Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Indian curried lentils

Last night, I made Indian curried lentils—a dish so good and so easy, that I make so often, I’ve got it memorized.

This curry is made with masoor dal, a red lentil which is (to my knowledge) the quickest-cooking of them all. The lentils are very small, and break down considerably when cooked. That makes this curry of the very saucy variety—in fact, if you add another cup or so of water to this recipe, you will have a delicious lentil soup. Masoor dal can be found at any Indian market, and they’re also sold in bulk at my local Wild Oats, which means you can likely get them at Whole Foods as well.

Before you get started on the lentils, set a pot of rice cooking. I use brown basmati rice, so I soak 1 cup of it in water for 10-20 minutes, then bring it to a boil with 1 3/4 cup water. When it boils, I put on the lid, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If you use any other type of rice, cooking time will of course vary.) When it’s done, just set it aside to cool. I do all this, by the way, while the lentils are cooking.

And now, the ingredients.

1T corn or canola oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
Dash of ginger
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
2+ cloves garlic, minced
1 cup masoor dal (red lentils)
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2-4T chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat up the oil (in either a saucepan or a very large skillet) over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and stir those around until they’re fragrant, about 2 minutes. Oh, how I love cumin.

Add the onion next, along with the turmeric and ginger, and cook and stir till the onion softens, about 4-5 minutes. Throw in the garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute or so. This smells AMAZING.

The lentils come next. Supposedly you have to rinse these before using, but I never do, and have never had a problem. I like to put these in the skillet and stir them around for a minute with the onions to toast them up a bit. I have absolutely no evidence that this does anything at all for the flavor, but hey, I like to think I’m innovative.

Then just dump in the water, all at once. It will instantly turn that beautiful turmeric-yellow. Take that, inflammation. (Don’t you know? They’ve found that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.)

I bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then turn the heat to medium-low to simmer it. I set my timer for 25 minutes (if you’re really cool, you can synchronize the rice cooking time with the lentils). I come back to it every few minutes to stir it. After 25 minutes, if it still looks too thin, I turn the heat back up to medium and boil it for an extra 5 minutes. That usually does the trick.

MMM. Remember, it’s supposed to be slightly thin. It should be scoopable, but still soupy. By now, your rice should be cooked too.

If you’ve thawed your peas, throw them right in. You can use still-frozen ones if you forgot, but put them in during the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Done! Remove from the heat and stir in your chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt (I usually add close to a teaspoon), and serve over or alongside the rice.

It is SO good, and so customizable. Don’t like jalapenos or cilantro? Leave them out. Love garlic like me? Add six cloves instead of two. Not a fan of peas? Try green beans. With the right timing, this makes a quick and non-labor-intensive weeknight meal. I would love for someone out there to try this, and let me know if you enjoyed it as much as I do.

Yield: 4 servings. Per serving (without rice): 228 calories, 4.6g fat (trace sat), 33.6g carbs, 8.5g fiber, 14.3g protein.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vegan lo mein

Two recipes in one week! Impressive, aren’t I? I adapted this recipe from Eating Well magazine too—it’s my favorite cooking magazine out there. It’s omni, but they include lots of vegetarian dishes, and most of the rest are easily veganizable. I’ve never made a recipe from that magazine that I didn’t love. This one is a great alternative to take-out – it’s non-greasy, healthy, veggie-packed, and vegan – and if you have a well-stocked kitchen, you’ll likely have many of these ingredients on hand already.

8 oz. whole-wheat spaghetti (udon noodles are great here too)
2 cups frozen edamame
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, minced
1/4 cup vegetarian "oyster" sauce
3T rice vinegar
3T reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1-3 tsp sriracha
1T canola oil
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks (or 1 cup pre-cut shredded carrots)
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks

Boil water and add the spaghetti. Cook according to package directions, adding an extra 2 minutes. Put the edamame in the pot with the spaghetti when there’s 5 minutes left. Drain it all and set it aside.

