Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The quest for truth in 1 single nutrient

I regularly read several blogs on nutrition and weight loss by well-informed non-experts like myself. A couple of them are actually highly well-informed experts whose understanding far outstrips mine (Gary Taubes, I'm thinking about you and your bracing posts).

I'm curious about the points of view these blogs expound, and it fascinates me how divergent their views are. The great thing about blogs is that bloggers write from the heart. You don't necessarily receive a balanced perspective, but you do hear from a true believer.

My readings have led me to start musing on what I'm calling my 1 single nutrient theory. Well, it's a half-baked theory at present, but here is a start at figuring it out.

No fat, pure fructose heaven

The lipophobes
On the one hand you have the lipophobes. This means those who eschew the fat. And I don't mean avoiding full-fat dairy. I mean no added dietary fat whatsoever.

For 20 years or so, the official, government-endorsed prescription has been to avoid saturated fat and to select low-fat options, particularly dairy, where possible. Now you have to hunt with the persistence of the righteous to find full fat cottage cheese or yoghurt in the supermarket.

The greatest exponent of this view is Caldwell Esselstyn, as I have written about before. The blog I read that is devoted (DEVOTED) to his philosophy and theories is the Healthy Librarian. I love reading her, but she is a convert with a world view that seems to have narrowed in the time I've been a follower, although her sense of mission and fulfilment has undoubtedly increased.

I'll write about the fascinating Deborah later, but for now the point is that the Esselstyn model is
  • wholly plant-based
  • allows no meat or dairy at all
  • allows no added fat or oil, not even avocado or walnuts
Doesn't that sound like fun? But Deborah has finally found a diet that allays her anxieties about her health in old age. She has lost weight, her bloodwork is healthier than it's ever been, she is energetic and lively and feels wonderful. She will never go back to eating fat or oil. Ever.

Hope that green stuff sprinkled on top is carb-free

The lipophilics
These are the fat lovers. They are resolutely not 'plant-strong' as the Esselstyn brigade increasingly refer to themselves. They are meat-eaters and proud of it. Their particular beef (hahaha) is with carbs. Their position maintains that the official low-fat prescription requires a greater reliance on sugar and grains. Because of the highly complex operation of insulin in carbohydrate metabolism this has been a wholescale, if unforeseen, dietary disaster that has led to obesity and diabetes and the full panoply of suffering that accompanies them.

My favourite lipophilic is Michael Eades. I just wished he posted more often that once in a blue moon. He wrote a hugely successful title, Protein Power, in the 90s and the name says it all. He reckons that significantly beneficial changes occur in metabolism when carbohydrate consumption drops below 100 g per day.

He is Atkins old-school and I relish his contempt for vegetarians, dietitians who follow conventional practice and official guidelines and the Esselstyn brigade. He is the one from whom I have pinched the phrase 'lipophobes'.

He has met Esselstyn and makes the point that both of them are in remarkable health as a result of their eating habits - even though those habits are polar opposites.

Sugar, sugar . . . ah, honey, honey . . . you are my candy, girl

The sugar-shunners
The adherents of this school of thought are more closely aligned to the lipophilics than the lipophobes. In fact, as we have seen in Sarah Wilson, sugar-shunning is one step away from full-blown paleo syndrome.

The sugar-shunners have always been with us, at least since a book called Pure, White and Deadly in the 70s, but the movement has gained new force recently in Australia with David Gillespie and his successful title Sweet Poison.

He is an ex-lawyer, so he has little credibility in the professional dietary community here, but he has some high-profile admirers, such as Sarah. His essential position turns on fructose metabolism. He outlines several mechanisms by which the body cannot metabolise fructose, concluding that 'Every gram of the fructose we eat is directly converted to fat.'

I enjoyed his book and learned a great deal, although none of the biochemistry he outlined was confirmed in the post-graduate nutrition course I started last year (although Gillespie was working from a serious biochemistry text). Naturally enough he has lost a ton of weight since he gave up sugar and is the healthiest he has ever been. And his adherents, like Sarah, are likewise happier, less bloated, less inflamed with better skin. They would never go back to eating sugar. Ever.

The 1 single nutrient conclusion
What I have just written is necessarily somewhat trite. I don't want to do a disservice to any of the people I have mentioned as I do really respect and enjoy their points of view.

But it seems to me that these dietary prescriptions are based on giving up 1 nutrient: fat or carbs or sugar (another carb, I know, I know). And it also seems to me that should you do so, then you divest your diet of an energy-producing macronutrient and that you do indeed lose weight. And that if the general diet is healthy enough (and these people are all devoted to high principles of good health), then you will still thrive.

The amazing human body can thrive under various nutritional regimens, lucky old us. What I find fascinating about the blogs that I read is the profound sense of mission that emanates from some of the writing. A sense of having discovered an essential truth, and that everyone else is direly mistaken.

No, not grazing cattle, the literary movement. The periodic yearning we undergo as a culture for a more simple time when we were not profoundly alienated from nature. Marie Antoinette at Le Petit Trianon. And as food production becomes ever more industrialised and populations become sicker and fatter, it's natural that we should be revolted by what is happening to our bodies, our animals, the planet.

I think that this quest for dietary purity, for a way of eating that is somehow how we are 'supposed' to eat, is an expression of latter-day pastoralism. It reveals a cultural malaise and forms a protest against the prevailing conditions over which we have limited power to circumvent. I do it too with my organic ingredients, making everything from scratch, never eating fast food or red meat - it's a protest as much as a quest to eat well, a desire to assert a point of view.

Does this make sense to anybody else? Would love to hear if my argument is persuasive! And if you were to abandon 1 single nutrient, would you be more likely to go fat or carbs?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Why you should be eating berry crumble

Crumble weather
Berry crumble looking pale and interesting before its date with destiny in the oven.
It has been unseasonably, unreasonably wet, wet, wet here in Sydney. Miserable, cool and dreary, and we're all feeling righteously ripped off that we've been denied a summer. And now there is an unmistakably autumnal tinge in the air. Good weather for a berry crumble.

I don't generally eat dessert beyond a teeny-weeny bowl of fresh fruit and vanilla yoghurt eaten with a tinsy-winsy teaspoon, so crumble fresh from the oven is a gorgeous treat. There is something about hot berries that's almost wrong. Flour, oats, sugar and fruit - tune out now if you're easily offended, low carbers.

Particularly if you're offended by fructose (oozing out of the sugar and the fruit).

Fructose is the latest compound to find itself nutrient non grata. It seems to have particularly fallen out of favour in the fitness community.

In a recent post, my friend Donna Miller, a (brilliant) PT, talks about the relationship between fructose and leptin, specifically how fructose suppresses the actions of leptin, raises triglycerides and increases circulating insulin. A nasty chemical cocktail.

