The first of November brought cooler temperatures to the desert. By “cooler,” I mean we were able to leave the windows open for the whole day without any air conditioning. An almost-crisp morning breeze swept through the screens and the cat batted at insects from the windowsill. I wore long pants for the first time since February–not because it was cold enough to need them, but because it wasn’t too hot to cover one’s legs. The day’s high temperature didn’t creep past 82F. It was beautiful.
Since that day, we’ve had a midnight thunderstorm and an evening hail storm, both of which brought the humidity up to more human levels. Our backyard herbs and potted citrus trees enjoyed the rain, but I’ve been afraid to check on them since the hail fell a few hours ago. It wasn’t large, but we had our car windshield replaced yesterday after a rock cracked it while driving this past weekend, so while the ice fell, we sat at the windows watching nervously. The windshield survived, at least.
And through the open screens out into the yard wafted the smell of this fantastic slow-cooker stew. I’ve been out of the house during the day a lot more lately, and I love relying on my slow cooker to make dinner for us. I used to make a lovely red lentil stew on the stove all the time, but I recently found that using the slow cooker creates an even creamier, more comforting version. And it’s less work, so that’s always a winning moment as well.
This one is made with red lentils and fennel for a protein-rich and deliciously aromatic meal. I add fire roasted tomatoes, onion, peppers, and seasonings, and I finish it out with spinach and coconut milk a little while before diving in.
I’ve lately been appreciating tomatoes a bit more than I used to, and I love the umami flavor they add to this stew. Tomatoes are absolutely PACKED with nutrients and anti-oxidants (which I’d rather get through my food than through a multivitamin). My friend Helen at Well-Being Secrets has a fabulous article about the health benefits of tomatoes (click to read it), all backed by scientific studies. The internet is full of misinformation when it comes to nutrition, and I’m excited to be able to share trustworthy, research-supported information here on the blog.
Ryan and I like to top this stew with mashed avocado and enjoy it with brown rice, homemade bread, or just on its own. I definitely feel like this stew is hearty enough that it doesn’t really need anything to accompany it. And it happens to be vegan! All you need is fresh, healthy vegetables, coconut milk, and dried pulses along with the appropriate spices. Very easy, with no advanced cooking–I’ve seen some slow cooker recipes that require you to sautee things before putting them in the pot, which always kind of feels like it defeats the purpose of letting the slow cooker do all the work for you.
I’m definitely a big fan of letting my slow cooker work hard so I don’t have to. We enjoy my Pineapple Mango Coconut Curry Bowls (to the right) just as much as we do this lentil stew. It’s got warming spices and a fruity tang, and it’s perfect for chillier weather.
The lentil version, though, is classic. Not to mention cheap! Red lentils are one of the least expensive proteins you can find, and with the other basic ingredients being things like onions and canned tomatoes, this is a great pantry recipe made with inexpensive ingredients. If you give this lentil stew a try, let me know how it goes!
A creamy slow cooker stew with red lentils, coconut milk, fennel, and spinach. Vegan and gluten-free!
- 4 cups baby spinach, chopped
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
- 1 14.5oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
- 1/2 cup-1 cup full fat canned coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3-1/2 cups water
- optional: 1 avocado, mashed for topping
Add all ingredients EXCEPT spinach, coconut milk, and avocado to slow cooker.
Cook for 4 hours on high.
A few minutes before serving, add the coconut milk. Start with 1/2 cup, and add more if you'd like a thinner stew. This part is up to your preference.
Stir in the chopped spinach and allow it to wilt before serving.
Top with mashed avocado and eat it up!