Today’s Health Morsel: Lentils

Not a fan of lentils? That’s okay! Today’s lentil recipe is even a hit with non-lentil-lovers. The humble lentil is so inexpensive, yet filling and highly nutritious. I’ll get into that later, but first …

breakfast_text

I made a big fruit salad yesterday, containing 1 pineapple, 2 passion fruit, 3 plums, 1 particularly large mango, & 2 kiwi. I’ll have some of that for breakfast!

  • 2 c. fruit salad sprinkled with 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1/2 c. blueberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruit, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

I’ll be getting all my bean & grain servings at dinner, but not much in the way of veg, so I’m having a very vegetable-heavy lunch (a.k.a., a salad).

  • 2 c. lettuce and arugula, chopped
  • 1/4 c. red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. red onion
  • 1/4 c. cucumber
  • 1/4 c. corn kernels
  • 1/4 c. walnuts

I had my salad with My Basic Dressing.

Checklist items: 2 greens, 2 other vegetables, nuts (5 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Ah. The lowly lentil. A quick read into the history of lentils leaves one with the impression that mankind may not have evolved like we did if not for the lentil. This was one of the first plants ever to be cultivated, and lentils have been eaten by our kind since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found 8000 year-old lentil seeds at dig sites in the Middle East, and evidence suggests we may have been eating them as much as 13,000 years ago. And that just goes to show that, even though our species can be pretty stupid at times, we do have some brains. Lentils are among the best foods that you could possibly put into your body. And here’s why…

Among legumes, only black beans top lentils in terms of antioxidant power. For protein, iron, zinc, & folate, red lentils come in first, followed closely by puy & green lentils. This data, however, does not include information on beluga lentils which, like black beans, have a black skin jam-packed with anthocyanin. I would be interested to see whether they might even beat out black beans for antioxidant power. The reason I think they might is based on simple geometry: all else being roughly equal, the smaller object should have a larger surface-area-to-volume ratio. Thus, the lentil should have more skin as a percentage of its total than the black bean. Since the antioxidants are in the skin, the beluga lentil may actually have higher antioxidant power. I’m sure we’ll find out someday. (UPDATE: In a Live Q&A on July 28, 2017, Dr. Greger postulates similarly – that Beluga lentils are likely the healthiest of the lentils because of their small size, though I think it’s likely not only a function of surface-to-volume ratio but also because smaller often means higher concentration of nutrients. I’m guessing – his words were “smaller is better”.)

Lentils have a higher fiber content than almost anything else. For a fiber chart and all the information you (n)ever wanted to know about fiber, visit this page. Here’s a couple of highlights: first, all that soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol by trapping cholesterol-containing bile & “ushering” it out of your system. Second, fiber also helps to regulate & stabilize blood sugar levels.

Another good reason to eat lentils is their iron content. Richer in iron than anything but soybeans, lentils can help maintain healthy metabolism, produce energy, & maintain hemoglobin. Foods rich in vitamin C (e.g., broccoli, bell peppers, & brussels sprouts) help to increase plant-based iron absorption if eaten at the same meal (learn more about different types of iron here). But avoid coffee & tea, as they impair iron absorption. According to the Iron Disorders Institute, this is due, at least in part, to polyphenols & tannins rather than caffeine. For more info about iron & a list of foods highest in iron, visit this page.

If you have high homocysteine levels in your blood from a history of consuming animal products, the folate in lentils (along with vitamin B6, of which lentils are also a good source, and vitamin B12) will help to lower those levels, reducing both damage to your arteries, and your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, a daily dose of lentils (or peas or beans) is important for prostate health.

All that research has made me hungry: now, for dinner!

This will serve 2 – 3 people, depending on appetite. For the checklist items at the end, I assume you bring your appetite. What am I making? Misr Wat. It’s an Ethiopian dish of lentils with Berbere spice blend, to which I add kale. It is traditionally served with injera – similar to a crêpe – but I’m serving it over black rice. If you can get your hands on some  real injera made with teff, a whole grain, that would also be a good option. This dish is great for rainy or cold days, as it is hearty and satisfying. 

  • 3 c. cooked black rice (a/b 1 c. dry)
  • 1 c. red lentils
  • 1 c. finely chopped kale
  • 3 c. (900 ml) vegetable bouillon or water
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 1 1/2 T Berbere spice mix
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
  1. Sauté the onions, garlic, & ginger in water or bouillon, like this.
  2. Stir in tomato paste & Berbere spice mix, and continue cooking for about 1 minute as you combine everything.
  3. Slowly add bouillon, whisking until the mixture is smooth, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add lentils & kale, and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  5. Turn off the burner, and stir in lime juice.
  6. Serve over black rice and sprinkle with cilantro.

Checklist items: 3 beans, cruciferous, .5 other vegetables, spices, 3 whole grains (8.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18.5 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus half an extra serving of other vegetables.

