Category: Lentils

Something for Balance

December 21, 2009


And now, a break from all the sweets.

The scene: My birthday, July 26th.  The year: 2003.  The setting: London and environs.

We had moved into our little flat just weeks before and were still figuring out life in a new country.  Cooking for me was a real challenge because all of our kitchen equipment (including all my cookbooks) were 6 weeks behind us on a freighter.  Without my recipes, and without a computer in the flat, I was unmoored in our little kitchen.  Night after night I would attempt to make things for us drawing on my not insignificant experience.  But there was a lot of pasta boiled in the three tiny saucepans available to me at the time.  I am a much better and more innovative cook now and I would be much better off these days in that same situation.  But I have to say, I would still be lost without my cookbooks for a significant length of time.

For my birthday that year, my 33rd, we decided to do a bus tour and see some of the sites nearby the city.  There was a hotel that hosted these tours within walking distance of our flat and we chose a day touring Stonehenge and Bath.  I remember, quite clearly, that I was wearing a wool sweater and a jacket (in July) and thinking that Seattle had nothing on London in the weather department.  I remember being truly awed by Stonehenge, in spite of the fact that you are no longer allowed to get too close.  I remember being utterly charmed by the lovely town of Bath with its ruins of Roman baths.  Would you think the cultural experience wasted on me if I told you what I really remember was the restaurant where we had lunch?


Demuths is a vegetarian restaurant and, even if the food had been bad, it was a most welcome site for sore eyes.  Is is quite possible to eat extremely well as a vegetarian in London, but you have to know what you are doing and the places to go (three words – Middle Eastern food) but I hadn’t figured all that out yet.  And so, a menu of unlimited choices was enough to make me emotional.  And then the food was delicious.  Everything was light and fresh with none of the heaviness that I had already wearied of.  Best of all, they had a cookbook which I snatched up in 14.5 seconds.

Our meals at home dramatically improved after our day away.  Just days later that unbelievable heat wave hit – the one where so many people died in France.  For the first day or so, our flat was tolerable but it soon became torture to do anything but sit, and even that induced sweating.  Sandwiches and salad were the only things we wanted to eat and I was so thankful that this new treasure of mine had so many choices.

Smoked tofu was something I had never tasted before our year in London but I found it everywhere there, even in the most basic grocery stores.  I put it in everything and even just ate it by itself.  As I was doing my shopping in a very veg-friendly store the other day (PCC for the Seattle people), I was shocked to find some from a B.C. company.  The first thing I thought of was this salad.  We’ll see how things go this week, but I may even credit this super nutritious and flavor packed salad with breaking me out of my cooking funk.

For many of you, the coming week brings turkeys, and roasts, and hams.  It brings mashed potatoes, gratins, and green bean casseroles.  It brings puddings, cookies, pies, and cakes.  And next week brings champagne and big dinners, and possibly even things like chips and onion dip in front of back-to-back football games.  I won’t blame you if you put this salad away for now.  But January resolutions are right around the corner.  If eating healthier is on your list, bookmark this recipe.  No deprivation here.  Lots of flavor, lots of protein, and lots of texture.  I made up my own dressing because the original was too “spa” for me.


One Year Ago:  Holiday Cookies and Ultimate Ginger Cookies

Smoked Tofu, Le Puy Lentil, and Spinach Salad
With Thanks to Green World Cookbook
Serves 2

I encourage you to make this salad your own by finding the right balance of ingredients.  Below is how I made mine.  If you can’t find smoked tofu, any of the flavored types of tofu you find in your store would taste great.  Just be sure they are very firm.  Wasabi paste is something I always have on hand in my refrigerator.  It comes in a toothpaste looking tube and keeps forever.  The dressing will still be delicious without it, however.

For Salad:
1/2 cup Le Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
10 cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
2 small handfuls bean sprouts
1 small avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. roasted and salted sunflower seeds
4 ounces smoked (or other flavored) tofu, cut into fingers

For Dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider
1 tbsp. Tamari or other soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. Wasabi paste
4 tbsp. Grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water.  Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender to the bite but not mushy, about 25 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, bring the apple cider to a boil and cook down until it has reduced to about 2 tablespoons.  Set aside to cool.  Once cool, pour into a bowl along with the soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi.  Whisk well and then slowly add the oil, whisking the whole time.  Taste and adjust balance of flavors to your liking.

