Monday, May 16, 2016

Mujadara, aka, a big o'bowl of comfort #MeatlessMonday

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With a few personal tweaks, I show you how to make Mujadara, easily one of my favorite comfort foods. Here, I've used Royal Brown Basmati to add another layer of fragrance and flavor.

The roasting onions filled the kitchen with one of my favorite aromas, a nice pay off after enduring those tear-inducing fumes just minutes earlier. 

I slit open the bag of Royal Brown Basmati Rice, poured it into the bowl of a fine mesh strainer and gently swooshed the long grains of rice under running water. Then I added the rice to a bowl, pouring in enough water to cover the rice and set it aside to soak. Pre-soaking basmati rice, both white and brown, allows for a longer grain of cooked rice. While the rice soaked, I cleaned the lentils discarding the rejects then gave the lentils a good rinse. 

Once the onions were ready, I sautéed some of them in a little olive oil before adding the spices to the hot Dutch oven to bloom them, the warm, woody scent of cumin and sweet smell of cinnamon swirling in the air around me. Next I added the rice, lentils and water, bringing the pot to a boil before covering to simmer away. A little over 30 minutes later, I was digging into a hot bowl of pure comfort. 

Since my discovery of mujadara (I liken it to an Indian version of dirty rice), I’ve made the dish several times now, first by following the more traditional method of pre-cooking the lentils and then my preferred method of adding the raw lentils to the raw brown rice allowing them to cook together. Lentils, especially lentils that are freshly bought and haven’t been aging in the pantry for a year (or two), cook relatively fast so I found cooking them first then adding them to the cooking basmati made for mushy beans. The traditional recipe does call for plain white rice so I can see how pre-cooking the lentils would be preferable in that instance. However, I very rarely cook with white rice these days so tweaking the recipe to accommodate longer cooking brown rice has produced better results.

i've also made a few other adaptions like swapping out the more traditional fried onions for roasted ones, adding warming spices like cumin and cinnamon and even adding golden raisins which adds a nice burst of sweetness. 

I’ve made this dish with both long and short grain brown rice. Both produced very nice versions of this dish. When the folks over at Royal Brand reached out to offer up their basmati rice for me to try, I opted to try their brown basmati and as soon as I got it, I tried this dish with it. I loved the extra layer of flavor that the nuttier brown basmati brought to the finished dish. With it’s distinctive fragrance, brown basmati is also lighter in texture than regular brown rice which plays off well against the lentils. 

Basmati rice is grown in the Himalayas of India which is where Royal Basmati Rice comes from. Other varieties of the grain grown outside of India and some parts of Pakistan are not “true” basmati as they lack the soil and growing parameters that give basmati it’s fragrance, taste and long grain growth during cooking. 

If you haven’t tried basmati rice before, go out and pick up a bag of Royal Brand. I really think you’re going to like it’s more complex flavor and aroma. 

To find out more, visit Royal or their Facebook page

This dish is vegetariana and gluten-free. Make it vegan by skipping the optional honey and yogurt garnish.

Makes 8 servings


1½ cups brown or green lentils 
8 ounce bag of Royal brown basmati rice (1¼ cups)

For the onions:
2 large brown onions
cooking spray
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided 
¼ teaspoon sea salt, divided
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided 

For the lentils and rice:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin  
1 teaspoon ground allspice 
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cinnamon 
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom 
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ ground black pepper 
4½ cups water
½ cup golden raisins

To serve
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup chopped cilantro  
½ cup Greek yogurt
Crispy onions

