A Healthier Dal Makhani

When it comes to soups, I’m usually not a fan of cream-based broths. I don’t want a soup that rich and milky; zest, spice, hearty is what I go for! Of course, there are a few exceptions (borscht, wild rice roup), and today we’ve got another one. Dal Makhani is a delicious Punjabi soup with black lentils and cream that I’m quite fond of at local restaurants. The problem of course, as with many restaurant-made dishes, is that it tends to be rather unhealthy; as they add much more cream and butter than you or I would add in something made from our own kitchen (this is a pet peeve of mine). So what to do? Try to make a healthier version, of course!

Black Lentils

This project was a bit problematic for several reasons. First, black lentils are a bit hard to find. I scoured the shelves of several grocery stores, specialty and general, to no avail. The best I was able to find was pre-cooked black lentils at Trader Joes. Second, Dal Makhani is traditionally cooked for a very long time under low heat. Who has the time for that? I plan to try with a slow cooker one day, but for this I just settled on a short duration. And finally, there’s the whole butter and cream thing. Let’s be honest. We all have restaurant dishes that we love, due in no small part to the bad-for-you stuff they add. Better to compete with subtle flavoring than overwhelming your taste buds. This dish won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s a good simple meal.

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 onion; chopped
1 tablespoon ginger; minced
3 garlic cloves; minced
1 cup cooked black lentils
1/2 cup cooked kidney beans
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Under medium-high heat, heat the ghee until hot then add the cumin and fennel seeds. Stir until they crackle and become fragrant. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chili powder and tomato paste and saute for 5 minutes. Add the additional ingredients along with any water to get the thickness you prefer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Enjoy.

It was a bit of a scorcher this past weekend; up to the low 90’s. I have a simple test for determining whether or not summer is here: if at any time my steering wheels burns me, it’s summer. I took full advantage of the great weather with a good deal of climbing and running. Man, I love Spring and Summer.

Saute the Spices

As I mentioned earlier, a change in season means a change in diet. Salads, cold sandwiches, etc. Something too cool you off is a plus, and not heating the home from your kitchen is just gravy. However, sometimes we just want what we want; screw the season.

I’m not that skilled in cooking indian style, but I’m a fan of this soup (the ease in preparing helps). The lentils and chickpeas mix well with the tomato and spices. The cayenne and red pepper flakes give it a bit of a kick, so feel free to temper with lemon juice if so inclined.

Spicy Tomato Soup with Red Lentils and Chickpeas

Spicy Tomato Soup with Red Lentils and Chickpeas

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic; minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup dried red lentils; rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked chickpeas (half a can); rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

Bring a medium-sized pot to medium heat and add butter, garlic, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. Saute for 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Enjoy.

Ever since I’ve learned the glory that is couscous, I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate it into my meals. One of the ways I’ve been looking into is as a replacement (or complement) to rice; giving an old favorite a twist. That’s how I came up with today’s recipe.

Onion, Garlic, Carrots and Butter

When I was in high school I worked at the local Arbys restaurant. It was close enough to walk (no car) and far less disgusting than the nearby McDonalds (which was quite disgusting). Oh, and we had a frozen custard station which was friggin’ awesome. One of the side dishes we sold with our rotisserie chicken was rice pilaf which was, for an uncultured high-schooler, quite tasty. It had small bits of vegetables and almond slivers. I decided to use this as my inspiration.

The Makings of a Pilaf

Pilaf is a dish in which rice is lighty sauted in butter or oil and often well-seasoned. I decided to go mild on the seasoning; relying instead on a high quality stock. This recipe can be easily modified per your seasoning or vegetable preferences, but I suggest giving it a shot as a complement to your main course.

Couscous and lentil pilaf

Couscous and Lentil Pilaf
Without a high quality stock to enhance the flavor, this dish will be very mild in taste. Consider spice alternatives.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small oinion; diced
1 clove garlic; minced
1 carrot; diced
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup couscous
1 cup peas (if frozen, thawed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
4 cups high quality stock
1/4 cup almond slivers

Bring the lentils to a boil in 1 1/2 cup of water and simmer for 12 minutes. Strain and set aside. While the lentils are cooking, lightly toast your almond slivers.

Melt the butter under medium-low heat and sweat the onion, garlic and carrots for 10 minutes; stirring occasionally. Add the lentils, couscous, peas, salt, cumin and stock and bring to a boil under medium-high heat. Reduce to low and cover, letting it simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave on the burner uncovered until light and fluffy; approximately five minutes. Add your almonds and any additional salt to taste. Enjoy.

Spring is officially here, and I took full advantage of it this weekend. Some friends and I got together to spend most of Sunday climbing at Carderock, Maryland. The weather was beautiful, the climbs were great… you couldn’t ask for more. It made me a bit sad to leave and prepare for the work week, but another gorgeous weekend will come.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

As the climate changes, so does the type of food we cook. Soup is one of the big things for winter (one of the few things I enjoy about the season) but as the weather warms, often what we eat cools. Salads are big and a salad is what I made that evening; albeit not the traditional leafy kind. This baby has red lentils as the star and I was pretty happy with the results.