Whisk together scallions, garlic, “oyster” sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and sriracha (I tend to put in gobs of that) until combined.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and red pepper and cook about 4 minutes, till softened.

Add the drained spaghetti and edamame. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes.

Add the sauce, stir it in throughly, and remove from the heat.

And that’s it! In roughly 20 minutes, you have a restaurant-quality meal that’s as perfect for a weeknight as it is for a date night.

Yield: 4 servings. Per serving: 415 calories, 10.3g fat (trace sat), 65.2g carbs, 13.8g fiber, 19.4g protein.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Chilaquiles casserole

I’ve got a recipe for you today, and it’s one of my top 3 favorite things I’ve ever made. I make it at least every month or two, because after a few weeks, I begin to crave it.

It's a chilaquiles casserole. Chilaquiles is a Mexican dish consisting of tortilla strips simmered with meat, eggs, or vegetables. This casserole version is a vegetarian play on that, creating a sort of Mexican lasagna-type dish. I adapted the recipe to my taste from a wonderful magazine called Eating Well. You can view the original here.

First, you’ll need ingredients.

1T canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium green pepper, finely diced
2+ cloves garlic, minced
19-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained (I use petite diced)
1 1/2 cups corn, frozen (thawed) or fresh
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
12 corn tortillas, cut into quarters
19-oz. can red enchilada sauce
1 cup vegan cheese of choice (or no cheese at all!)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the green pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes more. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.

Add the black beans, drained diced tomatoes, corn, cumin, and salt to the skillet. (I often add up to a full tablespoon of cumin, and I like to add a dash of cayenne too.) Cook, stirring regularly, for about 3 minutes, till it’s heated through.

This would be a delicious dish in and of itself! Spoon it into tortillas, mix it with cooked quinoa or brown rice, or eat it as is. It’s a delicious, confetti-colorful smorgasbord of nutrition.

The rest of comes together very quickly. Arrange half the tortilla pieces in the dish, top with half the veggies, pour over half the enchilada sauce, and scatter on half the cheese. Got that? Then you repeat it. Like so:

A layer of tortillas...

Then veggies, then enchilada sauce...

Then cheese, if you want it.

Cover it with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more. You will then pull this masterpiece out of your oven:

And ohhh, it is as good as it looks. Better, in fact. The enchilada sauce soaks through and softens the tortillas, and I’m telling you, it is just plain heavenly.

After it cooks, let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Then slice, eat, and swoon.

Yield: 4-6 servings. Per serving (4; without cheese): 435 calories, 9g fat (.6g sat), 79.9g carbs, 13.7g fiber, 15.3g protein.
Per serving (6; without cheese): 290 calories, 6g fat (.4g sat), 53.2g carbs, 9.2g fiber, 10.2g protein.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vegan weekend

I’m way behind on posting my dinners from last weekend. Sorry about that, and let’s get right to it.

On Friday, Nick and I ate at a place right by my house called Elephant Bar. I’m sure it’s a chain, but I don’t know where else they have them. I got my usual—the accidentally vegan "pad thai." I have to put that in quotation marks, because it’s completely inauthentic. No egg, and a very flat-tasting sauce. I like it, but in a completely different way (and far less) than I like real pad thai. It comes with baked tofu, broccoli, and crushed peanuts.

With it, I had a drink, the name of which I cannot recall. It had light rum, pineapple juice, grenadine, something else, and a spot of dark rum. It would have had orange curacao had I not asked them to leave it out.

Nick and I had one of our favorite standby meals on Sunday, at Zio’s in Olathe. Their bread and olive oil is dangerously addictive…it’s not unusual for me to be full before the meal even arrives.

For the main course, I always order this simple pasta. It’s whole wheat penne in marinara sauce with broccoli. Can’t go wrong.

