Archive for October, 2012

Indian Inspired Lentils

I love lentils! I especially like eating Indian and Himalayan spiced dhal (daal or dal), usually made into a very comforting thick lentil pottage or soup. Not all dal varieties are the same; many differ in size, shape, flavor and nutrition. Some types of dal are not even lentils but different kinds of legumes, like peas, chickpeas or beans. They contain less insoluble fiber than beans and are not as irritating to finicky digestive systems, which means they cause very little gas, if any, depending how much you eat; keep in mind I am not suggesting you eat dhal three times a day, even though they taste really good.

These lentils aren’t restricted to soup. You can dish them over other vegetables,  quinoa, rice, buckwheat or green salad. Commonly daal is non-vegan and includes ghee, or clarified butter, but it is delicious either way. Another way to westernize this dish is to treat it like split pea or lentil soup by adding meat, like ham or sausage, but i prefer mine vegan. Sometimes if I haven’t eaten daal in a while, I crave it.

Chana dal are baby chickpeas or skinned and split black chickpeas (or kala chana if still in their skins), so don’t confuse them for yellow split peas even though they are the same exact color but flatter. They are low on the glycemic index, which means they are good for diabetics and are low in bad carbohydrates, have lots of fiber and protein and a significant amount of zinc, folate and calcium. Here is the listing for Bob’s Red Mill chana dal. Chickpea flour or besan is often made from this variety. These chickpeas require soaking in water at room temperature for two to three hours. If you add in half a teaspoon of baking soda, the chickpeas soften much quicker and then only need to cook 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your desired texture. Adding baking soda makes the water more alkaline, allowing beans to cook to doneness in only half the time; you can add the soda to any harder beans that require cooking for longer periods of time.

Masoor dal are red lentils, which contain significant amounts of fiber, flavonoids, complex carbohydrates, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin E. Click here for more nutritional benefits. Red lentils do not require soaking; just cook it for about 25 to 30 minutes. Here is Ashley Skabar’s spicy daal recipe made with red lentils that looks great.

Toor dal or arhar dal are yellow pigeon peas and the same color as chana dal and yellow split peas, however they are not low in glycemic value but contain healthy complex carbs. They are high in protein, vitamin A and C, folate and fiber. Toor dal need to soak for 30 minutes and then cooked for 50 minutes. Check out Jacqueline Pham’s recipe on her blog and Karen Mintzias’ recipe over at Big Oven.

There are three types of urad dal, which is black beluga lentils. You can get them whole, like I did, split or split and soaked, which removes their skins. They are rich in protein, fiber, calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and zinc. Beluga lentils also do not require soaking, only cook them at a low boil for 30 minutes.  Check out this recipe over at Indian Food Forever.

French green lentils or lentilles du Puy are olive green lentils with black speckles. They are a longer cooking lentil, needing about two to four hours of soaking and 45 minutes of low boiling, due to all of the insoluble fiber they contain. Check out this recipe by Caroline Russock for some more inspiration. Green lentils a nutritious amount of complex carbs, protein and are fat free; they contain good amounts of your daily calcium and iron.

As per usual, most of the herbs and spices that I used to make this dish are from Savory Spice Shop in Santa Rosa. A while back, I decided to flesh-out my spice cabinet, throwing away stale seasonings and combining duplicates to make more room. I wanted to expand my flavor palate and try something new, exciting and exotic. I was feeling incredibly adventurous and did quite a bit of research first, focusing on recipes from cuisines that knew I adored but had never cooked with at home, which was extremely helpful when I went to explore the shelves in the shop. I must have examined at all of the jars and canisters they had for absolutely hours. I had a great time asking questions, smelling, tasting and making new discoveries. I ran back and forth from the shelves to the counter several times. The garlic and onion came from the farmers market in Cotati, and I bought the mugwort (an uncommon culinary herb used in medicinal teas) at Rosemary’s Garden.

