Something I enjoy as much as running, yoga, and being generally active is being in my kitchen. I grew up in an Italian household, and my mom was always cooking. We always sat down together and had dinner as a family each night, and her food was always top notch. As an adult, It’s no surprise that I love to cook (and, of course, eat!) and spend almost as much time in my kitchen as I do logging miles on the roads.
I’m not bragging, but my family and friends will tell you that I can throw down some stellar meals. My brother-in-law, Johnny, tells me that I am one of his top three favorite cooks of all time (he’s told me who the other contenders are, but he refuses to tell me the order so that I keep inviting him back to preserve my elite status). Usually, the dishes I’m famous for are also the dishes that are the most unhealthy. Beef brisket, pulled pork, homemade macaroni and cheese, sausage and peppers, chicken pot pie, homemade manicotti…the list goes on. What can I say, I’m a sucker for comfort food…or really, just a sucker for all things edible. I don’t eat heavy foods all of the time, but I don’t restrict myself either. I work hard, and I like food. Regardless of what I’m making, I use fresh, real ingredients and stay away from processed garbage. I’ve tried the vegetarian route and implemented lots of dietary ideas from all different schools of thought, but I simply I can’t understand depriving myself of the foods I love. I’m a big believer in “everything in moderation”.
So when fall rolls around and the temperatures begin to drop, I’m tempted to head into my kitchen and whip up some of my favorite comfort foods. Creamy soups, chicken pot pies…you know, the stuff that’s laden with butter and heavy cream. The kinds of foods that give you plenty of energy for laying on the couch and watching TV. I still make my unhealthy favorites (coincidentally, it’s on a day when I’m running or biking long), but since I’ve been more in tune with my heath and eating well over the past few years, I’ve come up with some healthy comfort food staples that are just as appealing as any of those high calorie meals.
In the fall, I gravitate towards soups and stews full of beans and lentils. One of my favorites is Dal. I have a recipe that I used a few years ago, but it’s so simple to make that I just doctor it up and use the flavors that I enjoy best. See, I also have a thing for butternut squash and root vegetables, so I’m not even sure if you can call my concoction Dal. Then again, Dal is really just an Indian word for beans and describes any dish made with them. My lentil of choice is red lentil,s and you can toss in any of your favorite vegetables. So I guess while I call it “Dal”, it’s really more of a glorified Butternut Squash Soup (although I have a pretty excellent recipe for that, too). Either way, as the temperature drops, this is a cozy soup that will fill you up, sans the food coma.
Red Lentil Dal
- 1 1/2 lbs of butternut squash, cubed
- 1 sweet potato
- 1/2 head of cauliflower
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons of minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
- 2 cups of red lentils
- 1 tablespoon of curry
- 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon
- 1/4 cup of maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 can of light coconut milk
- Vegetable stock or water
- Chopped cilantro, optional
- Roasted pumpkin seeds, optional
- Any garnish you may enjoy!
You could do this a few different ways, starting by sautéing the veggies in some coconut oil until they soften and begin to caramelize (or an oil of your choosing…or butter), and then tossing in the lentils, coconut milk, some stock (or water), the curry and the cinnamon. Simmer for a while, until the veggies are soft and the lentils are cooked. Season with the remaining ingredients when done simmering.
I bought a ton of butternut squash and was not only making my Dal for lunch this week, but a butternut squash chowder for dinner yesterday night. So, I chose to toss everything for the Dal in my pressure cooker for the sake of successful multitasking. First the veggies, then the lentils, then the stock, cinnamon and curry. I brought it up to pressure and cooked for about a half hour, which was probably a little longer than necessary. You could get away with 20 minutes (maybe even less) if using a pressure cooker. Once it was done, I seasoned it with the maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Yum. I garnished mine with a bit of chopped cilantro and roasted pumpkin seeds. You could also put a dollop of plain greek yogurt (or sour cream, if greek yogurt isn’t your thing) to add some additional creaminess. Don’t like the veggies I chose? Pick what you like. Don’t like my spices? Use your favorites. Want to add meat? Use chicken stock and toss in some cubed chicken breasts or thighs. Anything goes.
Oh, and about that butternut squash chowder I mentioned…that’s a post for another day. I’ve been cooking my way through Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” cookbook. I’m using his recipes as a guideline, more for inspiration than anything. I’ve already tried several recipes and plan to try a few more later this week, which I’ll discuss when I review his book. However, I have to say…the butternut squash chowder might be the best soup I’ve ever made…