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My last post included a recipe and price break-down for an organic and healthy low cost meal. I compared my creation with a meal from Jack-in-the-Box. For details, please check here. I’m experimenting with high-quality, organic food on a low-income budget and legumes are a perfect ingredient.

Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils. One of my favorite things about legumes is the wide range of creative colors. I’m fascinated with food traditions, culinary nutrition, creative cooking and the cultural heritage of food. This category (legumes) fits all of the above.

This post will focus on lentils – a short exploration and recipe. Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated legumes with seeds found at archeological sites dating back as far as 8000 years. I think they’ve survived the test of time. They’re inexpensive, nutrient-dense, power-packed with fiber and help maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Plus, they don’t need to be pre-soaked and are easy to prepare and easy to digest. These little things are user-friendly all the way around. Another thing I like about lentils is the fact that they seem to soak up the flavors of other ingredients.

low-cost and incredibly healthy organic lentil stew
what you need (all the ingredients below are organic)

4 cups chicken broth (you can also use vegetable broth for a vegan meal)
2 cups filtered water (adjust depending on how thick you want the stew)
2 cups lentils, rinsed *
1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped into 3/4 inch squares
1 can Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes (14.5 ounces) *
2/3 cup chopped onion (about half an onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Simply Organic All Purpose Seasoning *
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

what you do
Heat oil in a heavy soup pot (medium-low setting). Add chopped onions and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for another minute or so. Pour in broth, water, tomatoes and their juice, sweet potatoes and lentils. Stir well. Cover and simmer for an hour or until lentils and sweet potatoes are fully cooked. Add seasonings and cook for another 15 minutes or so until flavors are well blended. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese for a nice treat.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

* Rinse well and do a quick check for funky stuff (sometimes hard debris gets mixed in).
* I absolutely love the smokey flavor of fire roasted tomatoes, but they also contain blackened pieces from the roasting. If that bugs you, get the regular kind.
* This seasoning contains onion, black pepper, garlic, parsley, celery seed, basil, thyme, oregano, sage and coriander. Use your favorite blends. Cumin also works well with lentils.

You can make several meals out of this and it seems to get better each day. If it becomes too thick, add more water or broth when you reheat it. You can also toss in some chopped greens on day 2 or 3 to change things up. Finely chopped spinach or kale works great.

cost breakdown
organic green lentils – one 2-pound bag was 2.86, 2 cups cost 1.07
onion – .20
garlic – .14
sweet potato (I used 1 garnet yam) – .64
14.5 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes –  1.39
organic, free-range chicken broth, 32 ounces – 3.39
incidentals (seasoning and oil) – .25

Total for 6 to 8 servings of lentil stew: $7.08
That’s about $1 or less per serving and everything I used was organic and nutrient dense.
It can be done!

nutrition highlights
Check this out. I took the time to calculate and break this down into nutrition facts. It’s not a perfect evaluation because I wasn’t able to factor in the potential difference between regular and organic foods, but this is an approximation of what you’re getting with 1 bowl of my lentil stew. Not bad for one dollar’s worth of food. This is an example of low-cost, nutrient-dense food. And look at the fiber content. Plus, you can’t calculate what you’re not getting (pesticides, hormones and other icky things) with the use of organic food. That’s priceless!

Diane at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang is hosting Friday Foodie Fix. Her secret ingredient is lentils, so head over there and check out all the recipes.

Peace, love and lentils!
Melissa

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20 Responses to “organic lentil stew on a budget”

  1. Peter says:

    this is awesome. It’s really all about changing the way people think about food. portion size etc. but as you’ve proved healthy food is affordable and not only that it’s easy to make too! excellent post. and this stew would go well with some grilled or roasted lamb! or my new favorite…goat. :-)

  2. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Hurrah for the humble lentil, well worth a post. Miles is always telling us to include more dried peas and beans in our recipes. You can’t argue with the nutrition or the low cost. Here in the UK lots of people will have a bag of lentils tucked away in their larder, probably years old (guilty as charged but I keep them now for blind baking my pastry tart cases!). I had some recently that were already cooked and vac packed ready to be heated in the meat juices of a roasting dish within a minute….. so fast food as well. As kids we always had stews with either lentils or pearl barley to bulk it out and as you say, soak up the flavours in the pot.