Indian Inspired Dhal

1 C Petite or Regular French Green Lentils*
1 C Urad Dhal
1/2 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 – 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Ajowan Seeds
2 – 3 tsp Olive Oil**
3 – 4 Large Garlic Cloves, grated or minced
1 – 2 Medium Sweet Yellow Onion, peeled, trimmed, minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, grated or minced, optional
4 C Filtered Water
2 Bay Laurel Leaves
1 T Cilantro Leaves
1 T Mugwort Leaves
OR 1 T Parsley Leaves
Mixed Peppercorns, ground to taste
1 tsp Sea Salt, to taste

*If you really want to stay with an Indian theme and add more color contrast, substitute the green lentils with channa dhal, toor dhal or masoor dhal. These lentils all have various cooking times, so adjust your preparation accordingly.

**If you want to make dhal without oil, skip the step of sauteing, and add the garlic, onion and ginger in with the other spices near the end of cooking the lentils.

Always sort your legumes and discard any broken or discolored ones along with any rocks you may find. Rinse your dal under cool water until the strained off water becomes clear to remove any dust or dirt. Put the lentils into a large mixing bowl or other vessel. Pour in enough water so that the level reaches about an two to three above the lentils. Remove the ones that float to the top. Soak the green lentils for two to four hours.

Dry roast the spice seeds in a small pan to intensify their flavor and get rid of any bitterness. Grind the seeds as small as possible in a spice grinder.

Saute the garlic, onion and ginger in a large oiled soup pot until the onion turns translucent, stirring often.

Rinse the lentils. Add them with the water to the pot, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium to prevent the water from boiling over. Cook the French lentils for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the black lentils. Continue to cook the lentils for 25 minutes, occasionally adding more water if needed and stirring. During the last five minutes add the powdered spices. Stir the mixture and cook five more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat completely, and stir in the herbs. After 15 minutes of cooling,taste test the lentils and adjust the flavors as needed. Serve the lentils on a salad, on toast, over or mixed into rice or noodles or as soup or really anywhere you would use beans. I mixed mine in with marinated vegetable noodles.

Marinated Spaghetti Squash and Vegetable Noodles

I had four spaghetti squash I received for volunteering at the National Heirloom Exposition that, as well as and two bunches of enoki mushrooms I bought from Sam Kim of Bohemian Well-Being Farm. They were just waiting for me in my kitchen, but I was having trouble figuring out what dishes to make with them. In the end, I decided to a mild Asian fusion vegan noodle dish that was versatile and could be served as a side or as an entree with a wide variety of mix-ins blended in to compliment the flavors, especially since I knew I would be eating the spaghetti  squash alone. My husband had no interest at all in eating it with me, as he is not a fan of eating squash in any form, except in pumpkin pie.

Marinated Spaghetti Squash & Vegetable Noodles
Adapted from Kelp Noodles with Marinated Carrots & Daikon Radish

3 Medium Carrots, trimmed
3 Stalks Celery, trimmed
1 Daikon Radish, trimmed
1 Medium to Large Spaghetti Squash, flesh of, cooked
5 Scallions, trimmed, sliced perpendicular or parallel
1 Bunch Enoki, trimmed, separated
2 Sweet Yellow Onion, skinned, trimmed, grated
2 T Garlic, peeled, trimmed, minced or finely grated
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, finely minced or finely grated
1 – 2 Lemons, zest and juice of
1/4 – 1/2 C Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, optional
1/4 C Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

Grate the carrots, celery and radish with a vegetable peeler into thin noodle-like strips. Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients thoroughly from bottom to top so the shredded vegetables become fully distributed and do not clump together. Marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight, mixing half way through. Give the ingredients one final stir. Serve with your protein of choice.

Spaghetti Squash

A bit ago, I volunteered for two days at the second annual National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa (of all places). I had a blast and saw so many fantastically amazing animals, fruits and vegetables. One of the great things about the event, was the decorations, which consisted of mostly hard skinned melons, gourds and squash. Since I worked until closing I got to take a bunch home, including three spaghetti squash! Who doesn’t love free organic heirloom produce? For that matter, who doesn’t like free food? I was in absolute awe of the huge piles and towers of melons and squash at the expo, which I hope to post more about another blog entry soon. Now on to the squash!

