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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Sweet Sugar-Free Life

At various points we all face the challenge of pain: do we make desperate attempts to escape, endure with a stiff upper lip, or work towards healthy change? Even when it’s uncomfortable, most of us tend to stick with the status quo until we simply can’t anymore. Today’s guest post might be that dose of creative courage someone needs to make transformative, life-giving change.

re:create recess #3: Cara Meredith

It all started with a question, an unknown, a search for answers.

“Do you think sugar is the cause of your inflammation?” my best friend asked me. I’d been off gluten for eight months by that point, convinced following the Whole 30 diet that gluten was the cause of joint inflammation in my back.

But an intolerable ache had returned. For nearly three years, I’d woken up almost every night with back pain – and I was done being sleepless in Seattle. Done with heating pads and moving to the couch and popping Ibuprofen at 3am because the pain kept me from sleeping.

So, I stopped eating sugar the next morning.

Like, cold-turkey stopped eating almost all processed foods (because, y’all, sugar is in everything), stopped slurping down a daily glass of wine, stopped adding a spoonful of sweet goodness to my coffee in the morning.berry-sugar

And for the first time in a long, long time, I slept through the night.

“It’s sugar!” I shouted into the phone, to my sister, my brother, my parents and every other family member who’s struggled with inflammation due to arthritis.

“It’s sugar!” I said to the rheumatologist, and she shook her head vehemently: that was NOT the cause of my pain. 

“It’s sugar!” I texted and tweeted and whispered to anyone who’d pay heed and give me the time of day.

This new journey of living a sugar-free life has been the new normal for two months now – so much so that eating this way has sparked a world of creativity within me. I read every label. I fill my grocery cart with whole, natural foods. And unlike before – when I dieted to lose weight, when I ate a certain way to avoid gestational diabetes, when I cooked according to doctor’s orders – this time in the kitchen has shaped and formed me in a new way.

Because this time, the impetus for eating this way is entirely mine. I’m not eating differently because someone else tells me I should, but I’m eating differently because I want to – and somehow, when the onus is on me, it’s easier and better and maybe, just maybe, more sustainable in the long run.

And it’s like I’ve been born again, but with wooden spoons and coconut oil and a handful of snow peas as my spiritual companions.

I look forward to Sundays, when I sit down with a stack of torn pages from magazines and cookbooks and online food blogs, and create the week’s meals. I look forward to heading to the grocery store in the afternoon, and filling my card with spinach and yellow bell peppers and a pound of fresh jumbo shrimp to boot. And I look forward to creating a holy mess in the kitchen, as I prep Mason jar salads to eat every day that week for lunch and a feast of sugar-free goodness for dinner that night.

Creating is no longer limited to the time I spend in front of the computer with my words, even though that is oftentimes one of my most creative spaces.

But now it extends to my hands and to my mouth and to my stomach – when I hold the knife, chopping, dicing, slicing, and when I extend a bowl of steaming broccoli cheddar soup to my lips, and when my insides smile at healthy food consumed.

Because for the time being, I have answers to the questions I’ve been asking.

And that, I declare, is good. 

cmeredith

 

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from Seattle, Washington. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can connect with her on her blogFacebook, and Twitter.

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 – 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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Meatless Monday – The Greenest Soup

It was one of those weeks when the Universe declared, “Your plans be damned!”

Extra meetings. Tasks took too long. Hormones flared. Perfectionism roared. Memories failed. Schedules ran amok. The internet went down at work and, as soon as it was restored, it went down at home: three repairmen in three days, to discover that the service we’ve been paying for – for years! – is not available at our home due to lack of wiring. You’d think the company would know that…

But we had spectacular weather. After a week of downpours we enjoyed bright blue skies, light breezes, and itchy eyes from pollen storms produced by gorgeous bursting blooms. I even got a little too much sun during an outdoor lunch break.

Spring arrived yesterday and brought with it more rain. California is still trying to recover from disastrous drought so I say, “Bring it on!”

Besides, cold weather means more soup days! I had intended to post this recipe last Monday in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. Not because it’s traditional, but because it is So Green. Truly, the greenest soup. And it’s delicious. If you want something a little more Irish-traditional, try soda bread or leek & potato soup.

But I couldn’t post last week (see above) so I’m posting today and now it is once again soup weather. See? Everything works out.

broccoli

Bsoup1Bsoup2

Thai Broccoli Soup
Serves 4-6

½ large yellow onion (approx. 1 c), diced
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, diced
1-2 Tbsp green curry paste*
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
3 c veggie broth
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 pound broccoli (approx. 4-6 c), chopped
2 c spinach leaves
1 c cilantro leaves + more for serving
Juice of ½ lime
2 scallions, shredded
¼ c peanuts, chopped (optional, for serving)

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in a large soup pot until onion begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp of water at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add coconut milk, broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the heat and add the spinach leaves and cilantro. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Juice lime into soup and top with cilantro, scallions and peanuts.

