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, 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?!