Spaghetti Squash is an oblong pale to bright yellow skinned variety of winter squash with bright yellow flesh inside that separates into noodle-like fibers. It is a wonderful alternative to wheat-based pasta. A one-cup serving has only 43 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates and a lot of nutritional value. It has over two grams of fiber, lots of water, three percent of your daily value of calcium and iron, five percent vitamin A, eight percent vitamin B6 and nine percent vitamin C. Check out this site to find out more information.

Small & Large Spaghetti Squash

Here are some ways to prepare spaghetti squash. I prefer to steam it in the oven; see the instructions below. There are lots of recipes on the internet for spaghetti squash that look awfully yummy, especially since you can use it to replace grain-based pasta noodles. How about making an herbed or spiced pasta, like this one over at Smitten Kitchen or the roasted squash recipe from Martha Stewart Living? Just like with regular spaghetti noodles, you can also dress the squash with sauce of many varieties, like this recipe that uses tomato sauce. You can always check out my post on pesto recipes, where I listed a bunch to choose from. This website has even more recipes.

Oven-Steamed Spaghetti Squash

Start with a spaghetti squash of any size. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Be careful when cutting the squash, since it is round. Don’t let the knife slip and cut you. Trim off the ends, occasionally turning the squash order to slice all the way through.

Now cut the squash in half. Use a mallet to get the knife all of the way through if you must to get cut through tough skin. If you do have to use a mallet, firstly, only use a metal knife. Secondly, protect your cutlery by placing a padded layer between the mallet and the knife to prevent denting and warping. I used a silicone gripper for opening tight jars, but you can also use a really thick towel or potholder.

Scoop out the squash strings that run parallel to the long cut edges along with the seeds. You can save the seeds for roasting later; they roast up just like pumpkin seeds.

Put the two halves side by side in a large glass 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. If your squash is really big, you can use two baking dishes, a basting pan or a broiling pan without the grill. Fill the pan of your choice with half an inch of filtered water.

Cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake the squash for 50 minutes to an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and uncover the squash. Let it cool on a trivet on the counter for 30 minutes or until it is not to hot to handle comfortably.

With a large spoon, separate the skin from the flesh. You may have to peel and break it off a bit at a time with your fingers. Transfer the flesh to a large mixing bowl. Separate the fibers with your hands until they look like noodles. At this time, you can mix in other vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat or vegan sausage and sauce.

Beetings Will Continue Until Health Improves!

I’m just joking and being punny. Beets are a nutritious root vegetable that is entirely edible (greens and roots), like carrots, and are used in many different cuisines. You can eat them raw in salads or juiced, roasted, steamed, as chips (dehydrated or baked), pickled or canned, in soups, and more. You can always try an Eastern European dish of brightly hued hot or chilled borscht, which can also include sour cream, onions, potatoes, cabbage, sorrel, tomatoes, or carrots, depending on where the recipe is from. There are also many varieties of beets that best prepared in various ways. Some have tough or tender greens, while others have have rather sweet or bitter roots. Tender greens and sweet beetroots can be eaten raw, but tough greens and bitter roots are best cooked so to ease digestion and improve flavor. Which ever beet variety you choose, make sure to rinse and scrub them all over with a vegetable brush to get rid of dirt hidden in crevices and bring out the natural color. Here’s a helpful website that has more ideas and factoids mostly regarding red beets.

Beets have practical uses, too. You may have noticed their deep or bright colors caused buy flavinoids (anti-oxidants), especially while cutting them up. Watch out! The darker cultivars will stain anything and everything. Many people choose to wear gloves when working with them. Whether you do or do not enjoy eating beetroots or their greens, you can use them to dye paper, yarn and fabric. Just make sure to perform a sample test run, since the colors may not turn out as you expect.

Red beets range in size and color, from pink to dark, dark red and are of your most commonly found varieties in grocery stores. They are generally juicy, tender, sweet and vividly colored. There are lots of heirloom and hybrid cultivars to choose from that are a bit different, some of which have tasty greens. For the kind that are best cooked, here are some methods to prepare them. Red beets are high in nutrients and are very good for you.