She concludes that we would do well to limit our fruit consumption to 2 pieces a week, especially those of us with soft tummy issues. Like moi.

I am not well qualified to disagree, but I do. While I don't dispute Donna researched her article impeccably and relays her facts in good faith, it sounds to me like nutritionism. That is, laying the blame for poor metabolic health at the doorstep of 1 nutrient: fat or carbs or fructose, rather than looking at the overall quality of a dish or a meal or a diet.

I think if your general diet is good and you avoid added sugars, then a small bowl of berry crumble on a miserable rainy evening is no biggie. It contains protein, fibre, antioxidants and other phytochemicals as well as fructose. And fruit is a natural wholefood.

Most importantly, it's a wholesome, divine treat, and food is about feeding the senses and the soul as much as the cells.

Without further ado, here's my loose adaptation of Stephanie's basic crumble topping recipe from the Cook's Companion.

100 g brown sugar (I used rapadura)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger or cinnamon
60 g butter
half-cup plain flour + half-cup oats
2 cups frozen raspberries and blueberries

Never a frown with golden brown.
Mix sugar, baking powder and ginger/cinnamon. Crumble butter into flour with your fingers to form pea-size pebbles, then toss flour mixture with sugar mixture. Spoon fruit into a buttered 1 L, ovenproof dish and strew with topping. Bake at 180 degrees C for 40 minutes until topping is  golden brown and bubbling at the edges.

What about you? What's your dessert policy? And do you have a stand on fructose? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Slow-carb lunch

Scott Jurek-inspired lunch. Pleasant but not marathon fuel.
Lunch is a tricky meal for slow-carbing, especially for hapless office workers who are at the mercy of the food court or sandwich bar.

Essentially the slow-carb approach entails eating a variation of the same meal several times a day: lean protein, legumes and officially sanctioned, non-starchy vegetables. (The starchy variety include everyone's favourites. More people get excited by pumpkin than green beans.)  Tim seems to manage the lunch conundrum by eating in restaurants and swapping rice for vegetables.

Eating in restaurants every lunch time isn't a sensible option for me. For a start, I'd have no money left to finance my considerable grooming and fashion regimen. I'm more likely to be having a lunchtime procedure than eating in a restaurant.

So, I take my lunch to work most days. And this requires even more organisation and planning in my highly scheduled working week. Sometimes I make a slow-carb dish on a Sunday in addition to the breakfast lentils, but that means lots of time in the kitchen - and the weekends are terribly short as it is.

I frequently take in dinner leftovers, although that puts me in competition with my daughter who is also partial to leftovers. And, of course, she comes first.

Increasingly, I take in breakfast lentils on Thurs and Fri and have an egg on toast for breakfast instead. A tin of salmon makes a satisfying addition to Karen Martini's dal. Yummy lunch. And yummy breakfast, but - more bread, which is supposed to be a weekend treat only.

Scott Jurek's dinner for lunch
One attempt for lunch I made recently was a variation of a meal consumed by none other than Scott Jurek, the 'demigod of ultramarathoning' (according to Tim, who includes this recipe in the Appendices of 4 Hour Body, which is where I found it). Never heard of him? Neither had I until I read Born to Run, which I must confess I have only just read this year. Bit late coming to the party on that one.

Scott's prodigious achievements include the 2010 new all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run of 165.7 miles. For this (running solidly for 24 hours, think about it), he was named USA Today's Athlete of the Week. The week? Seems a bit paltry for all that effort.

Anyway, Scott credits his superhuman endurance, recovery and overall health to his 100% plant-based diet. I was curious to sample a little of what he's having. And so I made his dinner of roasted sweet potato, bok choy sauteed with chilli and some fried tempeh. Not in the same quantities because it was lunch: 1 potato not 4; 2 strips of tempeh, not a whole packet; but a whole bunch of bok choy, just like the man (good work, Brown!).

The verdict? Delicious, but madly insufficient. When it comes to plant-based, quantity is crucial. And making lots of vegetables is time-consuming. And then there's all the chomping to follow.

I guess Scott can eat all the starchy vegetables he likes.

Lunch with Holly Davis
I did have lunch in a restaurant this week. Back to Cafe Sopra at Walsh Bay to meet the gorgeous Holly Davis, wholefood demigod. We had to move tables because Cate Blanchett was seated a couple of tables away (Sydney Theatre Company is across the road), and it was impossible to stop glancing over. Too distracting; and it must be awful for poor Cate to know everyone's sneaking a peek at her.

Holly has been running a course called 'Wholefoods in 20 minutes' and she was telling me about some feedback she'd received from a participant. This individual felt she had been misled because Holly's 20 minute recipes all require some degree of pre-preparation, such as soaking grains (Holly is a exponent of fermentation). Holly was lamenting the fact that people want to spend as little time as possible cooking, while serious wholefood cooking relies on time and effort for flavours to develop. It's a cooking style that can't be hurried.

Time in the kitchen
I was reminded of my values: a commitment to nourishing, delicious food made with care from high quality ingredients. I suppose if I want to take a slow-carb lunch to work each day I'm just going to find more time to spend in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, sauteeing, roasting, simmering. It's the season of salads. Time to experiment with legume salads. Watch out for more recipes.

And what about you? How do you manage a healthy lunch? Sushi? Sandwich? Mexican restaurant, swapping rice for vegetables? Any suggestions for gorgeous legume salads gratefully received!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Losing weight with slow carb living

I've been slow-carbing my breakfasts and most of my lunches and many of my dinners for a few months now, and Droptober has come and gone. The burning question is . . . how much weight have I lost?

Well, perhaps a few grams.

It isn't the fault of the Slow-Carb Diet
I have not attempted the Slow-Carb Diet as prescribed by the mighty Tim, so I am not in any way blaming his methodology, his research, his recommendations, nada. What I set out to do was make some dietary changes rather than going on a diet, so that once I lost the 2.8 kg I could easily maintain it. Slow-carb is a way for me to learn some new habits and become accustomed to eating a smaller daily calorie load. So, my ambitions with regards to the diet were always small.

Giving up grains
And I have found it easy to give up grains. A relief, actually. I stopped eating risotto ages ago, much to my husband's disappointment. He makes a great risotto. In the 90s (senior's nostalgia moment coming up), he used to make it once a week. Our favourite risottos?
  • feta and carrot or spinach
  • sashima tuna and green beans
  • with gravlax and a grilled pepper salad
  • with Not Bacon and peas
We always ate it with a roast tomato salad or green salad and bread with oil and balsamic. White bread and white rice in the same meal. Aaah, the 90s.

But while I would happily never have another mouthful of rice or quinoa, pasta and bread are different stories.

