Sausage and lentil stew (8-10 servings)

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One of my Christmas gifts this past December was a programmable slow cooker with a "keep warm" feature. As other vegetarians know, meat-free food doesn't need as long to cook as meat does, and if I were to keep the type of food I make in the slow cooker for the whole time I was at work, it would be total mush by the time I got home. Luckily, I can now set the cooker for the amount of time the recipe needs, and then it will switch to "keep warm" until I'm ready. Lovely! Expect more slow cooker recipes in the coming months!

The recipe I'm featuring today actually comes from the Cuisinart booklet that came in the slow cooker's box. It's not originally a vegetarian recipe, but it was easy enough to turn meatless by subbing vegetable broth for the chicken broth and using vegetarian sausage. Cuisinart's version calls for cheese tortellini in addition to the veggies, sausage, and lentils, but to me, adding it would have gilded the lily a bit. The stew is already chunky, texturally-varied, and rich, so adding tortellini seemed unnecessary. Besides, you can make the stew vegan by leaving out the tortellini, as long as you use vegan sausage like Tofurky. If the sausage isn't vegan, the recipe is still vegetarian.

You will need:

  • 3/4 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • ~1 lb vegan Italian sausage links (Tofurky's package is 14 oz.)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 3/4 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 oz sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), slivered (I didn't have any)
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage links and allow to brown, turning occasionally. When the sausage is brown on all sides (after about 10 min), remove it from the pan and allow it to cool.
  2. Add the mushrooms to the dry skillet and cook until brown (3-5 min). Set aside. Once the sausage is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2-inch slices on the diagonal.
  3. Place the lentils, onions, carrots, garlic, browned mushrooms, basil, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, and sliced sausage in the slow cooker. Pour the broth over top.
  4. Cover and cook on high for three hours; then allow it to simmer for another five hours. (If your cooker doesn't have a "simmer" setting, as my previous one didn't, then you could probably let it cook on low for a shorter time.) Serve hot.

Obviously, this isn't the best recipe to cook when you're away for a whole day, because of changing the settings, but it's a good one for a day when you're home but busy. I love the "set it and forget it" aspect of using a slow cooker. It's such a treat to be busy with my work, smell a heavenly aroma coming from the kitchen, and remember, "Oh, yeah! Dinner's almost ready already!" Life is good.

P.S. Leftovers freeze nicely!