Red Lentils and Red Bell Peppers

Like the rest of the lentil family, the reds are a great source of protein. They also have a mild earthy flavor and cook in very little time. The red bell peppers add their sweet compliment and the red wine vinaigrette enhances without overpowering. Be sure to drain the lentils well, though! Otherwise you might end up with something that’s a cross between soup and salad.

Red Lentil Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Red Lentil Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Be sure to drain your lentils well or you will get a rather watery salad. Bleh.

3 cups dried red lentils; cooked and drained
2 red bell peppers; diced
4 garlic cloves; minced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
2 table spoons olive oil

Stir your lentils and red bell peppers in a large bowl. Combine the rest of your ingredients separately to form your vinaigrette, whisking to ensure well mixed. Pour your vinaigrette onto your lentils and bell peppers, mix well and enjoy.

Khitcheri – Time For Some Detox

The problem with baking (well, ok, ONE of the problems) is leftovers; because when you have leftovers, you inevitably end up consuming them when you really should be consuming something else. Oatmeal for breakfast? Nah…

Lentils and Basmati Rice

That was the story of my Sunday after baking a coconut cake for a friend’s birthday on Saturday. It leftovers were just a little too awesome to resist so in an attempt to balance the scales (and just placate my own mental anguish) I decided on something much simpler and lighter for dinner.

Kitcheri is a simple dish, Indian in origin. It’s been attributed to having a cleansing effect on the body; something I felt I could use. Don’t expect to be bowled away by this dish. It’s flavor is mild and subtle. Enjoy it when you’re in the right mood.


1 cup green lentils; rinsed
3/4 cup brown basmati rice
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 onion; chopped
2 garlic cloves; minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger; minced
2 teaspoons coriander
4 cups stock (or water)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
parsley as garnish (optional)

Soak the lentils and rice for 30 minutes.

Under medium heat, roast the cumin seeds with one tablespoons of oil for 20 seconds. Add the additional oil along with the onion, garlic, ginger and coriander. Sweat for 2-3 minutes. You should smell the ginger and the onions should begin to look translucent.

Add the water, turmeric, lentils and rice. Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is soft; adding salt to taste. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve with parsley as a garnish. Enjoy

There are days when soup simply won’t do. Days when the hunger is ravenous and you really need something to sink your teeth into. It is on these days that I often find my vegetarian repertoire unable to meet my needs and I find coming back to my carnivorous ways. (What? I’m not strictly vegetarian. It’s allowed.) “No more!” I exclaimed last week. It was time for a better solution; something hearty and filling. Of course what better to be a part of said solution than lentils in the form of a tasty “meat” loaf.

The Color Red

I loved Mom’s meat loaf as a kid, always taking a thick slice to go with my extra large helping of mashed potatoes and corn. (Corn goes with everything. It’s been proven.) Delicious. It’s been a while since I’ve had that glorious loaf of meat and it occurred to me that this might be part of the problem with my current diet: not enough comfort food. There was (is?) a significant lack of balance.

Looks Great, Doesn't It?

The term lentil loaf does not sit well with me. There are just too many… connotations with the word ‘loaf,’ however that is exactly what this is. I scoured the wonders of the internet for inspiration, including my personal hero, Alton Brown, to concoct this delicious recipe. I was very pleased with the result. The only significant issue is the texture. This recipe is not as solid as a traditional meat loaf, but won’t fall apart as you cut into it with your fork. Perhaps another egg would help…

Lentil "Meat" Loaf

Vegetarian Lentil “Meat” Loaf
adapted from Alton Brown and My Vegan Cookbook.
3/4 cup green lentils; cooked and drained
1/2 cup brown rice; cooked and drained
3 cloves garlic; minced
1 yellow onion; chopped
1 large carrot; chopped
1 red bell pepper; chopped
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs, corn meal or vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 325°.

While the lentils and and rice are cooking saute the garlic, onion, carrot and bell pepper in a pan on medium heat until onions are translucent; approximately 5 minutes. Let cool then chop in a food processor into finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and chop the lentils (once they’ve cooled) in the food processor into a paste.

Combine all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl then move to a glass baking pan, forming it into a loaf. Bake for 45 minutes until heated through.

Winning Over Skeptics Everywhere – Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers

Without a doubt, this is my favorite dinner in the rotation.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Walnuts about to be Chopped

At first I was skeptical. I’ve never been a crazy lentil-lover like Edwin. And as I’ve hinted, despite my passion for cooking and baking, my palate isn’t terribly adventurous! When Edwin gets excited and exclaims to me that he found green candied cherries for baking Christmas cookies, I respond with, “bleh!” When my husband suggests to me that I make a fajita for lunch using leftovers, I look at him with horror (I don’t really like eating leftover meat… it’s a weird thing, I know).

