Red Lentils with Spinach and Caramelized Onions

Lately, we’ve been eating more legumes – beans, peas, lentils, all soaked and/or sprouted, and all very delicious.

And, if you care about such things, full of prebiotic goodness in the form of resistant starch.

(If you’re worried about the whole “legumes aren’t paleo!” thing, Chris Kresser has a thing or three to say about that and, quite frankly, I no longer give a big rat’s patootie if they are or not. So shoot me.)

Whatever.

Reintroducing legumes to our diet makes me happy, because I’ve always loved them.  A good thing, since growing up in a blue collar Texas household, we ate a lot of them.  They are tasty, cheap, filling and certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, nutritionally speaking, especially when properly prepared. (If, that is, you tolerate them reasonably well.)

However, I never ate lentils growing up – legumes in our house were almost always pinto beans or black-eyed peas, with the occasional foray into navy  or black beans, depending on whether we were eating ham or something Mexican.  Even into adulthood, I’d never given lentils much thought – which is really a shame, because they’re really very tasty and cook much more quickly than other legumes, especially when they’ve been soaked or sprouted.

So, once a week or so while I’m cooking dinner, I whip out a package of lentils (or, if the truth be known, quinoa or brown rice) and combine them with filtered water (at about a 2:1 ratio – twice as much water as lentils), a tablespoon or so of homemade yogurt, cover the container with a clean dish cloth and let them sit out on the counter until the next evening when it’s time to cook dinner again.

They’re not at all difficult to make, they just take a little forethought. And are fairly inexpensive, especially if you purchase them in bulk.

This particular dish, made with red lentils (that are really more pinkish-orange and turn yellow when cooked), caramelized onions and spinach is one of our favorites.  It’s simple, reasonably quick to prepare, versatile – in the photo below, I served it with pan-roasted venison loin, but it would be equally delicious with poultry or fish – and quite delicious.  Leftovers reheat well, too; the next day at work, my coworkers kept wandering past my office (no small feat, since it’s at the end of a hall), going, “What are you eating? It smells wonderful!”

Lesson learned? Make this, and your coworkers will be jealous.

Note: If you don’t have the time or inclination – or forgot – to soak the lentils, you can buy them pre-sprouted and dried, although they’re not exactly cheap.  Please take note that the package will say to cook them for 4 to 5 minutes, but I can tell you from experience they won’t be done.  Cook them 15 to 20 minutes.

This can also be easily made vegetarian/vegan by substituting the ghee or butter with olive oil and the chicken stock/broth with vegetable stock.

Red Lentils with Spinach and Caramelized Onions. It may require a little planning, but this simple side dish is easy, versatile and quite delicious.

Click the image to enlarge

Red Lentils with Spinach and Caramelized Onions
Serves: 4 to 6
Ingredients
  • 1 large onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or butter
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup red lentils, soaked for 12 to 24 hours (measured before soaking)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Melt the ghee or butter in a medium saute pan or skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar; remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Drain the lentils and rinse thoroughly. Combine with the chicken broth and carrot in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until the lentils are done, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Uncover the lentils and stir; they should be very soft and a little soupy. Stir in the spinach and caramelized onions; continue cooking over low heat until the spinach is wilted and the onions are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover with a clean dish towel, then the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 195 calories, 5g total fat, 12mg cholesterol, 115.2mg sodium, 565.2mg potassium, 26.9g carbohydrates, 11g fiber, 4.5g sugar, 10.8g protein

Pressure Cooker Venison Chili

Look!  Two recipes in one week!  I must be on a roll.

For those of you who may not know, I was once a professional cake decorator.  It’s a hobby now (you can find photos of some of the cakes I’ve done here on the blog if you do a search for “cake” and sift through the recipes), and I enjoy doing it – so much so that I’ve recently acquired an airbrush and a very nice caddy for my supplies.  Which beats dragging a huge box off the top of the freezer in the garage and digging through it when I need something, let me tell you.

At any rate, the son of our beef farmer is getting married this year and I offered to do the wedding and groom’s cakes.  As payment, I received a box of approximately 50 pounds of mule deer and antelope meat after their hunting trip to Wyoming last fall.

I love the barter system.

We’ve slowly been working our way through all of this wonderful game, revisiting some of our favorite venison recipes.  The antelope is just wonderful – flavorful and sweet; the mule deer, however, is a bit different from the Ohio whitetail to which we’re accustomed.  It definitely has a “gamey” flavor.  Not bad, just kind of strong.

There are things you can do to mitigate the strong, “wild” flavor typical of some game meats.  One is to soak it, either in milk or a good marinade, for several hours before cooking (coconut milk works fine if you have problems with dairy).  Another is to cook it with bold spices and other strong flavors.  I did both with this dish, soaking the venison in milk before preparing it in the pressure cooker.

The result was a spicy, complex and deeply flavored chili, without any hint of gaminess, that is simply delicious.  The coffee and chocolate were inspired additions which contributed to the rich and complex flavor, but it seemed a bit bitter when I tasted it before locking the lid on the pressure cooker, hence the addition of the honey.  You can certainly leave it out if you prefer.

