In the (Lunch) Bag: Lentil Chili & Sweet Potato Mash

It may still be summer according to the calendar, but it sure feels like fall here in Atlanta. The windows are open and the shorts have been exchanged for jeans. Something about the cooler days made me crave the fall associations with all things chili. Since I had some lentils in the pantry (and all of the cookbooks are packed), I decided to go with this recipe from the Whole Foods Recipes App.

Look at those beautiful fall colors:)

Look at those beautiful fall colors:)

A brief aside on this app. I love this thing. No, I mean really love. You can search for recipes by ingredient and special diet (vegan, gluten free, low sugar, etc.). This makes it invaluable after a haul from the farmer’s market. Gluten free zucchini side dish, you say? No problem. There are many from which to choose. I also love that, even being associated with Whole Foods, the recipes are generally entirely non fussy. Simple even. We’re talking a one pot stop. Enough about the app, let’s get to the food:)

I’m going to give you the recipe as it is in the app and then I’ll tell you how I tweaked it!

Lentil Chili

8 cups low sodium veggie broth

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

5 cloves garlic, cup ’em up fine

4 tsp chili powder

16 oz brown lentils

30 oz diced tomatoes (no salt added)

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Bring 3/4 cup of the broth to a simmer, add the onion, pepper and garlic and cook until translucent (about 8 minutes). Add everything else except the cilantro, bring to boil and then simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Remove the cover and cook another few minutes, stirring in the cilantro at the end.

I used three peppers all together – red, orange and yellow because I love me some peppers. I used 1/2 brown lentils and 1/2 red, since that’s what I had. The red tend to mush a bit more, but really, who cares? I reduced the broth a bit since my pot was about to overflow. Didn’t seem to be a problem.

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The sweet potato dish is one of my own invention. Peel some sweet potatoes and cut them into 1″ chunks. Add to boiling water until they are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and then mash with cinnamon, 2-3 scoops vanilla protein powder and a little almond milk, if needed. I had two clementines left over from last week, so I decided to squeeze their juice into the mix. Yum. I like to top each serving with a few walnuts for some crunch.

And, drumroll please…

The finished lunch, all packed and ready!

Even the low light gives the feeling of fall!

Even the low light gives the feeling of fall!

The only thing that would make this better is some Sunday afternoon football. Soon enough:)

In the (Lunch) Bag: Ginger Stir Fry

It’s been a good start to the school year, but it is sure difficult adjusting to the new rhythm. I always find it challenging to get enough sleep during transition times and this one is maintaining that tradition. Even though I didn’t stop counting sheep (okay, reading) until almost midnight, my body thought that it was wise to be up at 5:00. Apparently, my body needs some reeducation:)

It was interesting coming up with my recipes for the week. There were no produce sales at the store (other than corn) and I knew that I would not have the opportunity to go by the farmer’s market. Since we are moving in a few weeks, I decided to use almost-empty packages as my inspiration. I figure it’s easier to eat it than move it! Additionally, I knew I wanted something vegan this week to balance out all the cheese from last week.

pretty colors:)

pretty colors:)

I found a bottle of gluten free soy sauce in the fridge with only a few tablespoons left. I immediately knew what I wanted to make: stir fry. Not just any stir fry, but one that is influenced by a conglomeration of Amy’s brown rice and stir fried vegetables frozen dinner and the tofu gingerine from my favorite Thai restaurant (seriously, let me know if you’re in the north Atlanta area and I’ll hook you up with the best Thai ever!).

Ginger Stir Fry

Marinade: 3 garlic cloves, crushed, 2 tsp shredded ginger root, ½ tsp red pepper, ½ cup Braggs liquid aminos or soy sauce (gluten free, if needed), rice vinegar to fill container

Stir Fry:

coconut oil

2 packs extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp shredded ginger root (or more…I like lots of ginger!)

1 red onion, chopped

1 package mushrooms, quartered

2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, sliced

1/2 head cabbage, chopped

1 lb asparagus, cut into 1” pieces

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

It's not bird. And it's certainly not a plane. Yup, it's tofu!

It’s not bird. And it’s certainly not a plane. Yup, it’s tofu!

Marinate the tofu overnight.  Drain the liquid (and reserve) and cook in a large saucepan with a little coconut oil until browned. Remove and set aside.  Using the same saucepan, add the garlic, ginger, and onion and cook until softened.  Add the remaining veggies and some of the residual marinade and cover, steaming until soft, stirring occasionally.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Serve alone or over rice.

