December 10, 2010

Rustic Winter Stew Over Polenta

by IsaChandra

Serves 8

Active time: 25 minutes || Total time: About 1 hour

I love that the addition of one word can turn a sloppy one-pot meal into something refined. The word, of course, being “rustic.” This is a hit-the-spot stew for wintertime, and the addition of a soft, simple and creamy polenta make it pure comfort. Even though there are lentils, I wouldn’t call it a “lentil stew.” The lentils are there to add extra body and some meatiness. Chopped plum tomatoes ensure a fresh tomato taste, as opposed to a heavy handed tomato-from-a-can flavor.

Go for yukon gold potatoes that are about the size of a misshapen golf ball, that way you only need to slice them in half to prep. Baby carrots are especially helpful, too., if you’re feeling too lazy to slice carrots.

Of course if you don’t want to use polenta you can use mashed potatoes, rice or any manner or yummy starches.

For the stew:

Olive oil (from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons, depending how much you feel like using)

1 small onion, diced medium

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Several dashes fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup green lentils

1 1/2 cups baby carrots

2 lbs plum tomatoes, chopped

4 cups vegetable broth

1 lb small yukon gold potatoes, sliced in half (if using large ones, cut into about 1 inch pieces)

2 bay leaves

3 leeks, white & light green parts only, in 1 inch chunks (and washed well)

Fresh rosemary or thyme, to serve (realistically, only if you’re taking food photos)

For the polenta:

4 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry polenta

To make the stew:

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute the onion in olive oil, along with a dash of salt, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, celery seed, pepper and salt and saute a minute more.

Add the lentils, baby carrots, tomatoes and vegetable broth. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes, until lentils are slightly softened (now is a good time to start the polenta.)

Add potatoes and leeks. Lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 to 30 more minutes, until potatoes are fork tender and lentils are soft. Let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavors to meld. Serve over polenta, garnished with fresh herbs, if you like.

To make the polenta:

Bring vegetable broth and salt to a boil in a 2 quart pot. Add oil. Lower heat to simmer. Add the polenta in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk for about 5 minutes, until polenta is thickened. Keeping heat low, cover and let cook for 20 more minutes or so, stirring occasionally.



  • December 10, 2010 at 12:52 am: Patty

    Isa, I SO ♥ you!!

  • December 10, 2010 at 1:27 am: Marcus

    Yum, making this tonight. Have everything in the house but polenta.

  • December 10, 2010 at 2:27 am: Cara

    I already have pretty much this exact stew in my slow cooker right now! Great minds think alike…

  • December 10, 2010 at 3:14 am: squanderlust

    it looks delicious, but… fresh tomatoes in a winter stew?

  • December 10, 2010 at 10:57 am: JL goes Vegan

    This looks delicious! I’ve yet to try polenta at home. Added to my recipe list!

  • December 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm: Lauren

    Go for whole grape tomatoes, if your grocer’s supply of fresh plum tomatoes are sharing a kinship with cardboard.

    Or try compari tomatoes. They’re sort of a large cherry tomato, and delish at any time!

  • December 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm: Sam

    Perfect! I have massive quantities of local tomatoes in our chest freezer to get us through the winter, just for recipes like this:)

  • December 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm: davem

    Mmmmm! I will be having this for Sunday lunch whilst reading The Observer and listening to The Church (Great band, check them out – Steve Kilbey is a vegan)

  • December 16, 2010 at 12:26 am: Kelly

    Wow, this looks diVINE! I cannot wait to try it! mmmm- polenta…

  • December 17, 2010 at 5:02 am: Suze

    So… I made this yesterday… it was AMAZING. Seriously fantastic. A wonderful wintery-fresh brew of toothsomeness.
    Loved by vegans and non-vegans alike: (direct quote) “If you cooked like this for me everyday I would never eat meat again.”
    Match point, Vegans.

  • December 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm: Therese

    I made this for dinner earlier this evening – so tasty! There also happened to be two meat-eaters at the table who enjoyed it muchly. I couldn’t find dry polenta, so we had it with ready made polenta. Mmm.

  • December 19, 2010 at 4:50 am: LJ

    This is going to be my xmas dinner!