26 things I always have in my pantry

These are the items that are essential to my vegan life.

1. Beans, beans, beans: I always have at least 4 kinds of beans – 2 canned, and 2 dried. For canned beans, I prefer garbanzos (chickpeas) and cannellini. For dried, at the moment I’ve got loads of black beans, plus kidney beans, coco beans, and adzuki beans. I’ve also got some borlotti beans & yin yang (a.k.a. orca) beans from my garden. I use more black turtle beans than anything else, so I maintain a sizable supply of those in particular. I’m growing my own, so that will help, but I don’t have enough space in my garden for a year’s worth.beans-1001032_640

2. Buckwheat: I really wasn’t kidding in my review of buckwheat when I said it’s my new favorite thing. I now add toasted buckwheat to every salad.

3. Whole grain rice: I like to keep a variety – black & red are my favorites.

4. Potatoes: I check my potato supply every week and make sure I have enough for at least 2 spontaneous meals. I usually have both sweet and white potatoes on hand.

5. Cashews (raw): These little guys form the foundation of the most wonderful vegan cream, sour cream, cheese and cheese-based sauces and spreads.

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6. Corn: This might sound ridiculous, but, as of this writing, I have 23 cans of corn in my pantry. What? It was on sale. Plus, my partner and I both love corn, and we add it to every salad we make, so we go through a lot.

7. Corn tortillas: I use these for lunch all the time – just toss on some lettuce, beans, a veg, salsa or other dressing, and bam – hearty, healthy 5-minute lunch.

8. Cornmeal: One of my favorite breakfasts is cornmeal mush with maple syrup & berries. And who doesn’t love chili with cornbread??

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9. Flaxseed: Aside from the fact that one of the Daily Dozen checklist items is 1 T ground flaxseed, they also make the best egg replacers for burgers, patties, brownies, etc.

10. Ketchup: Because black bean burgers & oil-free baked fries!

11. Lentils & split peas: I typically keep black (beluga), red, & puy lentils, though I don’t use them as often as beans. And I love split pea soup with smoky tempeh, so the split peas are also a must-have for me.

12. Lettuce: Okay, I don’t keep lettuce in my pantry, but I always make sure I have some. In the summer it’s easy – I keep it in my garden. The rest of the year, I buy a large head of lettuce every week, and it’s never lost.

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13. Maple syrup: This is my favorite sweetener, and I use it in dressings, desserts, and, of course, on pancakes & waffles!

14. Miso paste: Because you never know when you’re going to want to have a miso soup lunch.miso-934742_640

15. Mustard: For dressings, burgers, and much much more!

16. Nutritional yeast: Simply a must-have for, like, everything.

17. Oatmeal: Another one of my favorite breakfasts, but also an essential ingredient in the best veggie burgers ever.

18. Olive marinara: Oddly specific, perhaps, but there’s a reason. It’s amazing. And I make a vegan pizza every Saturday night using this brilliant marinara.

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19. Pasta: I try to keep at least 3 full bags/boxes of whole grain pasta. I prefer whole wheat because it’s the cheapest and cooks very well, but sometimes I’ll be in the mood for something different (see my review of corn pasta).

20. Pesto: You can’t ask for a better quick & easy pasta dinner! There’s a vegan pesto available at a shop near me, but I prefer to make my own using the basil & nasturtiums from my garden. I always have a batch in the freezer.

21. Spices: I have a crazy spice collection. They don’t all fit in my spice cupboard. But the ones I use the most are black & szechuan peppers, paprika, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, & cinnamom.

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22. Sriracha (a.k.a. Rooster sauce): I used to keep this around for deviled eggs before I was vegan. Now I use it in soups, sauces, and stir-fries.

23. Sun-dried tomatoes: I also put these on my vegan pizza, but they’re also a great addition to salad dressings, sandwiches, spreads, dips, etc.

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24. Tahini: Essential for both my favorite salad dressing, and my favorite hummus.

25. Tamari/soy sauce: I use this stuff a lot – in stir-fries, in my favorite salad dressing, pretty much anytime I eat garbanzo beans, with avocado, the list goes on…

26. Veggie stock/bouillon: I don’t keep this in my pantry, either, because I don’t buy it, I make it. I save the leftovers from herbs & vegetables in the freezer. When I have enough, I make a stock and freeze it.

 

Gooseberries, Corn Tortillas & Peanut Butter

Breakfast_textSo, I had kind of a strange breakfast this morning. It was pouring rain and I wanted something rich and filling. One of the yummiest flavor combinations is peanut butter & banana!