Like most chili and stews, this is even better the next day.  Of course, you can use beef in place of the venison if you like.

Note: If you don’t own a pressure cooker, you can cook this in a cast iron Dutch oven (either enameled or plain) on the stove.  Once all of the ingredients have been added to the pot, cover and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours, then cook uncovered for another 30 minutes or so, or until the chili has thickened to the desired consistency.

Pressure Cooker Venison Chili.  Rich, delicious chili for dinner on a weeknight?  Break out the pressure cooker!

Pressure Cooker Venison Chili
Serves: 4 to 6
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds venison stew meat, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed tallow
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large jalapeño peppers, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  • 2 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat the tallow in a 4- to 6-quart pressure cooker over high heat. Sprinkle the venison liberally with salt and pepper and add to the lard; cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is nicely browned.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, peppers and jalapeno. Continue cooking until the onion has softened, about 5 more minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Lock the lid of the pressure cooker in place and increase the heat to high until the cooker reaches full pressure (15 psi). Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and do a quick release of the pressure.
  4. Carefully remove the lid from the pressure cooker. Stir; bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the chili has thickened to the desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed before serving.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 352 calories, 13.3g total fat, 32.2mg cholesterol, 299.9mg sodium, 670.5mg potassium, 22.6g carbohydrates, 4.2g fiber, 12.4g sugar, 37.8g protein

Adventures in Yogurt Making

Here I am again, and devastated to report the slot on my Nikon that holds the SD card has decided to commit suicide.  If that’s not bad enough, it selfishly decided to take the 16GB memory card containing ALL of my unpublished (read: unsaved) food photos along with it.  This means the images of all the recipes that I’ve been photographing, but haven’t had time to post, have gone to That Great Mass Storage Device In The Sky.

So, yeah…no photos.  Have I mentioned I’m devastated?

(In a desperate ploy to at least partially appease his devastated – and, possibly, hysterical – wife, Beloved suggested I look at a new camera body so I didn’t have to try and take photographs with my lousy-for-taking-pictures Anroid phone for the 3 weeks it will take my D90 to be repaired.  I am now the proud owner of a Nikon D5300; the D90 will serve as a backup upon its return.)

Fortunately, I had already saved this particular photo and since making yogurt was one of the things I’ve been wanting to talk about, well, there you go.

As I’m sure My Better Half will tell you, I’m often guilty of coming up with Grand Plans that don’t see fruition.  Not from lack of follow-through, but from becoming distracted by other, sometimes more important, things that aren’t part of the Grand Plan – and, as I’m sure he will tell you, I have a bad habit of biting off more than I can chew.

In other words, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

At any rate, homemade yogurt has been on my list of Grand Plans for quite some time, and I have finally gotten around to giving it a whirl.  As I am wont to do, I began by researching and the first thing I researched was yogurt makers.  Since, like Alton Brown, I don’t like one-use gadgets, after reading that yogurt makers can suddenly lose their temperature control – and successful yogurt depends on pretty precise temperature control – it didn’t take long for me to look into other methods of making yogurt in my own kitchen.  And there are lots of different methods.

– Both David Lebovitz and Bon Appetit suggest just putting your tempered milk/starter mixture in a jar and leaving it in a “slightly warm spot” in your kitchen for 10 to 12 hours.  So much for precise temperature control. (I’m sure this will work, but the yogurt will be thin.)

– If you don’t feel comfortable leaving jars of warm milk sitting on your counter for hours, Aimee at Simple Bites tells you how to culture it with a heating pad and towels.

– The Creative Simple Life shows us how to make yogurt with a slow cooker.

– Don’t have a slow cooker or a heating pad?  Marisa at Food In Jars cultures hers in a small insulated cooler.

– Sarah at Heartland Renaissance started out making yogurt in her slow cooker, but now makes it in the oven.

While doing all of this research and considering all of these different methods for making yogurt, I found one site that suggested in an offhand manner that it’s possible to make yogurt using a Sous Vide Supreme.

Hold the phone.  I have one of those.

And it works.

Fabulously, really.

One of the reasons yogurt makers work so well is that they can (or are supposed to) hold the culturing milk at a steady, correct temperature, usually somewhere between 105 F and 113 F, ensuring that the yogurt doesn’t get too hot or too cold so the happy, beneficial little bacteria have the perfect environment to become fruitful and multiply.  Holding food at a steady temperature for hours is what a sous vide is designed to do, making it the perfect appliance for making yogurt.

Now, if you look at many homemade yogurt recipes, you’re going to find that some use just milk and a starter culture – usually yogurt, either store-bought or from a previous batch – while some include things like powdered milk and/or heavy cream.  The purpose of these additions is to thicken it; yogurt made with just milk tends to be a little on the runny side.  While I don’t have a real big problem with powdered milk per se (there is some concern about the process oxidizing the cholesterol, which is A Bad Thing), I’m not real crazy about the taste, and decided to use a combination of whole, vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from a local dairy that grass feeds their cows, and organic, vat-pasteurized heavy cream.

The results are nothing short of delicious.  While still not as quite as thick as popular commercial yogurts, it is incredibly creamy, fresh and tangy.