Chioggia beets are a nice visual treat of a beet that come in red, purple or pink with white rings in a series of circles that form a bulls eye target when they are sliced horizontally; it you cut them vertically in half, the flesh appears striped with alternating striations. These beetroots have a sweet overall flavor but very sharp bitter aftertaste when eaten raw; their alkalinity made my throat kind of itchy and irritated. I drank lots of water and had to consume something slightly acidic to get rid of the sensation and taste. The other option is to thinly slice the beets and marinate them in either vinegar or citrus juice, like in this recipe. Needless to say, these beetroots are best eaten cooked or marinated. Baby candy cane beets are similar in pattern with bright red and white radiating circles but are smaller, can be eaten raw and are the sweetest type of beet.

Golden beets have a mild and sweet flavor with another full collection of nutrients. They also have a bulls eye pattern but in orange and yellow when sliced horizontally. Since golden beets are a bit rough skinned, it’s best to peel them first. One of the great things about golden beets is that when you peel them, you don’t have to wear gloves or worry about your hands staining. I have yet to try them, but I hear they taste fantastic oven-roasted, especially whole. There are several cultivars to choose from, such as Burpee goldens, yellow Detroits and yellow Mangels.

The Dutch blankoma or albino beets, are also a bit different. These beets are also non-staining, so no gloves are necessary. Blankoma beets have a mild flavor and a potato-like texture. Lightly steam them to bring out their delicate sweetness that is easy to mask if you aren’t careful in adding the right amount of seasoning. Just add a little extra flavor from spices and herbs at a time; it’s also best to start simple, maybe with some salt and pepper. Keep a close watch over them as they cook to prevent them from overcooking and turning gray, which can also diminish the natural flavor. Here’s some more information about them, including how to prepare them.

Cashew Garlic Collard Greens Wrap

Collard greens are really healthy for you. They are full of iron, vitamin C, calcium, fiber and lots of other important nutrients. You can eat them raw in salad, wraps or make dehydrated chips out of them (like kale chips) in numerous flavors, or you can eat them cooked. These greens are much like spinach in this way. Honestly, I prefer to eat them raw. When you cook them you have to be really careful to not degrade the fiber and vitamins, which is completely unavoidable for some nutrients, especially amino acids, which our bodies need for many basic chemical processes.

Anyway, of course there are many ways to eat and enjoy cooked collards, too. Cooking also makes the insoluble fibers more digestible and affects the flavor. Many people prefer to eat collards cooked, since the raw leaves can have a metallic or alkaline taste that is unpalatable to some. Whatever you do, don’t overcook it into a bland mushy slimy mess that holds very little nutritional value at all. I hope this site on collard green preparation proves helpful. It also details collard green’s nutritional benefits.

Collard green and lettuce wraps are great and very versatile. Yes, they are often messy, but that’s part of the fun. They are generally lower in calories than wraps made with tortillas or sandwiches made with bread. You can fill them with most any thing and dress them any way you like. You can even eat them with an accompanying dip, if you like. They are easy to make with or without meat and are a perfect finger food type meal that is easy to assemble an d completely customizable for those with certain food dislikes, allergies and or digestive issues.

Carianne over at Good Likes Girls made a curry lettuce wrap, which I think would also taste good with cashews and Bragg’s Aminos if you need it “veganized”. I would also have to play with the balance of the herb flavors, since I’d have to exclude mint. Here’s a Chinese chicken wrap posted by Chris Perrin that may be interesting. It’s made with rainbow chard, which I initially thought would taste to irony and alkaline…. It was posted on Food Fab, so people must like it.

Collard Greens Wrap
Serves 1 to 2

2 Collard Leaves, halved, center spine and stems reserved *
1/4 – 1/2 tsp Chopped Garlic
1 tsp Hummus, optional
1 tsp Favorite Savory Nut Butter, optional
1/2 – 1 tsp Dijon or Spicy Brown Mustard, optional
1 tsp Salsa Verde or Tomatillo Salsa, optional
4 – 8 Large Basil Leaves
2 Large Kale Leaves, torn into bite-size pieces, center spine and stems reserved
1 Carrot, trimmed, julienned or shredded
1 Small to Medium Beet, trimmed, cut into matchsticks
1 Stalk Celery, trimmed, cut into matchsticks, optional
1 Scallion, trimmed, cut into 4″ lengths
1/4 – 1/2″ Bunch Enoki Mushrooms, trimmed, separated, optional
1/2 Medium Avocado, skinned, pitted, sliced
1″ cube (1oz) Daiya Jalapeno Garlic Havarti or Jack Style Wedge, sliced
OR 1oz Daiya Pepper Jack Style Shreds
1 Tomatillo, halved, sliced in small rounds or thin wedges
1/4 Red Bell Pepper, cored, seeded, sliced into spears
1/4 Heirloom Yellow Tomato, sliced into thin wedges
1/4 C Cashew Nuts, prepared
1/2 Lime, juice of
OR 1 T Lime Juice
Dry Flake-Type Garnish, Grated Cheese* or Salad Toppings, optional