  • peanut-butter-350099_6401 banana
  • 2 T peanut butter
  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • corn tortilla

Ok, so I know it’s odd to use a corn tortilla, but it’s the only kind of ‘bread’ that I have on-hand. And it made a pretty neat little roll-up! I spread the peanut butter on the tortilla, sprinkled the flaxseed on the peanut butter, then placed the whole banana on it and just rolled it up! It took less than 2 minutes to put together. At first, I thought I would easily eat 2 of these, but after one I felt totally satiated.

Checklist items: 1 other fruit, flaxseed, 1 nuts, 1 whole grains (4 out of 18 servings)


snack_textGooseberries are new to me. I tried them for the first time just yesterday! It’s early in the season, so they’re still a little bit sour, but I don’t mind that. I went out after the rain stopped and picked some right off the bush in my garden. If you’ve never picked fresh gooseberries – beware!! These suckers are thorny, and it might be a better idea to buy themwp-1468403922890.jpg if you don’t like the sight of blood. Lol.

  • 1/2 c. gooseberries
  • 2 peaches

Checklist items: berries, 2 other fruits (3 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textWrap number 2 for today. For 2 simple reasons – it’s super fast & easy to throw them together, and you can use anything you’ve got lying around. Oh, and I LOVE corn tortillas!!!

Instructions:

  1. put lettuce down first
  2. then beans
  3. before pouring on the dressing, I wrap it half-way so that I can put on enough without it spilling all over the counter

Checklist items: 1 beans, 1 greens, 1 whole grains (3 out of 18 servings)


 

dinner_textMy partner loves when I make coconut curry. I don’t do it often because of the saturated fat in coconut cream, but today seems like a good day for this little treat.

 

  • wp-1468413512588.jpg1/2 c. red rice (cooked)
  • 1/2 c. garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 c. peas
  • 1/2 c. cauliflower
  • 1 c. spinach (raw)
  • 1/2 c. carrots
  • 1/2 c. yellow bell pepper
  • 1/3 onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, diced (optional)
  • 1 T. fresh ginger
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • coconut cream*
  • vegetable stock/bouillon or water

This can be a one-pot meal if you start out with already-cooked rice. In that case, just add the rice after you’ve turned off the heat so that it doesn’t over-cook. If the rice is cooking at the same time as everything else, then mix just before serving.

*If you prefer to stick with a fat-free meal, just substitute tomato paste for the coconut cream and make a nice red curry instead.

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (8 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum the recommended servings of everything, plus a little extra veg if you included the onion & garlic in the curry.

Cornmeal, Nasturtium & Beluga Lentils

Breakfast_textCorn is a wonderful ingredient! There are so many different ways to eat it – from corn tortillas to popcorn, and it plays a double-role in your Daily Dozen, since it can be counted under either whole grains or other vegetables. I haven’t had cornmeal mush since I was a kid, and I suddenly had a craving for it, so that’s what I’m having for breakfast (minus the butter, of course).

  • cornmeal_20160627_1354541/4 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. hazelnut milk (+ 1/4 c. water if you like a wetter mush)
  • 1/2 c. blueberries
  • 1 T maple syrup (optional)
  • 1 nectarine (or fruit of choice)

To make cornmeal mush:

  1. Add the liquid and the cornmeal to a small pot, and simmer on a low-med heat for ~7 minutes
  2. Add blueberries & heat through
  3. Stir in maple syrup, if using

The additional fruit can either be cut up and added to the mush or, as I did, simply eaten on the side. I was thinking some chopped dates might be a very tasty addition to the mush! Perhaps I’ll do that instead of the nectarine next time.

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruits, 1 whole grains (3 out of 18 servings)


snack_textIt’s early, but breakfast was pretty small this morning, so I’m having a light mid-morning snack.

 

  • 1 c. melon pieceswp-1467101903567.jpg

I found an interesting melon at the grocery store. There are so many types I’ve never tried. This one is a Santa Claus Melon, and it’s excellent…a perfect, light snack.

Checklist items: 1 other fruits (1 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textI’m in the mood for rice and lentils. I plan to switch soon to non-white varieties of rice (here‘s why), but for the moment, I only have Basmati, heretofore my favorite. I’ve never had black or purple rice, and I can’t wait to try! But, for now, the lentils are the stars of the show. I’m using a mix of red & beluga lentils today.

  • wp-1467108359811.jpg1/2 c. lentils, pre-cooked
  • 1/2 c. rice, pre-cooked
  • 1/2 c. beet greens, pre-cooked
  • 1/4 c. celery
  • 1/4 c. red bell pepper
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 T flaxseed, ground
  • 1/4 c. arugula
  • 2 corn tortillas

I often have some cooked rice and either beans, peas, or lentils in the fridge. This makes it super easy to throw together a nutritious meal! Also, I grow beets in my garden and, when I harvest them, I cook the greens in boiling water for 1 minute, then freeze them, so I’ve got greens from my own garden throughout the year. Here’s how I put lunch together:

  1. Saute celery & bell pepper with garam masala, tomato paste, and water
  2. Add beet greens, rice & lentils and cook just until warm
  3. Turn off heat, and add lime juice.
  4. Put 1 c. of mixture on each corn tortilla
  5. Sprinkle flaxseed on top, along with arugula
  6. Wrap & eat!

