Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

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An Easy Borscht

Beets are a lovely addition to your winter diet. There is something about their bright hue that seems to add a touch of color to a dreary, grey day. And usually anything with color is a welcome addition to a child’s diet. My toddler daughter likes to call borscht “strawberry soup.” Beets are rich sources of potassium, iron, and vitamin-C. Their lovely red juice can be a blood purifier, may lower high blood pressure, and can aid in the breakdown of kidney stones. In fact, beet juice has been touted to counteract anemia and iron deficiency, and has even been credited to help defeat cancer in some patients.

There are numerous versions of borscht; some with meat and some completely vegetarian. But I think I could safely say I prefer a vegetarian borscht, that is, unless I have some leftover roast lingering in the fridge. If at all possible, buy organic beets, since they are root vegetables and readily soak up pesticides from the ground, as well as from above ground, exposing your body to more chemicals that I’m sure you would like to keep far, far away. This soup is fairly easy to make and extremely uncomplicated. Just be sure to wear an apron and a set of gloves while preparing the beets, or you may just become bright red from head to toe!

4 medium beets, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
2 Tbl. fresh dill, finely chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 tsp. sugar
salt, pepper to taste
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
olive oil

Prepare the beets and other vegetables, separately; set aside. In a large saucepan or small stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and then the grated beets. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the 2 Tbl. of dill, chicken stock, and water. Stir everything together. Turn down the heat to low and cover. Be sure that your soup does not boil too rigorously, or else you will have little spouts of beet juice just about every where on your stove top and over your floor. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve warm with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt or sour cream, and a small handful of freshly chopped dill. (The cooked dill will become dull in color, and adding some fresh dill boosts the soup’s overall appearance.) Alternatively, you could serve this soup chilled for lunch.

Orange Ricotta Cookies (with carrot added….shhhh!)

This is one of my favorite little cookies – so smooth and not overly sweet.  It’s another one that came from my aforementioned super-baker neighbor, Olive, and her treasure chest of recipes.  The original recipe was without the added produce, but I felt that it needed a little flavor, and I love to sneak healthy vegetable purées into unsuspecting desserts, so voilá, we now have something tasty to feel not quite so guilty about.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

8 ounces ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup puréed carrot (steamed and processed until smooth in a food processor)

zested orange peel from one small orange

In a large mixer, at low speed, beat the sugar and butter together, then beat on high until light and fluffy.  At medium speed, beat in the ricotta, vanilla, and eggs until well combined.  On low, add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat until a soft dough forms.  Add the carrot and orange peel, and beat on low until just combined.

Drop small spoonfuls of dough on a lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes.  Do not over-bake.  When they start to brown on the bottom, they are done.

The delicate flavor of the orange makes these a perfect choice when serving brunch.  The sweetness of the carrot is barely discernible in the overall taste, but it enhances the color of the dough to match the flecks of orange peel and adds a nice boost of Vitamin A!  No topping is needed, but if you like, you can add a glaze on top consisting of 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and enough powdered sugar whisked in to slightly thicken it.