What to CookMiddle Eastern

A Five-Ingredient, One-Pot Stew That Tastes Like it Simmered Forever

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The pages of Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors from the Middle East shout with color and flavor—but you can know that just from the cover: There's a fuschia dip and title written in rainbow.

One of the treasures in this book, though, is picture-less and undoubtedly brown: a lentil stew. Correction: a satisfying, deeply flavorful stew made with few ingredients, few pots (just one!), and little of your energy. (Cookbook Tip #254: Don’t just look at the pictures.)

Sabrina Ghayour writes that Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew “is a hearty dish that we Iranians enjoy in the cold and snowy winters.” She first had it when her aunty Nini made it for her 20 years ago.

The stew has humble beginnings: oil, onion, lentils, tomato paste, curry powder, salt, water. No stock, no canned tomatoes, no pepper even. And the process involves chopping one vegetable, pouring some stuff in a pot, and stirring every so often. That’s it.

Sabrina Ghayour's Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew
Sabrina Ghayour's Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew

What keeps this stew from being a murky, unseasoned pot of lentils is in the first few steps: After getting the oil sufficiently oniony and the onions softened enough, the lentils are added, followed by tomato paste, curry powder, and salt (Ghayour also adds a bit of water here, but I found the flavor to taste more toasted without it).

In this moment, the tomato paste is allowed to cook out so it tastes as if you roasted the best summertime has to offer and concentrated the tomatoes down to a tenth of the size—instead of the sweet, possibly bitter taste that squeezes out of the tube. (This trick is also one of the secrets behind Victoria Granof’s genius Pasta con Ceci). Meanwhile, the curry powder gets to "bloom," in other words, toast a little; Cook’s Illustrated somehow found that blooming spices in fat will give them 10 times the flavor.

All that's left is water. Ladle some in, then more water after that batch evaporates, and continue until you’re a quart and a half in and your lentils are plump and pearly. You could leave the dish soupier, or let it cook into a thicker stew. “The amount of flavor, considering how few ingredients are involved, always surprises me,” Ghayour writes in the book. All you need alongside is some crusty bread, though the options for eating this through the week are many (with lamb, kofte, an egg, or any vegetable, any way).

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Indeed Ghayour says the stew gets better and better the longer you keep it (up to 5 days in the fridge). These are the kind of recipes to hold close—the ones you can know by heart, make with few ingredients, and stick in the fridge for a few days.

Speaking of, more of those this way:

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Sabrina Ghayour's Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew

Sabrina Ghayour's Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew

Ali Slagle Ali Slagle
Serves 4
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/3 cups Le Puy lentils
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 heaping tablespoons medium curry powder
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts (or so) hot water from a kettle
Go to Recipe

Which recipes do you keep in the fridge for the week? Tell us in the comments.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Pantry, Weeknight Cooking, Books