lentil tacos, a memory

 

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As an undergraduate living in a house with three other friends, we often cooked and ate meals together. Often, that meant I cooked and shared a lot. Many of the recipes were a little too inventive, had mishaps, or were otherwise freely critiqued with a good dose of humor all around.

 

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One such meal happened to be lentil tacos. I long-ago picked up the recipe from Runner’s World, back when they had a fairly elaborate recipe database on their site. The tacos were good but they were also what I deemed gringo-hippy tacos with their reliance on all the common gringo taco accompaniments, shredded cheese, lettuce, flour tortillas, etc. And the filling. It had not only lentils but also raisins, and they both finished simmering in salsa. Not exactly authentic or normal. Exactly the type of thing I would make. And still do.

The particular day I made these at that house, my roommate had a friend over who stayed for dinner. She was/is a good friend from childhood, a friend I had grown up eating countless authentic tacos with in our hometown. He was not only from Mexico, but also knew food. I was so embarrassed. I would never intentionally serve my hippy tacos to someone who knows tacos. (I had by then switched over to corn tortillas and dropped the gringo accompaniments). But still.

We all dived in and the lentil filling was met with overwhelming approval. And then I mostly forgot about the recipe, only making it a handful of times in the years since.

 

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In my hometown again over Christmas, my friend brought up that memory and asked for the recipe. Really? That’s just an old Runner’s World recipe. But when I looked, it was gone from the site. Good thing I had printed and held on to it, as I did then for all the really good recipes. So here it is, slightly adapted from the original, still in all its inauthentic-ness.

We served them this time over locally made corn tortillas and topped off with shredded carrots, diced red cabbage, and kohlrabi matchsticks, because they’re in season and were already on hand. That tends to be how we eat tacos.

 

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Lentil Tacos, serves 4-6
The Recipe Redux theme this month is Taco Tuesday and we were challenged to share our healthy, creative take on tacos. What is yours? I’d love to know how you enjoy them!

Lentils:
1 Tbs. coconut or other high heat oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, small diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 tsp. chili powder, start with less and build the heat level as desired
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup green or brown lentils
2 Tbs. raisins
2-3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup salsa, your choice of heat (or plain canned tomatoes and more spices)
salt and pepper, as needed

Suggested Toppings:
shredded cabbage or greens
shredded carrots
kohlrabi, matchsticks or shredded
corn tortillas, warmed
additional salsa or other

  • In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium-high. Add the onion and celery and cook for five minutes until beginning to be soft. Add the garlic, stir and cook for about a minute longer.
  • Then add the spices, lentils, and raisins. Give them all a good stir to incorporate the spices well and then add 2 cups of the broth or water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes or until tender. Stir once or twice throughout and add more liquid if needed.
  • Stir in the salsa and cook for 5-10 minutes more. Then taste and add salt, pepper and additional spices to taste.
  • Meanwhile, prep the other ingredients, and spoon the filling and toppings atop warmed tortillas.

 

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sesame garlic tofu + rice bowl with pickled ginger

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William and I met up with a friend for dinner a few weeks back in the middle of our travels home after Christmas. He and I have been together for seven plus years now and that dinner happened to be the first (and so far only) time we’ve ever ordered exactly the same thing at a meal out.

I just about hyperventilated as he ordered the exact same sesame garlic tofu bowl with pickled ginger and seasonal vegetables. To make a quick summary of what I’ve been learning from observing William’s eating patterns throughout the years, behavior and food preferences change. For most of us, it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. This meal is an example of that. When we met, there was no way William was going to pick a tofu and vegetable bowl off an ample and varied menu, but he would have picked something with Asian flavors.

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This recipe is my contribution to The Recipe Redux theme for this month, to create and share a budget-friendly meal. I’ve spoken about my experiences with creating meals out of resourcefulness in the past and so I won’t go into specifics again here. I tend to think I eat budget meals most days but that is also a matter of perspective, since the majority of our at-home food spending goes to fruit, and during the winter season, vegetables from local farms. I also have access to several co-ops/natural food stores where I can source nearly all my ingredients save produce in bulk–including the sesame oil, tamari, rice, and vinegar featured here. I know this is not an option for many, but if there are two tips I can share, purchase from the bulk bins when you can and be resourceful; think of recipes as a template and be courageous enough to make substitutions depending on what’s on hand.

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Since we’re talking budget meals, below are a handful of recipes I’ve created over the years that are also friendly for frugal eating in this winter season:

Beans + Rice with Turmeric Special Sauce
Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini
Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas
All-the-Greens Interchangeable Pesto
Black Bean + Corn Chilaquiles
Black Bean + Vegetable Grain Bowl

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Sesame Garlic Tofu + Rice Bowl with Pickled Ginger and Gomasio, serves 4
You’ll notice this is a meal of many components. I said it’s budget-friendly but I didn’t say it is super quick! :)  You can purchase the pickled ginger and gomasio rather than make them, or even leave them out, to simplify and speed things up. If you do choose to make them, the pickled ginger will need to be made ahead so it can “pickle” for a couple days. Both it and the gomasio make big batches for many future uses. Also, definitely use any vegetables of choice. I went out to harvest the last of my carrots (the vibrant purple ones!) and found a couple little salad turnips remaining so I tossed those in the mix as well. 

Sesame Garlic Tofu
1 16-oz. package firm tofu
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbs. apple cider or brown rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. reduced sodium tamari

  • Begin by cutting the tofu in half through it’s width, so you have two rectangles. Then wrap in paper towel and press between two cutting boards for at least 30 minutes. Remove the towels, and cut into pieces.
  • Stir together the remaining ingredients in a large container with a lid and add the pressed tofu. Stir or close the lid and shake briefly. Then, allow the tofu to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or longer.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • When the tofu is ready to be baked, remove it from its container onto the parchment. Reserve the marinade because you’ll use it for the vegetables.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are beginning to get nice and crispy, turning halfway through.