Everyday slow-carb
The social dimension of eating influences our decisions in so many ways. If I was to insist on eating slow-carb at every dinner, I would be cooking for myself much more often (instead of enjoying my husband's beautiful meals) at great inconvenience to the family. So it means pasta once or twice a week. It's always fresh, flavourful, full of vegies, accompanied by a big green salad (no baguette no more). I portion-control and eat most of the salad, but I'm still breaking rule #1: avoid 'white' carbohydrates'.

Pasta is also a useful stand-by when eating out. I don't eat red meat, and sometimes choices are limited. On Tuesday last week I had an exquisite seafood pasta at Pendolino. On Wednesday I had a gluggy, creamy bowl of starchy mushroom pasta at Cafe Sopra. Under the circumstances they were my best options.

Limitations of the Slow-Carb Diet (for me)
Tim admits that 'meat isn't necessary, but it does make the job easier'. I have found that it is difficult to come up tasty, nutritious ideas for meal after meal with eggs and tempeh as my principal sources of protein. And that is the weakness of all these low-carb approaches to weight loss: they suck for vegetarians. Not that I'm a full-blown vegetarian any more as I eat fish and chicken every week, but I don't eat them every day and I don't want to.

I try to be guided by my values (don't always succeed, of course) and one of my values is not to eat meat. I won't go into the complex reasons why now, but for me the ethics of what I eat is as germane to my choices as the nutrient profile.

Of course, some diets are totally plant-based and not the least concerned with animal welfare or environmental destruction. That's the Esslestyn no-meat/no-oil/no-dairy approach. Tim provides a thoughtful rebuttal to this approach on his website that I have thoughtfully linked for you. I find this a fascinating response to our malaise around food and eating (check out the healthy librarian for an devotee's perspective), but what I dislike about it is that it is plant-based but not vegan. It's not about animals but cholesterol and heart attacks. Obdurately anthropocentric.

This is not a rant
Time to sign off because I'm getting earnest. More on all this anon. Perhaps the conclusion I'm grasping towards is that in some crucial respects I can't slow-carb in a purist sense because of my values. And so I have to find other ways to lose more than a few grams.

Monday, 7 November 2011

What it takes to create a successful lentil business

'I love lentils but . . . I don't know what to do with them.'

Sharna, one of the women who set up the business Lentilicious, was at the Brisbane Food & Wine Expo last week and told me that is the lament she hears the most often. She said their stall was often 3 people deep, who again and again observed that a lentil dish in a packet is such a clever idea because it solves the problem of - what do you with them?

Lentil entrepreneurs
Lentils are something of a singular enthusiasm. I asked Sharna how she became a lentil entrepreneur. The story is that she and her friend Anthea worked together as carers of people with intellectual and physical handicaps until the company they worked for went out of business. They both loved cooking, loved dal, and the idea to start a lentil empire expanded from their common interest. They'd throw in different ingredients and refine their creations until they finally employed a chef to round off the recipes and make them commercially viable - without losing the heart of the enterprise.

Then Anthea and Sharna would go to markets with their lentil combinations for sale in low key paper bags with small windows. They'd take several cooked batches and serve them up in sugar cane cups with wooden teaspoons to let people sample their wares. And slowly, and with very little investment, the business began to grow.

Now, 3 years later, their product is sold in plastic pouches that allows for distribution and display, plus the printing of a statutory nutrition panel. They distribute all over the land and are developing new flavour combinations and recipe ideas. They cook in a converted room in Anthea's house. They proudly use only Australian red lentils and their values are as visible as that nutrition panel on every packet.

Lentils are good for digestion
Sharna was not aware of the mighty Tim or the slow-carb diet that has revolutionised my world (if not my waistline just yet). I didn't get the feeling she regularly eats lentils for breakfast herself. But she told me the Lime Time mix is a popular breakfast with a few coeliacs she knows. She has also been told that a good vegan breakfast is the Mediterranean and the Chilli mix combined and served on toast. Sounds like breakfast to me.

In India, according to Sharna, mung dal is favoured by the elderly and people who are convalescing because it is soft to digest. I can appreciate that. I find red lentils (similar to mung dal) so much more easier to stomach in the morning that firm little Puy pellets.

Lentils are versatile
The beautiful Lentilicious website features several recipes and ideas for using the packets as a base for a meal as much as a complete meal. Sharna said that they make a great base for vegetable soup with organic stock and extra vegetables. She also described a kind of lentil lasagne that is right up my alley because it features sweet potato and spinach and . . . pastry. Too divine. I plan to try that one and I'll post the recipe - especially now that I know that Lentilicious has made it to a local providore that we visit frequently and I can stock up.

I really enjoyed talking with Sharna and I came away from the conversation excited about all the wonderful things to make with lentils and keen to try a few new recipes. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, look out for their attractive packets (buy them online) and let me know your favourite Lentilicious concoctions!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Karen Martini's dal

Karen Martini's divine go-to dal.

Having said that I had found my perfect breakfast dal with Sarah Wilson's recipe for lentils, I saw this one from Karen Martini in SundayLife magazine and thought I'd give it a whirl. Bit more work - onion chopping - and I adjusted the quantities freely, even though the recipe serves 4, which is the number of breakfasts I'm hoping to get out of it, if not 5.

1 tbsp olive oil (I used unrefined sesame oil)
2 brown onions, finely diced (I only bothered with 1; don't know about 'finely' diced)
3 cloves garlic (I used 2)
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped (mine was probably smaller than that)
1 green chilli, split
3 tsp cumin (2 tsp)
3 tsp coriander (2 tsp)
2 tsp turmeric (1 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (don't have any)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used paprika as, again, don't have any)
2 L vegetable stock (I used 750 ml)
350 g red lentils (I used 1 cup)
350 g can kidney beans (don't like kidney beans; used black beans)
2 tsp salt (didn't measure, just sprinkled)
3 tbsp tomato paste (I used a sachet, which yields 2 tbsp)
2 handfuls fresh coriander, chopped

In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and ginger, stirring often, for about 6 mins. Add chilli and spices and cook for 1-2 mins or until fragrant. Add stock, lentils, beans and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer soup for about 20 mins, or until lentils are tender. Stir in tomato paste.

Note Karen refers to the 'soup'. I like my dal fairly thick, and I find that most recipes I try call for more water than I like. That is why I now start with less than stipulated, and add more as the mixture cooks if needed. That's one of the reasons I like Sarah's lentils: no measurements.

The result was really pleasing. I paid attention while I was cooking and applied all my hard-won lentil skills. I added some spinach, and will probably add some peas when I cook it up for breakfast in the morning. I think the cumin slightly dominates the overall flavour, but that might be my sloppy, careless, relaxed measuring. But the tomato paste certainly contributes a sweet richness, and is a lovely addition.

Beans and lentils, rinsed and ready to go. The beans add protein and will make the dish more filling.

