Recipe: French Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Soup

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Have you tried French green lentils?

 

Two weeks ago, a family health crisis forced us to quickly learn about the ulcer-friendly or “bland” diet. My husband learned that he had a bleeding ulcer, and that onions, garlic and spicy foods were out of the question for the time being. As a family who loves to cook, we were determined to find flavorful alternatives to these cooking staples. Of course, if you have an ulcer or other digestive condition, ask your doctor about the foods that are best for you.

Soups are a favorite meal at our house, and I’d been meaning to try French green lentils. These small, dark gray-green lentils have a lovely sweet flavor and creamy texture. The caramelized roasted vegetables, along with some mild cooking herbs, add a rich flavor that helped us forget about the term “bland diet.”

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Roasted, slightly caramelized vegetables replace onions and garlic.

 

My husband likes to add zucchini and other vegetables to roasting meats, so I decided to use that idea for this soup.  My mom and I had fun cooking this soup and refining the recipe. No garlic, no onions, and lots of healing thoughts went into this soup. Here’s the recipe:


Ingredients

1 cup French green lentils

4-inch strip of dried kombu

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried ground thyme

Sea salt to taste

2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1-1/2 cups diced potato

2 zucchini, sliced

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Dried oregano

Directions

1. Sort and rinse lentils. Place lentils and kombu in a medium bowl and soak for 4 hours (Available in health food stores, kombu is a sea vegetable that helps make beans and lentils more digestible) .

2. Just before the lentils have finished soaking, preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots, potatoes and zucchini in oil. Sprinkle with dried oregano and sea salt, then toss some more. Place the vegetables in the baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through cooking time. Vegetables will be ready when they are tender and slightly caramelized.

3. Drain and place the lentils and kombu in a large soup pot. Add enough water to cover the lentils and add bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Remove from heat and set aside until the vegetables are finished roasting.

4. Add roasted vegetables to the pot of lentils and stir to combine. Sample the broth and add more water, salt and additional thyme if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook the soup for 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Bland diet? What bland diet? You’ll be amazed at the depth of flavor, even without the tried and true onion and garlic base. Hope you’ll give this soup a try!

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Wordless Wednesday: It’s All About the Food

Thanks to Create With Joy and Frugal Plus for hosting Wordless Wednesday…and Happy Birthday to that precious feline, Legend 🙂

Wordless Wednesdays

I have to bribe myself to do my cardio workout, so I save some favorite nutritious foods for post-workout snacks.

Here are my real reasons for getting on that bike:

My favorite Greek yogurt…

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Homemade guacamole…

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Whole grain toast with peanut butter (good for breakfast, too)…

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Hope to see you at Wordless Wednesday…great community!

Good for You: Cook With Greek Yogurt

My new favorite snack is a small container of Greek yogurt, especially black cherry or pineapple. I’ve learned that you can use plain, non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt as a healthy substitute for butter, oil and other cooking fats. It was music to my ears when my dear meat-and-potatoes-loving husband said, “We need to get more plain Greek yogurt!”

Buttery, creamy Greek yogurt adds flavor and improves texture in baked goods.

Much of the liquid is strained from Greek yogurt, so it has a thicker texture than other yogurts. With more protein and fewer carbs than regular yogurt, you’ll add a guilt-free tang to your dishes and baked foods.

For example, you can use Greek yogurt instead of cream cheese in a frosting recipe. Top a baked potato with Greek yogurt, or mix it into mashed potatoes. Use the same amount of yogurt as you wold cream cheese or sour cream, or use it in place of mayonnaise in tuna salad.

In baking recipes, you can substitute some of the oil or butter with Greek yogurt. The live yogurt cultures won’t survive the heat, but the yogurt gives baked goods a moist texture with fewer fat grams. For excellent information on measurements and substitutions for baking, visit My New 30 .

