Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coconut Curry Cushaw Soup

My in-laws inherited a large squash from their neighbor, an avid gardener, and it was passed onto me.  A bit like a vegetable shuffle this time of year.  One can only handle so much squash or so many tomatoes.  This looker was a bit of a mystery.  Some of us thought it was a squash, and others thought it was closer to a pumpkin.  Weighing in at seven pounds, I was determined not to let it stare at me from my kitchen counter for too long.  It was a bit intimidating.  I'll withhold the frustrating details involved in the peeling process/hack job.  Flash forward twenty minutes later, and the inside revealed a light yellow flesh. I started feeling like one of those contestants on Food Network's Chopped as they look down into their mystery baskets.  Lucky for me, there were no time constraints or glaring judges involved during my investigation.  I did some digging on my computer while I figured out what to do with this guy.

I found this link from Slow Food USA with a description and picture that seemed to match what I was holding in my hand.  Now, correct me if I'm wrong here and I'll happily admit my mistake, but I believe I inherited a green-striped cushaw, also known as a Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash.  Apparently it's a rare heirloom variety of Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  Hmm, I live in Massachusetts.  I learned it's not widely available and usually grown in small batches.  Apparently it's related to a pumpkin and can be used in many of the same ways.  I went for savory rather than sweet, choosing to make a fall soup.

Although I haven't tried it, I'm pretty confident this recipe would work just as well with pumpkin or butternut squash.  So don't miss out on this soup if you don't have an enormous cushaw at the ready (and why would you?).  It's pretty straightforward and with very little effort, turned out to be one of my favorites soups to date.  You really can't go wrong.  I've added Thai elements like coconut milk and curry powder, and also roasted the seeds I extracted from the squash to garnish the soup with.  The result was a sweet, warm bowl of goodness with a touch of heat.  Who knew the mystery squash would turn out so well?  While I don't think I'll be the recipient of a cushaw again anytime soon, I'll definitely be making another batch of this soup with butternut squash this season.  In the meantime, I'll be purchasing a new peeler first.

 ~Coconut Curry Cushaw Soup Recipe~

3 lb cushaw squash (or butternut squash/pumpkin), approximately 5 cups
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tsp curry powder
4 cups good quality rich vegetable stock
1 cup, organic canned coconut milk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for roasting squash)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for soup)
sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut squash into 1" pieces.  Toss with 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.  Layer on baking sheet or pan.  Roast the squash for about 35-40 minutes.  

In a large pot, saute onion in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until it softens, about three minutes.  Add the roasted squash or pumpkin, and curry powder.  Add in vegetable stock and let it work together for about five minutes.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth (or in batches in a blender).  Pour coconut milk into the soup, stirring to combine.  Add sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serve in bowls with toasted seeds. Pumpkin seeds also work well and maybe even a sprinkle of nutmeg.  Serves 6.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roasted Tomato Soup

You don't like tomato soup, I know.  That's what I thought too, but keep reading.  My mother for one despises tomato soup.  The mere mention of those haunting words will send her face into a contorted state of repulsion.  At a Girl Scout overnight camp in the sixties, 'blushing bunny soup' was on the menu; a thrifty rationed concoction of condensed tomato soup, cheese, egg, and saltines.  Being the dutiful Girl Scout that she was, she forced down every last bite in order to get her allotment of s'mores.  She's never gotten over it.  Tomato soup was never welcome in our home and presumably I would not like it either, right? Wrong.  This soup might just change your mind about your own childhood tomato soup memories, assuming you've had a run in with that red and white can.  Maybe it's time to revisit this iconic soup that gets a bad rap.  Think fresh, in season garden tomatoes, roasted and juicy.  That's our starting point.

As you may know, I refuse to let a single tomato go to waste, and since the tomatoes keep pouring in, the recipes keep pouring out.  I am deep in a red state of affairs.  Maybe all that lycopene will serve me well.  The premise of this soup is beyond simple.  Roast the tomatoes and onion at a high temperature to bring out their naturally sweet goodness.  Saute a little garlic in olive oil, add in the tomatoes and onion, a little vegetable stock, and there you have it.  Puree it all up with an immersion blender and lunch is served.  Minimal ingredients, minimal effort, maximum results.

The soup whirls itself into a beautiful orange hue and exudes a deep smoky flavor in every spoonful.  You can't go wrong.  Give it a whirl,...or blend, and see for yourself.  This is great alongside a sandwich or big crusty bread.  My favorite way to enjoy this is actually with a few slices of sourdough toast with butter.   I've made two pots of this soup in the past week alone, one for safe keeping in the freezer.  I plan to pull it out sometime in winter, when tomatoes are all but a distant memory.  

~Roasted Tomato Soup Recipe~

3 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut in wedges (approximately 2lbs)
1 large onion, quartered and separated
2 1/2-3 cups vegetable stock
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for soup) plus an additional few tablespoons for roasting
sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange tomato wedges and onion on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 40-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and juicy and slightly brown around the edges.  The onions will also be soft.

In a pot, add in olive oil and garlic, sauteing for a few minutes until it turns soft and light brown.  Add in the roasted tomatoes and onions.  Be sure to add in all the accumulated juices from the pan.  There is a lot of flavor in those juices you don't want to miss out on.  Add in vegetable broth.  You may want to be conservative at first, adding in one cup at a time and pureeing until it reaches the consistency that works for you.  I find I like this soup to be more on the thin side and choose to puree the chunks completely.  Add in sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serves 4.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Garlicky Tuscan Thyme Dip

Creating something out of nothing. I'm always drawn to recipes and articles in magazines boasting a gourmet meal from nothing other than pantry staples and odds and ends. It's a great concept.  It falls in line with that "use it up, wear it out, or make do without" philosophy.  Sometimes I'll find a hidden gem when I'm shopping in my own pantry, tucked away in a corner cabinet, long neglected.  

