When I was younger, my mom would cook for me a few times, particularly if I was busy studying. She didn’t like to cook, but there were a couple of dishes she made that I absolutely loved. One of them consisted, basically, of beets and onions. She’d use those pre-cooked beets they sell on the supermarkets and sautée them in olive oil along with roughly chopped onions. At the very last minute of cooking, soy sauce and a good splash of red wine vinegar were stirred in. The final dish looked terribly unappetising but tasted incredibly good. The sweet and caramelised onions were a nice contrast to the chunks of beetroot, and the light sourness the red wine vinegar coated the vegetables with really sold the deal for me.
I haven’t eaten the onion and beetroot stir-fry for a couple of years now. Not that I couldn’t make it myself, but simply because I know that, if I made it, it wouldn’t taste like hers. It’s funny how we attach feelings to food and food to memories, and how those connections can indeed have an impact on our palates. As much as we might want to rationalise the experience of eating, there’s no way we can judge and evaluate food without our personal beliefs and stories sneaking in unconsciously.
The other day, I was reminded of the beetroot-onion dish while watching Nigel Slater cooking. He was making a really good-looking lentil stew with caramelised onions on top. The moment I saw it, I knew I had to make my version of it. And, as it turns out, my version is a mix of mom’s signature dish and Nigel’s recipe. Personally, I think it tastes divine. The key is to choose the right lentils – use a variety that doesn’t collapse while cooking, such as Puy, for some texture. Equally important is not to skip the cinnamon, as it gives the stew that comforting and warming character all winter meals should have.
Beet and Lentil Stew with Sweet Onions
For the stew:
- 635 gr / 6 medium sized beets, peeled and quartered
- 315 g green or puy lentils / 1 ½cups
- 1 large onion / 180 g cut into thin half moons
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 625 ml / 2 ½ cups reduced sodium vegetable stock
- 625 ml / 2 ½ cups water
- 1 bunch / 12 g parsley, finely chopped
For the sweet onion topping:
- 470 g / 7 small onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- salt to taste
- freshly grated nutmeg to taste
- In a large pot over over low-medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the paprika, cinnamon and nutmeg and fry for one additional minute.
- Add the beets, the stock and the water to the pan and bring everything to a boil. Once boiling, decrease the heat to low-medium and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
- After half an hour, add the lentils and the parsley. Simmer for additional 30 minutes. When the lentils are cooked, stir in the salt and serve with the onion topping (recipe follows) and cooked brown rice.
- For the sweet onion topping: add ,to a non-stick frying pan over low-medium heat, the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt. Put a lid over the pan and let the onions cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re caramelised. At the very last minute of cooking, add the nutmeg and the red wine vinegar. Give everything a good stir and serve over the stew.