Tag Archives: lentils

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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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

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I go on stints where I cook almost exclusively from one cookbook or blog. Actually, I take recipes, apply their concept, and change almost everything. I’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem lately.

I also share recipes on Food52 sometimes and I received the kindest comment on my beet and lentils with flatbread there. It made my whole week and reaffirmed why this blog remains mainly about food. The comment made me think, too, about the decisions I’ve made that were true turning points. One of those was during my senior year in high school when I decided to go to university rather than culinary school, and then after university, deciding to find a job rather than going back to Ireland for a course at Ballymaloe.

Sometimes I feel as if I was born to cook and feed people. I’ve loved everything about cooking for as long as I can remember. I love the creativity of selecting ingredients and flavor combinations. I love both its meditative aspects and the more fast-paced balance of doing multiple tasks simulanteously. I love sitting down to a special meal with William and sometimes friends or family, turning off the phone, computer, TV, pause and say grace, and then invite in the experience of enjoying a meal.

I remember bringing a beef and mushroom stew over to a friend’s one time in college, and how her then-boyfriend took two bites and then paused, looked at me, and said, Bec, I can tell this was made with love, before proceeding. And it was.

I know a lot of my friends and family do not get the food I make. I’ve long felt sensitive about it, as I’ve been cooking creatively since the beginning. When William and I first began dating, it was summer and I was in town for a week. There was very little to eat in my college house as my roommates and I were largely absent for the summer. I invited him over for lunch, knowing there were approximately five ingredients to make a meal—and I knew they could combine to provide a pretty spectacular combination. William survived college up to then on his grandma’s spaghetti sauce, made by his family and frozen in huge quantities, tuna sandwiches, plain spaghetti, pizza, and kraft mac + cheese. Anything outside of that lineup was super adventurous, and he didn’t exactly appreciate what I thought was a fabulous summer lunch—with ingredients largely from my self-watering garden. For months after, he approached every dinner I’d make with trepidation, knowing it was going to be awful, and a breach from his standard American diet. But he’d try it anyway. Nine times out of ten, he’d end the meal telling me he was pleasantly surprised, again. The weird things I made actually tasted good. All he had to do was try.

When left to my own devices, I tend to veer strongly in the direction of cooking with middle eastern influences. I don’t know exactly when I picked this up as I didn’t try the cuisine until mid-college at least. I like the combination of savory and sweet grains and spices, the vegetable-heavy emphasis of the traditional recipes, and the infinite possibilities as even the simplest of ingredients can taste rich and flavorful and nourishing.

 

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As I reflect on the statement above, I feel as if I was born to feed people, I realize I still haven’t found exactly what this means for me. I know my place is not actually feeding people in the standard chef/culinary sense. I know it is not in producing food, as I also once contemplated. Perhaps it is in sharing recipes here or elsewhere, but more likely, it might be in feeding people something other than actual food, in the form of kindness, hope, understanding, or inspiration. Ultimately, I know for me to be able to do that with authenticity, I have to be able to provide it to myself first.

William has been working late these days, and I’ve often been feeding only me. So I’ve been cooking with more mindfulness, taking recipes and adapting them intuitively to what I need, trying to eat meals a little more slowly with less distractions. I’ve been focusing on allowing the process to fill me up in ways that stretch far beyond the meal itself, to let light shine into the dark internal corners I’m afraid of, and let self-compassion and love in, when for so long I’ve projected it only outward, onto others.

I’m at a real turning point just now, and it feels like a good one. I’m finally coming to know and appreciate me. I’ve been learning (and still often failing) how to feed myself the essential nutrients that come from genuine self-care, rather than merely “nutritious food.” This is one of the meals I’ve been enjoying lately through the process.

 

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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

The inspiration for these two recipes are drawn from Jerusalem. Mejadra is an ancient dish in the Arab world, considered a meal for the poor but fit for kings. At its simplest, it is rice and lentils cooked together with caramelized onions. Crazily enough, those simple ingredients can taste heavenly. I’ve incorporated a few wonderful spices in keeping with Ottolenghi’s version, and for William, I’ve added raisins. He loves raisins. He added another handful for good measure as he gobbled it up.  The Swiss chard and tahini-cream will make for a nice side. I’m loving Swiss chard lately, when for so long I discarded it completely. The trick, I think, is a quick sauté. 

For the Mejadra:

1 very large onion (1 1/2 lb.), sliced thinly into rounds

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. allspice

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 cup long-grain brown rice, soaked and rinsed

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup raisins, optional

3 1/2 cups water

  • Begin by soaking the brown rice for at least 8 hours in a large bowl of water with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. This breaks down some of the phytic acids which can bind the zinc, magnesium, calcium, and other important minerals. Prior to cooking, rinse and drain the rice.
  • In a large sauté pan, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and heat to medium-high. Then, add in the sliced onions, cook and stir for 3-5 minutes, and then turn down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and caramelize, about 25-30 minutes.
  • While the onions are cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil, spices, rinsed rice and lentils, pomegranate molasses, raisins, and water to a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to low, cover, and allow to cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.