Checklist items: 1 beans, 1/2 cruciferous, 1 greens, 1 other vegetables, flaxseed, spices, 3 whole grains (8 1/2 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textI love salad. Especially this time of year, when we’ve got lettuce, arugula, radishes, beets, peas & various herbs coming out our ears. Well, technically, out of our garden. I’m always excited for when the nasturtiums start to bloom. They add both color and spice to salads. The flowers are edible, and the leaves have a robust peppery flavor.

  • wp-1467118137655.jpg1 c. peas
  • 1/4 c. broccoli
  • 1 c. red leaf lettuce & nasturtium leaves, mixed
  • 1/4 c. cucumber
  • 1/4 c. red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. red radish sprouts
  • 1/4 c. corn
  • 1/4 c. dry-roasted sunflower seeds
  • Chef AJ’s House Dressing
  • Nasturtium flowers

The only instruction worth adding here is to put the flowers on the salad after the salad has been served. Even if you’re just making it for yourself, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have a gorgeous bowl of food in front of you.

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1/2 cruciferous, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, nuts (6 1/2 out of 18 servings)


Dessert_textI’m not sure you can really call this a dessert, but after dinner I went out to the garden, picked a handful of raspberries, and ate them, along with an apricot from the store.

  • 1 c. red raspberries
  • 1 apricot

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

20 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything.

In addition, we had one extra serving each of berriesother vegetables, and whole grains (depending on how you want to count the corn).

Blueberries, Ginger & Tarragon

Breakfast_text

It’s a rainy morning and chilly for June, so we’re starting things off with hot oatmeal.

 

  • blueberry-539134_6401/4 c. dry rolled oats (yields 1/2 c. cooked)
  • water (approx. double the amount of oats, depending on how soupy you want it)
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1 T (15 ml) ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 peach or nectarine
    • or 1/2 mango, cut up
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom

The way I make this is very simple:

  1. Mash the banana at the bottom of a bowl
  2. Add dry oats, water, flax, spices
  3. Mix until well combined
  4. Cook on stove or in microwave
  5. If blueberries are frozen, add them when the water is about half absorbed
  6. When done cooking, add remaining fruit, berries, & nuts

Checklist items: berries, 2 other fruits, flaxseed, spices, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textA lovely spicy curry seems like just the ticket on this particular rainy afternoon.

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  • 1/2 c. brown rice, cooked
  • 1/2 c. garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 c. peas
  • 1/2 an onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, diced (optional)
  • 1 T. fresh ginger
  • 1/2 c. red bell pepper, coarsely cut
  • 1 diced chili pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 c. zucchini, coarsely cut
  • 1 c. raw beet greens or spinach
  • curry and salt-free spice blend of your choice (I used garam masala)
  • lime juice
  • tomato paste + water (or coconut milk + low-sodium soy sauce if you’re not worried about the fat content)

Another super simple meal:

  1. Cook rice separately
  2. Saute onion, garlic, & ginger in a minimal amount of olive oil or, better yet, no oil
  3. Add beans, peas, peppers, zucchini, & spices
  4. Cook until vegetables are desired consistency, adding water as necessary to prevent burning and sticking
  5. Stir in lime & tomato paste or coconut milk & bring back up to temperature
  6. Add leafy greens and wilt

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (7 out of 18 servings)


snack_textA little afternoon snack is never a bad idea. Perhaps with some tea?

 

  • 1 peach
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1/4 c. nuts

Instructions: nosh.

Checklist items: 2 other fruit, nuts (3 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textLast meal of the day! We’d better make it count! I can never resist a good hearty soup. It’s the perfect dinner for a rainy day.

 

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  • 1/2 c. chopped beet greens or spinach
  • 1/2 c. cooked cannellini (white beans)
  • 1/2 c. chopped cauliflower
  • 1/2 c. brown or wild rice, cooked
  • 1/2 c. diced tomato
  • 1/4 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • vegetable broth, low- or no-sodium
  • Italian herb blend (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, savory, fennel, sage and marjoram)
  • lots of tarragon – for me, the tarragon really makes this soup
  • fresh basil to sprinkle on top

Making the soup:

  1. Saute onions and garlic in minimal or no oil
  2. Add everything else except for the rice & fresh basil
  3. When the soup is ready, add the rice & heat through
  4. Chiffonade basil and sprinkle on soup at service

Checklist items: 1 beans, cruciferous, 1 greens, 1 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

22 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything.

In addition, we had 1 extra serving each of other fruit & other vegetables, plus 2 extra servings of spices.