vegetarian ancho lentil stew

I’ve talked a little but here and there about how important the home-cooked meal element of our birthdays was growing up. As I got a little older (high school age maybe?) Potaje de Lentejas (Lentil Stew) is what I craved. It was hearty and filled with veggies with just slight hints of smoky heat in the background. It also had pork and it was heavy, heavy, heavy – a far cry from the lighter fare that comes out of my kitchen now.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off since I left home for college, but this stretch, with the family in tow has been a more permanent shift. I knew going into it that I was going to have to replicate some of my mother’s stews and broths in order to sustain this lifestyle change for the long haul. My mother giggles at the mention of her lentejas referred to as an “Ancho Lentil Stew,” but she sops it up with corn tortillas and gets to the bottom of her bowl whenever she has it. 

Ancho Lentil Stew
2 dried chile anchos
2 cups brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
2-3 sprigs of oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon oregano, dried or fresh
2 bell peppers, diced
2 large carrots, diced or sliced in thin rounds
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
salt, pepper and pureed chipotle chile* to taste
limes, chopped onions, sliced jalapeños

  1. Cover ancho chiles with water in small sauce pan and simmer until rehydrated and soft. Let cool while you prepare the lentils and veggies. Don’t throw the little bit of broth away!
  2. Place lentils, sprigs of oregano, bay leaf and a 1 teaspoon of salt in a large soup pot. Cover with one quart water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer.
  3. Warm olive oil in large skillet and saute red onion with spices (cumin, coriander seeds and oregano) till they begin to soften. Add bell peppers and carrots and saute for another few minutes.
  4. Remove seeds and stem from rehydrated ancho chiles and puree in blender with canned tomatoes.
  5. Pour tomato mixture over the veggies and simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Add veggie/tomato mixture to your pot of lentils. Add salt, pepper and pureed chipotle to taste. Simmer until lentils are nice and tender. Use broth from rehydrated ancho chiles to thin your soup if it gets a bit thick.
  7. Top bowls of the soup with onions, jalapeño slices and a squeeze of lime

The recipe is very, very mild. If heat/spicy is a little scary, I assure you that the portions of chile ancho (without seeds) will not give it kick, just flavor. The chipotle puree at the end is what adds the heat. I’d suggest starting with a 1 teaspoon of chipotle puree for the whole batch and adding more as you taste.

If you like the spice and want more heat…y’all know what you can handle. Add away!


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