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undoing the paralysis

June 27th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I stopped eating meat with every meal on May 2. And I love how I feel nowadays, but I didn’t expect that I’d enter in to a time of total culinary paralysis when faced with re-working a lifelong habit of making meat the center of my meals.

We haven’t wasted away, thank goodness, and we never will. We’ve made some delicious foods but I haven’t stretched myself a whole lot. I’m grilling a lot of veggies, sticking them on amazing breads or tying them up in delicious pilafs. I made this fragrant and savory Red Lentil Dhal that we’ve loved since the first time it crossed our stove and landed in our bowls. We’ve enjoyed plenty of legumes, super fresh salads topped with a wide array of ingredients and terrific grilled cheese sandwiches. But I’m not content to play it safe, to stick with what I know will be wonderful. I want to expand, to grow and to embrace fully this new method of eating and not just end up a Junk Food Vegetarian.

So I’m scouring the ‘net for inspiration, grabbing books with gusto from library shelves, from Half Price Books and from friends hands (not really, but I would if the opportunity came up) just to get my mind rolling into this new territory. And it is new territory. It’s a new and totally different way of life and even being as good a cook as I am, I’ve had moments of sheer panic in thinking ‘What the hell do I make now?’, hence the aforementioned grilled cheese.

The worst part was finding the time. I had to stop over-scheduling all my time away from work into activities that were taking me away from home, away from time to experiment and work up some of these new options. I think, subconsciously, I was avoiding it. No more. It’s time to start applying tabs to the cookbook pages, plot out a few weeks worth of meals and get back on track. The nicest part of being meat-free is how much it frees up in our budget. I knew we spent a lot on meat, but folks, it’s outrageous what we have to work with now that this aspect of our eating is gone.

So I started with chickpeas. But not just any chickpeas. This is a kick in the mouth, heady and WOW recipe that will just plain knock you on your tush.

And they look so innocent, don’t they?!

We do love our chickpeas around here, and Mike has taken to making some pretty tasty hummus for us to snack on. Then I discovered Roasted Chickpeas and my life suddenly seemed more complete. But really, that was just the tip of the iceberg because I found a recipe for this Indian Spiced Chickpea salad and now I’ve got something going with this handy and nutritious little legume. It’s called love. Luuuuurrrrrve, people. Straight up legume love.

With no cholesterol, no sodium, no saturated fat; an excellent source of protein and fiber, as well as minerals like folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium, it’s a super-duper powerhouse for the meatless maniac such as myself. And when paired with toasted mustard, fennel and cumin seeds with a nice shake of crushed red pepper, plus smooth creamy greek yogurt to soften the flavorful blow to your tongue, it a cool little force to be reckoned with. Like my resolve. This is just a few steps for me, this quick jaunt out of the starting gate. The gun has sounded. And there’s a lot of road to cover up ahead so hang on, all right? Here we go.

Note: This recipe is ridiculously simple to make, but the flavor improves over time as it sits. Make it up and allow an hour, or even more if you can, for sitting, stirring regularly. If you like less of a crunchy seed factor, grind the fennel and cumin seed before adding it to the oil. You’ll still get a load of flavor without the crunch. Don’t grind the mustard seeds. Those soften really well.

Indian Spiced Chickpeas

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas—rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 teaspoon kosher salt


Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl. In a small skillet, heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, partially cover the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until the mustard seeds stop popping, about 1 minute. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and the crushed red pepper and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the hot oil and spices over the chickpeas. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and mint and salt. Serve the chickpea salad at room temperature.

Recipe Credit: Food and Wine magazine


Well, hello there Winter

December 13th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

It came on as ferociously as promised and effectively shut down a large portion of the state. What a great metaphor, if you choose to see it that way. The Christmas crazies have taken hold and yet, no matter what your plan, be it a holiday party, a shopping trip, weekly youth group meetings or even dinner out, Mother Nature said ‘Not a chance, bud’ and forced us to stay in, stay warm and just sit, quiet and calmly, during what amounts to some of the nuttiest days of the year. The snow swirled around us, the wind howled and we took a small step away from the frantic pre-holiday race. Honestly, should we be forced to do this every year, I wouldn’t be one to complain.

After a few days of relative inactivity, I bundled myself up to take a chilly hike, ever aware of the need to move, to get the blood flowing and to whittle away not only the pesky excess on the body, but the loud and clamoring voices in my head that I often can’t shut off. I also wanted to see the winter landscape, to find the moments of clarity that come from a fresh snowfall when the hushed silence around us is marked only by the squeak of your boots. I needed the cold, and the cardio output. It helped immensely.

Christmas is having a hard time reaching me this year. Not particularly sure why, but given that the last 12 months have been challenging, it would suffice to say that getting festive may be the last thing on my mind. But a part of me wants to drench myself in the spirit, hauling out the decorations in an attempt to impress my mind with the full blown effects of the holiday. There is still plenty to be happy and excited about this season. We are in high anticipation of a new member imminently joining the already large clan on Mike’s side. This Christmas will be more beautiful when sharing it with someone so brand new and perfect, a simple reminder of the true reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Fresh promise. New hope. I should be eagerly awaiting the end of December, the turn of a new calendar page, a fresh start to another 12 month saga. I should, really. And I am. But every year is the same; I fight the despicable commercialism of Christmas, the vapid holiday music that is everywhere, and the rush, rush, rush of everyone thinking that somehow there is perfection wrapped in a package, tied up in a bow. One year when I was in college, my cousin took a trip to Europe over Christmas. I remember thinking she was crazy to go away that time of year, but now, looking back, I almost wish I could do just that. Part of me wants to just jump from here to the 31st.

My kitchen repertoire during this quick cold snap turned towards the warm and comfort angle- thick soups, pastas, a delicious meatloaf. It’s a return to the familiar, like the chill wind outside. I don’t complain about cold. It’s inevitable here in Minnesota. Dress warm, keep moving. You’ll be fine. Filling tummies with comfort and warmth is just another step in the process.

This golden and fragrant Spiced Quinoa made it’s way to our table on a dragging Friday, the end of another long week. With the warming spices of cumin and ginger- easily my favorite duo in the kitchen-  the quinoa was rich in flavor, soothing to look at and warm in the belly. It easily took us from busy day to quiet evening, where all I wanted was my couch, my PJ’s and a good movie to engage my mind. It smelled fabulous. And for those frantic days ahead, this could be the easiest and least demading thing you put your energy towards. I spent more time measuring out the spices than doing anything else.

Spiced Quinoa
from the Taste for Life test kitchens

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. each ground ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 c. boiling water
Fresh cilantro or mint, if desired

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil and brown the spices for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the quinoa and stir to coat with the spices. Pour in the boiling water, make sure it’s simmering and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and allow to simmer, undisturbed, until the water is fully absorbed and little holes appear on the top of the quinoa. Gently pull back the grain to check for any remaining liquid but do not stir. When all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff grain with a fork before serving, and top with fresh cilantro or mint if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

It’s imperative NOT to stir quinoa when it is cooking. Like rice, it will get mushy if disturbed in the cooking process. One cup of the grain cooks in about 15 minutes or so at a gentle simmer. Quinoa is a perfect alternative to a rice side dish. We topped this option with chopped pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Soy nuts are also good with it, as are chopped almonds or cashews.