Red lentils and eggplant form a creamy, rich sauce for chickpeas and barley in this hearty plant-based dish.
Today’s recipe is based on a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, Anatolian Red Lentil Stew with Wheat Berries and Chickpeas, which I wound up adapting more than I meant to.
The first adaptation was out of necessity: I didn’t have wheat berries so I used barley instead, and I served it over rice (jasmine rice) because I felt it could use more grain.
The second adaptation was out of ignorance: I assumed that one regular-sized eggplant could substitute for 2 small ones, but only after making the recipe did I read the introduction to it in which Ms. Jaffrey states that “you may use a 4-ounce portion” of a larger eggplant. Oops! I used a lot more than 4 ounces. (But perhaps I would have anyway; I’m all about getting as much vegetables into a dish as possible, and eggplant sauce certainly achieves that.)
And of course I left out the 1/4 cup of olive oil the recipe called for; I’m so used to leaving out oil that I hardly think of that as an adaptation anymore.
The next change came mid-way through the recipe when I saw that the “stew” was much more like a soup, so I added a second can of chickpeas. (I would have added more barley too, if I had had any more cooked.)
Finally, the most important change came at the end, when I tasted the stew: It was so bland that I had to add some spices or else risk not being able to eat it. The original was seasoned only with dried mint (I used fresh), but I added cumin and red pepper flakes–and it still could have used more seasoning. After so many changes, I didn’t feel it was right to call this “Anatolian” or Turkish or even stew.
On the positive side, my daughter E liked it and didn’t even realize she was eating eggplant (it’s blended into the sauce). Sometimes blended food has its benefits! I invite you to take this recipe and add to it whatever spices fit your mood.
Chickpeas and Barley in Red Lentil and Eggplant Sauce
- 1/4 cup barley
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 medium-large eggplant peeled and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dried red lentils (masoor dal)
- 5 cups vegetable broth may use cooking liquid from home-cooked chickpeas for part of this
- 4 tablespoons fresh mint minced (or 2 tbsp. dried)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 cans, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- Cook the barley in water until it’s tender. I used a rice cooker to do this and wound up adding 3 or more cups of water as it all boiled out. On the stove-top, it will probably take a little less water. (Feel free to do this ahead of time; I did it the day before.)
- Heat a non-stick dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the eggplant and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the tomato paste and the lentils; stir to combine and add 4 cups of the vegetable broth and the mint. Reduce the heat and cook until the lentils are tender (20 minutes on my stove, 40 minutes according to the original recipe).
- When the lentils are tender, use a hand blender to blend the sauce right in the pot. If you don’t have a hand blender, transfer in batches to a regular blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return it to the pot and add the extra cup of broth (if you used a regular blender, use the water to rinse the sauce residue back into the pot).
- Taste and add as much salt as you like. Add the cumin and red pepper and stir in the drained barley and chickpeas. Simmer for 15 minutes and add lemon juice and additional salt (if needed) just before serving with parsley sprinkled on top. Serve over rice, if desired.
Nutritional info is approximate.