Change is a necessary, but often scary thing. Even after you recognize the need to make a change, how do you get started?
Four years ago, I decided that before dinner on weekdays I would be a vegetarian. I also wanted to try eating in a more seasonal manner. I needed to make some serious improvements to my diet and lessening the amount of meat that I ate on a daily basis would be step number 1. It wasn’t that I ate terribly, but there was definite room for improvement. This has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
When I first started, I was really worried that I would be hungry all the time. What would I eat? I loved vegetables and ate a whole lot of them, but a salad on its own just did not seem enough. Growing up, my friends would always tease me about my never ending pit of a stomach. Lunch would be over and I would already be thinking and asking about what would be happening for dinner. With hunger came annoying headaches and an aching back. Not really sure what my back had to do with being hungry, but it was almost as if I needed the food in there to hold me upright. Addiction, I know. While there were some initial bumps in the road, eating vegetarian has become something organic that I don’t even need to think much about anymore.
Many people think that vegetarian meals are constricting, but I have found over the years that the opposite is true. As I moved away from what I was used to, I was forced to expand in a new direction. It is precisely this change that was the kick-in-the-pants for me to be more creative in the kitchen. I began to experiment more with flavors and became enamored with new ingredients that I had never played with before. True, a salad with just greens isn’t very filling, but one with legumes and whole grains is. There were major categories of ingredients that I had never explored before. I had never made beans before! I had become boring in what I cooked and ate. Almost nothing is worse than boredom in the kitchen. I hope to never experience that ever again.
This post is the start of a series on vegetarian lunches. These are meals that are filling, healthy, seasonal, and easily portable. You should notice a significant improvement in your energy levels. No more crashing after lunch. Seriously, why spend money on a mediocre lunch when you can eat brilliantly for cheap.
I make many iterations of this soup with whatever is available in my fridge that week, but this particular variation is always a favorite. The humble and earthy puy lentil really lends itself wonderfully to the smokey and spicy Mexican flavors in this recipe. I like using the puy lentils here because it is a sturdier variety and holds up well in longer cooking. Blood oranges are in season right now and they add the perfect brightness to these deep rich ingredients. The oranges along with the tomatoes, chipotles, and achiote seeds color the soup a brilliantly burnt orange that perfectly complements the vibrant fiery flavors. This soup is definitely no shrinking violet.
F I E R Y M E X I C A N L E N T I L S O U P
3 whole sundried tomatoes
1 tablespoon achiote seeds (if available)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
6 large cloves of garlic
1 1/2 – 2 1/2 chipotles in adobo sauce*
1 1/2 tart blood oranges, juiced (approx. 5 tablespoons)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 1-inch nub of ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 bay leaves
12-14 ribs of celery, diced
1 large bunch of carrots, cut into chunks
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, 14.5 oz
3/4 cup puy lentils
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 bunch of rainbow chard
sea salt to taste
Rehydrate the sundried tomatoes in hot water. While this is happening, use a small pan to toast the cumin, coriander, whole black peppercorn, and achiote seeds. The spices are done when your kitchen is filled with their wonderful fragrance and they have darkened slightly in color. Grind to a powder in a spice/coffee grinder. In the same pan, roast the garlic, skin still on, over medium high heat. You will need to turn the garlic a couple times to get each side. The garlic will be done when parts of it has blackened and the meat inside is soft. Peel and mince.
In a food processor, chop up the sundried tomatoes and chipotle peppers. To help the process along, use about half of the blood orange juice and some of the liquid that the tomatoes rehydrated in. Set aside.
Add a thin layer of grapeseed oil to the bottom of a 4 quart pot or dutch oven. Over medium high heat, sautée the onions until they are just translucent. Then, one at a time add the minced garlic, minced ginger, toasted spices, cinnamon and bay leaves. After each addition, sautée for a minute or so before adding the next ingredient. Add your chipotle pepper mixture. Cook for a few minutes until it has darkened and is super fragrant. Then throw in the celery and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. Finally, add in the fire roasted tomatoes, juice and all. Make sure to add a bit of salt after each major layer of ingredients.
Wash your lentils in a bowl and discard any bits that have floated to the top of the water. Add them to your pot and mix in thoroughly so that every lentil is covered in the delicious spices. Cover with water, leaving about 2 inches at the top of the pot, bring to a boil. Taste and add salt if needed. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook covered for about an hour. The last 20 minutes of cooking should be done uncovered.
When the soup is almost ready, give your chard a good rinse in the sink. Discard any parts of the stem that is too tough, but try to keep as much as you can. Cut the stems into a large dice and roughly chiffonade the leaves. Add to the soup and cook for 2 minutes. Do not overcook!
Once the soup has thickened a bit and the lentils are soft but not mushy, turn off the heat. Adjust the salt if necessary. To finish, add in the apple cider vinegar and the rest of the blood orange juice.
*Beware, these chiles are hot. If you tend to like you food mild, try using 1 1/2 only.