This is a great side dish for potlucks when you want to offer a healthier option than the usual chips and dip. Without the optional goat cheese it even qualifies as vegan (though if your friends are as carnivorous as mine I wouldn’t recommend announcing that as you arrive at the potluck). It holds up really well in the fridge for leftovers the following day or two, which helps make up for the fact that with all the cooking and cooling it does require plenty of plan-ahead time and multiple pots and pans.
If you want to serve this as a one-dish meal add diced avocado (sticking with the plant-centric theme) or diced chicken. But if you’re expecting leftovers, serve the avocado on the side rather than mixing it in.
A word about salads like this that count on layers of flavor. It can be tempting to count on the combination of ingredients and dressing to make the dish work, while being a little sloppy with the preparation of each element. But this dish will really sing only if each part of it can stand on its own. Remember to include salt in the cooking – bland lentils or quinoa will be the fastest way to turn all your work into a disappointment.
Potluck Grain Salad
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup millet, cooked and cooled
1/3 cup french green lentils, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup wild rice, cooked and cooled
1 sweet potato, diced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1 handful nuts – pine nuts or almonds
fruity clear vinaigrette**
crumbled goat cheese (optional)
Cook the quinoa, millet, lentils and wild rice according to package instructions. Be sure to cook with a pinch of salt. Drain and cool.* Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato. Toss with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on baking sheet and roast until tender. Cool. Spread the nuts in a skillet and place in oven. Toast until golden. Cool. Chop the scallions, including white and green parts. Chop the parsley. Combine the quinoa, millet, lentils, wild rice, sweet potato, nuts, scallions and parsley. Add dressing, salt and pepper to taste to taste. Top with goat cheese if using. *If you are pressed for time, spread on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for quicker cooling. **I like to dress salads like this with a vinaigrette made with white balsamic. The color of regular dark balsamic will detract from the looks of this dish.
Cook the quinoa, millet, lentils and wild rice according to package instructions. Be sure to cook with a pinch of salt. Drain and cool.*
Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato. Toss with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on baking sheet and roast until tender. Cool.
Spread the nuts in a skillet and place in oven. Toast until golden. Cool.
Chop the scallions, including white and green parts. Chop the parsley.
Combine the quinoa, millet, lentils, wild rice, sweet potato, nuts, scallions and parsley. Add dressing, salt and pepper to taste to taste. Top with goat cheese if using.
*If you are pressed for time, spread on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for quicker cooling.
**I like to dress salads like this with a vinaigrette made with white balsamic. The color of regular dark balsamic will detract from the looks of this dish.
I have a few general ‘food rules’ I try to follow, things I’ve found are pretty much guaranteed to make me feel healthy. One of those rules is to eat legumes in some form every day. I came to rely on legumes first because I found they were so good at helping to keep my blood sugar (and therefore my energy and mood) steady. But I don’t complain that they are also cheap, store easily, take spices and flavors beautifully, and introduce me to cuisines from all over the world.
I feel well-prepared for any week if it starts with some sort of lentil soup as well as a container of homemade hummus in the fridge.
This recipe is adapted from Meera Sodha’s Made in India. I actually started off making it by the book. I was weirdly proud of myself for pulling out the measuring spoons. Until I realized I wanted more spices (there’s a life motto – more spice!) and I would be swapping the dairy milk for coconut milk anyway. So who am I kidding – Following a recipe is just not for me.
Improvisation aside, this recipe is not about spontaneity. You have to soak the beans, boil the beans, and simmer the dal. Plan to start the actual cooking 2 1/2 hours or so before you want to eat, though most of the time is unattended. Or do as I often do with long-simmering dishes. Get the pot on the stove, make something else for dinner, and by the time you’ve eaten and cleaned up, tomorrow night’s dinner* will be finished. Love cooking or not, most of us just don’t have time to do it every night!
Black Lentil Dal4 servings
7 ounces urad dal(black lentils)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
3/4 cup coconut milk
Rinse and drain the soaked lentils and put in deep pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Leave at a low boil for 45 minutes, skimming the water as necessary.
