Thursday, October 25, 2012

Curried Lentil Stew (Vegan, Gluten-free, Refined-sugar Free)

We are on week three of the hubz' meatless cleanse.  He gets one 'cheat' day per week, usually Sunday.  He can eat meat until he's gassy, if he pleases.  But to be honest, I'm really proud of him.  He's only cheated once outside of his Sundays.  (He gave into BBQ, that saucy temptress...)  And even more surprisingly he's actually been enjoying the vegan dishes I've been preparing for him.  It's been a nice break for me as well.  I typically have to prepare two separate dinners.  One with meat, and one sans meat.  So for me, because I cook for myself lastly, it's nothing more than a large plate of roasted cauliflower.  And cauliflower is great and satisfying and all those simple adjectives used to describe super simple yummy food.  But it's just cauliflower.  Nothing else.  My husband would starve to death.  So I've been getting a little help from some of my blogger friends who are more experienced in putting together photo-worthy, carnivore-approved vegan dinners.

Last week we enjoyed a few things...

Roasted Curry Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry, by Chef Amber Shea at Almost Vegan

Copycat Panda Express Orange Sauce with 'Popcorn' Cauliflower and Veggies, compliments of Chocolate-Covered Katie

My very own Southwest Veggie Pasta (which I'll blog about eventually)

Whole Grain Pasta with Mushroom Marinara and Roasted Veggies (I'll also blog this recipe!)

Amber's White Bean and Broccoli Pasta Toss

Vegan Tacos, Topped with Fresh Pico and a Side of Black Beans and Brown Rice (also on the backlog)

We also sneaked in some supposedly lightened-up desserts, like this vegan and gluten-free pumpkin coffee cake with ginger snap streusel topping.  And yes, this will ALSO be on the blog very soon, so no worries, hungry peeps.

 And just a little something I rolled up on a lazy afternoon...
I know it looks strange, but it's SOOOOOO good and SOOOOOO easy.  Whole grain tortilla, natural peanut butter, raw honey, and a lonely little banana, who was sitting in the fruit bowl all by himself with no apples to call his friends.  Poor little guy.

Now that you've indulged yourself in food porn, let's get back to lentils.  Cheap.  Extremely versatile and forgiving.  And most importantly, SATISFYING.  They fill up hungry bellies.  Yes, even those big guys who pound their chests and scream for a steak.  And cheap.  I think I paid $1.09 for an entire 14-oz. bag of lentils at Wal-Mart.  No, they weren't organic for all you food snobs.  Sorry, I'm on a budget right now.  BUT I'm willing to bet you can still find bags of organic lentils for a relatively reasonable price online, at Trader Joe's, or purchased in bulk.  And all of the veggies used in this dish are ALSO very affordable, especially when you have an awesome City Market that sells things to you at wholesale cost. 

This particular recipe was inspired yet again by one of my favorite vegan blogs on the blogosphere,  Amber and I have VERY similar tastes in food I discovered after spending hours, which turned into days, browsing through all of her drool-worthy creations.  Indian, Ethiopian, comforting, sweet stuff, and so many effortless raw desserts, which are not only HEALTHY for the body but tasty to the tongue.  You can check out her original recipe here for these curried lentils.  I didn't change much, but I did prepare them in a slightly different way, making the overall dish itself a bit thicker, more stew-like (although I'm sure that Amber's dish probably thickens up quite a bit when left in the fridge overnight).  I didn't have all the jalapenos I needed on hand, so I just used the one I had, including some of the seeds for heat, and then added some additional cayenne pepper.  (The dish was still overall relatively mild, so I would probably add more jalapenos next time.)  I also played around with the spices a bit and made them extra flavorful by using veggie both in place of the water originally called for.  And as for the lentils, I 'pre-prepared' mine so that I could actually freeze half of the full batch and pull out later in the week for a super quick and easy 30-minute meal. 

Curried Lentil Stew (makes 6-8 servings)

  • Half a full batch of 'partially' prepared lentils, red or brown (see notes on preparation)*
  • 3 C. veggie broth (or chicken stock if you're not vegan)
  • 1-2 Tbsp. EVOO or coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (the more seeds you leave in, the spicier this dish will be)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • One-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into discs 
  • 1 C. frozen peas
  • 2 tsp. sugar (I used raw cane sugar, which has the rich taste of brown sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. good-quality curry powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoky paprika
  • 1 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Lots of freshly minced cilantro (I probably used close to 1/2 C., adjust to suit your taste buds)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 C.cooked brown rice 

*Preparing the Lentils:
So I'm basically just softening the lentils up a bit, using half for the recipe, and then freezing the other half.  Why do I do this?  Quick and easy, folks.  Now although I still tend to slowly simmer, on low heat, most of my soups, stews, beans, etc., I like having the option of pulling out partially-prepared lentils and then quickly stir-frying some veggies, adding a bit of liquid to bring everything together, and possibly enjoying a meal in 30 minutes. 