  • December 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm: heidi

    Suze is right. seriously fantastic and wintery-fresh. stick to your ribs without being a leadweight of starch in the belly. smells like comfort, looks like comfort, tastes like comfort…well, it is. YAY!

  • December 22, 2010 at 1:36 am: Zeebo

    Made this tonight for dinner and it was a huge hit. Not really winter-y down in South Florida hey we can still eat like it 20deg. outside. Sorry if this is stupid question but do the bay leaves go in with the lentils and carrots or with the potatoes and leeks? Or does it even matter? Thanks again Isa for another awesome dish.

  • December 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm: amanda

    You should throw the bay leaves in with the lentils and broth. It probably doesn’t really matter but since you don’t eat them, the longer they sit in there the better. I wouldn’t saute them with the other herbs but I don’t know if there’s any real reason not to, I just always add mine to liquid.

  • January 5, 2011 at 1:08 am: dan

    I made this for forty odd people and at least two of them loved it. I think maybe more. One of the two claimed it was the best soup he had ever had. What I mean to say is that it was a big hit. I think they all liked it. I used fresh thyme instead of
    dried. I didnèt even have onion, veggie broth, or roma tomatoes (instead of them I used some terrible ones we had gotten – classification unknown….and still, voila. tres bien.

  • January 6, 2011 at 6:06 pm: Valerie Mangual

    Delicious, warm and filling. I added fire roasted tomatoes along with diced plum tomatoes to add heat. I made the stew and polenta early in the day. I lightly greased a bread pan and poured in the hot polenta. Once cooled I refrigerated it. At meal time I sliced room temperature polenta into the bowls and ladled the hot stew over it.

  • January 8, 2011 at 1:58 am: LaRee

    This was great! Great comfort food. My three year old claimed, “yummy in my tummy”. Thank you.

  • January 17, 2011 at 4:05 am: Bruce

    I stuck to the recipe, which I rarely do (but, of course, that means putting in lots more garlic than called for). It was wonderful. I hosted a small dinner party with this as the main course. Guests were asking for second servings. I will make this again, or maybe not, because now I am curious to try other recipes on this site. Brava, Isa!

  • January 21, 2011 at 9:55 pm: Sneaky Vegan

    This is FAB-U-LOUS!!! I’m trying to get my husband to eat more vegan – NOT easy for a native Italian – but he can’t resist anything with polenta! Grazie mille Isa! This is officially in my “Sneaky Vegan” menu-rotation =)

  • February 1, 2011 at 1:23 am: KAZ

    This was great and so filling. Halved the recipe and still had leftovers.

  • February 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm: cornperson

    For the person who said they couldn’t find polenta, just use cornmeal! You can get that anywhere!

  • February 8, 2011 at 7:03 pm: azerus

    greetings from germany :)
    i just tried this recipe. it’s great, definitely one of my new favorites!
    just one word: oberaffengeil! :)

  • February 12, 2011 at 12:26 am: Nina

    Made this tonight and hubby and I give it two big thumbs up. The only thing I changed was to slice up the leeks so I could use most of the leaf instead of just the tender parts! Thanks so much for a wonderful dinner recipe!

  • February 14, 2011 at 3:03 am: Monika Bolino

    Turned out great! I used boxed chopped tomatoes and rosemary instead of bay leaf (didn’t have any), which worked ok but I’ll use bay next time. I also increased the lentils. The polenta accompaniment worked very well. Next time, I’m going to add kale at the start of the simmer. A keeper!

  • March 5, 2011 at 12:40 am: Samantha

    I tried this recipe tonight for the first time. PERFECTION. It’s exactly what I wanted on a dreary winter night in. Isa, you’re the greatest! (PS – My sisters and I have been vegan for over 60 days now, and your recipes and books have been invaluable to our success and excitement!)

  • March 21, 2011 at 3:36 am: Ecolawnerd

    Isa I think you are a genius, and you have revolutionized vegan and vegetarian cooking and baking. I have been lovin’ the cupcake and cookie cookbooks for a while now (made the applesause softies just the other day – such a perfectly mellow cookie!), and recently discovered your blog. I made this stew tonight and it was great! Thank you for your creativity, your easy-to-follow instructions, and for sharing your passion and talents with all of us. I am pretty new to cooking, and with your recipes I feel empowered and confident to dive in and cook, and it always turns out yummy! Thank you!

