Vegan baked lentils and brown rice (4-5 servings)

I have an old, brown blanket that I love to snuggle under to read or watch TV. It's seen better days; the fluffy, plush surface on one side is starting to wear a little thin, and the stuffing on the other side is beginning to pop out. The blanket isn't much to look at. You'd never see it in a West Elm catalog or at Crate and Barrel. But I love that blanket. It's warm and soft, and I know it's going to make me feel good whenever I drape it over myself on a chilly evening, no matter how stressful the previous hours have been.

This dish is the food equivalent of that blanket. It's not particularly pretty or trendy or stylish, but it's filled with the predictable sort of comfort I crave at the end of a long day. Its rich, earthy colors and simple flavors fill me up and let me know I'm home.

Plus, it's so simple to make. I love "dump-and-bake" recipes, as unattractive as that name sounds. It's basically just a veganized version of this Food.com recipe. I hesitate to call it a casserole, because to me, casseroles involve more layers and textures, but I suppose it's a very simple sort of casserole. Whatever you call it, it's an easy, soothing, healthful meal, and I think you're going to love it.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup green lentils, dry

  • 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, dry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, toasted

  • handful of dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (opt.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder

  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Place all ingredients in a 1 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish and mix gently.
  3. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

And that's it! It bakes for a long time, but the prep couldn't be much easier. I think I might add chopped celery and carrots next time and maybe some mushrooms for a little more depth. I love that the simplest foods are often the best!

Warm lentil salad with grapes, cheese, and mint (4 servings)

Unusual flavor combinations are both arresting and intriguing. They make me stop and think, "Hmm, now how would those things taste together?" This recipe from Vegetarian Times is a perfect example, since it features grapes, mustard, lentils, nuts, cheese, and mint. I like all those things separately, but I wasn't sure how they'd get along together. One way I break down a strange list of ingredients is to try to pair or group elements from the recipe, thinking about how two or three ingredients harmonize. In this case, I figured the earthy depth of the lentils and mustard would pair well and then be offset by the sweetness of the mint and grapes, which would, in turn, be balanced by the richness of the nuts and cheese. Texture is another factor to consider, and this combination of ingredients runs the gamut from soft (cheese) to crunchy (pecans) to juicy (grapes). See? It isn't that scary!

I'm already looking for an excuse to make this one again and bring it to a picnic or potluck. It's versatile (I swapped the feta for bleu cheese and the pistachios for pecans) and easy to transport (it could be served warm or even cool). Bryan and I had this last night as our main dish, but it would also work well as a side dish alongside grilled tofu or pasta. If you're willing to take a little risk with something new and unusual, I think you'll love it!

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup dried brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or roasted pistachios)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese (or feta)

Steps:

  1. Bring lentils and 1 1/3 cup water to a boil in a small pan. Reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid vented for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the oil and vinegar into a small jar or container with a lid; add in the onion powder and mustard, too. Shake (shake, shake your moneymaker) and set aside.
  3. Once the lentils are cooked, transfer them to a serving bowl. To the same bowl, add the grapes, pecans, mint, and cheese, and then pour the dressing over. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then serve the salad warm or cool.

I hope the leftovers are just as tasty for lunch today!

Coconut lentils and Brazilian rice (4-6 servings)

If I could design my dream job, I would be a Leftover Efficiency Expert/Canine Snuggler. Clients would call me to ask what they could make with, say, half a can of black beans, a stray butternut squash, and a lonely lime, and I would help them put together a killer recipe that showcases the flavors of their leftovers without wasting food. Then said clients would compensate me by allowing me to play and snuggle with their dogs. Of course, this job would exist in a magical realm where money is a useless commodity and dander allergies are nonexistent.

Unfortunately, this cruel world demands we have legitimate jobs to make money so we can buy things and pay our rent. And dogs insist on having fur, and landlords prevent tenants from owning pets. So until those things change, I'll continue making cheap and interesting recipes that distract me from my lack of dog. 

Today's offering was inspired by an unused tomato and a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes. (Doesn't every great tale of adventure begin thusly?) Truth be told, I'd had the recipe for Vegetarian Times' coconut lentils bookmarked for a couple weeks. When I was finally ready to make it, I did some research to find a Brazilian-style side dish, and found Food.com's Brazilian rice recipe, which serendipitously required a tomato!

