Meatless Monday – Lentil Soup

The fickle spring weather turned chilly again just as half our family returned from a house building week in Mexico, overtired and weezy from dust. I decided a hearty pot of lentil soup might do the trick: warm and comforting, restorative in the best ways.

Ten years ago I couldn’t tell you if I had ever eaten a lentil. A new friend brought over a package of lentils as a salad additive and I looked at them as if she’d handed me a seed packet; they might do something great, but I have No Idea what to do with them…

These days lentils are one of my go-to ingredients. They’re easy, yummy, eat them simply or add them to almost whatever. Inexpensive and healthy to boot.

But there are lentil soups and more lentil soups. I’ve made many and they’re good, fine, meh. I needed a better-than-the-rest lentil soup to clear away the fog and funk. I read several recipes, improved on the base of one with additives from others, and I think I’ve got it.

It began with this recipe. I’d bought celery special–I wanted, expected, celery in my lentil soup. Onion, carrot, celery: the essentials, right? Add lentils, veggie broth, some spices, and you’re right on track.

So I checked other recipes, compared ratios, and added celery. I omitted the oil and salt, because why add them? The canned tomatoes and veggie broth add enough salt to flavor. Then I found a perfect zucchini in the crisper. Why not add zucchini to a lentil soup? Maybe that’s a little ‘minestrone’ of me, but I tell you, it worked. And if I hadn’t had a zucchini, I would have added a drained and rinsed can of garbanzo beans. More veggie goodness = great!

And then I oops-ed by confusing curry powder with ground cumin, almost the same color. The ratios were meant to be two teaspoons of one and one of the other, but I did two of the wrong one…and found out it wasn’t wrong. To the contrary, it was just more right.

A couple of weeks ago, Tween and I were watching a cooking show. Of course they were preparing some dish, or many, that included meat. He commented, “Sometimes I wish I could eat meat. I might like to try something like that.”

I get it, Buddy. I really do. I ate meat for 20+ years of my life until I gradually realized I didn’t any more. And now I don’t, and don’t want to.

I told my kiddo: “You know, their food probably tastes great. But it’s not as healthy for their bodies or the planet. And because they eat meat they eat less veggies, which are better for bodies and the planet. I truly believe they are missing out. Not us.”

This lentil soup reminds me of that conversation. The desire for a fab lentil soup elicited greater creativity and led me to a fab end result. I’m not missing out. Not at all.

This past weekend Teen came home early from an event and put himself to bed because he felt so sick. The next day I discovered the truth: he wanted to try it, so he’d had a few bites of chicken. However, his system didn’t want it, and those bites of chicken are still biting back three days later. (In terms of rebellious teen behavior, I don’t feel too badly…)

As he recovers, you know what he asked for? Another favorite veggie soup. Bring it on!

Lentil Soup
Serves 4-6

2 c medium yellow or white onion, diced
2 c carrots, peeled and diced
2 c celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c zucchini, diced (optional, or sub 1 can drained/rinsed chickpeas)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 c brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 c vegetable broth
1 ¼ c water
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 c chopped fresh collard greens or kale, tough ribs removed; option to sub chopped spinach
Juice of ½ to 1 medium lemon, to taste

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add chopped onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini (or chickpeas), cumin, curry powder, and thyme. Stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add undrained tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often.

Pour in lentils, broth, and water. Add red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Remove pot from heat. Using a stick blender, gently pulse to puree some of the soup. Alternately, transfer 2 c of soup to a blender and purée until smooth, then pour puréed soup back into the pot. Add chopped greens and stir until wilted.

Remove the pot from heat and stir in the juice of half of a lemon. Taste and season with pepper and/or lemon juice until the flavors really sing. Serve immediately.

Note: Produce varies wildly by size. For me, this recipe was about 1/2 of a large onion, 2 exceptionally fat carrots, and 6-ish skinny celery stalks. So I approximated about 2 cups of each. If you have a little more or less of an ingredient, you’re fine. Also, if you have a 28-oz can of tomatoes, just add a little more water or broth. Don’t sweat yourself, just sweat the veggies 😉

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Meatless Monday – Farro & Kale Soup

A friend sent the best kind of text. She asked when I could be available to come for dinner; she had a vegan recipe she wanted to make for girls’ night. Count me in!

