Winter has finally descended upon us. The holidays are over and done, today is the last day of vacation. Kids going back to school and workers back to work. The temperatures here in the midwest are hovering around 20, but the brisk cold winter wind is bringing that down to about 3 with the wind chill factor. The bugs that are taking the country by storm decided to stop here on Honeysuckle Hill for a visit and I have had a mild stomach bug for a couple of days. No one else here is sick, just me. We're eating lots of soups and I'm munching dandelion leaves a couple of times a day. It's keeping the stomach cramps to a minimum and I really feel pretty good, so it must be working.
I love lentils. Do you? My husband always thinks they are too bland. He'll eat them, but they're not his favorite. Until I started fixing them like this. Lentils are a wonderful ancient food that have been eaten by civilizations much older than ours. They are believed to have been cultivated as long ago as 8000 years. They are mentioned in the Bible. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India. They are a traditional dish served in India known as dal, and most homes there eat lentils at least twice a day. They are also a healthy powerhouse of nutrition, containing high amounts of folate, B vitamins, fiber and protein, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. There are yellow lentils, brown lentils, red lentils and green lentils. You can easily make vegan, vegetarian, or meals with meat. Here's a picture of the mix I keep in my pantry:
It's just a mix of all the colors of lentils, because I think they're pretty. There are so many things you can do with lentils- burgers, loaves, casseroles, shepherd's pies and soups and stews. Today we're going to stick with the soup. This recipe serves 4 conservatively. Here's a list of the ingredients you'll need to make this lovely rich Lentil Coconut Soup:
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 medium to large carrot, diced small
• 1 to 1-1/2 stalks fresh celery, diced small
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
• 2 cups sorted and rinsed lentils
• 1 can organic coconut milk
• 3 cups spring water
• 1 tsp garam masala spice
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Dice your carrot, celery, garlic and onions.
2. Using a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan, heat the olive oil and then add the chopped vegetables. Sweat them, stirring often, until the onions become translucent.
3. While they are cooking, sort and rinse your lentils, like you would any bean you cook, looking for small stones or pieces of dirt. Rinse well and drain.
4. Once your vegetables are cooked, add the dry lentils, the water and the can of coconut milk.
5. Add the spices , saving the garam masala for near the end of the cooking. Do you keep garam masala in your pantry? I used to always make my own, pounding whole cardamom and nutmeg pods and it was a lot of work. But it's not a spice you use every day, so one batch would last quite a while. Then my local health food store started carrying it in their bulk spices department and I bought some to try. I've never looked back. It's a wonderfully aromatic blend of spices... coriander, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. I use it in curries and stir-fries too. If you don't have this wonderful spice, you can make a good enough substitute with this recipe. Mix together 1 tablespoon cumin, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir in an airtight jar.
6. It will take your lentils about 35-40 minutes to cook. Keep an eye on them and stir often. The general rule of thumb for cooking lentils recommends 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of dried lentils. I use a little less than that as I like my soup to have a hearty thickness to it.
7. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting you can and simmer for the duration. When your lentils are about 4 minutes from completion, add the garam masala.
This soup will easily stand by itself as a hearty lunch or supper fare. If you're really motivated, you could bake naan to serve with it. It would pair well with a sandwich or any kind of cracker you might have on hand. I happened to have a beautiful loaf of spelt bread I had baked a few days ago, chock full of sesame seeds and raw sunflower seeds and golden flax seed. It was beautiful, even though I used my bread maker to do all the heavy work since I was not feeling up to par.
It made for a luscious filling late lunch on a snowy Sunday. My bear of a husband was sated, and I was extremely happy with the delicate richness the coconut milk added to the lentils. I had said to him earlier, "It will either be magnificent or awful." Thank goodness, it was magnificent.
It's simple to make. It's common pantry ingredients. It doesn't take long to cook. All the perfect ingredients (in my book) for a perfect meal. With heart healthy ingredients like lentils, you can feed a crowd of any size and age group economically and easily. 1 cup of cooked lentils packs a whopping 36 percent of your daily recommended allowance of protein, making it an excellent source for people who choose not to eat meat. Lentils, like all legumes, provide an excellent source of fiber. I'm always looking for star quality items to keep in my pantry as part of my food storage systems and lentils, split peas and all manner of dried beans are right up there at the top of the list.
Happy 2015 to you all. And as you start this new year, I urge you to take time to consider your kitchen and your pantry and all your food storage needs for your family. I wholeheartedly recommend Sharon Astyk's book Independence Days as a good place to start. She does a really good job of explaining the whys and wherefores of food storage.
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