Category: Lentils

(Someday) Retirement Plans

December 14, 2011

My parents are living the retirement that we all dream of.  They deserve it.  My dad had a busy oncology practice for over 30 years that had him leaving the house at 7am every morning and coming home at 7pm every night.  There was evening call and weekend call and when you are an oncologist, you get a lot of calls in the middle of the night.  He worked with extremely ill people and their families and had many people he grew to truly care for pass away.  He also had other patients who should have passed away but did not because he is a terrific doctor and an all around smart man.  He is also, as I have said here, kind and compassionate – a doctor that the nurses loved.

My mom also worked very hard.  She spent the first eight years of motherhood staying home with us and then, soon after my youngest brother was born, decided that she was tired of spending the day waiting for Sesame Street to come on (pre-DVR days) and then waiting for my dad to come home, so she went back to school (with three children) and got a nursing degree.  She spent worked full time on a evolving range of shifts (including night shift) for a number of years before settling in to a half time job in the recovery room of our University hospital.

Eight years ago, while still working full time, my dad, the cancer specialist, developed cancer himself.  Bladder cancer.  Randy and I were living in London at the time and we had just returned from a weekend away in Dublin.  Once back in our flat, I picked up a voice mail from my dad asking me to call when I got a chance.  Even though it was the middle of the night in Seattle, I called right away.  If I get a voice mail from my mom saying “call when you get a chance” it usually means she just want to chat.  I had probably never gotten a voice mail from my dad period, let alone one asking for a call back, so I knew something was up.  Calmly, he told me that he had a tumor in his bladder and they were hoping to be able to remove just the tumor and leave his bladder intact.  More tests were imminent and he was thankful that he had had symptoms so that they could catch it early.

A couple of weeks later, the phone call that I didn’t want to receive came across the ocean.  The tumor was invasive and they were going to have to remove his bladder.  His surgeon would make him a new bladder (called a neo-bladder) out of a piece of his own intestine.  Since the intestine is a long tube and the bladder is essentially fist-shaped, many cuts would need to be made to make the new bladder.  It would be hooked up according to the laws of anatomy and we would all hope for the best.  My dad, entering into surgery, contemplated retirement.  He would need to take a couple of months to recuperate from the surgery, he was near retirement age, so why not just retire?  But in the months following the surgery, he realized he needed something to work toward.  He wanted to go back to work.  And so, after a successful surgery and a rocky but successful recovery, he went back to treating patients full time.

Now eight years cancer free, my dad is a success story.  About three years ago, he decided to finally retire.  I worried about him a bit.  He identified very much with his job, with his role as doctor (although he never introduced himself that way), and I had trouble imagining him as a retiree.  Also, the fact that both my parents are very youthful, in shape, and active, did not fit with the picture in my mind of retirement.  I thought they both would be bored.

I was wrong.  They threw themselves headlong into life after work.  They took birding classes, yoga classes, did continuing education classes in art history and aviation history.  They exercise everyday and are traveling nearly constantly.  They are not sitting still for more than a moment.  They had always liked to travel but with my dad’s busy practice, it was hard for them to take consecutive weeks off.  Now their time is their own and they have discovered going on tours and cruises as a way to see parts of the world they have been meaning to visit.  These are not the groups with the blue hairs and senior water aerobics classes.  These are the trips I would go on right this minute if I could.

My parents recently returned from a cruise that left from Istanbul and ended up in Cairo.  They stopped in Israel and Jordan along the way and went through the Suez Canal.  They saw Luxor and the pyramids and Petra in Jordan.  In the past couple of years, they have taken a trip to Paris (with me for my birthday) followed by a week in Budapest and Prague, a cruise throughout Croatia, a group trip to Austria, but they recognize that this Middle Eastern cruise was truly a trip of a lifetime.

My parents don’t really shop when they travel.  It’s just not their thing.  But this time they brought me back something special.  Saffron.

If you aren’t familiar with saffron, it is the world’s most expensive spice.  It is probably one of the priciest food items period if just considering price per pound.  The reason it costs so much is that saffron is actually the stamen of the crocus flower and it is harvested by hand.  I can’t imagine the number of flowers and the number of (wo)man hours it takes to get an ounce of saffron.  Consequently, much of what we can buy in this country is not true saffron, but the stamens of other flowers.  Nothing compares to true saffron, in taste, aroma, and color, so be sure to buy yours from a reputable place.  And if it’s not super expensive for a very small amount, it’s probably not real saffron.