She set the table with a charming quilt she’d made and heirloom china, beautiful plates with a raised spot for a tea cup in which she served soup. She had veganized a recipe she’d tried a few times to good results, and we went back for more and more and more–dainty cups couldn’t contain enough hearty veggie goodness. The kale for the soup came from her garden; so did the lettuce in the salad, to which she added strawberries, walnuts, and avocado. Another friend came straight from her shift at a local winery toting a couple of bold reds. With inviting hospitality, good friends, delicious food and drink, this weeknight could not have been any better.

Before grocery shopping this weekend, I noticed that the weather report indicated another cold front approaching. Indeed, today on this first day of spring the skies have again turned gray and wet, which makes it a perfect soup night. I bought butternut squash, already cubed because I couldn’t find whole, but forgot the kale. Imagine my delight when I came home to find a bundle of fresh kale on my doorstep, yet one more gift from my friend.

Farro & Kale Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 c butternut squash, peeled & cubed
pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, to taste
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c farro
6 c reduced sodium vegetable broth (I use Better Than Bouillon reduced-sodium vegetable base)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
2-3 c kale, spines removed & leaves chopped

On a roasting  pan, drizzle cubed squash with oil and sprinkle with pepper and 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb mix). Roast for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. (Note: you could skip this step, but roasting brings out so much fabulous flavor that I think it’s worth it. If you add squash straight to the pot, you might need to add another 5 minutes or so to the total cooking time).

In a large stock pot, saute onion for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add farro and toss to coat. Add broth, roasted squash, tomatoes, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover, simmering until farro is cooked, about 25 minutes. Stir in kale and simmer until wilted, about 2 minutes (if you’re not serving right away, you can add kale and remove pot from heat; leave covered until ready to serve). Adjust seasonings to taste.

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Meatless Monday – Baked Falafel

We eat a lot of salads. Many days we have two, one for lunch and another for dinner, and if you consider green smoothies a pureed salad, then that would make three. Teen prefers a salad in his lunch over the more traditional PBJ or bagel school lunch. And I still remember with pride the time Tween’s preschool buddy’s mom remarked that she could not believe that Tween asked for and ate a salad during a playdate at her house. I know my schedule is out of whack when I ‘forget’ to have a salad for a few days–usually it means stress has me craving something less healthy.

And so we constantly look for ways to jazz up our salads, switching up lettuces and toppings. One of my new fav things to make at home: falafel. The recipe makes a bunch, and it’s easy to boot. Most of the ingredients are staples in our house, so the only “extras” I need at the store are the fresh herbs, both parsley and cilantro.

The last time I made them I also tried a spicy green sauce which worked as a salad dressing and a taco sauce, slathered on dry pan toasted corn tortillas. While a basic vinaigrette works perfectly for the salad, this green sauce took the falafel taco to a whole new level that makes the extra step worthwhile.

Baked Falafel
Makes approx. 30 falafel

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, rough chopped
6 cloves garlic
½ c fresh parsley
½ c fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp arrowroot or corn starch
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
Fresh squeezed lemon juice or water, as needed to blend ingredients

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients except juice/water in a food processor and process. Add lemon juice or water as necessary to keep ingredients moving, just don’t get them too wet. Leave a little texture to the beans.

Shape the mixture into balls; a small cookie scoop makes this easy peasy. Space them evenly on baking sheets, and bake for 25 minutes. Check the falafel. If you can, turn them over (I have never succeeded in doing so). If not, swap the trays to bake all falafel evenly. Bake for another 15-25 minutes, checking occasionally. The edges will darken though the middles will still be soft.

Because these are baked and not deep fried, they will be soft and not as crunchy. The last time Guy and I hit up a Greek restaurant, I ordered a falafel wrap–and was surprised that I now prefer the baked version!

(Based on a recipe from Forks Over Knives website)

Green Tahini Sauce

3 garlic cloves
1/2 c fresh cilantro
1/2 c fresh parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
1/2 c tahini
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (add more to taste)
water to blend

In a food processor, pulse first five ingredients to form a pesto. Add tahini and lemon juice and pulse. Slowly drizzle in more water (or juice) to form a thick salad dressing consistency.

Unless you use it as a party dip, this recipe may make more than you can use on one occasion. To freshen up leftovers, stir in a little more lemon juice.

(Based on a recipe from Epicurious)

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Meatless Monday – Berry Baked Oatmeal

Apparently today is National Strawberry Day, and who among us doesn’t love strawberries? I started my day with a green smoothie–spinach, pineapple, strawberries, and ginger, blended with water–and plan to end it with a fresh spinach and strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette served alongside leek and potato soup.

