Sunday, May 29, 2011

Meatless Monday- Red Lentil Curry Indian-style

The week before last was quite a busy week for me. I was busy planning my little sister’s surprise baby shower, working on various projects for my job, following up with personal matters concerning things like medical bills and finding a new place for my family to live seeing as we have just about outgrown our current address, and then dealing with all the daily excitement of taking care of Lily, my house, and myself (and my husband a bit here and there). Most of this busy-ness paid off with the shower being a success and us finding a new place to call home just 4 blocks away. So, as you see, squeezing in blogging was a little difficult.

I didn’t even really have time to experiment with any new and interesting meals, although I was in charge of making the iced tea blends for my sister’s shower. I made a nice black tea with honey, lemon and orange and an herbal mixed berry tea with raw sugar. All delish, but the berry tea was a favorite I gather from it being all gone by the end of the day.

Last Friday I did get back to the Healthy Mommy grind and came up with another quick, easy, tasty and healthy curry, this time Indian-inspired. Based on a traditional red lentil curry- or daal as they call lentil stews in India -I used what I had available to me to create this pretty satisfactory meat-free dish.

Red Lentil Curry

1 cup rinsed dry red lentils
1 large Yukon gold or russet potato, peeled and cubed
½ onion diced
1 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
½ tsp salt
½ tsp raw sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
About ¼ cup chopped cilantro for topping

Boil the cubed potato in a large pot with enough water to add the lentils to after the potatoes are cooked for about 5 minutes. Cook the potatoes with the lentils for another 5 minutes or until they are all tender, then drain and set aside. Heat the oil over low in a large skillet then add the onion and caramelize. Meanwhile, mix all other ingredients except for the tomato puree and cilantro in a bowl then add to the caramelized onions. Stir constantly over high heat for 1-2 minutes or until very fragrant, then stir in the tomato puree. Allow to simmer for a couple minutes, then add the lentils and potatoes and mix altogether until well coated. Serve topped with the cilantro over brown rice. A light side salad would go nicely with this as well.

This could also be served as a side dish, but I had it as the main course with the brown rice and it filled me up pretty well. It’s also a pretty mild curry, especially with all the tomato, so feel free to spice it up if that’s what you prefer. The recipe I based it off of, which you can find here, called for curry paste instead of tomato paste, but I didn’t have any readily available and decided to just use what I had. I also added the potatoes and cinnamon, and I think those were both good moves. Carrots, yams and/or squash would be nice in this as well. And if you want to pair it with something other than brown rice, you could bake some tofu or chicken tandoori-style (which I never tried myself, but when I do you’ll find that story here!) to keep the Indian-theme going, or else just make it however you’d like. I also haven’t tried to make any meal with paneer, which is an Indian-style cheese and staple to their diet, but that would be awesome as well.

I want to note that I didn’t add the cilantro topping to the curry I made this time, but I would’ve if I’d had some in my fridge. I really love cilantro; it adds a nice and subtle crisp, coolness to spicy dishes and pumps up a simple salad or soup. It’s actually the leaves of the coriander plant, which is a widely used seasoning in most Indian dishes (a seasoning I would’ve used for the red lentil curry had that been available to me as well). Probably the main reason cilantro and coriander are so often used in Indian cooking for reasons other than their delicious taste is the coriander’s aide in digestion. With the strong spices and beans used in many Indian dishes, it makes sense why they may need to ease their stomachs afterwards!  Cilantro also contains a large amount of fiber, magnesium and iron. I’ve also read evidence supporting its ability to help eliminate heavy metals and other toxins by binding with them.

So, if you rarely use the inexpensive and delicate herb, I suggest giving it a try- you will be amazed at just how much flavor it can add to normally bland meals, and also enhance the flavors or dilute the spiciness of flavorful meals.

When I was a kid, I hated Indian food, although my parents loved it. To me, it was so weird, not only tasting, but looking! The only thing I would eat was the naan, or Indian-style bread, that’s similar to a soft, buttery pita (doesn’t that sound good?). But, as I got older and my taste buds developed, I started trying other items off the local Indian restaurant menu, and now it’s my favorite type of cuisine. I’ve only recently become bold enough to actually try and cook it myself, but after this recipe and a couple others I’ve made in the recent past, I’m starting to see it’s really not that difficult at all. The main dilemma when cooking Indian or most Asian foods when you’re a typical kōkēśiyāna (pronounced ko-kay-shee-en, which is Hindi for “Caucasian”) living in the US, is finding some of the ingredients you need. But, everything I listed for the curry is easily found at any major grocery store, and quite possibly already in your pantry.