    There’s a cook book in this for our Soup Kitchen enterprize Melissa…. the welfare offices in the UK would do well to hand one out to everyone on a restricted budget. Learning to budget properly in what ever circumstances present themselves is vital. The minimum wage here is £5.83 per hour and some will get child and housing benefits on top. I lived at this level when I first started out but then I didn’t smoke or waste money on unnecessary items. Those who are homeless, well that’s a different issue. Those who work unsocial hours…. get organised and plan ahead and take healthy snacks to work if possible. Too tired after a hard day’s work?… get the kids involved and anyone else willing to help, it shouldn’t be left up to one person to cater for the entire family where applicable. Far too many people are just lazy and can’t be bothered to sit down and think about quality meals.

    Oh dear that’s turned into a bit of a rant!

    Cid

  3. Alta says:

    Yum. Sounds comforting and delicious. You could make it even more cheaply if you made your own chicken stock or veggie stock, of course!

  4. Miles says:

    Melissa,
    I’m glad you’ve done this, I eat a lot of lentils and other pulses as well as use them in my day (and night!) job. The great thing is that so many countries have so many interesting recipes for them.
    I’ve been back to Spain working and little beats their fantastic dish with chorizo and vinegar.

    Miles

  5. Anne says:

    Melissa,
    Do I hear Soup Kitchen? Lentils are a MUST! I love them in various dishes. The red/orange ones go into a version of a tomato soup, and a mixture of red/green lentils go into my very favourite Lentil Soup with smokey bacon. Alternatively, I add a Kabanossi which is a spicey, smoked pork sausage.
    Anne

  6. Melissa says:

    Peter,

    You’ve touched on something I didn’t mention and that’s portion size. You’re right, we think we need way more than we really do. We’ve got this super-size-me attitude about food.

    Goat? I do love my goat yogurt and goat kefir, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

    :-)

  7. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Reading your comments often requires either a dictionary or my good friend, Mr. Google.

    Larder?

    Blind baking my pastry tart cases?

    I honestly think you, Anne and I are onto something with our Soup Kitchen, even if doesn’t materialize into anything other than book form. We can even mark the recipes as gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and maybe even MAN-friendly. We’ll run those by the boys first and see what the responses are. Those could contain buffalo, venison, or duck and an assortment of hearty vegetables.

    As you can see here, Anne is on board and already coming up with variations for the lentil stew section.

    We all must have tea and find an agent!

    Seriously!

    Melissa (one-third owner in Soup Siren Enterprises)

  8. Melissa says:

    Alta,

    I totally agree about making your own stock and I do that a good part of the time. Loved the “how-to” post on your blog. But even without making your own, it’s still inexpensive. Our local Costco even carries organic soup broths.

  9. Melissa says:

    Miles,

    Chorizo is a mainstay in our southwest and Mexican food. I love good sausage in soups and stews. Have never mixed lentils with chorizo, but will be trying it soon! As always, thank you for the input.

    Melissa

  10. Melissa says:

    Anne,

    See my response to Cid above. We would definitely make a good team, with international flair, to say the least.

    Red lentils in tomato soup? That sounds absolutely delicious. Smokey bacon? Another winner!

    You’re in charge of the lentil section of the cook book.

    :-)

  11. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    We must all have tea and find an agent …. absolutely to both of those. If we can’t find a willing publishing agent can we opt for a secret agent? (and not the cardboard variety, I’ve already got one of those :) )

    On the GF front, word is definitely spreading here in my county. We’ve had no end of enquiries lately and the numbers continue to grow. If only we could stock some of your wonderful flours… as it is my supplier doesn’t have GF, he’s a miller of wheat and oats. Up the road a health shop sells rice flour and a mixture which includes tapioca, but otherwise not very adventurous. Still, about a third of our overall stock is GF I would say, what with chutneys and salad dressings etc. Had one customer today who was allergic to just about everything except the slate cheese boards!

