Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simple Lentil Soup with Leeks & Yellow Carrots

I have a new rule lately, and that is to eat either lentils or quinoa a few days a week. It's easy to make a big pot of either to bring for lunches to make sure I'm eating healthy as much as possible. We'll talk about the quinoa another time, for this week is a lentil week.

Lentils are one of the healthiest sources of protein, leaving you feeling full and satisfied. They are very low in calories, almost fat-free and loaded with B-vitamins and minerals. One of the best benefits of eating lentils is plenty of soluble fiber, which balances blood sugar, lowers cholesterol and is generally good for digestion. Soluble fiber carries a lot of bad things out of your body.

These little legumes are easy to prepare, too. All you have to do is make sure there are no stones or other foreign matter hanging out with them, give them a rinse in a wire strainer, and add them to boiling liquid for anywhere from 15-45 minutes. So far I've used red ones and green ones. The red tend to disappear into the dish and become one with the other ingredients. The green hold up really well with long cook-times.

After a weekend trip to the farmer's market, I was well-stocked in root vegetables and leeks. Both the fickle weahter, and the fresh leeks remind me of Spring in Paris, so I decided to keep the lentil soup as simple as the French would by using minimal ingredients. I wanted to showcase the flavor of the leeks and the earthy yellow carrots. The lentils come in because I also wanted a hearty one-pot meal.

Everything in this soup melded nicely together. I kept it mild, but you could really add any sort of herbs or spices you want. It does go well with toasted bread, but for lunch I'll eat it over brown rice for a complete protein boost.

Simple Lentil Soup with Leeks & Yellow Carrots
4 servings, approx. 1-1/2 hours total time

¾ C dried green French lentils
2 T olive oil
1 C leeks, white and light green parts cleaned and sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 C yellow carrots, diced
1 C Yukon gold potatoes, diced
3 C vegetable stock
1 tsp sea salt
black pepper
¼ C fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

1. Check lentils for stones and rinse in a strainer. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add lentils, and reduce heat to simmer 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and add leeks. Cook slowly, stirring, about 6 minutes until quite soft. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes.

3. Add carrots, potatoes, lentils and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes until potatoes and carrots are tender.

4. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender, or a standing blender to puree about half of the soup. This gives the broth a nice thickness.

5. Serve garnished with cilantro or parsley.
Yellow Carrots
Leaving the root end of the leek intact makes it easier to rinse them

Friday, March 25, 2011

Vegetarian BBQ Chicken Pockets

Yet another easy meal, thanks to Gardein! These BBQ Chik'n pockets are not my most gourmet creation, but they made a fairly well-rounded and easy Friday night meal. When all else fails, stuff some stuff inside a crescent roll and BOOM - 10 minutes later, dinner!

We had some roasted broccolini on the side that I made like my friend did when we went to her house a few weeks ago. She used Ina Garten's recipe for Parmesan Roasted Broccoli. That was the first, and only, time my husband said he liked broccoli.

BBQ Chick'n Pockets
4 pockets

1 roll Pillsbury crescent rolls, pressed into 4 rectangles
1 T olive oil
1/4 C onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T BBQ sauce (optional)
2 T shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 375F.

Sauté onion in oil over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook a couple more minutes. Add contents of the chick'n packet and stir. If desired, add a tablespoon of BBQ sauce for richer flavor. 

Divide chick'n mixture onto the crescent dough rectangles. Top with cheddar. Fold each in half and press the sides together.

Bake at 375F for about 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Curried Quinoa & Pear Salad

This post is going to be quick, since I just cooked and cleaned up for like 3 hours - on a Tuesday. The goal was to make dinner (amazing Vegetarian Corn Chowder), while also cooking something healthy to bring for lunch this week (roast chicken and a quinoa concoction). 

A few weeks ago I played with some red quinoa. It was super easy to make and I enjoyed the pilaf all week. I decided to try classic white quinoa this time, but I find it extremely annoying that you have to rinse it. I tried using a strainer, but the quinoa is so tiny, like sand, that it fell right through. I tried placing a paper towel in the strainer to hold them in, yet it was impossible to unstick them all from the towel. What a mess, little dry quinoa rolling all over the kitchen. 

I decided to go the opposite direction that I took with the red quinoa, and try a cold salad with sweet flavors. You might think it better to wait for summer for a cold meal, but in my office, the line for the one-and-only microwave is a totally out-of-control 15 minute (or longer) wait. I'm pretty sick of that game. So, cold curried salad it is, starring some tart dried cherries and juicy red-skinned Starkrimson pears from Fresh Direct. It's not completely cold yet, but it tastes awesome. You can't find lunch this delicious and healthy in the midtown 30's, that's for sure!