Take a 14-oz. bag of lentils, dump into small stock pot (soup pot, whatever you use/call it), add about 6 cups of water along with a tsp. of sea salt.  Then just bring to a soft, rolling boil and then immediately drop your heat to medium-low and ONLY allow these to simmer for 5 minutes.  They will also be soft enough to eat at this stage with some 'bite' left in tact.  Then drain the water off immediately and set aside half of what you just prepared to be frozen and the other half to be used right now.  *(If you would rather not deal with this step, you can simply add the lentils at the time you pour in the veggie broth, allowing them to cook as everything else simmers.  But be aware that you may have to add in more liquid over time as the lentils will soak up some of the liquid during the cooking process.

Cooking Directions:
1.  Heat oil in large pot (I used a large sautee pan with high edges, enough to hold the stew) over medium heat.
2.  Toss in all the minced veggies, minus the frozen peas, along with your spices, cilantro, and sugar.  Also add about 1/2 tsp. of salt to start and to 'sweat out' the veggies.  (I always salt in stages, small amounts at a time, to ensure I do not over-salt my dish.  So add in small increments, and taste along the way!)

3.  Cook all of this mixture together, stirring around from time to time, for about 5-7 minutes, or just until the veggies are becoming soft and everything is smelling very fragrant. 
4.  Slowly add in the veggie broth.  Turn the heat up a bit so you can bring this mixture to a 'soft' rolling boil.
5.  Once 'softly' boiling, add in the lentils and immediately drop the heat down to medium-low. 

6.  And now, we just finish cooking this off until most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the stew is nice and thick.  There are two ways to do this.  You can opt to cook this at just a slightly higher temp., with the lid off, until you reach your desired thickness.  Since I'm always multitasking, I chose to cover the entire thing and just allow it simmer on medium-low for about 45 minutes.  Now be forewarned.  Doing it this way WILL make the lentils very soft.  So if you want more texture, finish cooking over slightly higher heat with the lid OFF. 
7.  Finally, stir in the frozen peas, cover, and remove from heat.  And give everything one last taste, seeing if you need to add more salt and black pepper.  Then just set the entire thing on a back burner, allowing the peas to thaw out and heat up.  This will also allow the flavors to come together, the stew will thicken, and everything will taste amazing.   (The longer you allow this to sit OFF of the heat, the thicker it will become.)

Now you are ready to eat!  I served mine over prepared brown rice, but you could certainly eat it over anything, or simply straight out of a bowl with a spoon, which is what I did for breakfast the following day.  If you aren't a strict vegan and allow eggs into your diet, try spooning this mixture over the top of a few eggs for breakfast.  So incredibly filling with tons of protein (and copious amounts of fiber) to kick-start the morning. 
And yes, I totally forgot to add the peas when I made this.  They would have photographed so beautifully, too.  Oh, well.  Next time, my lovelies.  Next time.

Once again...ugghhhhhh to all these spacing issues!  I'm not sure what the friggin' heck is up with the spacing issues between the pictures and actual text.  They appear the same on my edit page and then show up all kinds of crazy on the actual published page. 

Reader Question:
What are your favorite meatless protein sources?  And have you ever tried to feed them carnivores with any success?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roasted Curry Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry, and Other Things Carnivores Might Eat

I have a VERY diverse group of friends.  We all like different things.  Interests and  hobbies (I am the token pastry chef, thus pumping out kids' birthday cakes year round), political ideas (although I secretly think mine are superior...), religious beliefs or a lack thereof, opinions in health and wellness, and of course tastes in food.  I am married to a carnivore, yet I eat a mostly plant-based diet with some seafood and dairy mixed in from time to time.  (I also enjoy eggs a few times throughout the week.)  I keep the company of health-conscious friends who follow the 'Eat Right for Your Blood Type' diet, the gluten-free group, I have raw and vegan friends...there are the stuck-in-the-90's 'Is this low-fat?' junkies, and of course the rest of them...who eat just about anything.  (And then there's my brother...just fry it in fat and it'll be fine.)

One of the best ways to bring people together is NOT discussions of religion or politics (as my mother so warned me in my early teen years but I still decided to find out for myself, the hard way), but these words alone...'Hey, I'm cooking Thursday night!'  Suddenly I'm the most popular girl in the bunch, and I'm also the 'best chef' and nobody else knows how to turn on an oven.  *sigh*

And while I typically do not have issues finding and creating recipes for my diverse group of friends and to suit everyone's tastes, it can be a challenge to make a good majority of them solely plant-based without feeling like I am 'forcing' people to eat healthy who simply don't care about it...or that I have to fix an entirely different meal all together for myself, which is not only tiring but can appear a bit snobbish and even rude.  I never though of it this way until my husband so happily pointed out another one of my 'flaws', but I suppose it is a bit 'Here peasants, you eat this artery-clogging meat while I ever-so-elegantly enjoy this endive salad.' 

