My family is utterly boring when it comes to celebrating New Year's Eve.
Admittedly, we're boring about celebrating holidays in general, but the closest we've come to a New Year's tradition is a habit of nodding off before the New Year is actually rung in. Sometimes we watch the fireworks, but mostly, we're dead to the world when the clock ticks over. New Year's dinner is only noteworthy for its complete lack of noteworthiness: we eat a perfectly ordinary meal, or else we opt for (vaguely dissatisfying) takeout.
It's quite clear that if I'm ever going to have any New Year's traditions worth mentioning, I'm either going to have to make up my own, or appropriate someone else's. The latter is easier than the former, of course. There's no shortage of food-related traditions, so it's a question of choosing one that appeals.
This stew is completely meat- and dairy-free, but you'd never guess it from the flavor. The key tricks: be generous with the olive oil and seasonings, and make sure the vegetables are properly browned before you add the lentils.
While this stew is perfectly good on its own, it also makes a nice side dish for pork or fish.
(Makes about four portions if eaten plain, and six portions as a side. Will freeze.)
First, the mirepoix. Start by finely chopping one large yellow onion. Rinse one celery heart. Peel two cloves of garlic. Peel three medium-sized carrots.
Heat a generous splash of olive oil in heavy-bottomed pan with lid over very low heat. Add the onion. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon.
Dice the celery. Add it to the pan. Sprinkle over a fat pinch of salt. Sprinkle over dried rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano. (A herb blend also works.) Add one bay leaf. Stir.
Mince the garlic, add it to the pan. Grind over a generous quantity of black pepper. Stir.
Dice the carrots; add them to the pan. Stir. The mixture should smell fragrant; if it doesn't, add more herbs.
Keep the pan over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to go dry. The pan will develop a rich brown coating on the bottom; this is exactly what you're looking for. Continue giving it an occasional stir; pay close attention once the onions have browned. When it looks as though your vegetables might scorch, add a splash of water, scraping up any stuck-on browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Add one pound of cooked lentils (or half a pound of soaked dried lentils). Pour over enough water to cover. Cook at a simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, then uncover and reduce until there is only a little liquid in the pan. Check for salt and pepper; adjust to taste. Serve warm.