Simple Winter Kitchari

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Following in the footsteps of my last post, I’m creating lots of quick and comforting meals lately. Late-winter is when I typically become the least inspired by seasonal ingredients, but this year I’ve relegated to always having some batch-cooking or roll-over ingredients on hand for ready meals. And I actually haven’t lost inspiration per se, but the hours in the day for cooking creatively and sharing those meals has been taken up elsewhere.

Instead, I’ve really been putting my focus into creating space for in between moments and pauses, and it’s kind of funny to realize when life is really full and can feel rushed that pausing and watching the mind slows everything down. All that rush tends to fall away and around, instead of inside me, and I realize it’ll all get done. There are little checkoffs this season. Taking my ServSafe test and receiving certification, sitting for and passing a lengthy comprehensive exam before graduation this spring. Working on and completing my last group project for my Life Cycle Nutrition class. Successfully completing my last clinical course. Continuing to grow in my experience and working with new and continuing nutrition clients. And turning down my entrepreneur ‘what’s next’ business brain for when I have the ability to put my focus there.

And then setting it all down and going to work, where I focus on teaching kids to cook and learn about the basics of healthy eating.

And then dropping my energy into marathon training and keeping my body healthy.

Layers. Like peeling an onion, my doctor said the other day, only she was talking about layers of healing. We all have these layers of aspirations, or obligations, or activities that we’re simultaneously putting our energy into and even though it might be nice to compartmentalize and separate them, they tend to bleed over and into each other. Or at least mine do.

Over the last few years, I’ve tended to go in and out of stress reactions that will last a few weeks or more. I’m told they are really autoimmune-like flares, even though I’ve also been told I’m a touch too healthy to be diagnosed by conventional medicine, even with lots of ‘little signs’. Every time a flare happens I try to scramble and make sense of it, trying to identify the cause or the trigger, but ultimately when my physical body is a little too out of balance, my mental body becomes equally so, worrying and putting energy into the hurts and aches physically. And vice versa. And the two go round and round together, making the episode worse until I ultimately decide to set them both down, “give up,” and invest my energy elsewhere. That’s all to say that with two big end goals on the table right now, one being finishing my graduate program and the other the marathon that occurs just a few days after, I’m in a space right now of enjoying the process, enjoying the little things about the everyday today,  and not getting so caught up in the what if’s or shoulds, or what’s next. It will come regardless.

And for now, I’m eating lots of kitchari, even accused of making lentils and rice way too many meals in a row lately. But it’s what I’m craving and need after running in the rain or cold, or before rushing off to work.

 

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If you’re feeling like you’re holding lots of ‘layers,’ and could use a little space and pause for calming and grounding, I encourage you to turn off the noises around you that you can, tune into the ones that are still there (like family, the wind or rain, the heater), and immerse your senses in the process of cooking kitchari. Soaking the lentils and rice. Chopping the vegetables, measuring the spice. And then eat in the same fashion, for once without distraction, slowly, slowly. Tasting each bite.

Simple Winter Kitchari, serves 2
This works great as a quick lunch or dinner, and can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, or very few if you’re needing super simple. Double or triple the batch if you’d like, or just make this one for a couple lunch days when your partner doesn’t care to share in your need for more lentils and rice.

3 1/2 – 4 cups water
1/2 cup brown rice, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 cup red lentils, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 Tbs. Grounding Masala spice mix (below)
1 cup greens or seasonal vegetables, chopped (mine featured peas, greens, fennel stalks, or turnips depending lately)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 Tbs. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
cilantro or parsley, as desired

  • Drain the rice and lentils if you soaked them. Then in a medium pot, bring them to a boil with about 3 cups of water and the spice mixture. If you’re tossing in hardier root vegetables, add them at this time too. Turn down, cover partially, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check after about 20 minutes and add additional water as necessary and again at the 30 minute mark. After 30 minutes, add the greens or more tender vegetables and stir in, and then continue to cook 10 minutes more until everything is nice and porridge-like.
  • Meanwhile, in a small fry pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Cook just until they begin to turn golden and smell fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour them into the kitchari.
  • Stir, add salt and black pepper to taste, and serve with some cilantro or parsley on top as desired.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.
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go-to coconut curry

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For the past month or more, I’ve been collecting a few snippets of news I’ve read or articles meant to be shared, but rather than actually share, I’ve stashed them away in a folder and time has marched on.

Looking back, so much of what I had accumulated was news that was frustrating, negative, and political, in congruence with the season, even as it was about the state of our food system and climate. Those are indeed important things and I think we should all be informed about what we are eating and the nature and consequences of its production.

 

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But for whatever reason I was reminded recently of my high school riding instructor/coach, who always encouraged me to remember and focus on what’s going well, and to forget about the rest. I more often get in the mindset that if I only look through the world with rosy-hued lenses, then nothing gets done, and no real change to the status quo can occur.

But that’s not actually true. We grow better when we are happier, when we are living in joy, when our systems are not stressed with what-ifs and fear.

 

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I encouraged a nutrition client recently to start small, taking one day at a time, and to focus on only one thing each day that helps her to take care of herself. Taking a dose of my own advice, it’s early morning as I write this, and I’m unexpectedly home at my mom’s farmhouse kitchen table, sitting in what I deem the sunroom, given for it’s dusty lemon hues and big windows letting in the new day. My week has been fraught with grief, many tears, and saying one last goodbye to a truly dear grandfather, and related to that and my own internal fears and anxieties, my thoughts have been incredibly bent toward the negative of late.