The stuff my parents brought me is Iranian saffron and it is shockingly red and the strands are nice and long.  It is gorgeous.  It is the kind of thing I might be tempted to put away and save for something special, but I believe in using gifts and besides, they brought me three small envelopes of it.  While saffron does have a very distinctive flavor, that flavor is subtle.  The color that it gives to food is truly extraordinary.  When I found this recipe for red lentil soup in a well-loved cookbook and it mentions that saffron rice would be a great accompaniment, I knew I had my first dish with my new spice friend.

So yes, you need three different pots to make this soup.  Do not let that deter you!  One pot makes the soup, one pot separately sautés the onion and spices and then the greens, and one pot makes the rice.  It  may sound like a pain but please believe me when I tell you that this is a very easy dish to make and you get a LOT of soup for your effort.  Red lentils are one of my favorite ingredients on earth and this is a fabulous way to make the most of them.  Red lentils love things like mustard seeds, cumin, and tumeric – all present in this flavorful soup.  I had never used lime juice with them before and was hesitant to add as much as the recipe called for.  But I loved the subtle sour flavor paired with the savory soup.  I made the soup for Randy and I to enjoy, brought leftovers over for dinner with friends, and then made another pot to eat with my parents so they could see how much I’m loving the saffron.

One Year Ago:  Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios (I just made a quadruple batch of this stuff)
Two Years Ago:  Blackberry Rugelach, Frittata with Carmelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Sage

Red Lentil Soup with Lime
Adapted (barely) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 6-8

You certainly don’t need saffron to make this dish and actually, you don’t need the rice if you want to save that step.  You can make this a super thick soup by adding less water or make it thinner by adding more.  If you make it in advance, know that it will thicken up as it sits but you can always add more water as necessary.  For this rice, I used ½ cup raw basmati rice in 1 cup of water and a pinch of both saffron and salt.  This might be more than you need for the soup, or make more as needed.

2 cups split red lentils, picked over and rinsed several times
1 tbsp. tumeric
3 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 3 limes, or to taste
1 bunch kale, or other leafy green, chopped into small pieces (I’ve also used beet greens)
1 cup cooked rice
Plain yogurt

Put the lentils in a soup pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of water, the tumeric, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and 1 tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes.  Purée for a smoother texture (an immersion blender is great here).

While the soup is cooking, prepare the onion flavoring:  Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and throw in 1 tablespoon of butter.  Once it is melted, add the onions and a large pinch of salt.  Cook for another five minutes, until soft, then add the cumin and mustard seeds.  Turn the heat to medium-high and allow the onions to brown slightly, stirring occasionally.  This slight bit of char will add great flavor to the soup.  Add the cilantro and cook just until it wilts.

Add the onions mixture to the soup, then add the juice of two of the limes.  Taste, then add more if needed to bring up the flavor.  The soup should be a tad sour.

Just before serving, add the last tablespoon of butter to the same skillet the onions were cooked in.  Once melted, add the kale and a large pinch of salt, and cook just long enough to wilt.  Add to the soup and let all the flavors blend for a couple of minutes.  Even though you have added salt several times along the way, you will probably need to add more to your taste at this point.  If the rice is warm, place a spoonful in each bowl.  If it’s leftover rice, add it to the soup and let it heat through for a minute.  Serve each portion with a dollop of plain yogurt if desired.

A Warming Welcome Home

March 1, 2011

Aaaannnnd we are back.  From Hawaii.  Kauai to be exact.  I wish I could say it’s good to be back but I would kind of be lying.  Usually I love landing in Seattle.  There are few cities I have flown into that look as beautiful as mine does from the air.  And it’s home.  No matter how wonderful a vacation, it’s always nice to be home – right?  What if home has a dusting of snow and it is 50 degrees colder than the place you left?  Not so much.

But we are settling back into regular life and I am happy to get back into the kitchen.  My kitchen.  For me, the first meal back after a trip is always something really clean and healthy.  Whatever your intentions are, it is hard to eat healthy on the road.  This is our third time to Kauai and we found some delightful places to eat with plenty of options for me.  I didn’t come back feeling as yuck as I usually do.  Still, something filling, clean, super-flavorful, and warming is what I wanted for the first meal back.  I have made many versions of red lentil stews – there are several on this site.  I like them pretty much any way with any vegetables.  This version was excellent.