*I love Parma!, which is a vegan cheese alternative that consists of Himalayan sea salt, nutritional yeast and raw organic walnuts and comes in original, chipotle cayenne, and garlic. It’s amazing.

Lay the collard leaves down next to each other or one at a time on your work surface, like a medium to large chopping board. Of one of your leaves has a hole on one end, make sure to roll from that side so the ragged areas get tucked inside your wrap. Spoon on and spread the wet ingredients of your choice perpendicularly across the middle of the leaves to add flavor and or protein.

Start layering your fillings, starting with your greens. If you have small pieces, like nuts or seeds, that might potentially to fall out, place them as close together and as flat as possible but about a quarter of an inch away from the leaf edges. Add your layers of long and bundled vegetables, like the carrots, 4-inch long sliced stems. Press them firmly into the stack to prevent sliding. Carefully stack the bulkier fillings and then the wider flat fillings. Dress with lime other dressing. Sprinkle on salad topping, Shichimi Togarashi, furikake, ground spices or herbs, etc.

Here is where you may have some unruly pieces try to escape and most likely make a mess. (This is why working on a larger space, like a chopping board, is better than trying to roll everything together on a plate.) You will probably get your hands wet and dirty; the tasty wrap is worth it! Personally, I don’t mind little messes when handling wet ingredients to make finger food, since I figure my hands are going to get food and sauce on them anyway. Just be patient and try not to tear the leaves, which would cause a bigger mess. Not all of your fillings have to fit in the wraps. If your stacks get to high or you were a bit overzealous with your choices, put some of them aside; we will deal with those in a bit. Carefully roll up your leaves around the filling as tight as you can, kind of like rolling sushi. You can use a sushi rolling mat if you prefer, but I didn’t need one. If anything starts to slip out, push it back in. Teach it who’s boss! The wraps do not have to be sliced, since the leaves were already cut in half when you removed the center collard stems.Transfer your little wraps to a plate with a lip edge or shallow bowl, since they will drip at least a little bit. Make sure there is enough room on the dish to pile on your extra fillings that didn’t fit in the wraps previously. Treat them as a side salad, maybe even drizzling on dressing if you want. Enjoy!

*If you don’t like the taste of collards or you don’t have any, you can use large red or green curly kale leaves, romaine, red or green leaf, butter lettuce or iceberg (which is poor in nutrients and fiber but full of water). The kale stems should be removed but can be rolled in with the other fillings after they are cut into manageable lengths. The long lettuce leaves have much thinner spines that do not require complete removal, only trimming. Just make sure to remove the white stems near the base of the long lettuce leaves. Gently fold the leaves in half along the spine (being careful not to break the leaves), so it sticks out. Carefully shave off the part of the spine that protrudes outward (careful not to slice or pierce the green part of the leaf on either side of the spine), so that it is flat and thin when you unfold the leaf. The lettuce leaf should be much more pliable and not break as easily when you roll it up. Lay the leaves in order to fill their natural cup or bowl shape. Once your have all of the toppings on, roll up the leaves from the more leafy pliable side opposite from the stem just in case the stem is vengeful and decides to spite you and breaks anyway. Round lettuce leaves do not need trimming or stem removal. Make sure to use leaves that aren’t too thick and crispy, or they will fall apart when you roll or pick them up.

Here’s another example of a raw vegetarian wrap made by Diana Stobo. She uses butter lettuce (which is more expensive than other lettuce varieties but my grandma’s favorite) to make sweet and spicy Thai lettuce wrap with great ingredients, like carrots, garlic, ginger, celery, walnuts, scallions and cilantro.