Cold Weather Comfort Food (Vegetarian/Vegan)

As a vegetarian flirting with vegan (okay, a pescatarian, but that sounds like a religion) I find it difficult to get enough protein and iron in my diet. I like lentils and love my mom’s lentil soup recipe, but sometimes soup doesn’t seem exciting or substantive enough for dinner. And something about having wine with soup seems wrong.

Hearty lentil stew over parmesan polenta (hopefully cat-fur free)

So, I wanted to share a super easy-to-make lentil stew served over parmesan polenta (also surprisingly simple to make from scratch).  Apologies in advance for the lack of exact measurements but it’s a combo of a few people’s recipes so I was kind of making it up as I went along.

It’s really hard to mess up, I promise. The “worst” thing you can do is under or over cool the lentils. If undercooked just heat it up for a bit longer. Over cooked? You and your guests won’t care after the first glass of wine (or just puree the damn thing and garnish it!). And it freezes well, like a chili!

SERVES: 2-3 people (large portions)

TIME: 1 hour (1 hour for stew and 10-20 minutes for polenta)


  • Place 1/2 lb of dry lentils (the dark kind) in a large pot with a bay leaf, put enough water to submerge all the lentils and bring water to a simmer
  • While lentils are cooking, put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan on low and saute garlic and onions (I like garlic so I put about 4 cloves and 1/2 small onion chopped finely)
  • After the onion is transparent (translucent?) add finely chopped celery and carrots (approximately 1/2 c of each)
  • Dump the yummy sautéed veges into the cooking lentils
  • Open a large can of peeled tomatoes (plain ones without any sugar or seasonings), crush the tomatoes with your hands and dump in with all the liquid into the pot with the lentils – – you can start with less of the juice if you want to make it thicker
  • Bring everything to a boil and then bring to a simmer for about an hour until the lentils are tender
  • If stew is too thick, add some vegetable broth or water
  • Towards the end you can add some white or red wine (~ 1/2 c)
  • You can also add chopped or hand torn fresh escarole at the very end for a few minutes so it wilts OR saute spinach in olive oil and add to the stew at the end
  • Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

If you do prefer soups, just add more liquid and voila!

POLENTA: You can use the ready made kind, but I had regular corn meal at home so  used that. You can buy fancier polenta which I think will be more coarse and rustic

  • Mix 1 cup polenta with 4 cups cold water, bring to boil while stirring and then turn down to simmer.
  • Keep stirring on a very low simmer for about 10-20 minutes (the coarser polenta probably takes longer, will say on the package)
  • Add butter (a few tablespoons) and parmesan (about 1/2 up grated) and stir so it melts*
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

*To make dish vegan skip the cheese and replace butter with Earth Balance

Pour stew over polenta, pour wine into glass and DINNER IS SERVED!

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  • “okay, a pescatarian, but that sounds like a religion” and “hopefully cat-fur free” both cracked me up!!, that dish looks amazing!! i really like lentils too, so i just might have to give it a shot! i just wanted to say that i’m so glad i found your blog this year, and thank you so much for your support! i wish a very happy and healthy new year to you, petie, kip, and haddie! looking forward to hopefully meeting you in 2011!

    • I HAVE CAT

      🙂 glad it made you chuckle! have a WONDERFUL NEW YEARS and I’m so excited to have “met” you too – in flesh next year okay? and THANKS For spelling all the kittie’s names right! =^^=

  • Love the stew–I sometimes add a little hot pepper sauce to spice it up or other summer vegetables. I have a hint to make it even easier, regarding the polenta. I’m not always as attentive as I could be to pots on the stove and I often run out of room. Several years ago I found a recipe in a really old veggie cookbook for baking polenta (and rice) in a casserole in the oven. It’s so easy I always bake them now. Here’s a link to a beautiful blog post describing baking polenta: But if you cook the polenta on the stove and you mix the cornmeal into the cold water, then boil, it’s much less likely to clump. Cat-fur free? Not so sure in my kitchen. This recipe would be a great new-year meal, though, nutritionally and traditionally! Thanks, Tamar!

