Kung Pao Lentils

 When my 5 year old son is sleep-deprived and hungry, he turns into Wild Child. You know, like that case of the child that was raised by wolves in the 70’s? Only thing is, he was raised in a civilized home with all the teachings, love and amenities that any 5 year old would dream of. 
Getting punched enough times by your son while waiting for a train during morning rush hour that a Chicago Transit Authority officer actually intervenes is not how I wanted to start my week last week. Watching your definitely-too-old-to-crawl-child crawl on hands and knees through a group of gawking construction workers as I juggle my awkward laptop case, purse,  lunch and hot coffee cup is kind of what nightmares are made of. Yet squatting obstinately in the middle of oncoming traffic are his normal responses to exhaustion. Thankfully, they are not mine.
After a traumatic hour of walking alongside this mobile war zone, I finally got him across the threshold of school. And like magic, he’s happy. We manically hug, kiss and high five until the teacher practically peels him off my body. And I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I want to scream. I go home. I take a personal day. I cry. Because let’s face it, kindergarten is hard. And I never wanted to be the mom who couldn’t function because of the stress of momhood. But it was one of those days. 
Luckily I had this week’s heart-warming Lentil Kung Pao from Vegan Richa to cheer me up. It’s sweet and sour, with a hearty bite of crunch that is kind of an outrageous way to enjoy my favorite legume! I think especially great about this recipe is how adaptable it is with other proteins and vegetables. I’m just going to go ahead and copy and paste the recipe because it’s perfect.
Ingredients: Serves 3 to 4
For the Lentils: 
1/2 cup dry brown lentils, washed and drained
1.5 cups water

For the Sauce:
2 to 3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp dry sherry or rice wine
1 tsp hoisin sauce (or use more soy sauce)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 to 3 tsp raw sugar (or use 1 to 2 Tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener)
a generous dash of lime zest (1/4 tsp)
2 tsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp water

For the vegetables:
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1/2 cup chopped white or red onion
4 dried red chilies like arbol or red chinese, broken into halfs (or use red pepper flakes to taste)
3 Tbsp cashews or peanuts
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch knob of ginger minced
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery

Combine the lentils water and salt in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain excess water. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine and set aside. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add onion and chilies and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cashews and mix for a few seconds. Add garlic and ginger and mix in. Add the peppers and celery and mix well. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add in sauce and cooked lentils and mix well. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the sauce thickens and is absorbed by the lentils. Serve with cooked rice of choice.


Cowboy Caviar

A few weeks ago I found out about Cowboy Caviar after I had made a simple bean salad that was reminiscent to someone of this recipe which they shared with me. Not only do I love the name, but I also love it’s simplicity and subtle different flavors that really make this recipe shine. The spicy base of black-eyed peas, avocado, corn and tomatoes combined with the red wine vinegar hot sauce is simply dynamite on a bed of romaine lettuce with crumbled tortilla chips on top – and it didn’t even need additional dressing.

The good news is that black-eyed peas are cheap, high in protein, and low in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat. They also have a good amount of potassium and iron. If you are concerned about iron intake on a vegetarian diet, beans and dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots) will more than compensate what you don’t get from red meat. Additionally, eating foods high in vitamin C will actually increase iron absorption in the body. So enjoy this salad with a handful of dried fruit for a healthy, nutritious meal!

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado (about 10 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas
1 can (11 oz.) corn kernels
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic, and pepper. Cut avocado into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to vinegar mixture and mix gently to coat.
Drain and rinse peas and corn. Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado; mix gently to coat. Add salt to taste.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites


I have a weakness for Frank’s Hot Sauce. It makes me feel like Everett looks in this photo after eating pizza. It is such a versatile ingredient that has all the spicy, salty, tangy flavors that I love. You can mix it with Ranch for southwest salads, mayo for spicy black bean burgers, and as a dip for veggies. I usually associate it with my “off diet” days because it inevitably (and happily) means I’m eating bar food. But when I recently stumbled upon this devilishly good recipe going around on Pinterest for Buffalo Cauliflower Bites I knew I had hit gold.


You can substitute unflavored soy milk for the buttermilk to make it vegan. I also made it without the butter so it was a tad dry but totally worth it.