This is a classic well-written recipe from Ivy Manning.  Her book The Farm to Table Cookbook is a treasure trove of Northwest inspired dishes, although you don’t have to live in this part of the country to enjoy them.  She arranged this book by season and when I am at a loss as to what to cook, I always find inspiration in what she offers, even in winter.  I love when a list of ingredients is long but the instructions are short – lots of flavor with little effort.  I also love the flow here.  I was able to chop a bit, sauté a bit, without ever feeling like I was missing a beat.  I am excited to eat the leftovers and I never like leftovers.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Spice Bread, Papparadelle with Lemon, (and what do you know?) Red Lentil Dal
Two Years Ago: Double Baked Chocolate Cake, Spanikopita, Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Dal with Winter Vegetables
Adapted from The Farm to Table Cookbook
4-6 servings

This makes a very soupy dal.  If you like yours a little thicker – more stew like – add 5 cups of water instead.  Manning instructs you to rinse the lentils before cooking but I never take that step.  I served this over basmati rice.

1½ cups red lentils
6 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. tumeric
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
1 cup (about ½ a small head) roughly chopped cabbage
2 medium Yukon gold potaotes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. peeled, minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped

In a soup pot, bring the lentils, water, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, salt and tumeric to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, until the lentils have turned a muted amber color and the mixture has become a thick porridge consistency, about 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Add the cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a sauté pan over high heat; add the oil and mustard seeds.  Cover and cook until the seeds pop, about 1 minute.  Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, onion, and chile.  Sauté until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes.  Stir the mixture into the soup pot, season with salt and pepper, serving soup bowls, and garnish with the cilantro.

Spicy Squash Salad

October 28, 2010

Deb beat me to it.  I’ve been wanting to tell you about this amazing salad ever since I made it for the yoga retreat a few weeks ago.  But there were Buckeyes to mention and photos of boys in pumpkin patches that I needed to share.  There was also a weekend of being whisked off to New York City and amazing food to be eaten and then I opted to write about cupcakes before salad.  Silly me.

In case you don’t read Smitten Kitchen (you should) or you just really want to know more about this terrific salad, I’m still going to post about it.  When I first looked at the recipe, I figured it must be a home run.  I love all the components separately – winter squash, Le Puy lentils, goat cheese, arugula – but I had never had them all together.  I figured if I loved them individually, I’d love them collectively.  Then, as I was pulling the salad together, doubts started to creep in.  Do these things really go together?  Is this a salad or a side dish?  Is the small amount of olive oil I used to roast the squash really going to make enough of a dressing?  Is anyone going to eat this?

Answers: Yes, doesn’t matter, yes, and yes until the bowl is empty.  This salad was the first to go.  It surprised me.  On a day where I made lots of good food, I took a small amount thinking I just needed to taste it so that I could write about it.  Then I took another taste.  Then I pushed aside another salad to make more room for this one.  Aside from the Buckeyes, I got more comments about this salad than any other dish I made that day.

Just before I left for New York, a very cool opportunity presented itself.  A lovely woman, fellow yogi and food lover, asked me to prepare some salads for an advisory committee that she heads.  She is interested in healthy food and helping to influence what that means in our country.  Of course this is near and dear to my heart so I said yes.  She had requests.  My Israeli couscous salad and the squash salad.  She requested two other salads as well.  (And 140 Buckeyes but that is another story.)  Again the squash got the most comments of the day.

One Year Ago:  Roasted Pear Galette with Chevre and Pomegranates

Spiced Squash, Lentil, and Goat Cheese Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 6-8

¾ cup French green lentils
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 cups baby arugula
1 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Place lentils in a small bowl.  Cover with cold water and let soak 10 minutes.  Drain.

Cook lentils in boiling salted water until tender but firm, about 30 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water.  Drain again.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Place squash on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, paprika, and salt.  Roast 20 minutes.  Turn squash over.  Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.  Cool.

Combine lentils, squash, and oil from baking sheet with arugula, half of goat cheese, mint, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle remaining goat cheese over.

(My make-ahead tips are as follows.  I made the squash and the lentils one day ahead and stored them separately.  I made sure they came to room temperature before mixing everything together I also chopped the mint the day before and stored it wrapped in a paper towel and then a ziploc bag.)

A Love Affair with Red Lentils

February 21, 2010


Variety is a big part of my diet.  In the three years I worked as a personal chef, I only repeated recipes a handful of times, and those were requests.  I figure I love food and love to eat and I want to make as many different things as I can in my lifetime.  Of course, I have my go-to meals but I really do try and have variety in our food lives.

And then there are the things that I could eat every single day and be totally happy.  Good french fries with ketchup.  Noodle soups like this one, noodle dishes like this one (yes, I have a thing for Asian noodles) could fulfill me until the end of my days.  And any kind of red lentil dish is on that list too.

If you have never cooked with red lentils, you are in for a treat.  They are among the fastest cooking of beans and they change utterly and completely from raw to cooked.  Raw they are bright orange (in spite of their name) and look like flat pebbles.  Cooked they become a mellow yellow and they lose their shape.  Depending on how much liquid is in your dish, they can loosely resemble other lentils, or they can disappear completely.  They, like other lentils, are high in protein and fiber, yet low in calories and fat.  They require no pre-soaking time.