    • I HAVE CAT

      It’s funny Bernadette because first i mixed the corn meal and the water and started to bring it to a simmer, before I read the directions. So i dumped it and started over! Guess I had the right idea in the first place!

      The baking is a good idea, and the hot sauce! Thanks for commenting – have a wonderful NYE!

  • Sharon

    Looks good!

    • I HAVE CAT

      Thanks my dear – HAPPY NEW YEARS! MWah! See you soon!

  • Amy

    This sounds delicious!!! I’m contemplating on whether or not to go vegan. I don’t know if I could do it but I really don’t like the way the companies treat animals.

    • I HAVE CAT

      You can “flirt” with vegan and try baby steps…I feel AS guilty – if not more – when it comes to eggs, cheese and milk.
      I’m trying to purchase eggs from local farms at my green market where you actually MEET the people who work on their own farms (not farming companies).
      I’ve started trying to call ahead to restaurants at brunch time to find out where they source their eggs. Ask them the name of the “farm” and the town (the chef will know). Often times even the most conscious restaurants use “farms” that are really just factory farms 🙁 I understand given the cost and probably demand…..
      Good luck! Lately I’ve started thinking too much about where wool and feathers (down) come from and how they are sourced!
      ANYWAY, HAPPY NEW YEARS AMY! So glad to have gotten to “know” you this year!
      Tamar and the kitties!

  • When I first got this post I took a double take because I thought I was reading a food blog!! lol

    I love your “measurements” lol, I don’t measure either. I love to cook and I throw this and that in and can never remember what I have done….this is a real KEEPER! It looks very healthy. I also love the 4 cloves of garlic because I am a garlic freak!!

    I am definitely holding on to this one!

    Thanks so much and have an incredible New Year!

    • I HAVE CAT

      Aw thanks Caren – I know, I can’t wait for my new blog to launch because I will be better able to split things out (vege/vegan stuff from reviews and other types of posts).
      Glad you liked it though – HAPPY NEW YEAR! Thanks for your support of I HAVE CAT!

  • burntbroccoli

    Thanks for this, I was looking for things I can put in a food flask and have at work for lunch. Don’t know if I’ll be able to get escarole but I will look for it. Never tried polenta either! Will be an experience!

    • I HAVE CAT

      Burnt Broccoli – you can also use spinach (i saute it before putting it in, or maybe Swiss Chard?).

      Let me know how it turns out!

      • burntbroccoli

        Ok I can definitely get spinach! I could only find green lentils, I hope they are the same sort of thing (in the UK here). Looking forward to trying it.

  • Susan

    Sounds yummy! I am considering going veg this year, but probably not vegan, since I love yogurt and milk-and will only buy from free-range, organic sources. Thanks for sharing, T!

    • I HAVE CAT

      Once you start being aware of your food it’s def a slippery slope! LOL! I LOVE cheese and yogurt too…just trying my best to get it from local places if I can… have to be careful with FREE-RANGE too, even if it’s organic. A lot of places like Wholefoods carry from factory farms even tho they are able to label their eggs free-range and organic…it’s not necessarily better conditions for the animals. There are very very very lax restrictions on how eggs can be labeled. They can actually make up their own claims..and it’s not really monitored…sad.

  • My friends are all vegans. This sounds delicious!!!!

    • I HAVE CAT

      Do let me know how it works out when you make it! Just made it last night for my vegan friend and she liked! i bet you could use Daiya “cheese” in the polenta too – I’ve had it on PIZZA and it is pretty yummy! You can find it at Whole Foods!

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  • Just wondering … how do you know you’re not getting enough iron? Are you being tested? And as for the protein issue … you’re familiar with The China Study?

    • I’m not sure I do know if I am…i’ve always been a bit anemic….i have heard of The China Study but I haven’t read in depth…