Lentils are so versatile and satisfying. They're loved all over the place -- India, France, Egypt, Brazil -- and pack a great protein punch. This particular rendition enhances lentils' earthiness with savory spices and subtle, fruity sweetness from raisins. The crunchy, toasty coconut flakes are the crowning feature. The accompanying rice dish is light and simple with its bright tomato and bold garlic. For both the lentils and the rice, I used onion powder instead of chopped onion because of my IBS, but feel free to use fresh onion if you can handle it!

Gluten-free coconut lentils

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry green lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tsp lime juice

Steps:

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan (one with a lid -- you'll need it later) over medium heat. Once oil is warm, sprinkle in the onion powder, ginger, turmeric, and allspice; sauté until the spices are fragrant -- about 30 seconds. Next, add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté another 30 seconds. Add a cup of water to deglaze the pan.
  2. Add the lentils and raisins to the pan, along with 2 more cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
  3. Stir in the lime juice and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each portion with a sprinkle of toasted coconut and serve.

Brazilian rice

You will need: 

  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup dry long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Steps:

  1. Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onion powder and minced garlic, and sauté until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. 
  2. Add in the chopped tomato, rice, salt and pepper, and broth. Increase heat to bring to a boil; then, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is softened. Serve alongside the lentils.

This is a tasty, simple recipe that's good to bookmark for visiting relatives. It's the type of dish that will impress your mother and make her feel exotic and audacious while you know the ingredients are readily accessible and you didn't go to any trouble. But you can smile at her compliments and say it's a much-loved, traditional Brazilian recipe, and she'll wonder how you grew up so quickly and figured out how to make tropical dishes with such flair. And maybe she'll be so impressed that she'll call your landlord and convince him to reverse his no-pet policy, and then she'll buy you a Havanese puppy.

Hey, a girl can dream.

Spiced pumpkin, lentil, and goat cheese salad (3 servings)

Today was one of the first days that really felt like autumn. The afternoon air was crisp, and while the sun was warm, I felt cold in the shade. Bryan and I took a short walk and kicked around in the leaves for a bit. It's not quite cool enough for soup yet, but it's time to welcome in the flavors of fall, for sure. This recipe comes from the always-fabulous Epicurious.com.

You will need:

  • Scant 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 3 cups 1-inch pieces of butternut squash (from a one-pound whole squash)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 cups baby arugula or baby spinach (or combination thereof)
  • 1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/8 cup thinly sliced mint leaves (I left it out)
  • 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Steps:

  1. Boil lentils for 25-30 minutes, or until they're tender but firm. Drain and rinse under cold water and set aside. (You can do this a few hours or even a day ahead of time. You can always use leftover plain lentils, too.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the squash cubes in a small bowl and toss them with 1 Tbsp of the oil, the cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir to coat. (Rinse the bowl and save it for a little later.) Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast 20 minutes. Stir and toast another 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.
  3. While you're waiting, arrange the arugula/spinach on three plates and top with the lentils. When the squash is cool (or even still a little warm), place it in a bowl along with any oil saved from the roasting pan, plus half the goat cheese, the mint, vinegar, and the remaining 1/2 Tbsp oil. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide among plates and top with remaining goat cheese.

When I first saw this recipe, I was intrigued by the combination of flavors, and I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out. I was also interested to see how Bryan, who thinks he doesn't like any kind of squash, would react to it. I worried a bit about finding some of the ingredients; luckily, the Herb Shop stand at Central Market sells hot smoked Spanish paprika, and the other stands at market were able to provide me with the other ingredients. Gotta love Market.

It turned out the mixture of flavors was a good one. The squash was sweet and mellow, while the paprika and cumin provided a smoky, spicy background. The peppery arugula was perfect, and the lentils added nice texture. Next time I might add some pecans for crunch; the only unfortunate part about this recipe was that my squash got too mushy in the oven. The goat cheese brought everything together, both as a physical binder and a flavor complement. I wish I had had some mint, but I stupidly cut back my mint plants yesterday and didn't keep any of the leaves. I'm sure it would add another intriguing flavor layer!

Going back to the goat cheese for a minute, if you still haven't tried it, you really need to. And if you're one of those people who thinks that milk from a goat is somehow weirder than milk from a cow, it's time to get past your preconceptions. Goat cheese is one of my favorite things on the planet, and it's incredible versatile. Now, if you live in Lancaster and already appreciate goat cheese, you must check out Linden Dale Farms at Central Market. I've never had anything like it. The lady who runs the stand can tell you exactly when the cheese was made and probably even the name of the goat it came from. Incredible stuff.

I served this with Smitten Kitchen's incredible jalapeno-cheddar scones. Deb continues to impress me with her recipes, and her site has now become my very favorite food blog.