  1. Clean the lentils by sorting them and discarding any foreign debris as well as any beans that are shriveled or broken. place the cleaned beans into a mesh strainer and rinse them well then remove to a small bowl and set aside. Add the rice to the strainer and rinse well, then place rice in another bowl, adding water to cover. Let soak while you prep and roast onions.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel and carefully slice onions into ¼-inch rounds using a mandolin or very sharp knife. Spray two large baking sheets lightly with cooking spray, then spread the onions out evenly, dividing them between the two pans. Drizzle each pan of onions with the olive oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper over both pans. Toss the onions to coat, then spread them out again evenly. Roast for 10 minutes then carefully remove, stir the onions so they will roast evenly (remove any onions that have browned nicely already) then return to oven and roast for another 8 to 10 minutes or until the onions have turned golden brown. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Remove a small handful of the onions, about ½ cup, to a chopping board and rough chop the onions. Set the remaining onions aside; these will be garnish for the finished dish.
  3. Place a 3 to 4 quart Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chopped roasted onions, then add the cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon and cardamon, stirring constantly for 30 to 45 seconds. Drain the rice then add it along with the lentils, salt, pepper, water and raisins. Bring to a boil then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and do not lift lid. Allow the pot to steam for another 10 minutes. In the meantime, prep the additional garnishes if using.
  4. Place a cast iron skillet on medium heat. When pan is hot, toss in the pine nuts, stirring every 10 seconds to allow them to toast but not burn. Remove once the pine nuts are evenly toasted. These can burn easily so keep a close eye on them and remove them from the skillet immediately after toasting. Next, chop a handful of cilantro. Place yogurt in a small bowl and swirl in about 2 tablespoons of honey. 
  5. Using a fork, fluff up rice. Serve rice in a bowl or on a lipped plate. Top with a handful of roasted onions, some pine nuts, a dollop of the yogurt and a sprinkling of the cilantro, if desired. Leftover rice will keep for up to 5 days in a well sealed container in the refrigerator.

Nutritional information was calculated without the honey yogurt and pine nut optional garnishes. Values are approximate. 

This post was created in collaboration with Royal Brand who provided me with two 8-ounce bags of Royal Brown Basmati rice for review. As always, recipe development, opinions and photography are my own and not influenced by the sponsor.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Meatless Monday: Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Butternut Squash

One of my guilty pleasures is risotto. Especially creamy, cheesy mushroom risotto. I can't remember the last time I indulged. With it's high caloric value, blood sugar-spiking starch, and often large amounts of cheese, it's not a dish I can eat these days. 

That's how this dish was born. I wanted something that hinted of mushroom risotto but wouldn't throw my hours of working out with my trainer out the window. 

I've replaced the quick blood sugar-spiking arborio rice for healthier, chewier farro, an ancient grain dating back to the earliest of farming days. I dry toast it first, bringing out the grain's natural nuttiness then it's simmered it with a cinnamon stick to add even more earthiness and warmth. 

The mushrooms and bite-sized butternut squash are sprinkled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil then tossed in a custom blend of warm spices before quick roasting in a super hot oven. With roasting, the mushrooms take on a meatiness while the butternut squash provides juicy pops of creamy sweetness. 

For a bit more depth, parmesan three ways is added at the end, while the veggies and farro are still warm from cooking. Right before serving, a good handful of chopped parsley adds color and provides freshness while a light garnish of chopped pistachios adds crunch. Served while still warm or at room temperature, this salad is a healthy meal for a Meatless Monday or a Lenten Friday. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Until next time, be healthy, be well. xo, ani

Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Butternut Squash

Serves 4

1 cup farro 
1 cinnamon stick
12 ounces crimini mushrooms
2 cups ½-inch cubed butternut squash (1 small squash)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 tablespoons shaved parmesan
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan
½ cup packed fresh parsley, thick stems removed, then rough chopped
¼ cup whole pistachios

Place a medium saucepan on high heat. When pan is hot, add the farro and toast grains, stirring every 10 seconds for 2 minutes. Add enough water to cover farro by 1 inch and add the cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. At 15 minutes, turn heat off and let farro sit for 5 minutes. Drain farro, place in a large bowl discarding the cinnamon stick, then set farro aside. 

While farro is cooking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Wipe mushrooms down with a paper towel, trim off ¼-inch of the stem, discarding the ends, then slice the mushrooms into thirds. Place them on a low rimmed baking sheet and set aside. 

Trim away the top, stem part of the butternut squash then cut the squash at the base of the neck, saving the bulb of the squash containing the seeds for another use. Using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler (my preferred method on younger, smaller squash), peel away the skin and discard it. Cut the squash into roughly ½-inch thick slices. Stack the slices and cut into ½-inch thick matchsticks. Then cut across the matchsticks, making cubes. Place the squash into the pan with the mushrooms. Drizzle the vegetables with the olive oil.

In a small bowl, stir together the spices from the salt through to the nutmeg until well blended. Toss the vegetables with the spices to coat well and as evenly as possible. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 12 minutes. Remove the pan, stir the vegetables, return the pan to the oven and roast an additional 12 minutes. When vegetables are done, add them to the bowl with the farro. Throw in the parmesan and parsley, tossing to incorporate. Divide among four bowls and garnish each serving with pistachios. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Nutritional information on 'Confessions' is approximate and is intended as a guide. Data is calculated on MyFitnessPal and can vary depending on which products you use as well as measuring accuracy.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Healthy Eats: Mexican Lentil Stew { #MeatlessMonday #Vegan #GlutenFree #DiabeticFriendly }

Move over cauliflower. This year’s food darling will be pulses (legumes, beans, peas). At least they will be if you believe everything you read on the inter-webs. Personally, lentils are one of my absolute favorite pulses of all.