*Note: Green curry pastes can vary widely in heat! I use Thai Kitchen and noted that they recommend on the jar 1-2 Tbsp of curry paste per can of coconut milk, so that is what I used in this recipe.

Tip: Don’t toss the broccoli stems! Once you cut off the florets, use a veggie peeler to peel the tough outside of the stem, then chop and add them to the recipe as well.Bsoup3

Meatless Monday – Veggie “Meat” Balls

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and this post says “Meatless Monday.” That’s how things go sometimes, especially in a busy holiday season. No judgment, lots of grace!

Because their parents turned veggie before they were born, our kids have been vegetarian their whole lives. They’ve never had a beef burger. They’ve only had meat by accident.

At a Christmas party a year ago, Tween saw a platter of meat balls and commented aloud, “Oh, I can’t have those.” The gracious host replied, “Oh, yes, you can! They’re vegetarian.” He had one, and then another, and eventually we moved his sweet body away from the table so others could enjoy them as well.

Not long after, Friend scheduled time to teach Tween to make meatballs. Unlike his older brother, whose love for eating good food motivates him to cook good food, Tween hasn’t been overly motivated to learn to cook. But he had so much fun cooking with Friend, and I had fun watching her invest love and knowledge into her relationship with my son.meatballs in oven
meatball on spoon

As she prepared to host this year’s Christmas party, Friend invited Tween over to make another (double) batch of meatballs. For three hours they measured, chopped, sauteed, blended, stirred, and waited in expectation for that delicious first bite (Okay, it doesn’t really take three hours, but we talked and took breaks, Tween played with the dogs and the adults drank good wine – in other words, we enjoyed the process and the company).

Come party time, Tween proudly stood by the meatballs and invited guests to try them. Carnivores couldn’t believe vegetables could taste so savory-amazing. Don’t let prior experience with cardboard-tasteless, processed meat-less balls steer you away from this recipe. Try it for yourself!

Veggie “Meat” Balls

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 c Saltine crackers, finely chopped
2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1 c ground vegetable protein (such as 
Morningstar Grillers Crumbles)
4 eggs
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 c Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Use a food processor on pulse to chop Saltines, then walnuts, then onions (because dry before wet makes things easier), setting aside each ingredient as it’s done. Saute onions. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend. Use a small ice cream scoop to form walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

BBQ Sauce

1/2 c margarine
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c ketchup
2 1/2 c prepared BBQ sauce (we like 
this one)
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
2 shakes liquid smoke

Saute onions. Add remaining ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour sauce over meatballs in a casserole dish and bake at 350 until warmed through, or place in a crock pot to warm and serve.

Meatless Monday – Getting Saucy

The best part of a veggie Thanksgiving meal? Not spending All Day Long cooking a turkey! We keep the menu fairly simple and mostly traditional – mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, veggies, biscuits – and add some baked salmon with oranges, cranberries and rosemary for the fish-eaters and a small turkey breast for the carnivores. We divvy up the dishes and nothing takes too long.

Which leaves time for this:beach boys

We took kids and dogs, some more excited than others, to the beach. Too cold for swimming, the people bundled up and the dogs jumped in the frigid water anyway, barking and chasing and playing until they flopped in exhaustion. Our dog met her younger blonde twin, also a rescue, and we couldn’t get them to stay still long enough to take any really good pictures.
dog twins

Beach time was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving morning, and even our once-reluctant kid-companions agreed. We put out some while-the-grown ups-cook nibbles, sauteed and mashed and baked the afternoon away, and ate dinner at a comfortable 6pm.

My always-favorite bite of the Thanksgiving meal? Cranberry sauce. Adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious many moons ago, this one = YUM! And my new discovery this year? The easiest ever, scrumptious vegan gravy adapted from Tablespoon, just as much a hit with the carnivores as the vegetarians. It may seem a little late now, but the holiday season has only just arrived and more of us will be making celebratory meals for family and friends. Get saucy, friends!cranberry sauce

Cranberry and Orange Relish
Makes 3 1/2-4 cups (recipe can be cut in half)

2  Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
2  Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2  c dark brown sugar
1  c orange juice
16  oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 c orange marmalade

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the Earth Balance. Add ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add sugar, orange juice, and cranberries. Cook until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the marmalade to taste (depending on desired sweetness). Turn off heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Also good w/ cranberry juice and raspberry jam in place of orange juice and orange marmalade.

Easy Vegan Gravy

1 Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c vegetable broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a sauce pan melt Earth Balance, then add flour and stir. When smooth slowly add vegetable broth. Add remaining ingredients. Whisk until desired thickness is achieved. Serve warm.
Note: This recipe looks like it will make a lot of gravy, but the broth reduces and thickens on the stove top. I didn’t measure the results, but it made just enough for our table of seven with no leftovers. I’ll double it next time.