Plain Greek yogurt is a delicious topping for fresh fruit, but it’s good to know that you can cook with it, too. Check out Meg’s Kitchen on the Stoneyfield Farms website for a wide variety of recipes.

Hope you’ll try some of these ideas, and maybe share some of your own. Enjoy good foods!

Meatless Monday: Millet Stew

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After a week of sniffling, coughing and losing my voice, I wanted to cook something mild, nutritious and creamy with my favorite grain —  millet. Millet is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, lignans, antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients. I adapted this recipe for millet stew from Cooks.com. I’ve only made this recipe once, but I can picture many different types of vegetables in it, such as yellow squash, zucchini or peas. Here’s my version for this Meatless Monday:

Millet Stew

Ingredients:

7 cups water

2 cups hulled millet, rinsed

2 potatoes, peeled diced

2 carrots, diced

1 onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon salt

dried Italian herbs to taste

sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water in a large soup pot. Add all the ingredients — excedpt for herbs and sprinkleof salt and pepper — to the water. Reduce to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the millet is soft and creamy. About 10 minutes before the stew is cooked, stir in herbs and a sprinkle of pepper. You may need to add 1/2 to 1 cup of additional water.

When the stew is finished, spoon it into bowls and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The stew really stays hot for a long time, so be careful! If you’d like to learn more about this grain, click to read a great article from World’s Healthiest Foods.

Be well and be blessed!

Resolutions — Kicking and Screaming

It’s finally here, and I can’t put it off any longer. The first week of January 2012 is almost over, and I still haven’t thought about New Year’s resolutions. As a health and wellness writer, I know that it’s time to follow through on some of my own advice. And lo and behold, week 4 of 6 Weeks of Bliss is challenging bloggers to write about our diet, fitness and lifestyle resolutions. So…

1) I’m going to pay a visit — the first of many — to my apartment complex fitness center. I love to take long walks and practice yoga, and that’s great, but I know that I need to take advantage of the free 24/7 fitness center. And so what if I need to learn how to use the equipment? It takes probably less than a minute to walk there from our apartment, and there’s hardly ever anyone in there, so there’s no need for anyone to take me there, kicking and screaming.

“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.” Isaiah 40:29

2) Time to find and try new foods. Not that I’m a picky eater, but I have gotten into a self-satisfied rut with my cooking. My family and I really do know how to choose, prepare and eat fresh, healthy foods. However, it’s time to branch out and try some of those recipes and ingredients I keep bookmarking. There are so many nutritious gifts from the creation, from whole grains to root vegetables, and I’m barely scratching the surface. For example, I’ve been wanting to try some natural sweeteners other than stevia and agave nectar…time to move forward from “I’ll have to try…”

“See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; and to you it shall be for food.” Genesis 1:29

3) I need to remember — once and for all — that it’s not my job to “fix” every loved one and every situation. I have become skilled at encouraging others to “wait on God’s timing,” while scurrying through the back door to give God a helping hand. Again, it’s time to follow my own advice…and I can’t even take credit for this advice, as anyone can see here:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:4-5 (NKJV)

I’ll be working on all of these resolutions this year…and probably longer than that! What are your health and wellness resolutions?

Be well and be blessed!

 

Meatless Monday: Oats for Your Brain, Blood Sugar and More

After a summer blogging break, it’s good to be back on Meatless Monday! Instead of the usual recipe, I’d like to share some information on a familiar food that offers a wide range of health benefits. It’s worth taking another look at this food that we may take for granted. Rich in calcium, iron, B-vitamins and other nutrients, oats and oatstraw (the stalks and leaves) offer medicinal properties. Please note that we’re talking about unrefined — not instant — oats! Here are some of the health benefits of oats:

Brain and Nerves

As  tincture or infusion, oatstraw appears to improve concentration, clarity of thinking and attention span. In her book Healing Wise, herbalist Susun Weed notes that oat baths and oatstraw infusions are longtime remedies for nervous and emotional stress associated with quitting smoking, and even childhood bedwetting and colic. Drink a cup of calming — though not sedating — infusion when your nerves are frayed, or at bedtime for a restful sleep.

