10-15 minutes.

I modified the recipe in New Vegetarian Cuisine by using yellow potatoes, which hold up better to cooking than regular baking potatoes. If, like me, you like chunks of potato in your stew try using Yukon Golds. I also switched out the tarragon for basil because I had some left over from the Mediterranean Olive Bread I made, and it’s easier to find in most grocery stores. If you use a food processor to shred the veggies, this dish comes together in minutes. Did I mention how much I love my new food processor? I don’t even mind that I have to wash it by hand (since I don’t have a dish washer).

Balsamic Lentil Stew

Lentil Stew Action Shot!

Lentil Stew Action Shot!

Makes 4 heaping servings
Total time 25 minutes
Cost for the whole pot ~$7-8

4 cups water
1 1/4 cups red lentils
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
ground black pepper
5-6 green onions
2 carrots
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
2 large cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  1. Cut the potatoes into cubes. In a large pot, combine the water, lentils, potatoes and pepper (to your liking) and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, chop the green onions and grate the carrots, zucchini and squash. You can also use the grater on a food processor for the veggies. Finely chop the garlic.
  3. In a large no-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, veggies and garlic and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Once the carrots are softened, add the veggie mixture to the lentils. Mix in the basil and vinegar and heat through another 2-3 minutes. Serve in big bowls. You won’t need another meal for about 8 hours.