But what does one do when her husband declares he's doing his long-forgotten '30-days-with-no-meat' cleanse?  At first she internally jumps for joy...really, really high!  But next come all the frequent, subconsciously-implanted reminders that said husband IS (and will ALWAYS be) a carnivore.  And then the stress receptors start firing up in the brain.  How in the world can I POSSIBLY create something that is filling and satisfying enough for my meat-eating spouse to still remain interested in my cooking, ultimately keeping him interested in ME (and not just interested in my body parts...)?  Well, first I think to all the wonderful things that CAN be eaten with or without meat, that are equally satisfying and filling either way you fix it up.  Curry dishes with sides of brown rice were my first thought.  And whole grain pastas with roasted veggies and made-from-scratch marinara sauces.  Ooooh, and Chinese take-out inspired meals, sans meat!  And this is why I love having so many wonderful blogger friends.  We all 'specialize' in something different, thus providing a canvas with the picture already sketched out.  All I need to do is fill in the colors.  Or perhaps I'll just take the finished painting and hang it up in my house...

And this is exactly (well, almost exactly) what I did with the wonderful vegan curry I concocted last night for both hubs and myself.  Went to friend's blog.  Found recipe.  Copied.  Almost...  I have this thing about not following directions.  I know, I know.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  And there ain't nothin' broke about Chef Amber Shay's (at 'Almost Vegan') Roasted Cauliflower-Chickpea Curry(I just realized I used this same 'if it ain't broke' line in my last blog entry...I'm not going to edit it out.  It's funny when I do such things...)  It's perfect, full of curried goodness, and not too spicy (although you could certainly make it taste like the devil delivered it 'himself').  But I just like to make things my own, add my own signature I suppose.  I guess that's kind of like taking an already-finished painting, adding in a random paint stroke, and then signing your name on the bottom. works.

I'm just going to let you check out Amber's site for yourself rather than copy the recipe here.  But I WILL share with you some of the things I added and changed a bit:

  • I TRIPLED the amount of garlic used.  (What?!?  I like garlic!)
  • I used fresh,  roughly-pureed tomatoes in placed of canned.
  • I added in a cup of frozen, organic peas a few minutes before adding the roasted cauliflower.
  • I added a few teaspoons of brown sugar.  Not sure why, but it tasted really, really good!
  • I threw in some red pepper flakes for heat (my curry powder is mild, purposely to adjust heat).
  • Tossed in a few Tbsp. of roughly minced fresh cilantro...because it's good on everything.
  • AND because I did not have cumin seeds on hand, I just used 1 1/2 tsp. of powder instead.  
I then served it alongside organic brown rice and garnished the entire dish with more cilantro, thinly sliced green onions, and freshly chopped tomatoes.  The only thing that was missing was the NAAN!  (Making note to self next time...)  Otherwise, this dish was SO satisfying.  My husband enjoyed it and even asked if there would be leftovers to take to work the next morning (which is today).  I was tempted to say 'no' and then hide the leftovers for myself, but then I knew HE'D be tempted to run out for lunch and grab something convenient, like a cheeseburger.

So what else could carnivores on a no-meat cleanse eat?  Besides this awesome curry creation, here are some of my other picks and possibilities for the week:

Whole Grain Pasta with Marinara and Roasted Veggies (broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and onions)
'Copycat' Panda Express Orange Sauce with 'Popcorn' Cauliflower, from Chocolate-Covered Katie
Baked Potatoes, smothered in sauteed onions and mushrooms, with Vegetarian Chili 
Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Peas, posted by Amber at Almost Vegan
Southwest Veggie Stir-fry (bell peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli, garlic, corn, black beans, SW seasoning)
Cajun No-chicken Pasta (basically a meatless version of a creamy Cajun pasta dish I make for Hubs)
Veggie Patch Pizza
My very own Brown Rice 'n Everything Wraps  :-)

And for dessert...
Vegan and Gluten-free Pumpkin Coffee Cake (which I'll blog about soon...)
Veganized version of Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake (which I'll also blog about eventually...)
Maybe not this week, but eventually Amber's Raw Pear Tartlets, except I'll probably use apples

Ahhh.  Life is good.  :-)

Reader Question:
Have you ever done a food cleanse or diet just before the holiday season?  And if so, what kind did you do?