When I first offered the lentil curry to Lily, she turned her nose up at it and wouldn’t even taste it. But, then today I had some of the leftovers for lunch and she started gesturing towards my food. I asked her, “Do you want some of this?” and she nodded her head in the comical, vigorous way that she does. I gave her a few bits with the potatoes and she picked it up, but must’ve been thrown off by its stickiness, because then she dropped it with a semi-disgusted look on her face. But, then she got curious and gave it a try, and I guess she decided it wasn’t too bad because then she asked for some more. She ended up eating a good amount of it, and I was quite pleased :)

Proof she liked the curry

For baby:

1 tbsp smashed lentils
1 tbsp smashed peas or potatoes

For toddler (if they don’t like the seasonings of the curry):

¼-½ cup lentils and cubed potatoes

Top with grated cheese

Monday, May 16, 2011

Red curry in a hurry

If you are new to Thai cuisine or have just never tried cooking it yourself, it can seem a little intimidating with the exotic ingredients and flavor combinations. To me, I think it’s actually quite simple and just like cooking anything else, in some ways even easier, so don’t be afraid! Curry is a classic in most Asian cultures, and Thai curry is very spicy, sweet and aromatic. You will fall in love! It’s also heavy enough for winter, but not so much that you can’t enjoy it during warmer seasons as well. The recipe I provided here is one of the easiest I know thanks to the magic of ready-made curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen).

Thai Red Coconut Curry


1 14 oz package tofu drained and sliced into triangles*
1-2 tbsp red curry paste
1 cup chopped broccoli florets
1 cup chopped spinach
1 chopped avocado
1 red bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp blue agave syrup* or brown sugar (to taste)
2 tbsp chopped cilantro for topping

*Note: How to cut tofu into triangles: once drained, slice the block length-wise 3 times then in half width-wise. Then cut each half diagonally so you get 12 triangles altogether. Feel free to make smaller if desired.

Whisk the red curry paste, lime, turmeric, agave or brown sugar, coconut milk and cornstarch together in a bowl then set aside. Heat the oil in large skillet or wok then add tofu and cook until slightly browned. Add all the vegetables except for the avocado and cook stirring for about 3 minutes. Add the coconut curry sauce and bring it all to a boil, then add the avocado and simmer over medium heat until vegetables are tender. Serve sprinkled with the cilantro over brown rice. Sooo good!

You can also serve with lime wedges for an extra squirt of citrus, or over Asian-style noodles. A light salad with ginger dressing is a great starter with this as well. You can also get creative with the veggies, adding or subtracting things to your liking. Some other good additions are zucchini, bamboo shoots, bok choy and eggplant. You can also make it with meat or fish just the same as you did with the tofu, just add chunks of chicken, shrimp or white fish like tilapia.

I’ve never tried making my own curry paste, although I am sure it makes a HUGE difference taste-wise as making things fresh is always rewarding to your taste buds. If you are brave enough to try it and have a local Asian market near you that carries items like lemongrass and fish sauce (soy sauce can be substituted and keeps it in the “meat-free” realm), here’s a link from

Aside from tasting totally orgasmic (yes, I went there), the turmeric found in most curries is a leading anti-inflammatory and also helps to clean the liver. With the addition of coconut milk, you also get the added benefits of a boost to your immune system due its anti-bacterial properties. The blue agave syrup (that was also a suggested ingredient in my last post’s recipe) that can be used in place of brown sugar if available is a plant-derived sweetener from Mexico and is thought to be better for you than regular sugar, although there is a still a lot of controversy surrounding it (including the most likely possibility that all the “controversy” is merely coming from the sugar industry trying to drum up some trouble against their competition). It is about 25% sweeter than sugar, so use it accordingly in place of sugar, and is also anti-bacterial like the coconut milk and very good for the colon.

Curry is something that can be tricky at first, but then great to experiment with the balance of seasoning once you get the hang of it. 