Monday night, I made a stir fry, and completely forgot to take pictures as I cooked, so all I have to leave you with is a shot of my leftovers. This one’s got brown rice, baked tofu, broccoli, carrots, edamame, and red pepper. (I also like including corn and either peanuts or cashews, but had none this time.) My sauce (which I don’t measure anything for) contains a lot of soy sauce, a splash of rice wine vinegar, a couple spoonfuls of vegetarian oyster sauce, a ton of sriracha, and plenty of garlic. Yum.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Vegan Chinese

Last Thursday, Nick and I went back to Po’s, this time with my real camera in tow.

I ordered something that’s not quite on the menu. They have two similar tofu-and-vegetable dishes: one with baked tofu in white sauce, the other with fried tofu in brown sauce. I requested baked tofu in brown sauce. They let me choose which veggies I want (broccoli, carrots, and baby corn), and they have brown rice (always a HUGE plus).

And it was goooood. Not too oily or sweet, with tender tofu and delicious crispy vegetables. Next time, I’ll just ask for it spicy.

Obviously, I took home plenty of leftovers.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Vegan pesto pasta

On Tuesday night, I cooked myself a tasty dinner that came together quickly, thanks in part to the fact that I had homemade cheeseless pesto ready to go in the freezer. I put it in the fridge in the morning, and by the time I got home from work, it had defrosted. I don’t have a set recipe for my pesto—I just throw one bunch’s worth of locally grown basil, several cloves of garlic (this hasn’t come up yet, but I am a garlic freak too), and a sizeable handful of pine nuts into my food processor. I pulse to combine, then turn it on full force while streaming olive oil in through the top spout. When it “looks right” (totally subjective, I know) I season with salt and pepper, give it one more quick spin, and then transfer it to a container. It makes enough for one batch of pasta, and it keeps indefinitely in the freezer.

I generally just make it whenever I happen to haul out my food processor (usually to make hummus) and then throw the whole thing in the freezer. It can certainly be used right away, though. And if you don’t use all of it, the possibilities for leftovers are pretty much endless. Sandwich spread, cracker dip, pizza sauce, tofu marinade, vegetable topper, olive oil get the idea.

I eat whole wheat pasta exclusively. You won’t see me touch white pasta more than maybe once a year, at a nice restaurant or someplace like that. At home, spaghetti is my preferred shape, for no particular reason, and I like it thin. It’s all personal preference.

To add to my pesto pasta, what else but beans?! Navy/cannellini/white beans pair perfectly with pesto.

After cooking and draining the spaghetti (and saving a cup of the cooking water—important!) I throw it back in the pot and mix in my pesto and the beans. I add splashes of cooking water as I mix, to thin out the pesto and help it stick to the pasta. (The water absorbs starch from the pasta while it’s cooking, and that starch in the water is what helps the pesto bind. That’s why the cooking water, not tap water, is necessary.) For mine, I ended up using about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Voila! It’s really that easy. A sprinkle of nutritional yeast adds pizzazz and vitamin B12 to the finished product.

That last picture may be blurry, but hopefully you can see the deliciousness there. Oh, and–

I get to eat it all week, and I couldn’t be happier. And you know what? It gets even better as it sits in your fridge.

Yield: 6 servings. Per serving (made with 1/3 cup average pesto): 317 calories, 5.9g fat (.7 sat), 59.9g carbs, 10.4g fiber, 12g protein.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vegan Indian

Saturday evening, Emily, Tyler, Henry, and I visited a favorite Indian restaurant of ours, Touch of Asia. I liked it ok when I first tried it, but once Emily and I had the dal makhani there, we were hooked. It’s probably our most frequented Indian haunt.

I was feeling like something different for a change (the dal makhani, like I said, is my default order there). It wasn’t difficult for me to settle upon the chana masala—curried chickpeas. This place has MASSIVE portions, by the way. Appearances are deceptive—that bowl is a good three inches deep.

Their pillowy naan and fragrant jasmine rice make the perfect accompaniments.

For dessert, the ethereal gulab jamun. We’re still not quite sure what all is in these—they are some sort of fried dough ball bathed in a super-sweet syrup. So rich that a half bite of one suffices for each of us.

An entry with few words, I know. But when food is this superb and simple, not many words are needed.

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