A candy thermometer – one of those glass ones that clip to the side of the pan – makes the job much, much easier.

Homemade Yogurt
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
Instructions
  1. Fill 3 sterilized pint Ball jars 3/4 full with water, and set them in the empty sous vide. Fill the sous vide with water until it reaches the bottom of the necks of the jars. Remove the jars, pour out the water and wipe them dry with a clean cloth.
  2. Plug in the sous vide and set the temperature for 107 F. Cover with the lid.
  3. While the sous vide is coming to temp, combine the milk and cream in a large, heavy saucepan. Over low heat, slowly bring the milk/cream mixture to 180 F; this should take at least 15 to 20 minutes – if heated too quickly, the yogurt may turn out lumpy with a “grainy” texture. Remove from the heat and allow the milk/cream mixture to cool to 110 F.
  4. Whisk in the yogurt and pour the mixture into the jars, dividing it equally between the 3. Cap the jars and place them in the sous vide for 4 to 5 hours, or until the yogurt has thickened.
  5. Allow the yogurt to cool on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour, then refrigerate – it will continue to thicken as it becomes cold.
  6. Eat within a week.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 162 calories, 14.1g total fat, 50.3mg cholesterol, 54.7mg sodium, 156.5mg potassium, 5.6g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 5.1g sugar, 3.8g protein

 

Of course, if you don’t have a Sous Vide Supreme, you can choose any of the other methods listed above with good results.

And what can you do with this wonderful, rich, creamy and delicious yogurt?  Just about anything you want, really.  I’ve used it to cook with, eaten it straight out of the jar (something I never did with plain store-bought yogurt – blech) and made this lovely, filling breakfast.  Which would also make a damn fine dessert.

Banana-Berry Yogurt Parfait.  Delicious, healthy and filling, this makes a great quick breakfast or dessert.

Banana-Berry Yogurt Parfait
Serves: 1
[i]Gently heating the honey will help it mix into the cold yogurt completely.[/i]
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Homemade Yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1/2 medium banana, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries, thawed
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and yogurt. Layer the sweetened yogurt in a tall parfait or dessert dish alternately with the berries and bananas.
  2. Serve immediately.
  3. Nutrition (per serving): 275 calories, 14.4g total fat, 50.3mg cholesterol, 57.8mg sodium, 534.9mg potassium, 34.9g carbohydrates, 3.9g fiber, 23.1g sugar, 4.9g protein

 

A Birthday and A Milestone

I’ve been more or less absent from this blog for the last 3 months.  I’d apologize, but we all know how it is:  Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.   I’ve been busy – I’m sure you can all relate.  Besides, being busy is good, and there’s no reason I won’t continue to post at least a few times a month – I still have things to talk about and recipes to share, even if they’re a little different from those I’ve posted over the last 4 years or so.

At any rate, today is a special day.  First, my brother turns 44 (Happy Birthday, Only Brother!).  Second, I’ve reached an important milestone in my life.

My mother died of heart disease 70 days after her 51st birthday.  A heavy smoker, Mom was also a yo-yo dieter, suffered from PCOS, a rabid sugar addict, extremely sedentary and constantly stressed about something.  She loved butter, but cooked almost exclusively with industrial seed oils, and was a huge fan of prepackaged convenience foods – I don’t think either I or my siblings ate any rice or potatoes that weren’t “instant” until we moved away from home and began cooking for ourselves.  Tater tots and canned cream of mushroom soup were staples in Mom’s kitchen, and fresh fruits and vegetables almost unheard of – everything was either canned or frozen.  She didn’t like seafood, so the only fish we ever saw was canned tuna and she never served us shellfish.  The only time we saw sweet potatoes was at Thanksgiving, and then they came from a can and were covered in marshmallows.  We ate a lot of Cap’n Crunch, white bread, boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, potato chips and those cheap, iced oatmeal cookies.

As I approached the age my mother developed an aortal aneurysm that burst and necessitated emergency surgery (46), I began to become increasingly worried I was heading down the same path and that I could go the same way she did, and at the same age, if not sooner.  My diet was marginally better, but there was a lot of room for improvement.   I still smoked, and drank too much and exercised far too little.  I pretty much felt like shit all the time – and I was very, very scared.

I smoked my last cigarette on my 45th birthday, six years ago.  If you’re a long-time reader here, you know that we drastically changed our diet in 2010 – switching to grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken and eggs, wild game, sustainably caught wild seafood, locally grown seasonal produce and purging industrial seed oils, prepackaged convenience foods, and refined sugars and flours from our kitchen.  For the last couple of years I’ve been distancing myself from stressful, negative people and relationships, and have finally left a job I hated and have begun one that I like much, much better.  Over the last year, I’ve cut out alcohol almost completely, and we’ve made another shift in our diet that has me feeling better and finally losing weight again.  (I suspect the exercise will be one of those lifelong battles, but that, too, has improved somewhat and hopefully will continue to do so.)

Today is 71 days after my 51st birthday, and I have officially lived longer than my mother did.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to blog about it being 71 days after my 61st birthday and you’ll all be here to celebrate with me.

It’s always good to have a goal.