Thursday, January 2, 2014

Recipes for Less Riotous Living

It is January 2, the day when many of us return to work, the day when most of us begin to live our regular lives again.  I've been eating like a woman who's going to be executed in the morning, by which I mean lots of fat, lots of sugar, no vegetables, no thought that I should be building health for the future.

Each day I think, "Too much riotous living."  And then, I do it again.

I've also been fighting the 3rd incarnation of my cold in one month.  Grr.  And yes, I'm sure there are connections.

It's time to return to a more sensible approach.  And so, I offer you some recipes.  If your budget is tight, the lentil soup below is super cheap and tasty too.

If you've got more to spend in terms of ingredients and calories and time, my recipe for broccoli cheddar cheese soup is here.  In that post, you'll also find a recipe for an easy bean casserole, which is cheap and easy and nutritious.

And if you go to this post, you'll find a recipe for the easiest, most delicious tomato sauce ever.  It's also cheap and nutritious.

Here's my recipe for an easy lentil soup.  I wrote it for a cousin who hadn't done much cooking, which is why it's in this format.  After the soup recipe come two recipes for what to do with the leftovers:  lentil loaf and lentil salad.

Lentil Soup
A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.

The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:

12-16 oz. package of dry lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut)
OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water

Nutrition Booster:

Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.

Flavor Boosters:

1 onion, chopped (or dried onions)

several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two; or use garlic powder)

several Tablespoons of olive oil

herbs: oregano and basil

several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)

several Tablespoons of red wine

several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Basic Instructions:

Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.

Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.

Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).

You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.

You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.

A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you $1.00-$2.00 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.

What to do with leftover Lentil Soup:

Lentil Loaf

If the soup has been in your fridge long enough, it's likely to have absorbed excess liquid, and you won't have to drain it.

Take 2 cups of the drained soup (you can include the carrots and tomatoes) and put in a bowl. Beat 2 eggs and add them to the bowl. Add 1 cup of bread crumbs (Italian bread crumbs add nice flavor) and a drizzle of olive oil (2-4 Tablespoons). You could stop here or you could add: up to 1 cup of nut pieces (walnuts work nicely), up to 1 cup of seeds (sesame works nicely), up to 1 cup of oats or wheat germ or flour.

If you add a lot of dry ingredients, you might also need to add back some moisture. You want the consistency of wet glop (think meatloaf, if you've ever made it or a mortar mix). Start with 1/2 cup and go up by 1/4 cup increments. You could use plain water or: soup liquid, tomato juice, 1 more beaten egg, or stock.

Grease a loaf pan and add the mixture to the pan. Put the pan in a 350 degree oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, uncovered for 10. Slice and eat.

You might want to serve with some sort of sauce. I used to serve it with Hollandaise, but ketchup might work too. If you're a non-vegetarian, gravy might be a treat.

Lentil Salad
Boil as much liquid out of the soup as you can (or drain it--or let it sit for several days, and it will absorb the liquid). Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.

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