When it comes to kids, though, curry may not be to their liking unless you make it pretty mild. Then they may enjoy it, especially kids 5 and up I would think. I haven't experimented with it for Lily yet, but she does have a taste for garlic and hummus, meaning, she's not completely shy to stronger-tasting foods. Like I've said before, it really comes down to what your typical diet is and knowing what your child already likes and dislikes. The fresh vegetables paired with rice or noodles and a little sauce are healthy enough. For toddlers, I'd suggest:

1/4-1/2 cup of whatever chopped veggies you use for the curry, steamed
1/4-1/2 cup rice or noodles

Top with soy sauce or sesame oil if desired.

Easy-peasy, right? (I can't believe I just typed"easy-peasy").

For baby:

3 tbsp pureed carrots or spinach

Mix with breastmilk or formula and some rice cereal.

Kŏr hâi jà-rern aa-hăan! (Thai for "enjoy your meal!")

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sesame-Orange Chicken or Tofu/be-lated Meatless monday post

So I missed my Meatless Monday post this week…can I blame it on too much Mother’s Day fun and excitement?

It’s kind of the truth, honestly. I had a very busy and tiring weekend, then on Monday I was still recuperating since Lily woke up twice Sunday night then got up at 7:30 am (an hour earlier than usual) when Mommy wasn’t quite ready to greet the sun yet. I basically took it easy yesterday and dealt with her teething crankiness (hence the waking up at night) as it came, but luckily I got a better-than-good night’s sleep last night.

And, I made this really tasty, low-fat Asian-inspired dish last night that could be easily made with or without meat. It contains vitamin-infused sesame, a variety of yummy vegetables, and a tangy sauce loaded with vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin C, manganese, amino acids and raw soybeans which I explained the benefits of in my last post. So, read on and try it out!

Orange-Sesame Chicken or Tofu
(adapted from Prevention magazine)


¾ cup OJ
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce (reduced-sodium suggested)
1 tbsp honey or brown sugar or 1/2 tbsp agave syrup
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 lb thinly sliced boneless and skinless chicken breast or 1 14 oz pack of tofu, drained and cut into strips or triangles (or cubes if you prefer)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger or 1 ½ tbsp powdered ginger
1 tsp red pepper flake
3-4 ribs celery thinly sliced
3-4 carrots thinly sliced
1 cup peas or soybeans
1 cup sugar snap peas
Approximately 2 tbsp sesame seeds, preferably toasted

Whisk the OJ, cider vinegar, soy sauce, honey (or sugar or agave) and cornstarch together in a bowl until smooth, then set aside. Heat 1 tbsp of the sesame oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat then add the chicken or tofu, garlic, ginger and pepper flake until chicken is slightly browned. Once chicken is browned, add peas (or soybeans) and snap peas to the pan.

Meanwhile, cook the carrots and celery in about 1 inch of water on medium-low heat in a separate pan until they are tender but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Once they’re ready, drain and add to the pan with chicken plus remaining sesame oil. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring a little, then add the sauce and cook for about 2-3 minutes more, stirring every so often to keep the sauce from settling. Serve with sesame seed sprinkled on top.

I had it the other night with a fresh green salad with mesculin from my garden (!), but it would also be really good over brown rice or noodles.

For baby:

2-3 tbsp pureed carrots or peas

For tots:

¼-½ cup steamed peas, carrots and/or soybeans
¼ cup brown rice or chopped noodles

Sauce to top with, if desired:

1 tbsp OJ
¼ tsp cider vineger
¼ tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp honey

Warm in microwave for about 15 seconds then allow to cool for a minute before serving over the veggies and rice or noodles. 

If your tot is a picky eater, they may not like this sweet sauce with a tangy edge, but if they have more developed taste buds that they got from Mommy’s eclectic diet while they were in the womb, then this sauce should give their normally bland veggies a sweet and tangy kick.

Also, I must admit, this sauce did not get Lily to eat her broccoli. It worked for the carrots and peas, but not the broccoli. The only way she’ll eat that vitamin-packed superfood is if it’s covered in cheese! So, if your child is still a picky eater after trying a few different variations of this sauce, don’t fret, and remember to keep in mind that their taste buds are still developing as well as changing all the time, so if they throw it on the floor one day, they might be more willing to try it next week or in a few weeks.
 I’m no baby-diet expert, but Lily is a very good eater and actually prefers things with a stronger flavor opposed to bland, but she still manages to surprise me with what she will and won’t eat.