Today I’ve decided to focus on the good, and to look for what is going well.

Today it’s that I did make it home to see Papa in his last hours, and it was almost as if he waited for me, the last and furthest grandchild to visit, and for his room to fill with family as he spoke his last words and slipped quietly from us.

 

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Too, the country is quiet, and I get to spend my day (and yesterday) looking out any window onto wide open pastures and birds singing and dancing their dance.

What this has to do with curry, I don’t for sure know, other than a simple and easily adaptable curry such as this has been my long time go-to for comfort, for taste, for turning whatever I have into something special and pleasing to everyone. It’s the food version of eternally positive, and a dish no matter the vegetable or bean adaptations, seems one can never mess up.

 

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Go-To Coconut Curry, serves 4-5
I used cooked mung beans, broccoli, white “spring” turnips, and frozen peas in this version, and I encourage you to use whatever you have, is in season, or are particularly enjoying just now. 

1 Tbs. coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot green chili pepper, diced
4 cups chopped seasonal vegetables
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne powder (adjust according to taste)
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, finely grated
1 can full fat coconut milk
1-2 cups water, as needed to thin
2 cups cooked beans
2 cups dark greens, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
2 Tbs. lemon juice
fresh cilantro, to serve
cooked long grain brown rice or buckwheat, to serve

  • In a large deep pan over medium heat, warm oil, moving around the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Toss in the chopped onions, garlic, and chili pepper. Stir and let cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the onion and pepper are soft.
  • Then stir in the other vegetables and cook until they are tender.
  • Add the spices. Give them a minute or so to toast and then pour in the coconut milk, water, beans, greens, and raisins. Stir everything together and let the flavors meld for 5-10 minutes more.
  • Pour in the lemon juice, adjust seasonings to taste, and enjoy with rice or buckwheat and cilantro.

Sweet Potato Spanish Tortilla

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Almost 10 years ago to the day, I spent a whirlwind weekend in Madrid, having said yes along with my roommate when our neighbor down the hall asked if we wanted to go. I was on study abroad that term so Spain literally was a hop, skip, and two-ish hour plane ride away. So of course I said yes.

Even though the weekend was short, it took me a long time to get over it, and having also started my first foray into blogging that term, I wrote about the experience for all the friends and family back home. At the very beginning of that three days I ended up getting my purse stolen, along with virtually everything important to an international tourist save my phone–which ended up being a real saving grace.

What was supposed to be a joyful jaunt to explore the history of another culture became spending much of that time in a tourist police station getting my passport back (thank God!), and trying to be optimistic about how to manage the next few days devoid of spending money. Hostel white bread toast with jam, cheap tea, and relying on my kind but also college-student-budget traveling partners for real meals meant my Spanish food memories are dampened for the hunger pangs. Truthfully, I barely remember the food in Spain save a late night bite of churro (too much sugar), shops with large hams and sausages hanging and full of the neighborhood men, and a solo street cart on a cold, gray October afternoon selling freshly roasted sweet potatoes, warm and sweet, and made even better for the pieces were shared amongst us three as we walked, our bellies and hands growing warmer as we went.

 

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Despite the more stereotypical and/or well known Spanish foods, warm roasted sweet potatoes from a street cart eaten plain will always be my memory of the place.

And for whatever reason 10 years on, I started to get a craving for a simple Spanish meal on a cold and gray October day. So a tortilla with roasted sweet potato it is.

 

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Tortilla, which is really a Spanish omelette, is quite a common dish and one I vaguely recall having for tapas one night of my stay. Generally it’s made with white potatoes and cooked in lots of olive oil in the pan before the eggs are added, but I deviated and like to roast the sweet potato ahead, and then dice and gently crisp the edges in only a little oil. This method also makes this come together in a flash–perfect for a busy night and equally good as a to-go meal for days that call for a rush.

 

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Sweet Potato Spanish Tortilla, serves 2
1 large sweet potato
olive oil
1/2-3/4 tsp. sea salt
4 eggs
1 handful dark greens such as amaranth, arugula, spinach or kale, chopped

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Scrub the sweet potato and stab a few times with a fork or knife to allow steam to escape. Roast in the oven until just soft, about 40 minutes.
  • When potato is cooked, dice into 1/2 inch / 1-2 cm cubes. Then heat a little olive oil in a 7 to 8-inch saute pan over medium heat. Sauté the diced sweet potato for 3-5 minutes, just until the edges begin to turn golden. Season with the salt and remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl and stir in the chopped greens. Then stir the sautéed sweet potatoes into this egg mixture and stir well.
  • Return the pan to medium heat, add a little additional oil if necessary, and then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Let it cook for about two minutes and then place a clean plate over the pan, flip the tortilla onto the plate, and then slide the uncooked side back into the pan. Heat for 3-4 more minutes until cooked through. It should be firm and golden once ready.
  • Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with a side salad, roasted vegetables, or as is for a light meal.
  • The tortilla can also be stored in the fridge for a couple of days and taken as a to-go meal.