Lentils cacciatore is a one-pot, cozy sauce with deep flavors for a comforting vegan meal using ingredients you likely already have on hand.
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⭐ Recipe Highlights
In Italian cuisine, cacciatore is a dish prepared 'hunter-style' with onions, herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, and sometimes wine. We’re going to hit all those ingredients, sans the hunter part. Unless, of course, hunting means searching for that bag of red lentils in your pantry.
I can’t speak to the hunting aspect of this meatless meal, but if you’re hungry and in a hurry, this is a great choice. It takes about 35 – 40 minutes, including preparing vegetables and gathering ingredients.
📋 Notes on Ingredients
Red Lentils cook down to create a creamier sauce than green or brown lentils. You can use different lentils if you want more texture for this dish. If you do, you may need extra time and extra liquid to get them tender.
Rosemary is the main spice for this recipe, although I added red chili flakes as well. You’ll find rosemary crushed, as flakes or whole, dried seeds. Either can be used. Let’s make it easy, use equal amounts, 1 tablespoon. If you use fresh rosemary, add 1 ½ tablespoon. Dried herbs and spices are generally more potent.
Wine (or broth if you choose) is for deglazing. That’s the process where you add liquid to a heated pan to pick up all the tasty, caramelized bits on the bottom. This stops the cooking process momentarily to prevent burning. We love the flavor that red wine brings to this pot. If you opt not to use wine, you can deglaze the pot with vegetable broth or even a mix of water with a teaspoon of soy sauce or vegan Worcestershire sauce.
Shallots. Shallots have a nice mellow flavor. No shallots? No problem. Use a small red or yellow onion. Cut it from stem to end, then slice the halves into half-moons.
Capers. Capers are a little like tiny pickles but have an entirely different flavor -lemony, olive-like, and salty. ¼ of a cup won’t overwhelm the other flavors. Some cacciatore recipes use green (or sometimes) black olives. You can add them or substitute them for the capers in this recipe if you like. We skipped them to keep the fat content of this recipe down.
Tomatoes. Canned tomatoes will provide a much deeper flavor than fresh; however, you can substitute fresh tomatoes if that’s what you have on hand. Use 2 cups of diced tomatoes and increase the tomato paste by 1 tablespoon.
🔪 Pro Tips
Gather all the ingredients before you start cooking. Have everything ready before you start cooking. You won’t have much time to search for that missing rosemary before the shallots burn.
Start by heating the pot before adding the shallots, peppers, and carrots. This helps prevent them from sticking or disintegrating. This is an essential technique for successful no-oil sauteing. Although sometimes, you may want to add a tablespoon of broth or water, in this case, the red peppers will have sufficient moisture to aid this endeavor.
Usually, I'd suggest sauteing the garlic for 30 seconds. In this recipe, you'll add garlic along with the rosemary, chili flakes, capers, and tomato paste. Stir all the ingredients. Then allow the tomato paste to cook for at least a minute. You're using the pan's heat to reduce and concentrate the paste.
Let the wine cook down, and the alcohol dissipate, then add the tomatoes. I used canned cherry tomatoes, so I needed to use the back of a wooden spoon to crush them a bit. Your other option is to use crushed tomatoes. Let the tomatoes cook for 5 minutes to reduce and concentrate their flavor.
Add the rinsed lentils and vegetable broth. You can cover the pot or leave it uncovered. I usually cook lentils uncovered, or at the least, cock the lid. That’s because I can easily control the heat and not have to clean the stovetop. That’s my technique for mitigating my propensity for distraction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unlike dried beans, all lentils, including split or whole lentils, do not need to be soaked. Rinse them and remove any stones or discolored lentils. Then, cook them. Allow 15-20 minutes of cooking time for split red lentils. Add another 5-10 minutes for whole lentils. Add more broth or water if needed until the lentils are tender.
Although it won’t save you any time making this recipe in the Instant Pot, you can use it. Follow the recipe instructions, except turn off the pot after adding the red wine. Then, add the broth, and clear the bottom of the pot before adding the lentils. Cook the lentils on high pressure for 5 minutes, then allow it to release for 10 minutes naturally. Be sure to stir it well.
Often, this dish will be too thick rather than too thin. But, if you misjudge the amount of broth or lentils and the dish is too thin, uncover the pot and let the lentils simmer for a few more minutes. Red lentils will get thicker as they cool.
🍴 Serving Suggestions
Cacciatore is one of those meals that is surprisingly filling. Serious comfort food. We enjoy it with pasta, although it’s equally yummy with rice.
Consider the timing of the pasta and rice. You may want to start the rice before starting the cacciatore, depending on what kind you use. I filled the pasta pot with water before cooking and heated it right before adding the lentils and broth.
🌡️ Storage & Reheating
Store leftovers (with or without pasta) in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 5 days. For best results, freeze the sauce without the pasta. It will stay fresh for up to 3 months.
Reheat the cacciatore sauce on the stove or in the microwave. Add a bit of vegetable broth or water, as the lentils will thicken after cooling.