Weights and measures
One of the problems with presenting recipes is making a creative, intuitive process intelligible and capable of being reproduced again and again. Recipe writers, testers, copy editors and proofreaders go to great lengths to make sure each instruction works and the recipe can be proudly described as 'fail-safe'. I've written lots of blurbs and sales materials for cookbooks in which I've said things like 'guaranteed to thrill your friends and family'. Note that term: 'guaranteed'. Lots of diligent effort underpins it.

But in the act of creating a dish, many cooks don't bother with the measurements. They just know. The measurements are imposed later to create order. They don't have to be obeyed. Because - you might not have all the ingredients to hand, you might not like particular ingredients, you might have a moral objection to something, etc ad infinitum. But you can't put any of that in a cookbook or magazine or website. Imagine: olive oil (or whatever you prefer); 1 tsp cumin (unless you loathe it); 2 onions (or as many as you want to dice today). Not workable.

Spices all measured up carefully roughly and ready to go, sitting on top of Karen's recipe. She had a better stylist (Caroline Velik) than me.

Jamie Oliver started with fairly loose instructions in his early books: 1 glug of olive oil. I'm sure there would have been editorial discussions about it. His style is still very conversational and intimate, as much as possible like he's in the kitchen with you. Which is annoying or delightful, depending on your view of Jamie Oliver.

But some cooks hate looseness: they want direction and instruction. When I told my husband I was making this recipe he said, 'But you don't have any cardamom.' I felt like such a free spirit saying, 'I don't care.'

So, what do you all think about weighing and measuring and following recipes to the letter? Do you have dusty packets of bonito flakes, porcini mushrooms, star anise, saffron, cream of tartare and other exotics bought to supply the demands of a single recipe and never touched again? I do. Confess!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sarah Wilson's lentils

Well, you can all relax. I think I have found my perfect recipe for breakfast lentils.

Perfect because it's just about foolproof for me to make. No onion chopping. No measuring. No hovering and checking, unless I stop paying attention and let the lentils boil over at the beginning. And the result is very pleasing.

I found the recipe on Sarah Wilson's website. She is a no-sugar convert and eats some fairly unconventional breakfasts. For example, she likes lentil sprouts lightly steamed with a little walnut oil stirred through. That sounds lovely, but not exactly filling and it would require lots of chomping.

And with this lentil recipe she whisks them once they're cooked before adding the spices in oil (or butter, a la Stephanie as I like them). I tried whisking the first time I had a go at this recipe, but couldn't tell if I was making the lentils creamy, as she said it would. I've made it a couple of times since, no whisking.

I add roasted sweet potato and a green vegetable as usual for my breakfast, plus a boiled egg and a couple of spoons of yoghurt to serve. The first time I made paneer marinated in yoghurt with a spoonful of tandoori mix stirred through. It was a lovely addition: chewy, flavoursome and filling. A pleasant change from a boiled egg. Peas make a great addition while it's heating in the morning as well.

Without further ado . . .

Sarah Wilson's lentils

1 cup red lentils
clove of garlic
butter or oil
cumin seeds
lemon juice

Rinse the lentils and put them in the saucepan with a finely sliced garlic and a teaspoon of turmeric. Cover with water. Bring to the boil. Skim (yuck), and then turn down the heat. Simmer for an hour, maybe 50 mins if you think the lentils look ready. Keep topping up the water (or I've used vegetable stock, which was lovely). Once the lentils are thick and soupy, heat the butter in a small saucepan. Add a teaspoon of cumin seeds and the chilli and heat until fragrant. Stir into the lentils with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of salt. Voila.
The paneer has taken over this pic. There are turmeric-golden, non-whisked lentils under there somewhere.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

North Indian Lentils

I saw Stephanie Alexander (my newly discovered lentil goddess) recently at a talk given as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. She was talking with a languid chef and writer from New York, Gabrielle Hamilton, on the subject 'Why are we poisoning our children'. Given the emotive tone of the title, it was a curiously tepid affair and neither of them seemed fully engaged. Lots of talk of what they ate growing up, yawn. There were some smart questions from members of the audience later, showing that it was a group who was aware of all the issues. Shame the same level of commitment wasn't apparent on the stage.

Stephanie's North Indian lentils
Still, there is so much to admire about Stephanie. If 'admire' is strong enough a word to capture my respect for her immense talent and vast knowledge. Love this recipe for North Indian lentils.

350 g red lentils (I used 1 cup)
500 ml water (I didn't use as much as this)
2 cloves garlic
2 slices fresh ginger
fresh coriander leaves
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I don't have any, so just added chilli as usual)
lemon juice
oil (I used butter)
cumin seeds

Put lentils and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Skim (horrible job, never seem to manage the technique and end up stirring foam back into the boiling water), then add garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and chilli. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar, then lower heat and simmer for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally, checking each time if lentils have collapsed in a near-puree. Add salt and lemon juice. The finished dal will be like a thick soup.

Thick, soupy, fragrant dal.

In a small pan, heat oil (butter) and cook cumin seeds gently until darkened. Pour over dal.
Here is my finished result, with steamed spinach added.

Stephanie then fries onion until dark brown and scatters over the dish before serving, but I didn't bother with this. I'm terrible at frying onions until dark brown, but terribly good at frying them until they are black.

I've concluded after all these various lentil breakfasts that this type of recipe makes my preferred one. It's easy to prepare and I enjoy the taste first thing in the morning. No grain, no sugar, lots of fibre and protein . . . it's a great start to the day.

But have I lost any weight?! I didn't weigh myself this week as planned as I only got to the gym once. And when I was there, I was in an irritable temper and actually abandoned my workout and left. And I was sure I wouldn't be satisfied with the result if I did weight myself and decided that would only make my mood worse.

Still, onwards and upwards, chaps. Keep at it.

How about you? Anyone else walked out of Fitness First out of sheer irritation? I've walked in, changed and then left because I couldn't stand being there. Am I the only one?!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

6 things about cooking lentils you need to know

No recipe today, folks. Thought this was a good point at which to pass on what I have learned so far about lentils. Surprising how little I knew about them when I started, and how much wiser I am now. A few unappetising breakfasts will do that for you.

The authority from whom I have learned the most was, surprisingly, Stephanie Alexander. Surprising because I always considered her approach to food and cooking to be so different from my own - but perhaps our philosophies are closer than I realised. She does seem to be a genuine authority in the mould of Mrs Beeton or Julia Child and she certainly outlined a couple of eternal verities of the lentil kind that have improved my understanding. And, as I apply them, my cooking, I hope.

6 things about cooking lentils
Here beginneth the lesson.

1 Use the right lentils for the recipe. They are not endlessly interchangeable, but have their special qualities which must be respected. If the recipe calls for brown lentils, you can use green or Puy or beluga as they all keep their shape as they are cooked. You can't use red or blonde or split peas. Won't work.