1 head of cauliflower, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c flour
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 c buffalo sauce
1 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350º. In a large bowl whisk together buttermilk, flour, and garlic salt until smooth. The batter should be slightly thick so that it sticks to the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower into the bowl of batter and gently toss to coat. Spread the battered cauliflower out on a greased baking dish. Bake for 20–25 minutes turning once until some of the edges turn a nice golden color. While the cauliflower is baking combine the buffalo sauce and melted butter in a small bowl. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and drizzle the buffalo sauce mixture over the top and toss to coat. Return the cauliflower to the oven and bake for an additional 5–10 minutes. Remove the finished cauliflower from the oven, serve hot or warm.

Vegan Chipotle Lentil Burgers

chipotle lentil burger Asher gets a star on his chalkboard every time he has good behavior, and yesterday’s star featured the phrase “No, thanks!” underneath. We are in the process of teaching him manners, and at the end of the day when he reaches grumpy toddler zombie-exhaustion hour and pulls everything out of his art bin just to get a rise out of me, we quietly review his hard-earned stars for the day and he proudly recalls each story while pointing at the chalkboard. He gets big hugs. It works wonders.

I would like a star for today’s recipe. I can’t remember what wonderful website I found it on, but if you need to kick-up the spice level on your traditional summer veggie burger, this one’s for you! The spicy and smoky chipotle peppers work in harmony with the earthy lentils, and their smooth texture works well with any burger topping.


1 1/2 cups brown lentils, cooked in 6 cups salted water
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small red onion, cut into medium dice
1/2 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped (stems and leaves)
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chipotles, seeds removed, with adobe sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons red vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Put lentils, 6 cups water, and a little salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. When the water boils, reduce to a low simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils well. Preheat a large, heave-bottomed nonstick pan, preferably cast iron, over medium-hugh heat. Saute the onion for about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, garlic, cilantro, and a pinch of salt, and saute for 7 to 10 minutes, until the zucchini is soft. Transfer the zucchini mixture to a food processor. Add all the other ingredients except for 1/2 cup bread crumbs and pulse until mostly smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Preheat the pan (the same one you already used to saute in is fine) over medium heat. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs to the burger mixture and use a fork to thoroughly combine. Divide the burger mixture into six equal pieces. An easy way to do this is divide it in half, then divide each half into three basically equal portions. You can do that right in the mixing bowl if it’s large enough. Spray the pan with non stick cooking spray. Form the burger portions into patties and cook for about 10 minutes, flipping the burgers often, until they are nicely browned on both sides. Use cooking spray as necessary.

Vegan Spicy Red Lentil Soup, Lessons from a Hand Blender

soup The hand blender is hands down my favorite kitchen appliance. Well, that and the automatic coffee maker that fills my house with the tangy roasted smell of Starbucks every morning. This is a critical moment in my day as I practically fall down the stairs carrying an infant in one arm and a groggy toddler in the other who demands Deadmaus5 before 7:00am. I haven’t put on a bra, the nanny is on her way, I have 30 minutes to pack work lunches, get dressed, and apply make-up.

But that’s another story.

Yesterday I found a simply amazing recipe for vegan spicy red lentil soup that took an hour to make but my instinct tells me should have only taken me 30 minutes. I mean I literally had 2 mixing bowls, a soup pot, two pans, a very messy food processor and a dishwasher going. Insanity. Who has that kind of time and patience? I think we can dumb this down to a one-pot plus one-pan wonder. It cost me less than $10 for the ingredients and only slightly more for the Jerusalem salad I served on the side.

2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
¾ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce (I used Goya salsa picante hot sauce)
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ cup cornstarch + ¼ cup hot water
½ green pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

In a small dish, combine cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, chili powder and Tabasco sauce. Set aside. Sort lentils (pick out any stones / damaged lentils) and rinse. In a pan, add olive oil and saute garlic for 2 minutes, then add celery and onion and cook additional 3 minutes, stirring constantly. In a soup pot, combine lentils and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as boiling, turn to medium low heat. Add onion/celery mixture to the lentil and cook for 20 minutes until lentils are tender. Add small bowl of spices to the soup and cook for 30 seconds. Now, toss in canned tomatoes. Add vegetable stock and remaining 4 cups of water. Finally, mix cornstarch with hot water until well combined and add to soup. Stir constantly over high heat for 30 to 45 seconds to thicken. Finally, take hand blender and puree the soup until smooth and creamy. Turn off heat; add diced green pepper.

Here is the original Wegman’s recipe: http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10052&partNumber=RECIPE_5575