While the lentils are boiling, put 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the diced onions. Cook them slowly for 15 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook a further 5 minutes or longer, being careful not to burn. Add the tomato paste, salt, chili powder, cardamom, and cumin. Stir and remove from heat.
When the lentils have boiled, drain off most of the water, leaving just enough to cover. Add the tomato and onion mixture. Add the coconut milk. After bringing to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 and a half hours. Add more coconut milk if necessary to keep the lentils from boiling too dry.
Adjust the salt and spices to your taste. Add 1 tablespoon butter just before serving and stir.
*Try freezing the dal as well. I can’t promise success since I haven’t had a chance to defrost and eat mine yet, but I find lentil dishes freeze very well.
When it comes to either/or questions I try to remember first to question the question. Why should I choose one or the other? Form or function? Yes please. Republican or Democrat? No thank you. Healthy or tasty? Of course.
Hummus is the proof you don’t have to choose. Tasty enough to make an afternoon break with vegetables something to look forward to and packed with protein and fiber, hummus fills both sides of the equation with flair. Flexible enough to dress up with any number of spices or flavors, it’s also incredibly cheap to make and freezes so well that the slight inconvenience of planning ahead to soak the beans is more than made up in the ease of making and storing a large batch. Though if you are in a hurry, hummus made with canned beans still out-performs the store-bought stuff any day.
Hummus to me is bound up with a memory of making batch after batch in a sunny kitchen with only a mini food processor while my roommates and friends sat around the table eating it with lime chips and laughing. At the time I improvised my hummus recipe but for some reason was intimidated to use anything other than canned beans. Since then I have been converted to using dried beans and experimented with different techniques and flavors, throwing in dill or paprika, using freshly toasted and ground cumin, sometimes roasting my garlic. I even tried peeling the chickpeas (Yes, peeling the chickpeas gave me a lovely creamy hummus. No, it was absolutely not worth the hassle). There is always homemade hummus in the freezer.
When my friends ask for my hummus recipe I want to tell them to just look at the ingredients list and pull out their food processor – it’s that easy to figure out. But if you would like to have more specific guidance, check out these two recipes. You can’t go wrong.
Vegetables and I are not exactly soulmates. When I’m hungry I don’t instinctively long for broccoli or any of its cousins. I have to plan, set goals*, and regularly remind myself of how good I feel after I eat the vegetables. Let’s not even start on how undeservedly virtuous I feel when I’ve added a healthy dose of greens to my post-workout smoothie. Oh yes, I pat myself heartily on the back when I act like an adult and actually eat my veggies.
In my world, one of the best tricks to get me to perform this grown-up responsibility (aside from adding bacon or butter) is to make it convenient. Enter the leafy green purée.
My grocery stores give the option of buying spinach or kale in clamshells or plastic bags or in super large bunches. Even if the produce in the clamshells or plastic bags didn’t smell faintly of death upon opening, all of the options are too much greenery for one person to eat before things start to wither. So I purée and freeze them in mini silicone muffin cups. They take up hardly any space in my freezer, I’m no longer feeling guilty about wasted wilted produce, and they conveniently sit right next to the frozen bananas also intended for a smoothie. A couple of mini muffin’s worth of greens is plenty to earn me a vegetable pat on the back for the day.
This doesn’t exactly rate as a recipe, but it is one of my favorite kitchen tricks. Stay tuned for a soup recipe that makes use of the frozen greens.
1 bunch Spinach or Kale Combine all ingredients in your food processor or blender. Process until as smooth as you like. Pour into cups. Freeze. Once frozen, I prefer to remove the purée from the cups and store them loosely in a Ziploc bag. Alternatively, throw a can of coconut milk in with or instead of the water.
Leafy Green Purée
Enough water to purée
A splash of lemon or lime juice
1 bunch Spinach or Kale
Combine all ingredients in your food processor or blender. Process until as smooth as you like. Pour into cups. Freeze. Once frozen, I prefer to remove the purée from the cups and store them loosely in a Ziploc bag.
Alternatively, throw a can of coconut milk in with or instead of the water.