Ginger and Tomato Indian Lentil Soup (Dahl)

Flash Steam OnionsThere are few things as comforting as a starchy spicy soup during the cold winter months.  This is a very simple soup, inspired by the cuisines of India, with minor twists for a healthier, souped-up version if you will chock full of nutrients. On the one hand, I add a few ribs of celery to the mix –an item I love to include on my receipe repertoire in the winter-.  On the other hand, I also eliminate the use of oil for the initial sautee to cut back on fat calories and use a handful of spinach for an extra nutrient boost.  Finally I serve this dish over some steamed baby potatoes.  Often times, people ask me about their concern that dish may be too heavy on the carbs.  My simple answer is that these are the good carbs our body needs, our preferred source of fuel, coming from whole, unprocessed foods. So go ahead, and try this wonderful, fragrant dish that will warm you up and stick to your ribs in the middle of winter.

Makes about 6 servings

2 cups of red lentil (dahl), rinsed (yellow or green split peas are also an option)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh lemongrass (if available, optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
5 cups vegetable stock, no sodium added, or water
1 onion, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes, preferably no salt added
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional, if available or use dried bay leaves instead)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, rinsed and lightly chopped
Pinch of red crushed chilies, optional

2 lbs steamed baby potatoes, for serving
Lemon Juice, for serving

Steam sautee diced onion and celery on a medium high heat soup with a few tbsp of stock or water on a pot for a few minutes until lightly brown, stirring from time to time, about 5 minutes.  Add ginger and lemongrass and continue sautéing for a few more minutes.  Add garlic, cumin turmeric and continue cooking for another 3 more minutes until spices are fragrant.  Add crushed tomatoes, stock, red lentils and kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a light simmer and cook uncovered mixing from time to time (the lentils may stick to the bottom of the pan if not stirred).  Continue cooking just until lentils are soft and fully cooked, about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add the spinach leaves, stir well and allow to wilt down for about another minute off the heat.

Serve on bowls over the steamed baby potatoes and garnish with a little bit of lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper or crushed red chilies if desired.

Recipe Repertoire: Sleepover Oats

SleepoverOatsOften the first question people ask me when I say I eat a mostly plant-based, whole foods diet is “what do you eat for breakfast?” As if there are no good options when you take eggs and yogurt off the table!  Well, I am a big fan of this fiber full breakfast—it’s easy to put together the night before, and doesn’t even need cooking.  It packs protein, fiber and the goodness of oats, plus healthy fats from seeds and fresh fruit to top it all off.  In these hot summer days, I eat it right out of the fridge, while in cold winter days, I just reheat briefly with a splash of non-dairy milk.

2 cups rolled oats (make sure they are not instant or quick cooking ones)
5 Tablespoons of chia seed or ground flaxseed
1/4 cup of raisins or currants, no added sugar
The zest of 1 lemon or an orange, finely chopped
Fresh fruit for serving. I usually have a diced banana and some blueberries, but a fresh peach and an apricot in the summer, or an apple and a pear diced work great as well.

To prepare the oatmeal, combine oats, seeds, dried fruit, zest and add enough cold water so as to cover the oats mixture.  Use a spoon to mix well all the ingredients and allow the water to get all ingredients wet.  Add more water if needed just so that the oat mixture is covered by about half an inch of water.  Cover and place in the refrigerator and leave overnight to soak or at least for 6 hours.

In the morning, or when ready to serve, divide into bowls and add fresh fruit and enough non-dairy milk to reach the consistency that you like for your cereal (I add about half a cup or so) and stir.  Heat if you like or enjoy cold.

Variations: add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and sprinkle with about 3 teaspoons of ground cinammon to the oat mixture instead of the zest.  You may also replace raisins or currants with about 5 pieces of dried apricots, finely chopped.

Fabulous Fiber Part 2

FIBER2Yep, I’m back on my fiber high horse, following up on my last post about the importance of adding fiber to your diet.  Some of you reached out to me asking how to measure and keep track of dietary fiber.  Well, in these app centric days, if you haven’t already, please make the effort to download one of the many apps that help you track your food on a daily basis (I like My Fitness Pal and Tap and Track which are free, but there are a lot of other ones). If anything, do it for the simple curiosity of how much fiber you are consuming on a daily basis and to take charge of you and your family’s health one meal at a time and boost that number out of the water!  My app tells me as a daily goal that I need (a meager) 19 grams of fiber.  The median consumption of fiber in the US is a sad 12 grams.  I am happy to say that I easily triple that number on a regular basis (thank you Sleepover Oats Breakfasts!).  Paleo-biologist studies from 10,000 year old stool samples found in caves in Texas point to fiber consumption back then of close to 100 grams per day!  Now that is what I can call a paleo-diet that makes sense to me (the rest of it is crazy).  Still struggling for delicious ways to add fiber to your diet? Then sign up for one of my many July small-group cooking classes and learn some new fiber tricks–Smoky Black Bean Burgers anyone?

Fabulous Fiber

My veggie burgers are one deliciously surprising way to add fiber to your diet.

My veggie burgers are one deliciously surprising way to add fiber to your diet. Next class June 23rd.

Another Sunday New York Times, another maddening article and study surrounding the very high cost of medical treatment in the US and the failure of the “free market” to provide better services at lower costs to the population.  This time around it was an analysis on the cost of colonoscopy procedures to detect colorectal cancer.  I am a firm believer that a lot more government intervention is needed to control costs, but I also like to point out that a lot of effort on behalf of individuals could come a long way to solve this problem.  Not even once in the article was it mentioned that there are plenty of studies that show a large decrease in colorectal cancers when dietary fiber is increased.  And I mean dietary fiber as in beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and not in dietary supplements, shakes or powders (those don’t work, sorry).

You will be doing yourself a grand favor by cutting down on any kind of meats, eggs and dairy that you usually consume and which contain no fiber at all, and load up on more whole plants (and yes, all are loaded with protein so don’t start me up on that!).  And if you missed Michael Pollan’s NYT article on bacteria a few Sundays ago, the availability of lots of dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) is a key fuel for these beneficial bacteria to thrive in your gut and that will make you thrive.  So by all means, let’s complain loudly to fix the mess of the healthcare system we have in place in America, but don’t complain while you eat highly processed cheeseburgers, pizzas and the like.  Do it while you chomp a handful of carrots and apples.

Think it’s boring adding fiber to your diet? I can help you do it in fun, tasty ways either one-on-one or in my small group classes. And I’ve got a surprise for you if you take my Veggie Burger Fest class–there are delicious ways to add veggies and whole grains to even your favorite summer cookout plans. Will I see you there?