The quantities and types of veggies here are easily adaptable. I frequently use a whole head of cabbage (because it’s cheap!) and I love to add lemongrass and/or bok choy when I can get it. When fresh peppers or asparagus are too expensive, I substitute frozen.

Whenever I have more fresh ginger than I will use in the next week or so, I cut it into 1″ chucks (I don’t even bother to peel) and put it in a bag in the freezer to be used for smoothies. One of my favorite is a ginger peach cobbler recipe!

Ready for the lunch bag

Ready for the lunch bag

 

Add a protein shake and some clementines and I have a healthy lunch packed with vitamin C to ward off the germs the kiddos are bringing in!

The Single Best Casual Dinner Party Dish Ever. Period.

Little did I know when I first made this meal for my now-fiance on our fourth date, that it was going to become a staple in our lives. Within hours, he was bragging to his friends about the kick a$$ (vegetarian!) Mexican lasagne that he (a meat eater!) had for dinner. We hosted a party not long after we became an established couple and, of course, I made the lasagne. It’s now been three years and any time we have friends over for dinner, they always ask for this dish. The recipe has made its rounds through my work and through my social groups. I’m making today to take on a girl’s beach weekend, where I’m sure it will be shared some more. It’s been tweaked and adapted, but always enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a taste through the screen, but I can enumerate the reasons that this has become the go-to recipe in my life:

1) As written, it is vegetarian, gluten free, soy free and nut free, pleasing many dinner guests with food limitations.

2) It can be made vegan by replacing the cream cheese with this vegan version made from cashews (note: not nut free), replacing the skim milk with a non dairy version and eliminating the cheese in the layers or replacing it with a vegan shredded cheddar cheese substitute (note: this may not be soy free).

3) Although it is vegetarian, I have never had a meat-eater complain about the lack of animal protein. It’s a one-dish-pleases-all meal!

4) It’s super easy to make – basically throw stuff in a pan (after chopping:) ) and stir for a bit, layer the ingredients and bake.

5) It’s great for parties or local travel because you can make the filling ahead of time and then assemble and bake when you’re ready.

6) It’s very adaptable. Depending upon the intended eaters, sometimes I kick up the spiciness by adding some chili powder and/or more jalapenos. I also throw in other vegetables at times – mainly carrots and/or summer squashes. Don’t like an ingredient? Simple, leave it out.

7) It’s inexpensive, especially when zucchini and peppers are in season.

8) And, last but certainly not least, it is healthy, packed full of vegetables and beans.

Convinced yet? Mouth watering?

Here’s the recipe! (adapted from The Gluten Free Vegetarian Kitchen)

Mexican Lasagna

1 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1-2 cups chopped bell peppers

2 zucchini, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 can pinto beans

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

2 cups salsa

1 tbs chili powder

1⁄2 tbs cumin

2 tbs lime juice

8 corn tortillas

8 oz shredded cheddar and/or Monterey jack cheeses

8 oz reduced fat cream cheese

1⁄4 skim milk

1 tbs Chipotle Tabasco sauce
Sauté the veggies in oil until tender. Add beans, salsa, spices, and lime juice and stir for 3 minutes at medium high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Arrange 4 of the tortillas in a greased 13” x 9” pan. Top with half the bean mixture and half the shredded cheese. Repeat. Cover with foil (spray the inside of the foil with cooking spray first so that it does stick to the cheese) and bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, milk and Tabasco in a small sauce pot. Stir over low heat until smooth. Cover the baked lasagna with the cream cheese mixture.

Some awesome serving ideas:

  • Top with sliced avocado
  • Top with nonfat plain Greek yogurt (tastes just like sour cream!)
  • Serve with baked corn chips to turn it into a dip
  • Top with sliced green onions
  • Serve with sliced tomatoes
  • Or just eat as-is!

Here are some pics of the preparations from today.

Unchopped and ready to begin.

Unchopped and ready to begin.

I like to add the onion, garlic, jalapeno and zucchini first so that they brown just a little and the excess water is cooked off from the zucchini.

I like to add the onion, garlic, jalapeno and zucchini first so that they brown just a little and the excess water is cooked off from the zucchini.

Is there anything prettier than chopped bell peppers? Wait, don't answer that:)

Is there anything prettier than chopped bell peppers? Wait, don’t answer that:)

This is when the house starts to smell amazing!

This is when the house starts to smell amazing!

The finished filling. Ready to be packed in a container to take to the beach:)

The finished filling. Ready to be packed in a container to take to the beach:)

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the finished product. I’m waiting until I get to beach to assemble and bake it. Besides, once it’s done, it usually doesn’t sit around long enough for pictures!