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Hobo Stew

Hobo Stew for Pete Seeger

As a guy who hopped trains with Woody Guthrie and hung out at migrant camps, Seeger would have known — and probably ate — a fair amount of Hobo Stew. Also called Mulligan stew, it was canned beans and cadged vegetables heated over an open fire. It has a million variations, including some with canned meat, but it’s always cheap and improvised. This version is more elaborate, still cheap and, of course, meatless. Make it at a campsite, in a kitchen or on a hotplate. Sing when you’re cooking. It’ll taste even better.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika smoked is especially nice
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped or 1 15-ounce can chopped fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes optional, but I like it
  • 1 big handful fresh mint leaves chopped
  • 1 big handful fresh parsley leaves chopped
  • 1 bunch kale spinach, arugula, chard, any kind of fresh leafy green, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and pepper and stir in the cumin and paprika. Stir together and continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes.
  • Pour in lentils and stir for a minute or so, until they get a nice luster from the oil. Add the water and tomato paste and the chopped tomatoes. Stir so everyone is happy together.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and leave everyone to get acquainted for about 12-15 minutes. This is all the time red lentils need to cook.
  • Check the pot and make sure all the liquid has been absorbed and lentils are paler and tender.
  • Then add the mint, parsley and fresh greens by the handful, stirring gently to combine. Watch how the greens become “cooked” by the heat of the lentils and onion. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Enjoy hot or at room temperature. It keeps covered for several days, and the flavor improves.