If you click on the Middle Eastern tag or scroll through the photo summary of similarly-themed recipes at the bottom of this post, the long list reveals my love for the Middle Eastern and North African aesthetic of cooking. I can't get enough of their flirtatious play between sweet and richly savory. And I adore the way their food traditions encourage the generous use of herbs, nuts, dried fruit, the smoky flavor from harissa and chili and warming spice from cumin, paprika, cinnamon, allspice and ginger.
Today's stew has all of this, conveniently delivered in a one-pot format and loaded with hearty green lentils, sweet potato, carrots and tomatoes. It's finished with sherry vinegar for brightness, harissa for spicy warmth, and optional prunes for a barely-there sweet chew. Toppings are simple but essential -- pistachios, fresh cilantro and more harissa if you prefer it spicier. I don't feel it's necessary, but if you're missing a creamy, cooling element you wouldn't be too off base adding a dollop of yogurt or labneh or crumble of goats cheese, feta or another fresh Greek sheep's cheese.
Harissa Sweet Potato Lentil Stew
Notes: Recipe calls for soaked green lentils for quick cooking (10 minutes) and improved digestibility. If your lentils aren't soaked, cooking time will increase to ~20 minutes. Also note, garlic is prepped at the beginning but added at the end. It's a fresh change to the expected flavor. Also, garlic's anti-microbial properties are enhanced when it's been chopped and exposed to air for a few minutes before being consumed. Adding it at the end gently heats it and takes the edge off without killing the beneficial properties.
1 1/2 cups green lentils (330 gr.), soaked
2 Tbsp. olive oil or ghee
1 small onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. allspice (or 1/4 tsp. nutmeg)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 1/2 cups (1.06 L) water
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
4 medium carrots, sliced into halfmoon shape of medium thickness
1 medium sweet potato, cut into large bite size pieces
2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 bunch of lacinato kale, stripped from stem and roughly chopped
1 heaped Tbsp. harissa (from a jar)
6 pitted prunes, quartered (optional)
Toppings: toasted, salted pistachios, fresh cilantro, harissa
Drain and rinse soaked lentils. Prep onion and garlic. Allow prepped garlic to hang out on the cutting until the end.
Place a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute onion in oil for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Stir in spices (smoked paprika through red pepper flakes) and cook 30-60 seconds.
Add lentils, water, tomatoes and salt. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Cook, covered, 8 minutes. Add carrots and sweet potatoes and cook another 2 minutes, covered, or until vegetables are just tender.
Turn off heat, stir in sherry vinegar, garlic, kale, harissa and prunes, if using. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Ladle into bowls and add toppings.