Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Good Intentions: Donut Go There
What’s cooking? Red Lentil Soup

I only know about two people in this world who are not on a diet. (That would be you, Leslie, and I’m sure there’s at least one other person.) One of the remaining 99.9% met me for coffee the other day and asked – in the nicest way possible – if I might want to join her in starting up with Weight Watchers in 2016.

Let me say here that the WW folks have probably dedicated a building to me by now, given the number of times I’ve succumbed to their siren call. And, truth be told, it’s the only program that’s ever worked for me. But you can imagine how difficult it is for the Kitchen Goddess to stick to a regimen, regardless of my efforts or the flexibility of the program. Here’s one reason why.

Fully caffeinated and brimming with resolve, I headed from Starbucks to the grocery store, determined to buy only those things on the list in my hot little hand. And as I passed through the big glass doors, I very distinctly heard my brain say one word: “Donut.”

Not a scream, not a whisper, just a statement of fact. And – what the heck – Weight Watchers was a full three days away, and I hadn’t had lunch.

But it’s now a new year. And the Kitchen Goddess wants to be healthier, and she wants to help you be healthy, too. So while no one expects either of us to eschew sugar or fat entirely from our diets, there are lots of foods that go easy on those two ingredients while remaining both yummy and healthy, and I am going to find some of them for you. At least for January.

* * *

We’re going to start today with red lentils. Oh, don’t give me that look. I fed some to my prince last night and they were perfectly wonderful. I can hardly wait to have the leftovers for lunch. This recipe is a mash-up of one from Melissa Clark in The New York Times and a recent offering from Cook’s Illustrated. I’ve jazzed up the spices and included the carrots from Clark’s version, and I do believe you’ll love it. The onions and garlic and butter provide a hearty base for the delicate legumes, the tomato paste delivers the umami, and the spice mixture – sautéed to bring out all the lovely warm flavors – makes you feel as if you were being served in a tiny café near the marketplace in Marrakesh.

Red lentils are the Manolo Blahniks of the lentil world – the classy, glamorous cousins of green and brown lentils. Smaller than the green and brown varieties, they are a split and hulled version of yellow lentils, so they cook faster than the others. And without the hulls, the taste is sweeter and more like a vegetable than a bean. Other interesting factoids:

1. For those of you who notice these things, lentils are a rich source of several essential nutrients (folate, thiamin, phosphorus, iron, and zinc), as well as dietary fiber (11g/100g raw) and protein (25g). Low in readily digested starch and high in slowly digested starch, lentils are especially recommended for anyone with diabetes. Lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, after soybeans.

2. Although lentils originated in Asia and North Africa, today, Canada and India make up more than half the world’s production. Much of India’s product is consumed domestically, so Canada is by far the largest export producer. The U.S. is the fifth largest, with production coming from Washington, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota.

3. In Italy and Hungary, there’s a tradition of eating lentils on New Year’s Eve, to symbolize hope for a prosperous new year, most likely because of their round, coin-like form.

Nerdy health note: The Kitchen Goddess was shocked – SHOCKED! – to learn that most beans (except soybeans), are an incomplete protein, which means they don’t supply the full quota of amino acids the body needs to make use of protein. One way to complete the package is to include a grain with your legumes. Think peanut butter with toast. Or rice with beans. Who knew? So you could throw some rice into your lentil soup, but the KG thinks a way better idea is to serve your yummy red lentil soup with cornbread in order to produce a serving of complete proteins. You’ll find my favorite cornbread recipe here (click on link). The KG always has your best interests at heart.

Red Lentil Soup

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times and Andrea Geary at Cook's Illustrated.
Serves 4-5.


4 tablespoons butter, separated
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or a pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
10½ ounces (1½ cups) red lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 large carrots, peeled and cut in ¼-inch dice
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2-2½ tablespoons), plus more to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper


In a large soup pot (I used a 5½-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven), heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and salt and sauté until softened, about 4-5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, and the peppers, and sauté, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to stir for another minute.

Add the broth, water, lentils, and diced carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer the lentils until they’re soft and about half have broken down, about 20 minutes.

Remove 3 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and purée the mixture, then add it back to the pot. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with additional salt or lemon juice. Reheat the soup if necessary.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir in the paprika and Aleppo pepper (or a dash of cayenne). Serve bowls of the soup drizzled with the spiced butter and a sprinkling of cilantro.

And in case you’ve forgotten (or didn’t want to follow the link), I recommend serving this soup with some of your favorite cornbread. Here’s mine:

Texas Cornbread

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups yellow corn meal
3 tablespoons sugar
4½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
⅔ c milk (room temperature works best)
⅓ c melted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

Heat oven to 425º.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the dry ingredients – flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate, small bowl, beat the egg well with a fork, then stir in the milk and melted butter. Pour the liquid mixture all at once into the dry, stirring with a fork only until the flour is thoroughly moistened. (It’s okay if the mixture is lumpy – just don’t overstir.) Stir in the corn kernels just until evenly distributed.

Pour the mixture into an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or a greased 8x8-inch baking pan and bake 25-30 minutes until the top is browned and a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean.

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