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 – 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 – 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.

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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.
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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!

 

Meatless Monday – “Beyond Meat” White Bean Chicken Chili

It began with a video I saw on Facebook.

Some weeks later Guy mentioned he’d also seen it. Interesting concept: this guy who wants to eat meat, while also reducing his environmental footprint, produces a plant-based fake meat that is more convincing than these types of products have been before.

And then Tween mentioned yet again how he’d like to for once taste chicken, since he’s never had it and all his friends have. Teen felt the same during middle school years, the increased desire for independence bumping up against family values. We get it.

So on a recent trip to Whole Foods we purchased a package of Beyond Meat Grilled Chicken Strips.beyond chicken

Which sent me looking for a recipe I’ve tried before but never with chicken: a chicken and white bean chili, originally from Epicurious (and modified, as always, by me).

Teen lumbered into the kitchen just as I pulled “the chicken” from the fridge, asking the inevitable question: “What’s for dinner?”

I held up the package.

His face belied confusion and skepticism, and in that look I saw that our family values have, indeed, taken hold.

He wasn’t sure he wanted “real meat.”

I feel the same. It’s funny, really, as I didn’t intend all those years ago to become a vegetarian. I simply went without meat so long that I lost the digestive enzymes. When I tried to eat it, meat made me sick. And so, just as unintentionally, I lived into the ethics of meat-free and plant-based eating.

Now I have a confused relationship with fake meat. I don’t miss real meat, and I don’t think I need fake meat, but once in a while the texture or flavor allows for variety and pleasure in my plant-based diet. On the whole I truly prefer veggie versions of meat favorites – salads without meat or dairy toppings, marinated veggie sandwiches instead of burgers, veggie stews instead of meat stews, veggie chili instead of…you get the idea.

But I’m not entirely opposed, especially where my kids are concerned… if they want veggie breakfast sausage, or chik patties, so be it.

Which brings us to the White Bean Chicken Chili. Despite Teen’s face, he ate it. We all did, and it was good. Guy and I shared more than a look – the Beyond Meat chicken tasted how we remember chicken. Shockingly so. And it’s vegan, GMO- and soy-free.

The chili itself was delish, and it would have been so even if we’d left out chicken, or used Field Roast Italian sausage, or tofu (pressed, seasoned, and baked). Our family would eat this recipe with or without “meat.” And yet, I won’t be surprised if I find myself popping a Beyond Meat package in my cart another time.

White Bean Chicken Chili
Serves 4-6

1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 12-oz pkg Beyond Meat grilled chicken, diced (I used kitchen shears to cut strips into bites)
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
1 c veggie broth
2 celery stalks, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 7-oz can diced green chilies (or sub 7-oz of prepared green salsa)

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, and dried red pepper. Sauté 5 minutes, adding water by the tablespoon as necessary to avoid sticking. Add Beyond Chicken and cook approximately 5 minutes.

Drain and rinse beans. Add beans, broth + 1/2 c water, celery, bell pepper, and chilies or salsa. Simmer about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle chili into bowls. Top with your favorite chili toppings: cilantro, green onions, cheese, corn chips. Serve alongside crusty bread or corn bread.

Note: Beware of heat! I used green salsa instead of green chilies because I didn’t have chilies on hand. In fact, as crazy salsa-lovers, we had three open bottles of green salsa in the fridge: one hot (Hatch), one mild, and one family-approved. Season accordingly!

beyond beansbeyond veggies

I dare you: you wouldn't know it's not chicken...

I dare you: you won’t know it’s not chicken…