Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lebanese Style Lentil Soup

We used to attend a small group designed especially for families when we lived in Salt Lake City. It was one of those delightfully necessary things that every parent with small children knows: a safe place to go to socialize with other adults while your children play with other children and their (exciting/new) toys. :0)

One cold winter evening, we slipped and slid across town to the host's (Lisa and Glenn, you know who you are!) home where we were greeted with this amazing lentil soup, amongst other steaming soup choices. The combination of flavors were delicious and I asked to have the recipe. It's still one of our favorites.

1 1/2 cup brown lentils
8 cups vegetable or vegetarian chicken stock
1 large potato
1 bunch fresh or 1 lb. frozen spinach (or you could substitute chard)
1 medium onion, diced
4 T. olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped (washed) cilantro or 1 tsp. ground coriander
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
salt to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper or Pepper Like Seasoning from The Vegetarian Express
1/2 tsp cumin
3 Tb. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Lemon slices (optional)

Rinse lentils well. Combine lentils and stock in a large soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Peel potato and cut into small cubes. Add to lentils. Cover and simmer about 20 more minutes. Wash fresh spinach well and cut into strips. Add to soup, cover and continue cooking until lentils are tender (about 20 more minutes). Meanwhile, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is soft and semi-clarified. To the onion mixture, add 1/2 cup cilantro and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion/cilantro mixture to soup during last 5 minutes of cooking. Stir in salt to taste (maybe about 1 1/2 tsp), pepper, cumin and lemon juice.

(Side note: I prepared this last night and didn't have cilantro. I altered the directions to suit my situation. I had 1 lb. frozen spinach, so I added it to the onion/garlic and sautéed them together with the 1 tsp. dried coriander. It was good, but the fresh cilantro is better.)

Make this a complete meal with crusty artisan bread and a tossed green salad.

Makes 6 servings (1 2/3 cup size)

*This is a family recipe from L. B.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Orzo with Wilted Spinach

I love orzo. It cooks quickly, is versatile, and has such a cute little shape! One of my first experiences with orzo pasta was with my (then) fiancé on Valentines Day 2004. He took me to J. Alexanders, a fantastic restaurant in Denver. A steak house, there was not much on the menu to suit our vegetarian dietary preferences, but they did offer a delectable variety of vegetarian side dishes such as a mountain of smashed red potatoes, haricot vert with almonds, steamed broccoli, braised red cabbage, heirloom carrots, and this amazing orzo salad. It was a mouthwatering blend of dried fruit, pasta, wild rice, sweet peppers, etc...You'd really have to try it to believe me. ;0) We finished off our meal with a gigantic piece of warm carrot cake too big for the two of us to finish. I've attempted to replicate that salad many times, but just can't seem to get it right. That's ok. I'll save the experience for the next time I visit J. Alexanders. 

This recipe is a respectable nod to orzo as a side dish. I made this dish this afternoon for dinner with a vegetarian chicken cacciatore and toasted whole grain baguette. It's lemony fragrance really enhanced the cacciatore. 

Olive oil
1 cup orzo pasta, dry
15 oz. vegetarian chicken broth (I used 1 Tb. chicken seasoning to 15 ozs. water)
1/2 medium onion, roughly diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach, washed and cut into strips
2 tsp. fresh basil, julienned
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
Pepper (opt)


Drizzle about 2 tsps. olive oil in bottom of medium saucepan. Add dry orzo. Warm over medium high heat until orzo begins slightly brown. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Allow to cook until tender, approximately 18 minutes. 

Meanwhile, start your spinach. Saute onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil until fragrant and beginning to clarify. Add spinach and basil. Cook and stir until spinach is wilted. Add lemon zest and juice and season well with salt and pepper, if using. Cook a moment longer to allow the flavors to combine. Remove from heat and seat aside. 

When orzo is tender, add spinach mixture, stir and fluff combination. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Quick and Easy: Roasted Mini Burritoes

If you're a busy mom like me, you might be able to identify with this frequent scenario: We come home from the store, the kids are starving, and I've got to think quickly -- "What am I going to make for lunch?" My youngest is pulling on my pant leg, letting me know he needs to eat soon, and my eldest is scouring the fridge for something to tie her over. Hmmm. Now is when a quick and easy, throw-together meal comes in handy. Enter roasted mini burritos. A less-fat cousin of the crisp bean burrito from a certain fast food restaurant, this version is super satisfying and baked, not fried. 

As vegetarians, our family relies on beans, nuts, tofu, and vegetarian meat substitutes for protein. My daughter will not eat the meat substitutes. This is fine, because while they are a slightly better alternative to meat (lower fat, etc.), they are not the absolute best for us (highly processed and full of sodium). But, it does make life a bit more difficult when planning quick meals. So, this mini crunchy burrito using fat-free refried beans, is perfect for her little body. 

My new favorite

12 fajita size flour tortillas
1 can fat-free or vegetarian refried beans
1/4-1/3 cup roasted corn salsa (I LOVE San Antonio Farms Roasted Chipotle Corn & Lime Salsa from Costco)
1/2 cup grated dairy free cheese (opt.)
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 375. Wrap tortillas in a paper towel and warm slightly in microwave for about 20 seconds. 

In a small mixing bowl, combine refried beans and salsa. Spread about a tablespoon of bean mixture into the center of tortilla, sprinkle with a pinch of cheese (if using). Working from one edge of the tortilla, roll up, leaving both ends open. Spray burrito with cooking spray and lay on a cookie sheet. Continue process until all tortillas are gone. Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes or until the tops are nice and golden brown. 

Remove from oven, allow to cool for a minute, then serve with a nice green salad. You could top it with a bit of store-bought enchilada sauce for a wet burrito, or serve it plain with a dollop of Tofutti sour cream substitute.

My kids love them and that makes me happy. :0) 
Yield: 2-3 per person

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eggplant Medallions

My dad never enjoyed eggplant. It was just one of the vegetables he wouldn't eat...along with zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, etc. (I love you, Dad!) One day my mom made eggplant parmesan, and he declared that he might be able to like eggplant if he couldn't taste it. :0) I think Dad might approve of this eggplant, too. It's thin, crispy, and delicious--not tough or bitter at all. 

I remember the first time I tasted eggplant prepared this way (five years ago!). Our friends, Mark and Jyothi, invited us to their daughter's birthday party. I arrived early to help Jyothi get things ready, and she asked me to make the eggplant. I spread a thin layer of Vegenaise on each side of the eggplant round, then dipped it in a breading mixture of nutritional yeast flakes and some other seasonings. It was then baked until crispy and golden. I was a little suspicious. After I tried one piece though, I was hooked. It was sooooo good. 

Recently, I found a recipe in one of my favorite new vegan cookbooks "Give Them Something Better" by Sarah Frain and Stephanie Howard, that is very similar. If you have their cookbook, you should give it a try. It is very good.  I think the only thing different here is my breading mix. Their ratio of water to mayo alternative is slightly different, too. 

1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced in 1/4-in. thick rounds
(For my family I only used 10 slices and froze the rest of the eggplant pieces)

For batter, whisk together:
1/4 cup Vegenaise 
1/4 water

For breading, combine:
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
Salt, to taste
Granulated garlic, to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Dip each slice of eggplant into the batter, then coat completely with breading. Place medallions on a lightly sprayed cookie sheet until sheet is full. Spray the tops of the eggplant rounds with cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crispy. (Mine only took 13 minutes).

This recipe is super versatile! You could serve it with pasta or layer it on a sandwich with grilled onions and bell peppers. At the birthday party, we ate it as an appetizer with dipping sauce.