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 – 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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Meatless Monday – Rum Cake

I had planned to make a “healthy” dessert for Guy’s birthday, an Orchard Crumble–after the main event, we could eat leftovers for breakfast. Unfortunately, from Sunday to Monday the pears went from perfectly soft to rotten-brown-inedible and I had to switch to Plan B: rum cake. [Note: this cake was originally based on Bacardi’s recipe, but the changes are all mine]rum-cake

You can make this cake with either yellow or chocolate cake mix. This was the first time I’ve used chocolate, but that’s what I had in the cupboard. I can now heartily say–either way, just so much yum!

This was also the first time I made it vegan and, happily, still yum! In fact, I learned something: instant pudding mix is vegan. Surprising, since most likely you’d buy Jello brand and one would think Jello products contain gelatin, but the ingredients list does not contain gelatin or dairy.

Also interesting, I didn’t have instant pudding mix, so I subbed two mashed bananas and still no problemo. Next time I might use the pudding mix and sub bananas or unsweetened applesauce for the oil, more fruit making this decadent deliciousness a smidgen healthier without changing the flavor. Oh, but I also added about 1/3 cup of non-dairy dark chocolate chips, so forget any notion of “healthy” happening here.

It will look like way too much glaze, but it will soak in, I promise. And the longer it soaks, the better. Not as healthy as Orchard Crumble, but I have had house guests request leftovers for breakfast! 

Rum Cake

Cake:
1 c chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts
1 18-1/2 ounce yellow or chocolate cake mix
1 1-3/4 ounce (4-serving size) instant vanilla or chocolate pudding mix
4 flax eggs (1 Tbsp flax meal + 3 Tbsp water per “egg”)
½ c cold non-dairy milk
½ c vegetable oil
½ c dark rum
1/3 c non-dairy dark chocolate chips (optional)

Glaze:
½ c non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
¼ c water
½ c sugar
2 Tbsp agave nectar
½ c dark rum

Cake: Prepare flax eggs and set aside. Preheat oven to 325, and grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan. Combine all cake ingredients. Beat for 2 minutes on high with electric mixer. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan. Invert on serving plate.

Glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water, sugar, and agave. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum. The rum will cause steam. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Prick top with fork. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Use brush or spoon to put extra dripping back on cake. Enjoy!

Meatless Monday – Trader Joe’s California-Asian Meal

By the time we arrived home from the Christmas concert matinee, it was dinner time. We needed a quick, easy, family-friendly veggie meal. As I began pulling things from fridge and freezer, I laughed… Every item–fresh, frozen, and condiment–came from Trader Joe’s!

I don’t have hard-and-fast recipes for the items on this menu, mostly because I change it up based on what I have on hand (for example, you could add bell peppers, broccoli, or onion to the fried rice). Feel free to use the below as a template for your own creativity. I call it California-Asian because nothing I prepared is traditional. Other than the gyozas, I wouldn’t expect to find these on a restaurant menu. I cook the way I like to eat: lots of veggies–raw and cooked, brown rice, low oil/salt.

The menu began with one of our fav quick-and-veggie freezer foods: TJ’s Thai Vegetable Gyozas. Prepare according to package directions (I have done step 1 with no oil, but they get crispier with oil). I regularly add these to soups and stir fries and serve them either as appetizer or side dish. If desired, serve with a simple sauce of low sodium soy sauce (2 Tbsp), garlic chili paste (1/2 to 1 tsp), and a few dashes of sesame oil.

The Tempura Cauliflower were an impulse purchase, but oh-so-yum! They couldn’t have been easier to prepare and tasted like spicy fried clouds hot out of the oven.

tj-meal-1

Once those were going, I decided we needed a bright, fresh accompaniment:

Cucumber Salad

Thinly sliced cucumbers
Shredded carrots
Thinly sliced red onion
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1″ nub of ginger, sliced thin and diced
Unseasoned rice vinegar
Sesame oil (optional)

Add veggies to a container that can be secured with a tight lid; rough rule of thumb: mostly cucumbers, some carrots, a touch of onion (or 3 parts cuke, 1 part carrot, 1/2 part onion). Add garlic and ginger, a few generous splashes of vinegar and, if desired, a couple of drops of oil. Secure lid and give your salad a shake. Shake occasionally as you prepare the rest of the meal.

Next I grabbed cooked brown rice from the fridge, my go-to TJ’s Brown Basmatic Rice (it cooks in 20 minutes and–bonus–smells like popcorn!).

Fried Brown Rice

2 c cooked brown rice
1/2 c chopped carrots
1/4 c each frozen peas and edamame (add water to defrost while cooking rice/carrots, then drain)
To taste: soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic chili paste
Optional: toasted cashews or peanuts, sesame seeds

Heat a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Add rice, and stir until warmed through and beginning to crackle. Make a well and add chopped carrots; cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add drained peas and edamame and cooked until warmed through. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic chili paste to taste.
tj-meal-2

Finally, I steamed a package of broccolini for about 3 minutes until bright green, and then squeezed juice of half a small lemon over.tj-meal-3

Today is Guy’s birthday. He’s spending the day on an outdoor adventure with friends, so we’ll stay in tonight for a warm and cozy family meal. We’re having White Bean and Pasta Soup with Orchard Crumble for dessert. Whatever you’re eating, I hope you eat intentionally, surrounded by love. Happy New Year!