Pickled Ginger, makes 1 small jar
1 large hand fresh ginger
2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
1/2 cup water

  • Peel the ginger and thinly slice with a sharp knife or on a mandolin.
  • Then combine the ginger and salt in a small bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
  • Add the ginger to a small jar and pack it tightly.
  • Make the pickling brine by combining the vinegar and water and then pour it over the ginger, filling the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top.
  • Gently tap the jar against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles, then seal it tightly.
  • Let the jar cool to room temperature and then store the pickles in the refrigerator; they will improve their flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open.
  • They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Gomasio
1 cup sesame seeds
2 tsp. sea salt

  • Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside to cool and toss with 1 teaspoon of the salt.
  • Put 1/3 cup of the seeds into a food processor and process until broken down into a powder. Remove and put into a jar or other container, add the remaining whole seeds and remaining salt and mix together.
  • Use by the spoonful to top finished dishes and store the extra in the fridge. It will keep for many weeks!

Other bowl components
4 cups cooked long-grain or basmati brown rice
4-6 cups seasonal vegetables of choice, diced (I chose carrots, broccoli, and turnips)

To bring the bowl together:

  • When the tofu and rice are nearly done, add the diced vegetables to a steamer basket in a large pan filled with water. Steam until they’re nearly soft but still have a little bit of a bite.
  • Then, remove the steamer basket, drain the water from the pan, and add in the reserved tofu marinade, along with a little extra sesame oil, if needed. Turn the pan up to medium-high and sear-sauté the vegetables in the marinade until just done.
  • For each bowl, arrange cooked rice, tofu, vegetables along with the pickled ginger, and top with the gomasio.

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Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread

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Like many people, I struggle in winter and it usually hits full force in early to mid-February. This year, it hit along with our first snow/ice storm before winter had technically even begun. This time around, I think the combination of having to set aside plans repeatedly due to weather, feeling trapped at home, and the end of a successful training cycle and race (my first marathon), all culminated in a bit of feeling glum and fearful about the what’s next–as I inevitably tend to be fearful that there’s no way I can possibly live up to my own expectations in each new year.

To be sure, I’m slowly working my way out, and coming up with colorful, yet seasonal meals is one outlet for doing so. Along with this super tasty flatbread, I’ve got a few links to share that have been helpful in this “season.” Enjoy!

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In this New Year:
Trust the light, face the darkness, and live with the questions.
The One Thing.  Absolutely love this video.
17 Recovery Goals for 2017
I don’t have a resolution for the new year, per se, as I’m continuing what I’ve been working on for the last couple years. One of the little things that feeds into that process is Filtering Out the Noise.

Nutrition:
Sugar is the ‘alcohol of the child’, yet we let it dominate the breakfast table
Big Sugar’s Secret Ally? Nutritionists

Social Skills:
Tired and not wonder woman. Applauding and nodding along to Emma’s frustration about the blogging world these days. I’ve had similar experiences. And while expecting and/or demanding instant replies is endemic in our current culture, I’m glad Emma was willing to speak out against it.
On having conversations with those from a different perspective. And progress.

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A good book:

The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones by Annemarie ColbinLike her previous book, Food and Healing, this one calls into question our skewed reliance on dairy for bone health. As an individual who was allergic to cow’s dairy as a baby, “grew out of it,” and then had many symptoms come back in my early twenties, I’ve long been taking calcium supplements and have been fearful that I’m not getting enough, even as I’ve researched and constantly questioned whether I need to take a supplement. After reading this book, which is supported by all the research I have read, I finally feel comfortable and confident that my calcium supplement is not necessary and may be doing more harm than good. This is an individual journey for sure, but if you’re interested in nutrition and bone health in particular, it is a great read.

To Eat:
Grapefruit-Roasted Beets with White Beans– I made this with a cashew cream thinned with additional grapefruit juice instead of the pistachio butter. Yum!
Moroccan Butternut Squash, Wild Rice + Garbanzos
Moroccan Quinoa Salad– This was the meal that fueled the before and after of my December marathon. Add a little kale and garbanzos (my go-to’s) and it becomes a full meal. The best.

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Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread, serves 2-3
There are three components here, but they’re each easy and can be made ahead. Combined, they make a nutritious post-holiday meal that tastes like winter should, in my opinion. Sub out any other type of winter squash but if you do, you might want to remove the peel. If you can no longer find fresh or frozen cranberries, dried can be used, but you’ll want to use less and add more liquid. 

Cranberry Chutney:
1 tsp. good quality canola oil
1/2 large or 1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sherry, vegetable broth, or water
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
3 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper

1 large delicata squash, halved, deseeded, and chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced

Flatbread:
2/3 cup garbanzo flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour, plus more for dusting
1 Tbs. good quality canola or other high-heat oil
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup poultry seasoning or combination of dried sage, oregano + thyme
1/4-1/3 cup water

  • Make the chutney by heating the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 more seconds. Then add in the remaining ingredients, bring to a strong simmer and then turn down to low and cook until it becomes thick and chutney-like, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • While the chutney is simmering, roast the squash on a parchment lined baking sheet with a little water added at 400 degrees F. It should take 20-25 minutes to become soft. Remove and set aside.
  • Then make the flatbread dough: Mix the flours, oil, baking powder, poultry seasoning, salt, and water. Add enough water to make a dough that can be handled and rolled. Then allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Transfer to a baking pan or pizza stone and top with the cranberry chutney. Depending on your preference, you will likely only use half of the chutney.
  • Then top the dough with the roasted squash and minced rosemary, and bake at 400 degrees F for 16 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, slice, and serve.

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