Place a bed of spinach down on each of two plates.  Scatter some of the lentils over top.  (You will have some lentils left over.)  Add the tomatoes, bean sprouts, tofu, avocado and sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the plate.  Lightly pour the dressing on to taste.

Memories of France

January 29, 2009

My husband Randy is a master finagler. Everything he finagles is above board but he is just one of those amazing people who can ask for things and get them. He spent many years in the Navy and was able to do some incredible things (spend time with the Norwegian Navy, travel in Israel, study in France), all because he asked and they said yes.

This quality served us well the year we lived in London. We went to Euro-Disney for a conference (and a weekend in Paris), we went to Israel for a week so he could meet with a company his employer was thinking of buying. Oh yes, and he got us to London for a year!

Before we moved back to Seattle, and after he had been recruited to work for another company, he finagled a trip around northern Europe so he could “meet the teams.” If you know my husband, you know that he worked hard on that trip. He never doesn’t work hard. But he also got us to Tallin (Estonia), Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris in the week and a half after we left London.

Once he was done with meetings in Paris, we rented a car and took our time driving south to Provence to meet up with some friends. I will always remember this trip for many different reasons. First, obviously, I got to see cities in Europe that I had never seen which is always thrilling. I was on my way back home to the States which I felt really excited about. I was going to see a part of my beloved France that I had heard so much about but never seen. We were going to witness parts of Llance Armstrong’s historic 6th win of the Tour de France. But perhaps most of all, I was hyper aware of the baby growing in my belly.

Right before we left London, I had an ultrasound (at 16 weeks) which told us that we were going to have a boy. The incredible joy I felt seeing that little fully formed person is difficult to describe – if you have witnessed an ultrasound for your baby-to-be, you know what I am talking about. We were beyond thrilled that he was going to be a boy and over the moon to see that he looked healthy. About a week later, once we had gotten to Stockholm, I started to bleed. Of course, it happened on July 4th, so I was unable to reach a doctor back in the States and the Swedish doctor we spoke to just told me to hang in there and if the bleeding increased, to go immediately to a hospital. My first thought when I woke up, the last thought I had before I drifted off to sleep, and every other thought in between was whether or not I was going to lose that precious baby for days. Once we got in touch with our doctor back home, she told me to stay off my feet as much as possible which is difficult in small European cities where you really just need to walk everywhere.

I did notice that when I took it easy, the bleeding stopped. Once I started walking too much, it would pick back up again. So, as much as I enjoyed the travel on that trip, when we finally made it to Provence, I could breathe easy. We were staying at a property where we had a wonderful room with lots of communal living space and a pool. We weren’t near anything except tiny perfect French towns. I pretty much just took it easy for the first few days. As my fear began to subside, I began to explore the paradise that is Provence. I did see Llance Armstrong come through Nimes (although I was sitting on the sidewalk). I did see countless vineyards and walk through the markets of Arles. I also sat in the sun poolside and got lots of sleep.

Once home, I had another ultrasound and everything looked fine with our baby. Just 17 weeks later he was born and showed himself to be perfect.

So what on Earth does all this have to do with lentils?? This incredible dish (one of my absolute favorites – like take it to a desert island favorites) comes from Patricia Wells’ The Provence Cookbook. It is the one cookbook I took with me on our trip there. Not only did I use it to cook lots of delicious food for our friends that week, but I also used it as a reference. Wells details out where the best markets are, where the best pottery is, and profiles some of her favorite farmers. It is an amazing cookbook but also a resource for traveling in her beloved Provence. Because this book really is a love letter to Provence. I cannot open this lovely cookbook with its sunny cover and inviting prose without thinking of my incredible son, now 4 years old. How worried I was! I had no idea that really, as a mother, you just keep worrying…

Lentils with Capers, Walnuts, Walnut Oil, and Mint
Adapted from
The Provence Cookbook
Serves 4-6

You could use regular lentils in this recipe, but Le Puy lentils are worth seeking out for their firm texture and density. Toasting the walnuts really brings out their flavor so don’t skip that step. The method of cooking the lentils may seem overly fussy here, but I trust Wells implicitly, so I always follow her advice when making this dish.

