Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Meatless Mondays

I have a dear friend and colleague whose husband is struggling with his weight and diabetes that was off the charts. His doctor had a serious come-to-Jesus meeting with him back in July, and around the time of my own health crisis, he and his wife decided to take extreme measures and adapt a strict vegan diet, at least until his diabetes was under control. Six or seven weeks later, and he'd lost a lot of weight and inches (down more than 30 pounds and several pants sizes), and his diabetes went from a reading of 12 (the scale goes to 12) down to 7 (6 or below is considered normal)!

My roommate and I were both very impressed at the changes in our friend's appearance and health, and we vowed to start incorporating some meatless entrees into our own weekly menus. One of the dishes my friend suggested that her entire Italian family enjoys (even before the vegan conversion) is pasta and lentils. Strange combo, you say? I thought so, too, but the lentils are sort of meaty in and of themselves, so you don't feel unsatisfied eating a vegetarian meal. And this recipe makes a TON! Like other hearty dishes of this nature, they taste better the next day (and the day after that), so this makes great leftovers to take for lunch at work. I took enough to share with my officemate one day, and she concurred that you don't even miss the meat.

There isn't a proper "recipe" for this. My friend described the process for me as she was teaching an afternoon chem lab. LOL! And of course, I took a few liberties, like adding a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and a chopped up sweet pepper that I had on hand, plus a pinch of red pepper flakes for zip. It's healthy, hearty, and tasty--what more do you really need?

Pasta e Lenticchie

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 15 oz. can diced (preferably, fire-roasted) tomatoes
1 lb. lentils, rinsed
5 to 6 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. (preferably, whole-grain) spaghetti, broken into fourths

Garnishes: vinegar (white wine vinegar or the brine from a jar of pickled peppers) and shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet (I used a 3.5 quart). Add the onion, carrots, celery, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft and just starting to color. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes (with the juice), lentils and five cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are almost completely tender.

In a separate pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta almost to al dente then drain (rinse with cold water to hold for awhile, if necessary). When the lentils are almost done cooking, add the pasta to the skillet and combine. Continue to simmer until lentils and pasta are completely tender. Add more stock if needed. Taste to adjust seasonings. Serve with a good splash of vinegar and an ample sprinkling of cheese (which, of course, would make it vegetarian, not vegan).

Oh, and I have another healthy, vegan, super-cinchy treat to share with you! I first heard about this crazy idea from my friend (and super-skilled cook), Mike. He had been raving about his new favorite snack on Facebook, and though I was skeptical, anything Mike swears by always turns out to be fabulous! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you....KALE CHIPS!

Kale chips, you say? Blech! Bitter greens as a snack food? TRUST ME, dear readers...have I ever led you astray? And I profess to not even like kale, except in soups and such. But by some miracle of the Maillard reaction, once you mix them with a little olive oil and bake them, they go from leafy to soggy and wilty to amazingly crisp in the span of about 15 or 20 minutes. And even more remarkably, they taste very like potato chips! I have no explanation for that, but I can vouch for how yummy they are--especially when we dipped them in a little homemade garlic blue cheese dressing. ;-)

To make your chips, start with a big bunch of kale. In the regular size bunch that you get from the grocery store, I used about half. Wash and spin your greens to get rid of any grit. Remove the stems and tear the leaves into potato chip-sized pieces. Toss the pieces of kale with a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of the vinegar if your choosing (I liked seasoned rice vinegar here), and a couple of good pinches of salt. Lay the pieces of kale in a single layer on two large baking sheets (I prefer to use Silpats underneath the chips), and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350. You want the chips to be crisp, but they taste bitter if allowed to brown. So keep a close eye on them!

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