2 If you cook the lentils in advance, or open a can, you may require less liquid than stated in the recipe. It's preferable to start with less and add more as you go, rather than trying to soak up or make evaporate excess liquid at the end. Trust me. Not a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon: devising ways to reduce unwanted lentil liquid.

3 Keep your eye on them. As Stephanie points out, 'they can take a surprisingly short time to cook' - and this 1 observation revealed to me my greatest failing. I used to think lentils could boil away merrily for ages, but I am now more circumspect. Particularly with dals. Don't dilly-dally with the dal.

4 Brown lentils etc are great for European style dishes: soups, salads, shepherd's pie, as a vegetable accompaniment, anything flavoured with thyme, rosemary, parsley. Red lentils and Indian lentils (like urud dal) are excellent as dals with Indian or South Asian flavours: ginger, coriander, coconut, mustard seeds, turmeric. Split peas are not lentils but pulses, and adapt well to both types of flavouring, but turn to a puree like red lentils.

5 Dals are the more appetising style for breakfast. There is something about the taste of onion and thyme that is not breakfast but another meal entirely. But spicy ginger and coconut is perfectly acceptable, even pleasantly palatable, on the morning palate.

6 Do not start eating lentils for breakfast in the expectation of losing those pesky couple of kilos. You will introduce more fibre and slow-release carbs into your diet, and if you add vegetables you will also benefit from the antioxidants and phytochemicals. Lentils are fantastically healthy. But if you want to lose weight you may also have to reconsider the 2 glasses of wine a day or the full-fat cheese on an oatcake before dinner or the 4 squares of dark chocolate after dinner. Just a thought.

Here endeth the lesson.

Apposite to finish with a plug for Droptober, a campaign designed to raise funds for Kids for Life. Participants pledge to lose 2 kg. I have registered and plan to pursue my slow-carb principles to effect my weight loss. That was always the original intention, and it's time to take that effort more seriously.

One last item: I was in Perth recently and had breakfast with my dear friend Jude. I always relish our conversations - a mix of publishing, nutrition and recipes. Here we are. Her new book will be on wholefood baking, and given the debates raging on the toxicity of sugar, it will serve as a reminder that delectable goodies can be wholesome too. Jude believes strongly that the deliciousness of food arising from the quality of the ingredients and the method of cooking contributes materially to its nutritional value.

What do you think? Any tips on cooking lentils you can pass on? Any ideas for slow-carb lunches? (I'll need 'em!). Anyone want to join me in Droptober? Let me know your views.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Stephanie's basic lentils

When I listed the ingredients that Stephanie Alexander nominated as going well with lentils, I had a good look through her lentil chapter and decided to give a couple of her classics a whirl. Here's the first one. It's very simple, which appealed to me partly because it was a busy weekend and I didn't want to spend hours faffing in the kitchen. I followed the recipe exactly, people, except that I used tiny green lentils and not big brown ones (cuter) and1tsp Herbies' Italian herbs instead of the sprig of thyme.

Basic brown lentils a la Stephanie
500 g lentils, washed and drained (that's a whole packet)
1 onion quartered (yippee, no real chopping)
1 clove garlic (ditto)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
salt, pepper, lemon juice
butter or olive oil
chopped parsley

Place lentils, onion, garlic, bay leaf and thyme in a saucepan and cover generously with cold water (I used vegetable stock. I could have sworn I followed the recipe exactly, but clearly can't help myself.) Cover and bring slowly to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and test lentils after 20 mins. If tender, drain into a colander and discard onion, garlic, bay leaf and thyme.

Return lentils to rinsed-out pan and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir in butter and parsley.

And that's it!

Stephanie's basic brown lentils with basic boiled cabbage. Now, who wouldn't love that for breakfast with a boiled egg?!
They were delicious when first cooked and would have been lovely as part of dinner with some grilled chicken breast (or roasted squab pigeon, guinea fowl, quail or wild rabbit, if you're Stephanie). The recipe made plenty for breakfast and a nice extra amount to freeze for later. That batch will end up in one of my husband's soups. Yes, I also eat lentil soup every week.

But as breakfast lentils . . . boring. Day after day, basic lentils and cabbage . . . Not an appetising start. I took them for lunch one day with some leftover chicken cacciatore and spinach and that was a divine combo and very filling. Note to self: dals are more flavoursome for breakfast and worth the extra effort. Chomping away despondently I thought again about the mighty Tim with his canned lentils, spinach and cold boiled eggs. What a slow-carb warrior.

By way of contrast, here is a pic of my husband's too-amazing-for-words salad just before he added slices of dry-fried haloumi. Note the tiny roasted golden carrots from the markets. Spring!

This is what I have to put up with for dinner.
Have I persuaded anyone to give up their muesli yet? Let me know your must-have breakfasts, and send me any lentil ideas you'd like me to try. Speak to me.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Judy's delicious dal

I wanted to try this recipe because it was created by my friend Judy, who is a wonderful wholefood cook and a woman of original views and high principles. And Scottish, like moi, to boot. I found it on her Food Coach website, which is well worth checking out if you're looking for something stylish, seasonal, delicious and high minded.

One of the reasons I liked the sound of Judy's delicious dal was the combination of eggplant and potato. I think eggplants complement lentils beautifully because they cook down to a silky consistency that provides extra texture and sweetness. And because potatoes don't cook down, they provide a chunky, satisfying little nugget to chew on. They make the dish more substantial and filling. And a girl occasionally wants a break from roasted sweet potato. Then there's spinach to add in at the end - hurrah! Lentils and spinach, the mighty Tim's original breakfast prescription (which I must confess to have deviated from a little recently in my excitement over coconut cream).

As you can find the recipe on Judy's site, I won't reproduce it. Here it is.

I started with serious intentions and finished with a less than satisfactory result - as so often happens. The potatoes and eggplant looked so beautiful coated with turmeric, all golden and promising.

The vegetables looked much more golden than this in the Sunday afternoon sun.
I followed the recipe exactly as I was on my best behaviour - the only deviation I allowed myself was the addition of cauliflower because I had one-quarter of one left and I hate waste. As I rightly surmised, it was so soft at the end of the week, it mainly contributed a slight graininess.

What went wrong? Two things. I used the wrong lentils. Caviar and not red. Oh, when will I ever learn. And the lentils were already cooked. But I added the amount of water stipulated in the recipe. So it was incredibly watery as the lentils didn't absorb any liquid. At the end, everything was cooked, but there was still loads of water bubbling away.

So, I tried to salvage things by boiling it off. But that was making the silky eggplant and grainy cauliflower softer and softer . . . Then I remembered a tip from Sarah Wilson about how a couple of spoonfuls of chia soak up liquid and add bulk without taste. So glad I didn't throw out that chia meal even though I can't find a way to welcome it into my daily diet. But it just made the liquid gluggy (glug with extra plant-based ALAs, antioxidants, fibre and protein, nonetheless). In the end I decided to just leave it. There would be less liquid as the week went by.

