Middle Eastern

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

February  7, 2017

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 amount of flavor, considering how few ingredients are involved, always surprises me.
Sabrina Ghayour, author of sirocco

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.

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).

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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.

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Top Comment:
“It seems to me that recipes like this, depending heavily on ill defined mixes (in this case curry powder) for their flavor, are a cop out. The actual number of ingredients will be quite large, and can vary widely depending on how the powder is composed. And why does the hot water need to be from a kettle?”
— Smaug
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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).

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:

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

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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5 Comments

mj September 8, 2017
I love this recipe. Its quick, easy, and tasty...I use good quality curry powder, I add vinegar at the end (Thanks AntoniaJames!), serve it with spinach and rice, and its best eaten the next day...great for work lunches!
 
AntoniaJames February 14, 2017
I found this a bit flat - and frankly, underwhelming -- until I added a good splash of vinegar, which I highly recommend. ;o)
 
Smaug February 8, 2017
It seems to me that recipes like this, depending heavily on ill defined mixes (in this case curry powder) for their flavor, are a cop out. The actual number of ingredients will be quite large, and can vary widely depending on how the powder is composed. And why does the hot water need to be from a kettle?
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 8, 2017
Hi Smaug: We defined an ingredient here based on how many would purchase it and how it appears in an ingredient list, and found that the stew was really flavorful with various curry powders. Indeed the hot water doesn't need to be from the kettle—it's part of the original recipe that we chose to keep to maintain the author's voice.
 
Smaug February 8, 2017
It would be flavorful with any sort of spice mix; you could as well use chili powder or Cajun seasoning- I just don't see it as being well enough defined to really qualify as a recipe.