I will blog about my Mother’s Day adventures in my other blog, Garden of Jessica  soon, so check there if you want to know what kept me so blahhhh post-M Day.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are enjoying all the recipes I post! I promise to stay on top of things next week and post a Meatless Monday recipe before Monday, but remember, Monday doesn’t have to be the only day you go meat-free!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Somethin' sweet n' spicy

Happy May, everyone! For this week’s Meatless Monday recipe I chose a sweet and spicy Chinese dish with juicy tofu and crisp green beans. This is one of my favorites and keeps well for leftovers. Since I’m starting this month with an eastern-style dish, maybe I will make it the theme of this month. I know plenty of Asian-style dishes, including Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern, so I should be able to provide you with lots of tasty, zesty dishes to try out this month that don’t include meat or even dairy. I hope you like!

Szechuan Tofu and Green Bean Stir-Fry

(Adapted from Eating Well magazine)


½ cup water divided
¼ cup soy sauce (low sodium recommended)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp balsamic vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar if you have
2 tsp sugar or 1 tsp agave syrup
¼ tsp crushed red pepper or to taste
1 tsp + 2 tbsp corn starch divided
14 oz package of extra firm tofu, drained
2 tbsp canola oil
4 cups green beans, trimmed and cut in half
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger

To drain the tofu, remove from packaging and wrap in two paper towels, then place on shallow plate. Place another plate on top of it and leave it for at least 30 minutes up to an hour. The pressure from the plate will slowly drain the liquid from the tofu without putting too much weight on it.

While tofu is draining, whisk ¼ cup water, soy sauce, crushed red pepper, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar or syrup and 1 tsp cornstarch together in small bowl and set aside. Once the tofu is drained, cut into small cubes and pat dry if needed. Toss the tofu in a bowl with the remaining 2 tbsps of cornstarch until coated.

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat then add the tofu, spread evenly across the pan's surface. Cook without stirring for 2 minutes, then turn and stir gently. Continue cooking while stirring occasionally until light brown and crispy, for about 3-5 minutes, then transfer to plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add the rest of the oil then the green beans, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the remaining ¼ cup of water and cook up to 5 minutes until green beans are crisp yet tender. Stir in the reserved sauce then cook stirring for about 1 minute, then add the tofu and stir cooking for another minute. Once sauce is thickened to the consistency of a thin syrup, remove from heat and serve alone or with brown rice.

For baby:

Approximately 3 tbsp crumbled tofu
Approximately 3 tbsp steamed green beans

Serve as is for baby or tot who eats finger foods, puree for baby who is still spoon-fed. You can add some oil and garlic for the child over 9 months if desired. Canola oil is loaded with omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which are important fats for a growing child. Omegas contribute to brain development and also help support the heart. Garlic may not be to some baby and tots’ liking, but you are probably already familiar with the commonly known benefits of garlic for cardiovascular health and lowering cholesterol, and garlic is also a surprisingly rich source of vitamins C and B6.  

Some information on soy and tofu: There is a lot of controversial information going around about tofu, mainly concerning the addition of female hormones and the possible impairment of thyroid function. There is not too much evidence supporting the negative effects, and from doing my own research and possessing the knowledge that in Asian cultures soy is a dietary staple and these findings have not impacted their cultures to a state of trans-gendered people running around with thyroid disease, I think the best thing to do is just eat soy products in moderation, as you should with any food. Don’t eat soy-based products every day, even though fermented soy such as tempeh is considered safe, moderation is still key to any well-balanced diet. Fresh soy beans are totally safe and super healthy though.

Soy-based foods are a well-known staple in vegetarian and vegan diets, and many of the people who do suffer from the impairments brought on from over-consumption of soy and tofu consume non-organic or GMO soy. NOT A GOOD IDEA. Eating anything that is genetically modified triples (if not more) your chances of contracting a disease or impairment. Eat fresh and organic as much as possible, and if you must eat something that’s processed yet considered good for you, such as tofu, don’t eat it everyday! There are plenty of meat and diary-free foods out there to choose from.

If you didn’t catch it last Monday, I posted a pure, unprocessed plant-based recipe for a yummy beet and spinach soup. Great hot or cold!

Thanks for reading!!!!
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