Gluey and gluggy with firm lentils and overcooked vegetables. Result.

And that's what happened. I had the last serve for lunch on Friday with some fried tempeh. It was delicious by then.

What have I learned from this? Use the right lentils for the dish (I'd put caps lock on if I wasn't so polite). And if the lentils are already cooked, use less liquid (caps) than stipulated in the recipe. Easier to top up than boil off.

I can't be the only high functioning idiot in the kitchen. Tell me your stories. And send me your recipes. Would love to hear from you. Anybody out there?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Crazy as a coconut

Naturally, lentils have a natural affinity with certain tastes. In the magisterial Cook's Companion, Stephanie Alexander gives her list: onions, garlic, olive oil, butter, parsley, coriander, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ginger, chillies, carrots, spinach, lemons, tomatoes. And because this is Stephanie the gourmet omnivore we're talkin' about, she also lists bacon, salt pork, sausages, rabbit, hare, squab pigeon, venison and guinea fowl. These latter ingredients are unlikely to ever make their way into my breakfast, but thought you might like to know in an FYI kind of way.

And one ingredient not in Stephanie's audit that totally rocks the lentils is coconut. Not namby-pamby, low-fat coconut milk, but sweet, creamy, delectable, premium coconut cream. This is a new ingredient for me, and I'm a believer.

Coconut is a vexed fat. It is derived from a plant but contains palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat, and therein lies the source of vexation. Saturated fats are more stable than their skittish counterparts, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates (especially diva-like). This means coconut oil can be heated to a high temperature (smoke point: 170 C) without damaging its nutrients, which makes it a desirable fat for frying for some health-minded cooks, like Jude. She calls it 'fabulous and flexible' and praises its antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. She also states that it does not require emulsifying with bile acids from the liver, but is digested in the gut and provides energy while not contributing to weight gain.

So much for the coconut cheer squad. For most dietitians, when it comes to saturated fat - animal or plant - the message is always just don't do it. Well, certainly limit it. The NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Australians does not single out coconut oil per se, but states that when palmitic acid predominates in dietary fat, this tends to raise plasma cholesterol. The Healthy Food Guide of the Dietitians Association of Australia advises eating 'minimal amounts of saturated fat' and points out that coconut cream is high in such fat. The Heart Foundation of Australia nominates coconut milk and oil in its list of 'unhealthy fats'. No mention from these august bodies about its nutritional excellence.

Not that I'll let that stop me. I don't eat a great deal of saturated fat as I don't eat red meat or commercial foodstuffs like pies or cakes or ice cream. So, a little bit of coconut cream in my lentils doesn't trouble my conscience. On the other hand, I'm a bit sceptical about the claim that it coconut oil/cream does not require emulsifying with bile acids (plan to investigate that further) and I wouldn't eat anything just because it has antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. They're a nice little bonus, I suppose, but not the point. The point is flavour and texture.

And coconut cream is beautiful with red lentils. This dish is one of my new favourites. It comes from Jude's fascinating and thoughtful cookbook for the littlies, Wholefood for Children. I riff freely with this recipe and don't use all her suggested ingredients - in particular dulse flakes and 1/2 an apple. The dulse flakes add extra minerals and I'll add them if and when I ever buy any. The apple is to off-set astringency, and mirin works just as well.

Vegetable and red lentil coconut dal

1 cup red lentils
Ghee or coconut oil (I used cultured butter because I live dangerously)
A couple of shallots
Bit of grated ginger
1 teaspoon each cumin, coriander, turmeric and garam masala
Pumpkin and/or sweet potato (roasted first, as I do)
2 cm kombu (to help the lentils soften: this recipe is designed for toddler palates)
I cup vegetable stock
1 cup star ingredient
Chopped coriander
Green beans
Mirin, tamari, squeeze of lemon or lime juice at the end

Heat the butter over low heat. Add onion and ginger and cook for 2-3 mins. Stir in spices, carrot, lentils, kombu, stock, premium full-fat coconut cream and some coriander. Make sure kombu is submerged in liquid to do its softening thing, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 15-18 mins. Add cauliflower and  green beans, the simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until vegetables are tender. Add roasted pumpkin or sweet potato and peas. Mash any bits of kombu into the mix and splash in the mirin, tamari and lemon juice.
With boiled egg and a spoonful of 92% fat free natural yoghurt for breakfast.

Jude recommends cooking up leftovers for breakfast in a small frying pan, making a clearing in the middle and frying an egg. Don't mind if I do.

Didn't manage to get my fried egg in the middle!

So, are you all assiduous sat fat-avoiders? Do you think the official prescription should be to avoid crap, processed junk and loadsa cheap meat instead? (leading question, sorry!). Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


Of course, slow-carb eating does not just apply to breakfast. According to its principals, it's lentils for lunch as well.

I have lunch issues like I have breakfast issues, but different ones. If I don't take my own food to work, I find lunch a real pain. I used to resort to sushi, but find it unpalatable now - all that sweetened white rice. There is an iku in North Sydney (a vegan takeaway), but most of it is deep fried millet balls or tofu burgers, brown rice with everything and couscous or noodle salads. Groan, more grain. Don't get me started on iku.

And I don't eat meat (except for some free-range chicken) or tuna (except for the Fish4Ever brand), so sandwiches are not an easy option either.

But spending my Sunday afternoons making lunch for the week as well as breakfast means hours of cooking and cleaning-up with Kanye (my singalong cooking music). I frequently make something that will last a couple of days and then take dinner leftovers or whatever I can cobble together for the remainder of the week. It's not a perfect system, so often my breakfast lentils are pressed into service as lunch on Thursday and Fridays and I have (I confess) toast and a boiled egg for those mornings. More artisinal sourdough (rule #1: Avoid 'white' carbohydrates). And, of course, the adipose tissue has not shifted one tiny little gram since I've been doing this half-arsed slow-carbing.

This is this week's lunch for Monday and Tuesday. It's not real slow-carb as it contains spelt penne (rule #1 above also includes carbs that could be white), and there's not a huge amount of protein. But it is delicious, nutritious, and extremely quick and easy. I made it with kohlrabi, a kind of turnip with a beautiful purple skin. I also used the kohlrabi leaves and some cavalo nero flowers. These latter are my new favourite vegetable, but they are so rare they're almost a legend. There is an organic farmer at the North Sydney produce markets who sells them about once a year. They taste like broccolini, but even more tender.

Seriously green greens.

I freely adapted this recipe from last month's Prevention magazine, in which it was called Garlicky Beans and Pasta or something.