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt to taste

6 tbsp. walnut oil

1/2 cups (8 oz.) French lentils, such as Le Puy
2 cups vegetable stock

1 carrot, peeled and cut into thirds

1 onion, peeled and stuck with a clove

1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

cup capers in vinegar, drained, rinsed, and chopped if large
1 cup fresh mint leaves

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Place the lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a jar with a screw top (such as a jam jar). Cover and give it a good shake. Add the oil and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

2. Place the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water. Tranfer them to a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer the lentils back to the sieve and drain over a sink. Rinse the lentils under cold running water again. Return the lentils to the saucepan, add the stock, season with salt, and bring just to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the carrot and onion. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are cooked but not mushy. Taste to
make sure. Remove the onion and carrot and discard. If there is still liquid in the pot along with the lentils, drain them once again in the sink.

3. Transer the lentils to a large bowl. Add the walnuts, capers, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the vinaigrette to taste – you may not need all of it. Toss well. Once the lentils have cooled a bit, add the mint and toss again. Can be served warm or room temperature. Keeps 2 days, covered, in the refrigerator.

What I Want to Make

January 6, 2009

Although I have been cooking and baking a lot in the past two weeks, it has been nice to have a break from the familiar. I essentially took two weeks off from my clients and just cooked whatever I wanted (or didn’t cook!) for my family. Every time I have that luxury, I immediately want to make red lentils. I actually have two favorite recipes for these little beauties and I could have sworn I already shared one of them. But after looking through past posts, I cannot find it anywhere.

Whenever it is time to pull these recipes out, I can never remember which one I like better. One has zucchini and coconut milk, the other has carrots, spinach and no coconut milk. Both have Indian spices and seasonings (lots of ginger and garlic), both are extremely tasty and good for you. Both are incredibly well accompanied by roasted cauliflower. If you think you don’t like cauliflower, please – oh please – give roasting it a try. Just cut a small head of cauliflower into bite size florets and toss with a sprinkling of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. Toss once to make sure it browns evenly. You want it really brown. If you happen to have a dark colored baking sheet in your house, now is the time to use it. You will win friends and influence people with this dish. I kid you not.

But back to the lentils. I will give the recipe for the the carrot one today in the hopes I will unearth the other one from a past post at a later date. While this recipe does not call for coconut milk, I decided to add some and then, on tasting it, decided it was too sweet. So here is the original.

I found the other recipe – it’s here.

Curried Red-Lentil Stew with Vegetables
Adapted from
Bon Appetit
Serves 4-6

Serve this stew over basmati rice.

Vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped


1 (2 x 1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

5 cloves of garlic, minced

5 cups water

1/2 tsp. curry powder
tsp. tumeric
tsp. cumin
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed

3 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise

5 oz. baby spinach leaves

1 cup frozen peas, not thawed

cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a heavy 4-5 quart pot over moderate heat and then add just enough oil to coat the bottom. Cook the onion with a sprinkling of salt, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add spices and cook over low heat for 1 minute.

Stir in lentils and 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add carrots and another sprinkling of salt and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender and lentils have broken down into a coarse puree, 15-20 minutes.

Stir in spinach and peas and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro and season stew with salt and pepper. If necessary, add enough water to thin stew so that it can be ladled over rice.

(Stew without spinach or peas can be made and chilled, uncovered, until completely cooled, then covered for up to 5 days. Reheat over moderately low heat, thinning with water to a pourable consistency and stirring frequently, before adding remaining ingredients.)

Healthy and Delicious

November 11, 2008

Sometimes you just want something really really healthy. I have noticed when I need to eat some protein, I will just start to crave it. As I was planning this week’s menus, I realized that I kept gravitating towards chickpeas. Now I love chickpeas – to me, they are one of the world’s most perfect food – but when I start to feel like I could eat them straight out of the can…it’s time for some protein.

I made this incredible salad tonight to go with a Cauliflower and Tomato Gratin and that Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. It is a favorite of mine and is a perfect protein with the chickpeas, lentils, and bulgur. I could eat bowls of this stuff – even when I’m not craving protein. I am totally in love with Goya brand chickpeas – to me they are the perfect texture and nice and buttery.

Bulgur and Green Lentil Salad with Chickpeas
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 5 cups

I find this salad tastes best if it rests for a day. Don’t add the mint until right before you serve it though.