    • March 22, 2011 at 5:04 am: IsaChandra

      Thank you so much, that is so good to hear!

  • May 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm: Elizabeth

    Loved this!

  • August 23, 2011 at 2:17 am: Sabrina

    This looks like a good autumn dish. I am looking forward to making this when it starts to get cold outside! Thanks, Isa! I love your recipes!!!

  • September 19, 2011 at 2:46 am: katherine

    just got leeks in my csa this week and i have everything else in the fridge…you make menu planning so easy!

  • September 24, 2011 at 3:05 am: Sara

    Is there a substitute for the lentils? Maybe a white bean or kidney bean? My daughter is allergic to lentils and chickpeas. Thanks!

    • September 24, 2011 at 6:01 am: IsaChandra

      Lentils cook much faster than either of those, but sure, it’s pretty flexible!

  • October 1, 2011 at 1:18 am: Deep Search

    I tried this with winter squash and sweet potatoes I’d baked in the oven instead of the polenta and it was delicious. I just mashed the squash and potatoes with a bit of salt and cracked black pepper and added it to the bowls of stew. That really contributed to the flavor. Next time I may have to try it with the polenta, though, to see how that tastes. It looks good and creamy.

  • November 5, 2011 at 1:49 am: Marnie

    YUM! I made this for dinner tonight and it was a hit. Neither of us had ever had polenta before and I have major texture issues so I was a little concerned, but, it was totally delicious! We are just getting our toes wet with this vegan idea.. We watched ‘Forks Over Knifes’ and decided we better give it a shot. Anyway, your blog has been very helpful.. thanks for all your great recipes and ideas.

  • November 12, 2011 at 2:26 am: CED

    ‘Forks Over Knives’ also brought me and my husband to this diet and a friend lent me Veganomicon. After cooking mostly Isa’s vegan recipes for almost two months now I can say we have always left the table feeling happy and full. This recipe is no exception. I cooked it tonight and it was perfect for a November evening. My husband was really on to something when he suggested we add some Trader Joe’s vegan soy chorizo to our hot bowls of stew. Come January I imagine we’ll be eating this every week. Thanks, Isa!

  • November 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm: Robin

    I have been vegan since March, but this week was the first time I tried a vegan recipe out on my (non vegan) husband. And it was my first exposure to PPK. This dish is absolutely delicious!!! And my husband also loved it!

  • November 13, 2011 at 3:40 am: Gigi

    This was sooo good! Added some tempeh, used sweet potato instead of regular potato. Went back for seconds and thought about thirds. So glad there are lots of leftovers!

  • November 28, 2011 at 12:18 am: melanie Beaudette

    This is definitely my favourite fall/winter recipe of yours! My roommates and I love it and have been cooking it on Sunday nights. So cozy. :)

  • December 8, 2011 at 3:13 am: Jessie

    This made my day–perfect treatment for sniffles and a sore throat. Trader Joes made things a bit simpler for us with their cooked lentils (which I forgot to add) and pre made polenta (which I sliced and panfried). Such a tasty broth–amazing how good simplicity can taste. I added fresh cilantro to the finished soup for serving as cilantro rocks my world. I will definitely make this for years to come!

  • December 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm: DOE

    I found your site through Feed Yr Skull!!! (another yummy veggie/vegan-ish/raw webby)….I just finish making this dish though substituting leeks for eggplant and white navy beans for lentils and instead of veggie broth I used red miso paste……TTTTTTAAAASTTTTTTYYYYY!!! Thank you!!! SO HAPPY to discover yr site! My husband and I were in heaven!!!! Perfect dish for the winter season….so hearty, deeeelish and healthy…VERY SATISFYING…CANT RAVE ENUFF!!!!

  • January 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm: NinaV

    I have made this several times now. We really love the flavors. I wound up adjusting the spices to our likes using basil, sage and a little thyme. The polenta makes this so comfy and filling.