Boil some pasta. Roast a sweet potato and a couple of carrots and kohlrabi, if you happen to have some.
Steam some greens, preferably outlandish and organic for bragging rights.
Fry some onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil.
Add a can of butter beans.
Toss in the pasta, oranges and greens.

I added some ricotta the 2nd day. Gorgeous.

Did anyone watch Eat Yourself Sexy? I did because I'm an avid consumer of diet TV (Supersize v superskinny is my alpha and omega). I'm also fascinated by Sarah Wilson. I love some of her idealism, and her engagement and honesty - and I plan to try her lentil recipes eventually.

For all that Sarah is presenter of the show, I didn't have high expectations and was duly unsurprised by its utter lack of originality. Ho hum. Derivative and humourless. And for all her passion and empathy in her writing, Sarah came across to me as one of those groomed, slender, bland, social-pages type people.

There was this silly moment when the hapless dieter's weekly consumption of processed carbs was laid out on a table. A couple of comments later - 'Yes, it's a lot of food' - it was on to the next cliche. It was as if it was set up to observe diet TV convention but for no other reason. Not funny, dramatic, vivid, compelling (I'm thinking of the feeding tube in Supersize or Gillian McKeith offering her fatties a glass of the oil they would get through in a week in You Are What You Eat). Sarah has strong views on the question of sugar, and this could have been a great opportunity to talk about that. How sugar feeds food addiction, how if affects insulin production, how it skews the sense of taste. How manufacturers suck us in with hyper-palatability and convenience. And the real Sarah could demonstrate she's more than Princess Presenter.

In the end the show was as satisfying as one of the Tim Tams the dieter kept shoving in her cake-hole. Nothing like as much fun as Fat Family Diet.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Beanies for breakfast

Last week's lentils were the worst I've made so far. Sigh. And I made a huge batch - they lasted all week. The problem was, as I suspected, the wrong lentils for the dish. And I put the peas in at the wrong time. Grey peas and mushy lentils.

I'm a very neat and tidy person - neat make-up bag, neat underwear drawer, neat desk . . . I'm well organised in all areas of my life - except for cooking. It's the one activity at which I'm careless and slapdash. I think it's because cooking doesn't come naturally to me and I'd rather spend my time doing something else, even though I care a lot about nutritious food and the quality of what I eat. So, I have to cook, even though I'd rather be reading or handwashing or tidying a cupboard.

One of the things that annoy me about cooking is that you can't put something on to do its thing (roast, bake, simmer) and then go off and return when you're ready. You have to return when whatever it is you are cooking is ready. I am always being caught out by that inconvenient fact. I get engrossed, forget about cooking, and then it's burned or ruined or not-as-nice-as-it-should-be-but-will-have-to-do. I'm constantly forcefeeding myself things that could have been better if I'd kept a note of the time.

Then the other thing I do is use whatever I have to hand, even if it's not what the recipe suggests - like last week's lentils. Most recipes include at least one item not in the cupboard or fridge and sometimes it's only small, like ginger or thyme, but sometimes it's pretty major. I forget to check the recipes I plan to cook, so I'm never completely sure what's in them until I get started. I've left a brownie mixture half-way through to walk up to the supermarket for maple syrup - and then had to endure supermarket maple syrup, not health food shop maple syrup.

So, today I decided I'd have a week off dreary lentils and I made these easy Mexican beanies instead. I would have followed Jude's recipe, Quick beanie mix, in her beautiful second book, Coming home to cook, except I didn't have any celery. So I improvised (risky) and it's turned out well (whew). Here's what I did.
Spicy, sweet and fragrant. Makes a fantastic mix for nachos too.

1 tablespoon olive oil (well, I didn't measure, but it was about that much)
half a red onion
some chipotle chilli powder and some cumin (didn't measure, threw it in)
1 garlic clove
1 roasted sweet potato
1 x tin of black beans, 1 x tin of pinto beans (divine combination)
some tomato passata, about half the bottle - so perhaps 350 g
1 clump of coriander, stalks and all

Heat the olive oil and saute the onion over a gentle heat (I frequently overlook this kind of detail and frizzle the onion away to burnt brown nastiness before I've even properly started). Add the chipotle chilli, cumin and garlic and fry for a bit longer. Don't go and hang out a load of washing at this point. Stir in the beans and the passata, cover and cook for 20 mins until the mixture is thick but still saucy (fond of a bit of sauciness at breakfast). Turn the heat down otherwise it won't be as good. Add the roasted potato at the end.

This is going to be a lovely breakfast. I'd add a dollop of yoghurt but I've run out . . .

What about you? What are your bad cooking habits? Confess!

Did anyone else find it fascinating that the mighty Mr Ferriss has signed his next gazillion-selling title to Amazon, reputedly for a larger 7-figure sum than his last 7-figure deal? Here's the Guardian's take, although Mike Shatzkin provides a reliably good insight into what it means from an insider's perspective. The deal is not that surprising if you follow Tim's blog where he's written about the current state of publishing and its potential to exploit all possible modern markets. He certainly seems to me to represent that new breed who couldn't care less about books as cultural artefacts. Some people bleed to be published because they want their name on the cover of A Book - but the future of publishing is increasingly being shaped (oops, almost said 'written') by those mercifully free of the weight of cultural legacy.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Lentilicious - slow-carb in a packet

When we were in Byron Bay recently I bought a packet of an 'Easy Lentil Meal'. Very intriguing. It's a product from a company called Lentilicious, made by people 'passionate about healthy eating and vegetarian cuisine'. They offer a selection of lentil-friendly flavours: lime, turmeric, coconut, Mediterranean and - the one I chose - red chilli.

Back in Sydney, I cooked them up. Now I generally cook everything from scratch, which means I can spend hours in the kitchen as I'm not terribly efficient. I seem to only know how to make things complicated when it comes to cooking. So, opening a packet, adding some water and then, 25 minutes later, having a lovely batch of lentils all ready to go seems way like cheating. Non-perfectionist. But dangerously easy and delicious. Just added my steamed spinach and roasted sweet potato - had to do some work -  and breakfast was done.

Well - for 3 days. The packet only made 3 serves, and at $7.95 is a little too ex-y to become a habit (back to the chopping and peeling for me). But the ingredients are all natural and there are no fillers or dodgy preservatives. Lentilicious is clearly made according to someone's principles and is a meal-in-a-packet-with-heart. I certainly intend to explore the other flavours.

Who knew you could buy dinner in a packet

It seems to me from my avid reading of lentil recipes in the last few weeks that there are 3 main ways to cook 'em. One: prepare the spices and aromatics, add the lentils to coat, then finish cooking in liquid. Two: add the spices and aromatics to the lentils while they're bubbling away. Three: prepare the spices and aromatics and then pour over cooked lentils. The method I usually follow is the first one. But because I fry the onion, ginger and spices and then add a load of lentils to the frying-pan, I use the large, heavy one. The one that is so heavy I can't hold it in my left hand to tip the lentils into a saucepan once they're coated in the onion-ginger-spice mixture. It's always an awkward transition.