Cardiovascular

Oats are probably best known fro their cardiovascular benefits. Numerous studies have shown the cholesterol-reducing, antioxidant heart benefits of this food. A 2007 Harvard study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that regular intake of whole grain breakfast cereals — such as oats — is associated with a lower risk of heart failure. Researchers have found this food to be especially beneficial to heart health in postmenopausal women.

Blood Sugar

If you have Type 2 diabetes or just want to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, you may want to include oats in your diet. The beta-glucan in oats appears to help prevent spikes in blood sugar, and the magnesium content promotes enzyme activity which aids insulin production. You can add cinnamon, which may improve blood sugar stability, to your serving of oatmeal.

Breast Health

Research suggests that fiber intake helps reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Premenopausal women who had a daily intake of more than 30 grams of fiber were found to have a 52 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer. In one study, researchers found that fruits and whole grains, such as oats, ofter the best protection. Fresh fruit and whole grain cereals are a classic breakfast combination.

Recipes and More…

For more details on the benefits of oats:

World’s Healthiest Foods: Oats

University of Illinois Extension: Enjoy Oatmeal for Your Health

 
Recipes (other than hot cereal) which include oats…

Eating Well: Healthy Oat Recipes and Cooking Tips

Have a wonderful week…be well and be blessed!


Healthy Living: Natural Sweeteners

Looking for a natural sweetener for that oatmeal cookie recipe? Try date sugar!

One of the goals of a healthy diet is a lower refined sugar intake. Lately, agave nectar and stevia have received the lion’s share of attention among natural sweeteners. However, if you are looking for other alternatives to sugar, you have plenty of choices. Here are a few that you may want to add to your shopping list:

Coconut sugar — Also known as palm sugar, this sweetener looks and tastes a little like brown sugar. It comes from coconut palm nectar and is rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids.  You’ll love baking with coconut sugar because it measures the same as refined sugar. Even better, it is low on the glycemic index at 35. Coconut sugar is available at health food stores, gourmet grocery stores and online.

Date Sugar — Made from dried, ground dates, date sugar is a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar. It does have drawbacks: date sugar is relatively high-glycemic, and does not dissolve well in liquids. Like most natural sweeteners, you can find date sugar at health food stores and online.

Honey — If you want to use honey as a sugar alternative, look for unpasteurized or raw honey. Most of the honey in supermarkets is highly refined and not much better for you than refined sugar. Raw honey is a treasure trove of nutrients, including living enzymes, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. Its antibacterial properties make it an excellent cold and flu remedy or topical first aid remedy. Never give honey, which can cause infant botulism, to a child younger than twelve months. Honey — even raw honey — is moderately-high glycemic and not the best sweetener if you are diabetic.

Molasses — Molasses — especially blackstrap molasses — is a nutritious sugar alternative. All types of unsulphered molasses contain vitamins and minerals, including iron and calcium. Only the blackstrap type is low-glycemic. The sweeter-tasting mild varieties are better for cooking and baking, but are higher on the glycemic index.

Maple Syrup — We’re talking 100% pure maple syrup, not “pancake syrup.” Fortunately, pure maple syrup is available in many grocery stores, in the same section as the pancake syrup. Although this sweetener is three times as sweet as cane sugar, it is moderately low-glycemic. It is rich in nutrients, including manganese, which has antioxidant properties.

If you are diabetic, ask your doctor before trying natural sweeteners, and monitor your blood sugar levels. However, if you are simply looking for a natural alternative to refined cane sugar, why not try some of these sweeteners? Some are a bit expensive — for example, date sugar runs between $6.00 and $7.00 for a 1 lb. bag — but you’ll notice a richer flavor and you’ll benefit from the nutrients. Online sources include Bob’s Red Mill and Amazon.