From soups and curries, to salads and burgers, these tiny little legumes are nutritional powerhouses capable of improving digestion, helping to maintain a healthy heart, as well as helping to control diabetes and cancer, aiding in weight loss and fighting anemia.

Lentils are a low calorie, fat free food that are high in protein and are a rich source of vitamin B (folate, B1, B6), iron (needed for oxygen transport and energy production), copper (needed for collagen), manganese (good for blood sugar control), and phosphorus (bone strength). They’re a good source of energy as they're high in carbohydrates with nearly 50% of them being dietary fiber making this a good food choice, especially for diabetics, as the high fiber content acts to slow down the body’s absorption of food into the bloodstream thus maintaining constant sugar levels.

One of my favorite ways to make lentils are as a soup and this recipe was born out of my desire for a nourishing bowl filled with healthy ingredients that was filling enough to be a meal all by itself. The addition of the soy chorizo adds tons of flavor and boosts the protein to a whopping 25g per serving.

In the past, I would have thrown in potatoes but since I try to avoid them and their quick conversion to sugar in the blood, I went in search of a suitable substitute. Enter the chayote, a favorite squash in many Mexican households, though not mine when I was growing up. I admit, I had never seen one cooked until I moved in with my grandmother who eats them regularly. Curious one day, I tasted one of her little boiled veggies and thought they had potential (I love my grams but am not a fan of how she boils all her squash, my least favorite way to prepare it made even more so by my grandmother’s tendency to boil them until they nearly fall apart in the water, completely obliterating any texture they might otherwise have; she loves it that way, go figure).

Chayote (pronounced “chah-YOH-teh”) – a member of the gourd family – is native to Mexico. Also known as a squash pear or chayote squash pear, it's available year-round at most major supermarkets. This fruit is typically not that much bigger than the average pear, it’s texture is a cross between a potato and a cucumber and the fruit, seed, stems and leaves are all edible. The flesh itself can be rather bland, a blank canvas that can take on the flavor of mostly anything it’s cooked with so it’s especially tasty in this stew that’s heavily spiced from the soy chorizo.

With it's high water content (nearly 93 percent of it’s total weight), this food is an excellent choice for healthy eats: one chayote is a mere 39 calories, nearly fat free, no cholesterol, very low in sodium, high in potassium and low in carbohydrate (9g with 3.5g of fiber). I plan on doing much more experimenting with this fruit in the coming months and I plan on posting my successes.

In the meantime, I hope you try this stew and let me know what you think in the comments below. It’s vegan, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly and heart-healthy. For a lower sodium option, nix the commercial vegetable broth for plain water, it will still be delicious!

Until next time … xo, ani

Makes 6 servings as a first coarse or 4 servings as a main

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or finely minced
1/2 to 1 serrano chile, seeds removed, then diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
10 ounce package soy-based chorizo
2 cups French, brown or green lentils
2 quarts low sodium vegetable broth

4-5 cups water (depending on how soupy you want your finished stew)
1 chayote, diced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, or to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
6 ounces organic baby spinach

Optional garnish: Cilantro Lime Salsa Verde

Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat. Add the olive olive and heat for 30 seconds. Toss in onions, celery, carrot; sweat for 6-7 minutes, stirring to keep from browning. Add the garlic, chile and cumin, stirring constantly for 30 seconds or until garlic and chile are fragrant. Squeeze in the chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Brown the chorizo for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Toss in the lentils, stirring to incorporate then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chayote, bring to a boil again, adding more water if needed, cover and reduce heat and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add salt to taste then stir in the cilantro and spinach, cover, turn off heat and allow spinach to wilt into the stew for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with my Cilantro Lime Salsa Verde.

Nutritional facts below are for 6 servings and do not reflect the optional garnish.

Nutrition Facts
Servings 6.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 410
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 10 g
15 %
Saturated Fat 1 g
6 %
Monounsaturated Fat 1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
0 %
Sodium 701 mg
29 %
Potassium 1059 mg
30 %
Total Carbohydrate 57 g
19 %
Dietary Fiber 26 g
105 %
Sugars 8 g
Protein 25 g
50 %
Vitamin A
171 %
Vitamin C
43 %
17 %
46 %