Curried Quinoa & Pear Salad
Approx.  4 servings

¾ C quinoa
1 ½ C water
½ tsp salt
*optional: 6-7 fennel seeds

1 pear, diced (such as the red-skinned Starkrimson)
¼ C dried cranberries
¼ C dried cherries
¼ C almond slices, toasted

1/4 C walnut oil
2 T cider vinegar
4 tsp lemon juice
1 T honey
¼ tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp dried mustard
Pinch of salt (preferably Pink Salt or Sea Salt)

1. Rinse quinoa and place in a saucepan with water, salt and fennel seeds if desired. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, loosely covered, for about 10 minutes. When water is absorbed, fluff with a spoon and set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, prepare dressing by whisking all ingredients together.

3. In a large bowl, toss quinoa with pear, cranberries, cherries, almond slices and dressing. Serve at room temperature, or cool.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Za'atar Pizza

I recently discovered a mild spice mix called Za'atar (or Zahtar). It's a mix of thyme, sesame seeds, sea salt, and most importantly, sumac. It's used frequently in Arab and Israeli cooking - which I don't have much experience with. I saw it used in a couple recipes lately, and decided I couldn't make them because I had no idea where to conveniently come up with this spice mix, especially sumac. A few days later, I came across a jar of it while killing time in Williams-Sonoma before going to a party.

I can't find the recipes again, but have come up with a few uses. Someone suggested toasted pita dipped in a mixture of za'atar and olive oil. We didn't have pita around, so we used a fresh baked baguette and it was quite good. The dark greenish spices turned black in the oil, and it felt a bit strange to dip bread into a cup of black oil. Hmm... how fittingly middle-eastern.

Another suggestion was to shake it over salad, and I agree, it did give a nice flavor to salted cucumber wedges. After googling a bit, the general consensus seemed that za'atar is the ideal match for fresh baked, flat shaped, bread. So naturally, I would try it on pizza - because that is my very favorite form of flat shaped bread.

My experimental za'atar pizza was kind of Italy meets Isreal, somewhere around Greece. With the added flavor of the za'atar, I decided to leave off the heavy hitting cheeses and stick to a sparing sprinkle of feta instead - more because I had a tiny bit to use up, rather than really needing it on the pizza. I topped it with sliced onions and pine nuts, because it just felt right.

You may not technically want to call this pizza - but it certainly hit the spot. It was a far cry from the greasy, cheesy, variety, and more like a giant bruschetta. It also seemed a lot healthier. I think it would make a great vegan meal, because you could totally leave out the cheese and not miss it at all.

Tell me, what is your favorite use for Za'atar? 

Za'atar Pizza
1 roll of Pillsbury Pizza Crust (regular size, not thin crust) or your favorite pizza dough
Olive oil
Za'atar spice mix
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
14oz can of Diced Tomatoes, drained
Crumbled feta cheese (a tiny  such as tomato-basil flavored (optional)
2 T pine nuts
1/2 of a small onion, sliced paper thin

1. Heat oven to 450F.

2. On a baking sheet, roll out the pizza dough. Drizzle or brush lightly with olive oil. Using a teaspoon, sprinkle za'atar all over the dough - more generously than you would with regular pizza spices. Aim to use about 2-3T total. Schmear the spice into the oil using the back of the spoon. 

3. Bake for 7-8 minutes until the crust just starts to brown, and remove.

4. Top with tomatoes, cheese, onions and sprinkle with pine nuts. Season with sea salt and pepper. 

5. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes. 

Serve with fresh cucumber slices and good olives, like Gaeta, which have a fresh citrus flavor.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Red Lentil Soup with Lime

I've been trying to make simple healthy meals lately. Especially those that I can bring as lunch throughout the week. Last night I was craving something light and healthy to balance out the numerous glasses of wine and vodka shots I had last night, which I happened to soak up with a greasy plate of steak and eggs in the morning. So wrong, I know, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do when coconut water and advil just doesn't cut it.

Sometime around 5pm I regained my usefulness and finally parted with the bed. With just a slightly pounding headache, I managed to get some cleaning done before thinking about dinner. It was a good night to make a pot of lentil soup, since it wouldn't create a mess in the clean kitchen, and I could pack up the leftovers to take to work.

