12 hour rich lentil ragu, 29p [VG/V/DF] [slow cooker]

Cooking anything for 12 hours, when on the most stringent of budgets, sounds like an eye-popping luxury, but fear not bootstrap fans, there’s only as many hours actual cooking as you want to stretch to, and done in a slow cooker, it costs less than keeping a lightbulb on. For the last few years readers have been asking me to venture into slow cooker recipes, and mine is this this nifty little £12 number from Wilko (no I’m not on commission, unfortunately!). At 1.5l it just holds enough for a main meal for two hungry people or four smaller appetites, and I have had mine for around 4 years and it is still going strong, so it is well worth the investment if you can afford it, for what you will save in energy costs, time, effort and headspace alone. It is no big secret that I am not always in the greatest of health, mental or physical, and on low spoons days I need something that delivers the maximum nutrition on the minimum of effort; I’m sure you all have days like that too. Slinging this into the slow cooker and ignoring it delivers on that front, and is luxuriously tasty, filling, and can form the base for a soup, Bolognese, lasagne, or just eat it straight from the pan.

1 small onion or a handful of diced frozen ones, 9p (90p/1.5kg, Sainsburys Basics)
6 cloves of garlic, 12p (35p/2 bulbs, avg 10 cloves each)
1 tbsp. oil (optional), 2p (£3/3l, Sainsburys sunflower or vegetable oil)
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, 35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp. tomato ketchup, 1p (45p/460g, Sainsburys Basics)
1/2 a vegetable stock cube, 2p (35p/10, Sainsburys Basics)
200ml water
approx. 400g tin of lentils, 55p (55p/410g, Sainsburys)
a pinch of mixed dried herbs, 1p (40p/14g, Sainsburys Basics)

First turn your slow cooker on to the high heat. Peel and finely slice the onion and toss it in to the pan. Peel the garlic cloves, halve them lengthways, and add those too. You can dice them up smaller if you like, but I personally love a soft little morsel of slowly cooked garlic melting in my mouth, a tiny nugget of soft sweet bliss, a reward for hours of cooking (even if, in this case, it is not particularly laborious, I am practically a dog, and will work for treats…)

Add the oil, tomatoes and tomato ketchup, and crumble in the stock cube. Pour in the water, and give it all a stir. Cook for an hour on high heat, then reduce to low for 3-11 hours more, depending on how much time and patience you have! The longer it is cooked, the sweeter and more caramelly the taste, but it starts to come into its own around the third hour and just improves from there. However long you decide to cook it for, drain and rinse the lentils half an hour before the end and crank the heat up to high again to soften them and start to break them down, and then serve. Delicious with pasta or rice, or stuffed into wraps, layered into a lasagne, or used as the base for a casserole or stew.

Jack Monroe.

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  1. This looks great! I’ve been trying to find some veggie recipes for the slow cooker I bought a few months back, and this definitely fits the bill

  2. I did this but without the lentils and left it for 20 hours. You are an absolute genius! It was my best pasta sauce, hands down, that I have ever made!! Thank you for being awesome xx

    • I’ve never pre-cooked or soaked lentils for the slow cooker and it’s fine usually. I use the green/puy ones for this kind of dish and red ones for stews and things.

  3. Looks fantastic. Trying it as a lasagne base is tempting! Any more thoughts about the lentils? – canned ones are expensive here. Is the reason for not using dry lentils (much cheaper here) the extra cooking time? I often use (dry) split red lentils which are cheap and cook fast.

    • You would have to boil them first and scrape off the scum, then rinse and add to the pot, so yes they would be cheaper but not as simple as the one-pot version. I do normally advocate the dried lentils over tinned but wanted to strike a balance between ‘very simple’ and ‘very cheap’ here 🙂

      • Thanks. I’ve found other lentils need more rinsing and cooking/boiling but have had good results from red lentils when just giving them a thorough cold rinse (through a sieve) first and then adding them to a slow cooker recipe or a curry on the stove. I’ll experiment and try to remember to let you know how it goes! Thanks again for another great recipe.

  4. Has anyone made this with dried lentils rather than canned? Dried red lentils are so much cheaper and I always have them in my cupboard. I’d like to give it a try, but not sure at what point I should add them in?

    • I made this yesterday – was out working for 12 hours and it was lovely to come home to. I used a big shake of puy lentils (maybe 2-300g?), as that’s what I had in the cupboard, it all went in together in the morning and the lentils held their shape beautifully. We had it with spaghetti and grated cheese, it was delicious.
      Always keen to learn good, reliable slow cooker recipes – I struggle with things that can stay cooking for 12 hours without being over-done.