    Have a great weekend folks.

    Cid

  12. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    I was supposed to go to a speech last night on sustainable farming, etc. by one of my favorite organic farmers and the 12 inches of snowfall and blizzard conditions kept me home. I was still grumping around about missing the event this morning (it’s very early here right now, still dark) until I read your comment. Your quirky sense of humor always brightens my day!

    And it’s great to hear that GF foods are making headway in all parts of the country (yours and mine). It sounds like when I come to visit I will have no problem finding my next meal. Of course, if you stick to whole foods, they are always GF by default.

    Thanks for starting my “snowed in” day off with a smile. I appreciate you more than you know.

    :-)

  13. Anne says:

    Melissa,
    “the 12 inches of snowfall and blizzard conditions kept me”
    Oh my goodness, whatever next?
    I am pleased to report that Spring has sprung this week in the UK :) . The garden is a joy, full of flowering crocus, snowdrops, primula, daffodils and the first tulip. We are all warming up and smiling with it. I shall have to send some warmth over to you!
    Soups will definately be in, especially with the aging population. I could not be without it, a must next week when hubby is having tooth extractions
    :( .
    Melissa, Cid’s amazing vocabulary is also a challenge to me :) . BTW – Larder is a pantry.
    Happy weekend all round.
    Anne

  14. Melissa says:

    Anne,

    We get more snowfall in March (and sometimes April) than any other months. It’s nice off and on, but we also get some big snows in the spring. My “garden” is covered by a foot of snow right now, but within a couple of days it will be gone.

    Yes, soups are indeed a good choice for a lot of reasons. Oooh, sorry to hear about the tooth extractions for your hubby. Not pleasant, I’m sure. But he does have you and all your wonderful, healing soups!

    Larder? Now that’s a good one! Thank you. I do need help with the translations.

    :-)

  15. This really sounds terrific, Melissa! I love the fire-roasted tomatoes as does hubby, but Son not so much, so definitely personal preference there. I was going to say what Alta said … sooo much cheaper if you make your own stock. Bargain nutrition that tastes fabulous … gotta love it! Thanks for the post and sorry you missed your speech w/ Joel Salatin. I never get tired of watching or listening to him.

    Shirley

  16. And, I feel special that I knew exactly what Cid meant by larder and her blind baking! Woohoo!

    Shirley

  17. Cid says:

    Shirley,

    Thank goodness someone out there knows what I’m waffling on about…. most local acquaintances of mine tend to adopt a quizzical expression from the outset, as I bounce from subject to subject :)

    Cid

  18. Melissa says:

    Shirley,

    I totally agree about home-made stock and make my share of them, but I also keep some “Imagine” stocks on hand in case I need some quickly. I have a compost bucket next to my sink, but I also throw some of my better veggie remnants into a “soup stock” jar to use for later.

    I was SO disappointed to miss Joel Salatin, but I just heard he’s coming back this summer to speak at Grant Farms summer CSA farm tour. I can’t wait to hear him as I’ve read a couple of his books and hear he’s a character as well as an advocate for organic farming and animal welfare.

    Good for you for knowing what Cid meant. She always throws me off with her vocabulary!

  19. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    I would hardly call your comments as “waffling on.” You’re such a clever wordsmith that I’m thinking you need to write a book. Soup recipes, maybe? With some entertaining narration sprinkled throughout!

    :-)

  20. Sean-Michael says:

    Sounds great. I was just admiring the wide variety of beans and lentils at Whole Foods the other day. I told Patch and Carlie I’d like to start making our own soups and stews which incorperate lentils, but I wasn’t sure how to prepare them. We were sure we would come across some recipes online, but without even searching I ran across yours. Just happened to be catching up on your blog and here it is! Talk about timing. Thank you :)

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