The soup came out really good. The star is really the lime juice - it really takes the flavor up a notch. I also think the "no-chicken stock" is key because it doesn't have a specific overpowering vegetable flavor. However, you could use vegetable stock, or even just water, if you can't find it. If you use water, you may need to cook the soup a bit longer to concentrate the flavors, and add more salt.

Red Lentil Soup with Lime
approx. 5 servings

1 T olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 ribs celery, sliced thin
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Adobo seasoning
4 C "No-Chicken" or vegetable stock
1 C water
1 C dried red lentils
Juice from 2-3 limes (about 1/4C)
sea salt (or kosher salt) & pepper

1. In a soup pot, heat olive oil over low heat and add onions and a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until tender, about 8 minutes.

2. Add garlic and slowly cook another 2-3 minutes. Add celery, carrots, cumin, tomatoes and adobo. 

3. Add stock and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the lentils and lower the heat to simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Stir from time to time to scrape up any lentils sticking to the bottom. 

4. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms

 This week is much too long. I'm very busy at work, and looking forward to the weekend (and the end of the rain).

Even if you've been keeping up with the social schedule the past few months, the spring kind of brings people out from under their rocks. The slightly warmer air after the rain passes reminds us to get out, get a drink, and have some fun together.

If this looks to be one of those weekends for you, and you're thinking, "what the heck do I make for those crazy kids comin' over for some beers?", then this stuffed mushroom recipe might be just the thing. It's basically spinach and artichoke dip in a mushroom, so it's a guaranteed good time. But, instead of gorging on gob after gob of dip on a starchy chip, these satisfy much more quickly and healthily.

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms
8oz package Baby Bella mushrooms (about 10 mushrooms), cleaned and stems removed
2 tsp finely diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced (2 tsp)
¼ C artichoke hearts (oil packed, Italian style marinated), diced
1-1/2 C frozen spinach, thawed, drained and water squeezed out
3 T cream cheese
1 T grated parmesan cheese
2 slices fakin’ bacon, cooked and diced (morning star farms veggie
bacon strips)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

1. Heat oven to 400F. Prepare a baking dish by drizzling a bit of olive oil into the bottom, or spritz with non-stick spray.

2. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel and remove the stems by gently popping them out with a teaspoon. For baby bella (little portobello) mushrooms, no need to remove the gills as there aren’t many. You may want to scrape them out a bit if using white mushrooms. Place the caps in the baking dish and drizzle them with oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve the stems for another use, or discard.

3. Prep the filling ingredients by gently heating the frozen spinach, draining in a wire strainer and pressing with a paper towel to squeeze out all the excess liquids. Cook the bacon by microwaving on high about 1 minute until crispy, and chop. Heat the cream cheese, as well, or bring it to room temp so it’s squishy.

4. In a small sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onions with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, and add the garlic for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the artichoke hearts, spinach, cream cheese, parmesan and bacon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Using a teaspoon, drop the filling into the mushrooms. Top off with excess filling. Bake at 400F about 15-20 minutes until mushrooms start to wrinkle and turn dark brown, releasing their juices into the pan. Bake longer for larger “stuffer” mushrooms.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf

This week, we confirmed dates for a trip to India for a family wedding. Aside from the stress of making all related arrangements, the most daunting news is that I'll be donning belly-bearing formalwear in T-minus 3 months!

This week was the getting-in-shape kick-off with several lunchtime cardio sessions and healthy foods. Next order of business is to get this acid-reflux problem I have under control before I'm completely surrounded by "trigger-foods" in India, as well as refreshing my vaccination status. 

At the beginning of week, I threw together a healthy pot of quinoa to get me through the work-week. There is a lack of healthy lunch options around my office, especially if you're not into salad (big acid reflux trigger), so bringing lunch is key to not getting side-tracked.

I wasn't too excited about it, because the first time I made this red quinoa it was a little bitter. I just kept telling myself it's a superfood, really good for me, and so healhty - but it actually came out delicious this time. I ate it for lunch 3 days in a row this week, and enjoyed it every single time. Maybe it was the fact that I put tons of baked chicken on top, but I thought it was really good.

Red Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 4oz can mushroom stems & pieces, drained
2 C chicken stock
salt, pepper & adobo (or garlic powder) to taste
1 C Red Quinoa
½ C frozen peas (optional)

In a saucepan, sauté onion and celery in oil for a few about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, stirring for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt, pepper and adobo seasoning to taste.

Add quinoa and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover for 10 minutes. Add peas and simmer another 5-10 minutes until stock is absorbed and quinoa releases white curlicues.

Stir to fluff before serving.
*Optional: toss in cooked chicken for a one-bowl meal

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