This Hungarian lentil stew is tasty, healthy, and it is easy to prepare. Season this basic lentil stew recipe with sour cream, mustard, or with grated horseradish to your own taste.
To make it more delicious, the traditional Hungarian lentil stew recipe calls for smoked meat as an ingredient. If you don’t have any on hand, cook the lentils in ham stock (e.g. Easter Ham broth) instead of water. But even without ham stock or smoked meat, your lentil stew is a great vegetarian dish. Or without sour cream it can be incorporated even into a strict vegan diet.
Lentil Stew Recipe
- Before cooking, wash the lentils several times in cold water. Place them in a bowl with cold water to cover, and soak for at least 3-4 hours. If you soak it overnight that’s even better.
- Add your lentils with the soaking water to a saucepan. Add smoked meat and bay leaves. If necessary, add water to cover the lentils by 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Salt to taste.
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook your lentils until they are tender, for approx. 25 minutes. Watch out not to overcook them. Remember, you will have to cook additionally for a few minutes after thickening the stew. Skim off any foam off the top while boiling.
- Take the pan off the heat and prepare the roux with onions.
- Finely chop one small onion (about 1/2 cup) and 2 cloves of garlic.
- Put your chopped onion into a casserole, add 2 tablespoons oil or fat and cook at medium heat until it becomes translucent.
- Add garlic and cook for about half a minute.
- Add flour, stir and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
- Take your pan off the heat, add paprika. I usually add 1/4 teaspoon of good quality Hungarian paprika. But if you prefer rich paprika taste, you can safely double this amount. Stir.
- Add a cup of cold water (250 ml) gradually, stir it continuously to get rid of any lumps.
- Pour the prepared roux into your stew. Stir, and return the pan to the heat.
- Bring it to a boil, and cook gently for 2 to 3 minutes, until flour loses its raw taste and thickens your lentil stew.
- Season with mustard and lemon juice.
- Lentil stew in Hungary is served without exception with sour cream. Add it right away, or after spooning it onto your plate. Use 2/5 to 4/5 cup (90-180 ml) sour cream per every 1 pound (450 g) of lentils, according to your taste.
Serving Your Lentil Stew
Lentil stew is hearty enough, it also makes for a complete meal in itself.
I season my lentil stew with mustard and lemon juice. Although in Hungary lentil stew is almost exclusively served with sour cream, it also goes well with grated horseradish. Instead of lemon juice you can also use vinegar.
Lentil stew goes well with traditional accompaniments for vegetable side dishes – e.g. with hard-boiled eggs or fried eggs, etc. – but the most typical of them are fried hot dogs. Lentil stew with fried hot dogs are a classic combination – and are traditionally the first meal of the New Year.
The Secret to Cooking the Perfect Lentil Stew
Just like in case of any traditional meal, there are an endless cooking methods for lentil stew. There is no universal recipe or method to be followed, it is less likely to fit everyone’s tastes.
The perfect lentil stew though has 3 main secrets, these are as follows:
- Cook your lentils in their soaking water. This way you can preserve the true flavor of lentils.
- Good quality smoked meat. Unless you are a vegetarian or you would like to prepare a vegan version, a small amount of good quality smoked meat is what will make your stew perfect.
- Individual seasoning. Follow my original recipe at first, and dare to experiment with new spices and flavors afterwards!
Hungarian name: Lencsefőzelék.