This meal will cost you between $9 and $14.50 to make, but costs vary depending on where you shop, the sausage you get, and whether or not you get fancy canned tomatoes or use something else for the sauce. If you shop carefully and are looking to maximize cheapness this can be a very inexpensive meal. If you are vegetarian, you can substitute vegan sausage or skip it all together and still have a really flavorful stew for an even lower cost. And, for a make-ahead meal, you can prepare this on the stovetop ahead of time and refrigerate it. When ready to eat, bake it for 30 to 40 minutes in a 375° F oven.
Bring the lentils to a boil on medium heat in 6 cups of water (you'll let these cook while you proceed with the rest of the recipe for maximum efficiency). Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the water with the lentils. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft all the way through. Once they are soft, turn off the heat and drain any excess water. Taste and add more salt if needed. Try not to leave the lentils cooking for too long because they can easily end up getting overcooked and mushy. They are still totally edible and even delicious when they get overcooked and fall apart—they just don’t have quite as nice a texture.
If you want to do the extra step of melting cheese on the top of your stew, then use an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven for this next step. Also set your oven to 375° F. Otherwise, use any large pot.
While the lentils cook, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in another large pot on medium heat. Cook the sausages, flipping to brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. The chorizo I used was already pre-cooked so the browning just took a few minutes. If you are using fresh sausage, cook for as long as you need for the sausage to be cooked through—sometimes with larger fresh sausages, they can take 15 minutes or more so be patient.
Once the sausages are cooked, remove them from the pot onto a side plate. My chorizo let off a lot of oil, so I didn’t need to use the second tablespoon of butter to cook my vegetables, but add more butter to the pan now if there isn’t much left.
Add the onion, carrots, celery, and green pepper and cook for about 5 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle a bit of salt over everything, about 1/2 teaspoon or so to start. Once the vegetables are softened and the onion is translucent, add the garlic and stir, cooking for another 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over everything and stir until it disappears into the vegetables and oil.
Add the chopped tomatoes and the cooked lentils to the pot and stir to combine. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, until some of the water from the tomatoes has cooked off and it's a little thicker.
Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces and add them back into the pot. Stir. Taste and add salt if needed. If it tastes delicious, you’re done and can serve it now, or go onto the optional last step.
Set the oven to 375° F. Grate or blob your favorite melty cheese overtop of the stew. Bake for 20 minutes or until all the cheese is melted.