1/2 cup French green lentils, picked over
1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground pepper

cup fine or medium bulgur
5 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Grated zest of 2 lemons

Juice of 2 lemons

cup olive oil
1 tsp. paprika

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 cups finely chopped parsley

cup chopped mint

Cover the lentils with water in a small saucepan, add the bay leaf and 1/2 tsp. salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but firm, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, put the bulgur in a bowl, cover with water, and let stand until the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender – 20-30 minutes. Drain the extra water if necessary.

Whisk together the scallions, garlic, lemon zest and juice, oil, paprika, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large bowl. When the lentils are done, drain them and add them to the dressing. Press out any excess water from the bulgur and add it along with the chickpeas, parlsey and mint. Toss gently and thoroughly, then taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Moroccoan Food and My Dad

November 1, 2008

My dad is a retired doctor – an oncologist to be exact. He had a private practice for over 30 years and worked incredibly hard the whole time. The patients he had tended to be incredibly ill and he lost so very many of them to incurable cancers. He also saved a lot of them, or extended their lives beyond what they could have hoped for.

When I tell someone who knows him (a former patient, family member of a patient, or someone in the medical community) that I am his daughter, they unfailingly tell me what a wonderful man he is. I know. He is a great dad too. During my entire childhood, he worked very long hours, but it never seemed that way to me. He was very present when he was home, so it seemed that he was around a lot more than he actually was.

I worried a little about him retiring. Being a doctor, a good doctor, was so much a part of him and I wondered how he would transition to a life without that identity and with a lot more free time. I needn’t have worried. He and my mom have been incredibly active and busy basically since his retirement party. He took birding classes, joined a softball team, joined a cancer survivor support group (yes, he has also been a patient), and he and my mom have traveled all over the place. Last year they went to Austria and Germany on one trip and Italy on another.

Just last week, they left for Morocco. They are going with a tour group of sorts (an active tour group), but this was still a big step for them. Morocco is much more foreign than the other places they have traveled – except for Turkey a couple of summers ago. They were very excited to go but apprehensive. I can’t wait to hear their stories and see their pictures. A bonus of their trip is that they opted to start in Madrid – a place they had never been. My dad was an art history major (unusual for someone who is pre-med), and had never seen the Prado Museum. His favorite artist is Goya and there are some of the most incredible examples of his work in the Prado. My dad is five years post-op from his cancer and is incredibly healthy. It makes me very happy that he will see those amazing paintings and get to see Morocco.

In honor of their trip, I decided to do a Moroccan style dinner last week and at the heart of it was this amazing soup. It’s called Harira Soup and, among my many cookbooks, I have several recipes for it. The one I chose last week turned out to be my favorite yet. It comes from a marvelous cookbook called World Food Cafe, which is also an incredible restaurant in the Covent Garden area of London. Randy and I ate several meals there and I was always torn as to what to order (it is all vegetarian). World Food Cafe is owned by a husband and wife team and the husband just happens to be the Photographer-in-Residence for the Royal Geographic Society. The cookbook’s photography is stunning and the recipes reflect their travels all over the world.

Harira Soup
Adapted from
World Food Cafe
Serves 4-6

This soup is very easy to make but it does require a fair amount of chopping. Look at it as an opportunity to practice your knife skills! Like most soups, it tastes even better the next day, but will most likely be very thick. Add water as needed as you reheat it. You can also do some things ahead of time, like chop the celery and carrots (potatoes will discolor and onions will get too stinky), and measure out the spices.

Olive oil
1 large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

tsp. saffron or tumeric
tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. paprika

2 tsp. ground coriander

2 large red potatoes, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

cup dried green lentils
2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in heavy puree

2 cups vegetable stock

Water as needed

1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 oz. vermicelli (or angel hair pasta), broken up

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat and toss in the onions and a healthy pinch of salt. Saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and stir for three minutes.

Add the parsley, ginger, black pepper, saffron or tumeric, cayenne, paprika, and coriander, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, lentils, and tomato paste. Stir well and add the tomatoes, stock, and enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, adding more water as necessary to make a thick soup.

Add the chickpeas and vermicelli and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Pour in the lemon juice and add salt to taste.

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