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Cooked Lentils

So, when searching my favorite, tried and true cookbook for something new and delicious, my eyes only lingered over “Lentil-Walnut Burgers” long enough to conjure images of frozen veggie burgers and strike fear into my heart. The next time I picked the book up I paused over this recipe again, considering it. And so it went like this for a few weeks until I finally found the courage to dive in.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Spices, Salt and Peppers

This story also illustrates a fact about me that friends over the years have found enormous pleasure in teasing me about – apparently, if there’s ever something that I react to immediately with vehement hate, chances are in time I’ll grow to be head over heels in love with it. I’ll never admit this to be true, but I can’t exactly say they’re wrong either…

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Mixing/Mashing

Ghost Baker’s Favorite Dinner, Putting the Spice in Spicy:

I’ve made this recipe several times since the first time, and I’ve even made it for dinner guests. Be warned that my recipe for these little dinner cakes is spicy! I adore spicy food and lots of garlic, but I do like to serve them with milk. I add two more cloves of garlic than the original recipe calls for, as well as more red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Spicy Lentil Walnut BSpicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Just added to the Skillet

I also love the texture – they should be just a tad crumbly and grainy. The second time I made them I mixed the ingredients a little too much and I think you lose something. The recipe says to use a food processor; however I don’t have one and I don’t think one is absolutely necessary (again, you don’t want to over-blend). It also suggests serving with a yogurt-cilantro sauce, but I don’t do cilantro.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, My Husband Stole One...

My husband enjoys these burgers with the same accoutrements you would add to a hamburger, I like mine plain on the bun, and one of my dinner guests once asked for cheese on his – so have fun with it! We typically accompany these with a side of Szechuan green beans or couscous.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Ready to Eat

*Note – I would have taken a photo of all four burgers together with some toppings and sides, but when I turned around I caught a glimpse of my husband running into the other room with a burger in one hand yelling, “Take a photo of THIS!” and stuffing it into his mouth…

Spicy Lentil-Walnut Burgers
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Makes 4 burgers (serves 4), Prep time about 40 min, Cook time about 20 min

3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
5 garlic cloves, minced (or use a garlic press)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg
4 Hamburger buns

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place lentils in a small saucepan, cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover, and cook until the lentils are tender but holding their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (it’s important that you don’t overcook them and make lentil-mush). Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, spread the chopped walnuts on a baking sheet to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. They should be a little darker and very fragrant. Set the walnuts aside to cool.

When the walnuts have cooled I like to chop them a little more finely. Then combine them in a large bowl along with the breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, coriander (if you have whole instead of ground, just put them in a plastic bag and crush with the flat side of a meat tenderizer or even a can), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon. It should appear finely ground except for some pieces of walnut.

Add the lentils and 1 tablespoons of the oil. Don’t be afraid to be a little rough in your mixing – the contents of the bowl should appear chopped and fully incorporated but with some lentils remaining whole.

Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add it to the lentil mixture. Mix well, but be careful here not to mix it into mush. Divide it into 4 equal-size parts and roll into balls; flatten with the palm of your hand into 3/4-inch-thick patties.

Heat a large nonstick skillet and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the burgers and cook over medium-low heat until crisp and browned, turning carefully with a thin-edged spatula, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Do not turn more frequently or else they will start to crumble. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.

Add to your bun and serve!

Hooray For Soup

Soup. Is. Awesome. That’s right, I said it. I am no longer the reckless youth I once was. I no longer eat what can be barely considered food. I no longer leave a pot of Campbell’s Soup sitting on the stove over night only to eat it the next day. No, today I am mature. Sophisticated. And sophisticated, mature people (read: OLD) eat mature things, like soup.

The Essential Mir Poix

It’s safe to say there is rarely a week that I don’t eat some kind of soup. It’s delicious (when done right), it’s healthy (when done right) and if you prepare a big enough pot it can last you the whole week (or you could freeze it, depending on the soup). This is usually want I do. Come the weekend I cook a pot of soup for lunch throughout the week. It’s also nice for a quick last minute dinner, but when you’re already eating the stuff once a day for a week already, the addition of it on the dinner menu gets old.

Sweating Our Mix Poix

One of my staples is lentil soup. Legumes (beans) are an excellent source of protein and lentils are the second highest source in the legume family (soy takes first). Lentils are also great because you can buy them dried (cheap) and don’t have to worry about softening them prior to cooking. This dish also demonstrates another great thing about soups: their flexibility and versatility. You can really do a lot to vary this recipe and chances are it’ll still come out delicious (unless you do something wacky like add peanut butter or cheese or something. i offer no guarantees if you go all “mad scientist” on this thing). This can really be considered a “base” recipe. I often up the veggie ratio. Go nuts with this one. And better yet, let us know how it turns out!

And yes, I totally acknowledge how visually unappealing this soup is.

Lentil Soup

Simple (Healthy!) Lentil Soup
adapted from Alton Brown

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion; chopped
1 carrot; chopped
1 celery stalk; chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
8 cups of water or broth (I normally use eight cups of water and some frozen stock, but bouillon cubes could also work)
10 oz of lentils; picked over, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (whole or stewed could also work in a pinch)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp pepper
salt to taste

Sweat the onions, carrots, celery and garlic with the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot for about 10 minutes. The onion should start appearing translucent.

Add everything but the salt (simple, huh?). Let simmer for 45 minutes. Add salt to taste. Done. Eat. Be full.