  5. This is my go-to recipe for my kids, they love it! I use half green lentils, half pearl barley and add a diced carrot. I also add a teaspoon of smoked paprika to give it more of a meaty flavour. Sometimes I add sausages and sometimes chuck in hotdogs near the end for the kids. I’m addicted to my slow cooker and have a 6l one so have any leftovers cold for lunch the next day. Perfect comfort food, love that you’re doing it too!

  6. I’ve done black beans from dried in the slow cooker in 8 hours so I’m sure dried lentils would be fine in this – I never bother pre-soaking or rinsing. Haven’t tried this yet but will definitely try it out as I’m trying to eat less meat st the moment and am experimenting with pulses so this is perfect. Thanks Jack.

  7. When will your new book be available to buy Jack, got your others, they are great and I love your recipes, who needs all the palava with loads of expensive ingredients xxxx

  8. I think you’re too worried about the scum with dried lentils. Just shove ’em in! The only thing I would warn people about is that you MUSN’T use kidney beans in a slow cooker without soaking them overnight and boiling them for 10 mins first. This prep destroys the phytohemagglutinin in the beans which is otherwise toxic.

  9. Thanks you! We all get those off days Jack, I am having one at the moment! Luckily I have all the bits but I will have to use dried red lentils .My emergency cupboard has these items so I will make this later.I call these days staying at home in pyjamas watching loads of Dvds and a few hot water bottles. Love my 2 slow cookers!

      • … I had to re-read the recipe to see what needed conversion as I couldn’t remember anything that did. One of the great things about Jack’s cooking style is that it uses great flavours and easy ingredients but doesn’t require precision of measurement of technical ability (Jack: please read that as the compliment it is intended as – making cooking simple enough not to turn off “the masses” due to over-complication is a huge skill!). There is a tin of each lentils and tomatoes in this – no measuring required – so the only thing needing measuring really is the water. Call it a smallish cup and you don’t even need google! !

  10. ive been chucking split dried red lentils into the slow cooker forever , we havent died . I would pre soak and rinse anything else but them .

  11. I wouldn’t be without my slow cookers. I have three – one is just a base on which you put a pot, and I use all kinds of pots on it, including ones much bigger than it was designed for. It’s 250w, so a little hot but cooks in a couple of hours. The others are 1970s Tower slow cookers in ceramic that I bought off Ebay for peanuts. These are only 50w, so they take a lot longer to cook, but you do get a better flavour. I also use the ‘duvet’ method of cooking – bring everything to the boil, boil it for a few minutes, then wrap it in a duvet and leave it for a few hours. In practice, I now only cook a main meal once or twice a week: I just add curry spices or chilli to liven up the same dish when it’s served up multiple times, and serve it with different things: rice, bread, potatoes, etc, to ring the changes. The flavour improves as the week goes on (it gets fridged in between, obviously).

  12. Hi jack, so lovely to see this fab slow cooker recipe, I use ours year round, even in our blistering heat, love love love lentils. Have a lovely day.

  13. I have been a fan for a while, and I couldn’t be happier with the slow cooker recipe ideas. I make a mean baked ziti recipe in my slow cooker, and it gets me through the nights when I don’t have time, or don’t want to cook for myself. Plus it’s pure comfort food, and it makes a great lunch for me, and can be eaten hot or cold. If you have the time, I would appreciate your take on slow cooker recipes. Cheers.

  14. Looks wonderful, just one question. Would this be ok to freeze? I was given an unused slow cooker but it’s big so I just shove the rest in the freezer, great for no spoon days. Thank you Jack.

  15. Sort of thing I do all the time. I have two slow cookers, one for meat (hubby) and on for me (veggie). I would just bung the dried lentils in at the start, add a little more water so it doesn’t boil dry and”Bob’s your uncle”. Love your recipes Jack.

  16. In hour 3 & smells great. Just added a load of grated, I find it does go nice a creamy with home-made pasta sauces & a way to get veg in especially into a toddler. Like in some previous comments it great to have slow cooker meals which are reliable. I often work long shifts & it’s important to eat properly as frequently quick snacking is not healthy nor nutritious. I am also completely hopeless when it comes to ‘doing’ my own beans so I do opt for the ready sorted otherwise I just have a lot of waste. I look forward to dipping into other recipes :-).

  17. Hi Jack, I’ve used this recipe a few times now and it’s absolutely delicious! I’m so glad I stumbled across it, thank you for posting. I’m just wondering if it’s alright to freeze?

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