This easy Red Lentil Stew recipe is the perfect weeknight dinner when you want something healthy, quick, and delicious. It's completely vegan, loaded with veggies, and comes together in under 30 minutes. Make Instant Pot Lentil Stew or cook it on your stove top, and serve with rice or pasta. Top with chili flakes if you want to bring the heat, or leave it as is for the kids.
We're beyond fortunate to live in a part of the world where not only is daycare subsidized by the government (and therefore incredibly affordable) but it includes two snacks and a hot lunch for our son.
I'm always impressed at the range of foods that they serve these kiddos, and it's given me a nudge to try new things at home as well, as opposed to just falling into a rut of "kid-friendly" food. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I just whip up a batch of One-Pot Pasta with Peas, and I've certainly been known to put boxed mac and cheese on the table and call it a day.
(Although this baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is also easy and delicious - and "kid-friendly" to boot!)
Lately I've been trying to serve at least one wholly plant-based meal each week. It's a good challenge for me (that old reliable combo of cheese + carbs is just so easy - I'm looking at you, Naan Pizza) and a good experience for my kids, who I am trying to groom into adventurous eaters.
This easy Red Lentil Stew ticks all the boxes for me. It's loaded with plant-based protein, and although I don't truly believe in hiding veggies in a meal, this one has a good amount stashed away.
It's fast, and can be made either in your Instant Pot, or on the stovetop in around about 30 minutes either way, though the Instant Pot will require less babysitting. It's good spooned over rice, served with pasta, or eaten on it's own with a bit of crusty bread to sop up the bottom of the bowl.
Best of all, it's customizable. I've left the flavours fairly neutral as my big kid is extremely sensitive to spice, but serve my own bowl with a good pinch of red pepper flakes over the top.
What's in this Red Lentil Stew?
This easy Vegetable Lentil Stew has a short ingredients list, and I'm willing to bet you'll be able to scrounge most of them from your pantry. Here's what you'll need:
- Red lentils --> The star of the show!
- Yellow onion --> One nice medium guy will do.
- Shredded carrots --> We're shredding the veggies because they cook faster and melt down into the stew.
- Shredded zucchini --> Same same.
- Crushed tomatoes --> A couple of cans.
- Garlic --> 2-3 cloves.
- Herbs --> I forgot to include these in the photo. I used a bit of dried thyme.
- Vegetable broth --> But you can also just plain old water.
How do you make Red Lentil Stew?
I've included process shots for making Instant Pot Lentil Stew, but making it on the stove top is also very simple. The recipe card at the end of this post includes instructions for both!
To make things easier, you'll want to get all of your chopping, dicing, and shredding out of the way before you start cooking. Also give your lentils a good rinse in cold water until the water runs clear.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Either heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, or set your Instant Pot to sauté normal. Add the olive oil and the onions, and sauté, stirring regularly, until they are translucent.
Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or two more, until the onion is just starting to brown.
Step 2: Add the carrots and zucchini, and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the vegetables have softened.
Step 3: Add the crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils to the pot.
Pro tip! I like to rinse the tomato can out with the vegetable broth so that I know I'm getting as much tomato as I possibly can out of the can.
Step 4: If you're making Instant Pot Lentil Stew, turn the Instant Pot off, then turn it back on and set it to pressure cook for 10 minutes.
Pro tip! Using a wooden spoon give the bottom of the Instant Pot a REALLY GOOD stir, scraping the spoon along the bottom of the pot to ensure no lentils are sticking to the bottom, as this can trigger a burn warning.
If you're cooking on the stove top, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer with the lid ajar until the lentils are soft - this will take about 20 minutes.
Once the lentils are soft, dinner is served!
Do you need to soak the lentils?
Nope! That's the beauty of lentils. No soaking required and they cook up mighty fast. Red lentils, like the ones we're using today, cook up especially quickly because they've been hulled and split.
Can I make red lentil stew in advance?
You sure can! The flavours only get better the next day, so I totally encourage you to make it ahead of time if you're game. A batch of lentil stew will last up to five days in your fridge.
You can also make a big batch and freeze individual portions. I freeze kid-sized portions using silicon muffin liners. Once frozen you can pop them into a freezer bag (I love these reusable silicon freezer bags) and just pull out what you need at dinner time.
For adult for family-sized portions I usually freeze lentil stew in old cottage cheese containers since my husband goes through several tubs each week and we always have some on hand. If you prefer to freeze in glass, use a wide-mouthed mason jar and be sure to leave at least one inch of head space for the stew to expand.
Ways to switch up your lentil stew
This is my most basic red lentil stew recipe, but you can totally fancy it up the way you like. Here are some ideas:
- Add a bunch of greens toward the end of the cooking time - a bag of baby spinach will just cook right down.
- Replace half of the broth with coconut milk for a creamier stew.
- Add a teaspoon or two of ground turmeric, ground cumin, and a half a teaspoon of cayenne to heat things up!
- Mix up the veggies you include! Try sweet potato, red peppers, cauliflower, eggplant... whatever strikes your fancy.
If you customized your red lentil stew, please tell us in the comments what you've done and how it turned out!
Are lentils healthy?
These lovely little legumes are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. The soluble fiber in lentils helps to keep blood sugar stable, while providing a steady source of energy.
But the energy benefits don’t stop there, lentils are a rich source of iron, as well as being a good source of plant-based protein, which is good news for us veg heads. They’re also a great source of heart-healthy folate and magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, potassium, and B6.
Other recipes you might enjoy:
Red Lentil Stew
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 large zucchini shredded - about 2 cups
- 2 medium carrots shredded - about 2 cups
- ¾ cup red lentils rinsed well
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes 2 x 14oz cans
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Place a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, or turn on your Instant Pot sauté function normal.
- Add the oil and heat until shimmering, then add the diced onion and sauté until translucent, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.
- Add the shredded zucchini and carrots and sauté about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the vegetable broth, red lentils, tomatoes, and thyme.
- If you are using the Instant Pot, give the bottom a very good stir with a wooden spoon to ensure no lentils are sticking. This will prevent the burn warning from going off. Set the Instant pot to 10 minutes at manual high pressure. When the cooking cycle is done you can use either a quick release or natural release.
- If you are cooking on the stovetop, reduce the heat to medium-low an simmer with the lid ajar until the lentils are soft - about 20 minutes.
- Serve hot over rice or pasta.
- Nutrition Values are an estimate only.
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