  • January 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm: Emily

    I used chopped canned tomatoes in juice, adding less broth to compensate, as well as added a bit of fresh parsley and extra thyme instead of celery salt. Even with my modifications, it was like pure comfort on a plate.

    Thanks for creating such foolproof (adaptable!) recipes that never disappoint.

  • January 31, 2012 at 1:24 am: Lauren

    This was dinner tonight and it turned out great!!! I’ve never cooked polenta before and could only find precooked stuff, so we just used rice but it was still amazing! Hubby agreed too, and he’s definitely having a harder time than me at giving up meat :)

  • March 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm: Lee

    Yum! Pour anything over polenta and I am totally on board! Thanks for sharing this tasty recipe that I can force meat-eating family members to eat. We’re all big polenta fans as it is. I’m making this for dinner tomorro!

  • April 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm: LAS

    Wow! So good. After this meal, I decided I need to put together a binder with “All time favorite recipes”. This will be the first recipe I add to my binder.

  • October 1, 2012 at 10:36 pm: River (Wing It Vegan)

    Made it, loved it, blogged it! Thanks for sharing!

  • October 19, 2012 at 1:13 am: AshYTim

    Mmmm…. SO GOOD! Just ate a huge bowl and I think I gotta go back for seconds. :]

  • November 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm: Jodi

    I just made this but forgot tomatoes, didnt have any canned, so i skipped altogether, and added celery and a dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce. Also only had the polenta tube so decided to pan fry slices in a little olive oil. I loved this meal. So did my husband. Will be making again soon!

  • December 16, 2012 at 1:44 am: Veganator

    Really good, but the polenta would be better cooked with water, and not vegetable broth. it turned the polenta into a brown color – not like the picture. Minor change for next time.

  • January 6, 2013 at 6:09 pm: Rachel

    So, so good! Warm and rich and tasty. It will be my lunchtime stress relief for the work week! Thank you!

  • January 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm: Annalise

    Made this for dinner two nights ago. Am heating up left overs and making a fresh batch of polenta to share with my hubby for lunch. This recipe was amazing. It even passed the kid test. Wouldn’t change a thing, although I did use different tomatoes. Thanks so much for an amazing recipe.

  • January 30, 2013 at 12:59 am: Leah

    Oh man! I was reading the directions while cooking and realized that it doesn’t say when to put in the bay leaves in the directions and I didn’t realize it until it probably doesn’t matter anymore. Should still be good tho.

  • January 30, 2013 at 3:55 am: Leah

    Follow up: I added the bay leaves in the last 15 mins of simmering and the flavor was still delish!
    Also, my potato’s were looking pretty sad, so I replace with a sweet potato and added a parsnip.
    All in all, this will be my go to ‘rustic’ stew recipe for sure!
    Thank you again, Isa!

  • February 2, 2013 at 1:16 am: Laurie

    I’m new to veganism and this was the first real recipe that I’ve tried. Wow. Wowowow. Even my 5 year old son liked it, and that is a freaking MIRACLE. I am still basking in the food afterglow…

  • February 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm: Alissa

    Didn’t have Thyme so I used Tarragon instead, and it was fantastic in it!! Also added diced kohlrabi in with the carrots, and made the polenta with garlic similar to the blackened scrambled tofu recipe. I’ll be making this now in place of my usual vegetable stew! Delicious!

  • June 2, 2013 at 6:49 am: Misha

    This was one of the most delicious meals I have ever made. My boyfriend and I went nuts for it! Just incredibly tasty, nutritious, and satisfying. My type of comfort food. This is the dish that finally won my boyfriend over on leek and it will no doubt be made again and again in this household. Winner winner vegan dinner!

  • October 21, 2013 at 4:08 am: A

    LOVE. I made this and had some instant polenta, which I messed up and it was yucky so didn’t add it to the soup. The soup was still ah-mazing,

  • December 9, 2013 at 1:15 am: April

    I made this but added turnips, rutabeggas, and parsnips…then sauteed mushrooms. in butter with shallots and garlic…then, served over polenta….it was so yummy!

  • December 17, 2013 at 2:37 am: ang

    could you freeze this?!