I discovered this recipe in something of a panic: I had to bring something to a women’s group gathering. I already had something store-bought to share and wanted something homemade to go with it. I didn’t want to make another trip to the store, so what–oh what?–could I make with on-hand ingredients?

Have I mentioned UC Davis Integrative Medicine? They promote a plant-based diet as the number one way to successfully prevent, halt or reverse serious health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They post current nutrition research and lots of delicious recipes. Really, I’ve tried a bunch of their recipes and feel A-OK recommending them as a reliable site for yummy goodness.

I’d just received an email with their Top 10 breakfasts and Berry Baked Oatmeal was on the list. I modified it (of course I did), mostly because I needed to feed more than two. The girls chowed down the whole dish (one said, “I thought it was just another fruit crisp but it’s more than that!”) so I made it again last night as dessert to serve friends. Tween refused to go to bed before he’d had two helpings.

To be honest, I didn’t use strawberries. I used frozen mixed berries–blueberries, raspberries and blackberries–but absolutely you could use strawberries, especially if you cut them into smaller bites. I also started with frozen bananas, microwaved for 30 seconds at a time until I could easily mash them. Why? Because my kids are super-picky about bananas and will only eat them just-turned-yellow (maybe still slightly green). When they get spots I peel them, cut them in half, and toss them in a ziplock in the freezer to use in smoothies.

And I give you permission right now to customize, as I did. If you want strawberries, go for it. Only one kind of berry, that’s fine, or add some chopped apples for extra crunch. Don’t like craisins? Use raisins instead, or another dried fruit–chopped dried apricots, or dates, or a combo. Add some toasted unsweetened coconut. Use a different sweetener or none at all. You can sub different nuts or leave them out, too; I made an individual ramekin-portion for a nut-free friend. Make it your own, but make it!berry-baked-oatmeal

Berry Baked Oatmeal
Serves 6-8

2 heaping cups of berries, fresh or frozen
1 orange, cut in half
1 Tbsp fresh-grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon, divided use
3-4 ripe bananas
½ c craisins (or other dried fruit)
½ c chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 c gluten-free rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350. Layer the bottom of a 2-qt baking dish with berries. Squeeze juice of half the orange over. Sprinkle with grated ginger and ½ tsp cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mash bananas. Add craisins, nuts, vanilla, maple syrup and stir. Add ½ tsp cinnamon, juice of remaining half of the orange, and oats; stir to combine. Top berries with oatmeal mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm.

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Meatless Monday – Cooking with Teen

Last week Teen’s senior class had a fundraiser with a local pizza place. They make a delicious deep dish spinach and mushroom pizza. And if you like, they’ll make it with whole wheat crust and vegan cheese. Yum!patxis-pizza

While I had been anticipating leftovers for dinner all day long, I returned home to find that Teen had shared my vegan pizza with his friends. My only consolation is that they ate it–and liked it! If they’d spit it out in disgust, well, then I would have been really upset.

Consequentially, Teen needed to prepare dinner for the family. He likes to cook, so this wasn’t punishment, just unusual.

He chose the menu. He invited (with permission) a cute girl to join us. I knew I’d need to play a supporting role in this endeavor, but I let him take the lead. All in the name of experience.

Teen brain + ADHD + limited experience = lots of room for learning!

He left prep for half-hour before we were supposed to eat. Dinner necessarily moved back by more than an hour.
He forgot to check for ingredients. He had to make a grocery run mid-process.
He couldn’t find ingredients in the store. He asked for help.

Now I’m thinking we need to do this more often. The meal turned out great–healthy, easy, delicious. The time together even better. The learning? Invaluable. Of course we have cooked together many times before but now, as we’re both increasingly aware that college is coming, we need to maximize both togetherness and tools for healthy eating.

He made Quinoa & Black Bean Salad (cute girl requested a quinoa salad). To round out the meal, I suggested he also make Tomato, Black Bean & Corn Soup. Because (sadly) TJ’s boxed Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup, the base for aforementioned soup, contains milk and I’m off dairy, I also made Spicy Black Bean Soup.

While he shoveled tortilla chips with green salsa into his mouth, while I sipped chardonnay, we talked and laughed. He learned that zesting a lime before juicing adds so much yum to a vinaigrette. He already knew to roll the lime before cutting to extract all its juicy goodness. He learned to consider in advance which pots and pans will be necessary to cook which dishes. He learned to judge amounts by eyeing them, and that his shakes with dried spices tend to be more generous than mine. He learned to go slowly with spices, to taste test and adjust as necessary.

