Harissa-stewed lentils with pickled fennel salad makes the humble legume feel downright swanky. This hearty plant-based meal is brimming with nutrients and will satisfy both vegetarians and omnivores alike. I could wax poetic about this recipe all day long. It is quite honestly my favorite plant-based recipe to date. It strikes the perfect balance of hearty and light, fiery and cooling, and comforting yet nutritious.
And since anything stewed is always going to taste better the next day, it makes the most incredible leftovers. I’ve been eating it for days and still get equally excited for the next round of leftovers (which is so unlike me). So even if you’re cooking for one, I can promise you that none of this will go to waste. One of the secret ingredients to achieving supreme depth in this recipe is tomato paste. It’s probably one of the most underappreciated pantry items, yet one of the best flavor boosters in your arsenal.
To unlock its full flavor potential, cook it with your olive oil and vegetables in a skillet over medium heat until the paste caramelizes and turns deep crimson, about 2 to 3 minutes. The rich umami punch it adds to sauces, braises, and stews is unrivaled. Especially paired with smoky-spicy harissa (made from a variety of dried chili peppers, garlic, and spices) and toasted fennel seeds. I’m literally salivating. Even though the harissa lends a very subdued heat, a cooling, crunchy topper marks a beautiful breakthrough moment. And if you’ve never experimented with fennel before, this pickled fennel salad is a foolproof gateway recipe to try. Think of the salad as a palate cleanser to balance the heartiness of the stewed lentils. Combined with fresh mint and creamy Greek yogurt, each bite strikes the perfect balance of flavors and textures.
I used red lentils here but they are more or less interchangeable with brown and green ones. Red lentils are pretty quick cooking—they take about 20 minutes, whereas brown or green may take up to 30 minutes. Both of these varieties are similar in that when the skin splits, it breaks down quickly and the lentils can turn a little mushy. You actually want to lean into that mushiness because it acts as a thickening agent.
Both varieties are fiber-and-protein-packed and serve as the ultimate weeknight dinner heroes.Never has such a hearty, flavorful, and warming meal come together with such ease and stollen my heart quite like this one. And I know you will absolutely love it, too.
- 1 medium fennel bulb, shaved or sliced thin, fronds reserved
- ¾ cup white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1¼ tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. harissa spice
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 cup red, brown, or green lentils
- 1 (14.5-oz.) can petit diced tomatoes
- 3 cups lower-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup fresh torn mint leaves
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- Bring vinegar, sugar, 1 tsp. of the salt, and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour vinegar mixture over fennel in a bowl or large glass measuring cup. Let cool to room temperature while preparing lentils.
- Toast fennel seeds in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; roughly chop. Set aside.
- Increase heat to medium and add 1 Tbsp. of the oil to the pan. Add onions, bell pepper, and remaining ¼ tsp. salt; cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic, tomato paste, harissa spice, red pepper flakes, and reserved minced fennel seeds. Cook 2 minutes, stirring often, until tomato paste turns deep crimson in color. Add lentils, diced tomatoes, and broth; bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until lentils absorb most of the liquid and become tender.
- Pour fennel through a strainer and discard pickling liquid; transfer fennel to a bowl. Add mint leaves, reserved fennel fronds, almonds, and remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Season with black pepper and additional salt, if desired.
- Top lentils with dollops of Greek yogurt and pickled fennel salad. Serve immediately.
If packing for leftovers, reserve yogurt and fennel salad for right before serving.