It’s the middle of the week and the deadlines are piling up like dirty laundry on the bedroom floor. (Asking for a friend, how often can you wear the same underwear before they get to be a bit too disgusting?) The weekend seems barely visible through the haze in front of your sleep-sticky eyes. You need a meal that’s easy to make, and yet healthy enough to power you through to those precious days off. Enter a favoured dish in my humble household: ragoût!
Ragoût is a thick, hearty stew, usually made with well-seasoned meats and vegetables. The term is from the french verb ‘ragoûter’, which means “to stimulate the appetite”. This humble little dish certainly delivers on that promise! It’s also an excellent way to use up any little bits and bobs that might be lurking in the refrigerator. Although ragoût is typically made with different meats that are stewed for a long time; I prefer to add more vegetables, and use lentils or beans instead of meat. This is not to say I don’t like to eat meat- I’m definitely an omnivore- but I enjoy the challenge of creating and adapting recipes for the herbivores amongst us. I discovered early on in my cooking career how to make interesting substitutions for seemingly key recipe ingredients; something I learned from my mother (who has many, many, many food allergies).
This is a nice, flexible recipe, that you can adapt any way you see fit. I like to use bacon and chicken broth; you can omit those ingredients if you so choose. (But really, why would you want to leave out the bacon? #baconmakesitbetter) If you are going vegetarian, I suggest using chopped mushrooms in place of the bacon, and smoked paprika in place of regular paprika. I prefer to use kale over spinach as well. I find the kale leaves don’t break down as much as spinach leaves do, and absorb flavours really well. It’s also healthy dammit, so stop arguing and try it out already!
Ragoût with Lentils and Kale
(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 60 minutes. Serves 3-4)
- 1/2 lb bacon, cubed (or substitute chopped cremini mushrooms)
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 medium bunch kale (approx. 1/2 lb), *stem removed*, leaves chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (approx. 2 cups. Or use 1 500 ml can diced tomatoes, drained)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/2 tbsp paprika (or substitute smoked paprika)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 lb small mixed potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 cup dried green or red lentils, rinsed and sorted
- 1 1/2 tbsp fresh poultry herbs, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water)
- 1 tsp tarragon vinegar
*The stem of the kale is very woody and fibrous, and not particularly appetizing. I’ve found the easiest way to prepare the kale after rinsing it is to tear the leaves from the stem. Less knife work involved, and you can pretend you’re tearing up that employee evaluation your boss gifted you with last month. (Constructive criticism my ass!)*
Cook the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onions, garlic, and 1 tsp salt, and sweat the onions over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the kale leaves to the pan, and toss them with the onion mixture. Sauté the leaves for about 1 minute, until they have wilted down slightly. Add the tomatoes and all the spices to the mixture, and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes. Mix in the rest of the vegetables, and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Stir in the lentils, herbs, and chicken broth. Finally, stir in the vinegar. Now cover the pan, and simmer your ragoût for 25 minutes. Take this time to stab pins into a small effigy of your boss.
After 25 minutes, take the lid off the pan, and give everything a big ol’ stir. Taste the lentils. They will still be fairly hard, so drop the lid back on the pan and simmer the ragoût for another 15 minutes. Use this time constructively, to watch TV, or play “Mario Party”; definitely do not take this opportunity to work on those projects that are due tomorrow. After 15 minutes, taste the lentils again. They should be firm to the tooth, but not crunchy. If this is the case, add another 1/2 cup of water to the pan, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Crack open a tasty IPA, and procrastinate a little more.
I like to serve my ragoût over a brown/wild rice medley; and garnish the dish with crumbled feta cheese and a little grated lemon zest. The colours and aromas are so tantalizing, the flavours so fetching, you’ll find you’ve downed three helpings before you know what happened. If you can hold yourself to only seconds, your repast will give you all the energy you need to burn the midnight oil. You’ll be stimulated- mind and appetite both- without having to resort to copious amounts of caffeine or other drugs.
Go to work the next day with a bounce in your step; feeling and looking good. At least until your boss gives you a bunch of last-minute changes to the assignment you worked until 3 AM to complete. (Good thing you have plenty of leftovers from last night. And cocaine)