For the Swiss Chard:

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped, leaves sliced

salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add garlic and chard stems and allow to cook until beginning to soften. Add a little water as necessary to help the chard stems soften up.
  • Then add in the sliced leaves and heat just until they begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the Tahini-Cream:

2 Tbs. tahini

1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced

2-4 Tbs. water, as needed

salt and pepper, to taste

  • Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl, thinning as necessary with water.
  • Spoon the tahini-cream atop the Swiss chard as a side to the mejadra.

 

 

 


Beets, Tahini, Flatbread + Lentils

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Shannon and Anneke walked in to the kitchen and immediately curled their noses. Bec! You’re stinking up the house. After lifting the lid on the pot, they were even more disgusted. Beets! Gross!

 

An hour later, Shannon at least, was singing a different tune: I love beets! Beets, beets, beets. Let’s eat beets. For months afterwards, the subject of beets made their way into many a conversation, joke, and non-sensical late night roommate Facebook exchange. They even made their way into our school life as Shannon and I sat in our farming class plotting how to make more money than all the other students on our hypothetical farm. Our proposed course of action was growing and selling beets, of course.

 

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I have long since forgotten what sort of meal became of the beets that day when Shannon and Anneke walked in, but I’ve no doubt vegetables took center stage. Anneke, Shannon, and Kaci embraced my fondness for all things vegetable as whole heartedly as any semi-normal 20-something college person could, with only the expected amount of jabbing. My fondness for the full spectrum of produce even made it into Anneke and Kaci’s toast for my wedding.

 

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I’m going ‘home’ in a few days to celebrate family and Christmas and to perform my semi-annual reset in the farmhouse sunroom, where I will take in the dazzling morning light, open spaces, and cows over morning porridge. I’m super excited about a few things, and one of them is having a dinner party with Shannon and our fams. Last time we held a party, I was on a Middle-Eastern-themed-beet-tangent as well, so I made beet hummus and rose-flavored everything. I have come full circle as far as flavor combinations go so these beet flatbreads just might make an appearance. Luckily for me, I will be welcomed in to perfume Shannon’s home with the aroma of roasting beets.

 

Clearly, stinking up our house that winter afternoon was the right thing to do.


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Beets, Flatbread, Tahini + Lentils, serves 4-6
There are many components to this recipe, making it somewhat labor-intensive. All the separate components save the flatbread can be made ahead and then reheated to eat with freshly made flatbread. On a rushed day, use purchased pita-type bread to serve instead. 

Lentils
1 cup lentils
3 cups water
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. cumin
salt to taste

Roasted Beets
10 medium-size beets, tops and bottoms removed 

Lemon-Tahini Cream
2 Tbs. tahini
1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
2-4 Tbs. water (as needed)
1 small garlic clove
Salt and pepper, to taste

Flatbread, adapted from Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread
1 Tbs. chia seeds
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup garbanzo & fava flour
3/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbs. honey
3/4-1 cup warm water

Hazelnuts + Toppings
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
dash of ground allspice
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/8 tsp. salt
Dried dill, for sprinkling
Dried rose petals, for sprinkling

  • Bring lentils and water to boil in a medium saucepan. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  • Halve or quarter beets. In a large piece of foil, wrap all of the beets and roast in an oven, preheated to 400 degrees F, for 45-60 minutes. Check part way through for doneness, by opening up the foil bundle and stabbing with a fork. The beets should be tender all the way through. When done, remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then, slice them into smaller pieces.
  • For the Lemon-Tahini Cream, puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Add additional water or lemon juice, to reach the desired taste and consistency.
  • In a small sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add spices and bay leaves and cook until the spices start to smell warm and toasted, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts and salt. Set aside.
  • To make the flatbread, soak the chia seeds in the ½ cup water for at least 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the flours, flax seeds, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, honey, ¾ cup warm water and chia-mixture. Stir together and then add this liquid mix to the dry ingredients. Stir until it comes together with a wooden spoon. The dough should be fairly wet, so add more water if needed. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. While the skillet is heating, divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll out each one on a counter, using brown rice flour to keep it from sticking. Each piece should be roughly 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about getting them perfectly symmetrical. As each piece of dough is rolled out, transfer to the skillet and cook on each side for about 4 minutes. Some of the edges will brown and crisp up; this is normal. As each flatbread is done, transfer to a warm oven until they are all cooked.
  • To serve, spread tahini cream onto the flatbread, top with lentils, sliced beets, and hazelnuts. Garnish with rose petals and dill.

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