So today I tried a recipe of Jude's that called for method #2. It's actually a recipe for a lentil shepherd's pie from Wholefood, just minus the mashed potato. It has French herbs for flavour and I added baked parsnip, swede and sweet potato for wintery heartiness. I added peas way too early so they're now grey-green. It's a recipe that really calls for Puy lentils, but I substituted what I had in the cupboard: channa dal chikka and red lentils. They were a colourful mix at the start, but just a sludgy greige now. But the final result tastes beautiful, and the method was slightly easier and less time-consuming than usual. Have to say, I didn't miss peeling and chopping ginger and coriander this week. Here it is.

1 1/3 cups of brown or green lentils (not dal, darls, believe me)
2 fresh bay leaves (I used dried: fresh ones are not that easy to source)
1 onion, finely chopped
pinch of mixed dried herbs (I used Herbie's Italian blend)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
about 2 cups of finely chopped vegies
1 tablespoon genmai miso (I used shiro, don't like genmai)

Put lentils in heavy-based saucepan with bay leaves and cover with 2-3 cm of water or stock. Cook over low heat for 30 mins.
Heat I tablespoon of oil in a frying pan (didn't have to use the big one). Add the onions and herbs and saute for 2-3 mins.
Add the onion mixture to the cooking lentils along with chopped vegies and miso (I added mine later because I roasted them first to intensify their sweetness but I added the peas here). Check the liquid level, add extra if it is low, and continue to cook on gentle heat for 20 mins. Add the peas. (Oops.) Done!

The black and orange lentils looked so colourful - before I started.

What about you? Perfectionist or slap-happy in the kitchen? Open a packet, or grind your own spices? Speak up! And check out Lentilicious.

Are there orange lentils in there?! When did everything turn greige?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

That fateful evening

I'm sure you're all dying to know more about the lentils-for-breakfast thing, so I won't keep you wondering any longer . . . Well, I had dinner with my friend Joanna earlier this year. It was a fateful evening. First of all, we had steamed salmon and stir-fried vegies because, she explained, she was not eating any grains that week. She wanted to try it out, as going grain-free for a spell is advice she frequently gives her clients who come to her to lose weight.

Now Jo is a very sensible nutritionist and I'd never imagined her doing something like giving up grains - and I'd never once considered doing so myself. Seemed a bit diet-faddist, like those lost souls who insist that wheat is the root of all evil, or caffeine is toxic. Hmm. New thought.

Then she gave me her copy of The 4 Hour Body. 'Not what I'd normally read, but I loved it,' she said. Not what I would normally read either, but snug in bed later I read about Tim's slow-carb diet. Somehow the events of the evening came together. If Jo could go without grain, the notion had a new respectability. And if I could eat lentils for breakfast Tim-style, maybe, just maybe, I could conquer that stubborn depot of adipose tissue (the secret purpose of my existence).

I had been struggling with breakfast issues. One of the subjects Jo and I talked about that night was what makes a good one. The thing is I don't like muesli, even though I feel like a class traitor confessing that.

And I don't like all the idea of fruity, nutty, honey-oozing porridges, even though I've never tried one. Sweet porridge is wrong. I come from Scotland and ate porridge for breakfast all through the winter when I was a child - hot and salty, as it's meant to be. See this amazing website for the lowdown on Proper Porridge. But porridge is a palaver to prepare in the rush of the morning, and not very filling.

What I love for breakfast is toast. Thick slices of organic, artisinal sourdough, preferably. But I was uncomfortably aware that this is not a virtuous start to the day. Insufficient protein, too much carbohydrate. A sometime food, as we health writers find ourselves writing. I was ripe for change.

Lentils for breakfast? Tasty: check. Protein: check. Low glycaemic load: check. Filling: check. A natural vehicle for extra vegies: check. Oat-free: check. And Tim promised me a new midsection. I was sold.

And so it began. Next post, another recipe. This time, let me know your breakfast issues. What's your favourite? And what do you normally eat?!

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lentils with sweet potato and peas

When I decided to try breakfast a la slow carb, I turned to my favourite cookbook, Wholefood. Its author, Jude Blereu, is happily a friend of mine, and I knew she wouldn't let me down. The basic recipe below is the one I have used the most to date.

The mighty Tim Ferriss' most frequent breakfast 'consists of eggs, lentils and spinach'. He has his lentils straight out of the can with the addition of a pre-boiled egg, which suggests to me a cold bold egg. Lentils out of the can and a cold boiled egg. Spartan. So, I started making my lentils from Jude's dal recipe with organic lentils and Herbie's Panch Phora Indian spice blend and my favourite vegetables (which is why sweet potato is almost always included, and cavalo nero when I can find it). I cook up a batch on Sunday afternoon and heat up 4 generous tablespoons each morning, served with a nice hot boiled egg. Maybe a dollop of yoghurt as well.

Here's the recipe.

200 g lentils - I've used every colour, dried and canned, including split peas and various dals from the Indian shop in Neutral Bay
olive oil - I've used coconut oil and unrefined sesame oil, haven't tried ghee yet
1/2 onion - or a couple of shallots if you don't want half a leftover onion in the fridge
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
Indian spices - Jude uses yellow and red mustard seeds, cardamom pods, garam masala, turmeric, cumin and coriander, but I get out my packet of panch phora and add whatever else I fancy
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli
1 tablespoon apple juice concentrate - Jude adds this to offset the astringency of the lentils, but I don't have any so add sweet chilli sauce and mirin instead
2-3 teaspoons tamari

Rinse lentils. Place in saucepan with 2.5 cups of water and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 mins. Or open a can.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan. Add onion, garlic, ginger and spices. Cook gently for a few seconds until fragrant (watch out, spices absorb the oil quickly and start burning). Pour cooked lentils into frying pan so every bit of flavour is captured. Then pour the lot back into the saucepan (a palaver, admittedly). Add coriander, chilli, sweet chilli sauce and tamari. Add half a cup of water (or vegetable stock if I have some) if it is too thick. Continue to cook on gentle heat for 15 mins, stirring frequently as it thickens as it cooks.

I roast the sweet potato and add it once the lentils are ready. Similarly, I steam the cavalo nero or spinach, because they go a bit grey otherwise. I usually add peas when I'm heating up my breakfast serve.

Delicious! Lentils for breakfast is slow carb, full of fibre and vegetables and tasty, which is the most important bit. Is all this effort on a Sunday afternoon making any difference to my persistent little depot of adipose tissue in my abdomen (aka my soft tummy)? Hmmm. To be continued.

Any favourite lentil recipes you're dying to share? Don't hold back.

Yum - and more spicy than muesli