On Thursday, I crossed the Sound and did a cooking lesson for a group of extraordinary women.  We have been talking about doing a class for months and I gave serious thought to what I wanted to cook.  In the end, I decided to make a full meal and it took me about one second to decide to feature a red lentil dhal.

Because I love red lentils and I love this family of spices, I have made various incarnations of this dish many times over the years.  Of all the ones I have made, this is my favorite.  It is very highly spiced – not hot, just spicy.  One of the beauties of this dish is its adaptability.  You could add all manner of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, zucchini, spinach come to mind).  Or you could add more liquid, allow it to simmer away and turn it into a soup.


Red Lentils Previously on Dana Treat: Curried Red Lentil Stew with Vegetables
One Year Ago: Double Baked Chocolate Cake

Red Lentil Dhal
Inspired by The Modern Vegetarian
Serves 4-6

This list of ingredients is long but much of it is spices.  The stew actually comes together quite quickly.

Vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. tumeric
Pinch of chile powder
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red lentils
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1, if large)|
2 cups water
1 15-oz. can “lite” coconut milk
Sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
A bunch of mint, chopped
A bunch of cilantro, chopped

Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds.  Be careful as they will begin to pop.  Immediately add the onion, adjust the heat to medium, and cook until softened – about five minutes.  Add the ginger, garlic, chile, curry powder, cumin, tumeric, and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and fry for 1 minute.

Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and spices.  Add the cinnamon stick, water, and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer.  Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils have partially lost their shape and are soft – about 15 minutes.  Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want.

Remove from the heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste.  At this point, you can allow the dhal to cool and then cover and refrigerate it overnight.  When reheating on the stove, you will need to add more liquid as it will thicken as it sits.

About 10 minutes before serving, add the herbs.  You will want them to cook down a bit but not so much that they lose their color.  Serve warm over basmati rice and with a raita if desired.

What I Make When I Don’t Want To Think

December 29, 2009


Last week was CIK (that would be Crazy In the Kitchen).  This week is CIK².  I have a cake to make tomorrow, an event on Thursday, and we are hosting our supper club on Saturday.  Add into the mix that we are going away New Year’s Eve and Day and I’m a little frantic.  When my kitchen is this busy, I get easily overwhelmed by such simple decisions as what to make for a weeknight dinner.  And when I find myself in that place, I often turn to this dish.  For me, it’s a no-brainer – healthy, easy, tasty, and no fussy ingredients.

My mom made this for me many years ago, just after I got my own apartment and started cooking for myself.  I loved everything about it and asked her for the recipe.  I don’t know where she got it but she wrote it out for me on a piece of paper in her script, familiar from so many letters addressed to me over the years.  These days, I would like to think she would email it to me or send me the link.  Or at the very least photocopy it.  But I’m glad I have it in her “looks like a lefty” writing (she is not a lefty).

Over the 23 years that I have been a vegetarian (19 of those without fish), I have had many things like this dish.  Look at the ingredient list and it may not seem all that special – it’s basically a bean stew.  I have made countless things like it.  Of all of them, I like this one the best.  Lentils and chickpeas are some of my very favorite things in the world but I’m guessing it’s the caraway seeds and the healthy dose of coriander that makes it taste to special to me.  And the squeeze of lemon at the end just makes the whole thing pop.  I haven’t messed with it too much, but I’m sure that you could add cubed new potatoes or sliced cabbage to this dish to make it even more hearty.  You can serve it to almost anyone seeing as it is gluten-free and vegan.


Chickpea, Lentil, and Vegetable Stew
Adapted from Bon Appétit (most likely)
Serves 4

I served this with brown rice but it is also good with white rice (I would use basmati) and also with steamed quinoa.  If you are going to make this ahead of time, wait to add the spinach until you reheat it so it retains the lovely green color.

Olive Oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. caraway seeds
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 cup frozen lima beans or edamame
½ cup chopped parsley
10 oz. fresh baby spinach
lemon wedges

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and then add the onions.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic.  Cook another 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and all the spices; stir 1 minute.  Stir in broth, water, and lentils.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Add chickpeas, carrots, lima beans, and half the parsley.  Cover; simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.  (Can be made one day ahead.  Cover and chill.  Bring to a simmer before continuing.  Refrigerate remaining parsley for garnish.)

Stir spinach into stew in batches until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls with rice.  Garnish each bowl with remaining parsley and serve with lemon wedges.

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