Healthy meal. Time well-spent. Cute girl impressed. An all-around good evening!

Meatless Monday – Banana Oat Bran Muffins

I cannot for the life of me believe I haven’t posted this recipe! I make it all the time, for any occasion that needs a (healthy) treat and for no occasion more than having over-ripe bananas.

My friend Julie gave me this recipe years ago. All I’ve done to it is swap a flax egg for real egg, sub some of the sugar for agave, and add dark chocolate chips. Okay, if I’m feeling really wholesome (or happen to be out of chocolate chips), I’ll add berries, usually from frozen as we always have berries for smoothies. Oh, and despite the name, when I don’t have oat bran (most of the time–I keep forgetting to pick some up) I use quick oats in the same amount. No one has complained.

Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal may not be something you have on hand. I don’t typically eat processed cereal but I will occasionally pick up a box of Kashi when I’m at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried, but I’m sure you could sub another brand of crushed wheat or oat bran cereal or simply increase the amount of oat bran, oatmeal or whole wheat flour.

I made a double batch and had them in the oven as the kids came home from school today. They dove in as soon as the muffins were cool enough to handle with exclamations of, “Oh, yah…!” They hit the spot.

banana-muffin

Banana Oat Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

3 (or so) medium bananas, mashed
1 flax egg
3/4 c unsweetened apple sauce
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c sugar
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/2 c Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal, crushed (it takes about 1 c cereal to yield 1/2 c crushed)
1/2 c oat bran
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash the bananas thoroughly and combine with the egg. Stir in apple sauce, followed by the sugar, vanilla, Kashi, and oat bran. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda, and add dry ingredients to banana mixture. Divide into muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes.

Meatless Monday – Roasted Veggie Marinara

Some days food is about sustenance. It has to be easy, quick, just satisfying enough. I was sick last week and no way was I going to spend extra time on my feet and in the kitchen when I really needed to stay in bed. That’s when I’m grateful for a husband and kids who know their own way around the kitchen. And food in the freezer. And easy food. Brown rice and a few chopped veggies + soy sauce = Asian bowl. Whole wheat tortilla, hummus, fresh spinach and those same chopped veggies = veggie wrap. That kinda thing.

We also had some grape tomatoes edging their way out. Roasting veggies is about the easiest food prep ever. I put the tomatoes in a bowl and added rough chopped red onion and baby bell peppers. I peeled some garlic and left the cloves whole. No measurements, because it’s about the look of the mix–mostly tomatoes, with a good assortment of complementary veggies (okay, guessing, about 1/2 of a large red onion and 5-6 baby peppers, which might be 1 whole large pepper, erring on the side of a lot of garlic!). I tossed them with olive oil, a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute and red chili flakes and roasted at 400 for about 20 minutes. I checked them and gave them a little more time. This isn’t rocket science, just roasted veggies.roasted-veggie-sauce

When the tomatoes were beginning to blister, I threw the whole gorgeous lot into a stock pot. I added two 16 oz cans of chopped tomatoes in their juice and brought to a simmer. I splashed in some red wine from an open bottle, about 1/3 cup. I drizzled in a little more olive oil. I may have added some extra spices to taste–oregano, basil, etc–but brain in the clouds, I wasn’t really keeping track. I could have added a few handfuls of spinach, but forgot. When it was all hot and smelled amazing, I used my stick blender to puree it into sauce. Meanwhile I had made some whole wheat spaghetti. Even my kid who doesn’t love tomatoes and wouldn’t choose spaghetti marinara, pronounced it “Delicious!”

All in, it took about 5 minutes to prep veggies for roasting. Another 3 to get the sauce and pasta going. That’s about as easy as it gets.

Some days food has to be easy. Other days food makes the party. Today was a no-school day for our kids, and one of our family traditions has been making those days special. The challenge: adolescents who would rather play video games and watch YouTube than hang out with their parents. Forced family fun has its time, but today wasn’t it. So tonight, dinner will make the party. We’re doing Build Your Own Pizzas, with fresh dough from Trader Joe’s and–did you guess?–the leftover marinara sauce. I’m sure one kid will go all cheese. The other will go light on cheese and sprinkle on veggies. Mine will be sauce, no cheese, lots of veggies: more garlic, zucchini, red onion, artichoke hearts, olives, mushrooms. Almost as easy and more fun than take-out.

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