In my grandmothers' basement, you will find rows of canned goods, organized and stacked according to like vegetables and fruit.  Shelves of boxed rice and pasta.  Salad dressings, olives, multiples of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.  This is the area my family lovingly refers to as the fallout shelter.  You just never know.  Better to be prepared.  Granted, some of these goods may be past their prime.  But they were on sale.  Not to be wasted.  I love my grandmothers' preparedness, her attempt to always use up what she has, to recreate.  What's old is new.  At eighty-two, a child of the depression, she appreciates everything she has ever had, truly.  It's a great lesson to remember in our throw away era of wastefulness.  

In an effort to use up what I had in my own kitchen, I created what could qualify as a snack or appetizer.  I love simple ideas that taste special.  The trace of thyme and fried capers add a unique touch to this garlicky dip.  It's similar to hummus, but is much lighter, with a whipped consistency to it.  Give the ingredients a whirl in your food processor and serve it up alongside crostini, crudite, or your favorite crackers or chips.  Before you run out to the store, take a peek in your own kitchen and use up some staples.  You might be surprised at what you find, or what inspires you.

~Garlicky Tuscan Thyme Dip Recipe~

1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (or 1 can)
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of sea salt
few grinds from pepper mill
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tsp more for frying capers
1 tsp capers, drained and patted dry

Combine beans, garlic clove, garlic powder, thyme, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a food processor, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Stream in the olive oil.  Transfer to a small serving bowl.  Over medium heat, fry capers in olive oil.  Garnish the dip with fried capers and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.  I like to make the dip ahead of time and leave it in the fridge to allow the flavors to combine.  Then, right before serving I add the capers and olive oil.  Serves 4.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Raw Coconut Almond Bites

Now, this was a great idea.  As a kid, I couldn't wait to get my hands on almond joy candy bars.  The almond coconut combination is a win-win, but they left me in the throes of a sugar hangover.  This is my take on a healthier, grown up version, and I can tell you, they don't last very long around our house.  I left out the chocolate, since my husband isn't a fan, and created a bite sized wonder that will keep the biggest of sweet tooth's satisfied.  Best of all, you won't be a passenger on the sugar roller coaster ride.  

I've used dates to achieve a natural sweetness, which also happen to be a rich source of antioxidants, minerals, and fiber.  I found beautiful Medjool dates in the refrigerated section of my natural food store.  Dates can also be found in bulk bins or baking aisles.  Just be sure to remove the pits before chopping and adding to your food processor.  You can create these bites in about ten minutes with only four ingredients.  No baking required.  Have I convinced you to try them yet?  I like to pack these along in my car for those times when I feel I need a quick energy boost.  Since they don't need to be refrigerated, they work out perfectly.  I also sneak these after dinner when I want something sweet.  One, two,...or three should do the trick.  But hey, who's counting?  

~Raw Coconut Almond Bites Recipe~

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup almonds
1/3 cup organic large Medjool dates, pits removed, roughly chopped
2 tbsp, plus 1 tsp brown rice syrup

Combine coconut, almonds, and dates in your food processor first, until they are finely chopped.  Then add in brown rice syrup and let your food processor go again for a few seconds.  I've made these quite a few times and once in a while I find they need a little more brown rice syrup to help them bind together.  They can be a bit finicky like that.  If you find that's the case, just add a bit more until the mixture starts to form together.  The brown rice syrup will act as a binder.  Scoop mixture out in tablespoons.  Roll between your fingers to create bite sized balls, just as if you were making chocolate truffles.  Makes one dozen.  Enjoy from here, or you can also store in your refrigerator.  Storing on parchment paper will also help to keep from sticking.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce

When I traveled to Switzerland, I spent a day at the Solbad Spa on the outskirts of Bern.  As you can imagine, it was a grueling morning.  Basking in the sun, swimming in a salt-water outdoor pool beneath jets and waterfalls.  Solbad also had an indoor thermal spa, where you moved from a series of hot to cold-water baths.  I'm pretty sure I didn't complete it in the right order, as the signs were in German, but I had a great time nonetheless.  I was reminded of this experience when I gave a large bowl of tomatoes the spa treatment in my kitchen yesterday, moving them from boiling to shocking cold water to make garden fresh tomato sauce.  And I'm happy to say the luxury treatment paid off. 

My husband has been collecting the Roma tomatoes in our pots for weeks now.  They suddenly accumulated into a large pile on my kitchen counter, thirty-eight to be exact.  He guarded those pots, warding off chipmunks and squirrels, and created fences to enclose the vines.  His heart broke a little every time he found a half eaten beauty lying on the ground, vowing to pick them earlier next time before they completely ripened.  He worked so hard to grow them; I vowed to work just as hard to make something magic out of them.  A fresh homemade tomato sauce we could enjoy together.  A summer send off of sorts, a last hurrah.

This would be the real deal.  A slightly labor intensive process of boiling the tomatoes, shocking them in an ice bath, and peeling and pushing away their skins.  I would squeeze out the seeds, puree the flesh, and simmer them in garlic, onions, and olive oil.  Worth the effort? You bet.  Did I use up every large bowl in the kitchen, splatter tomato carnage on the walls, and have a shirt covered in red juice? You bet.  If you have an apron, now might be a good time to pull it out.  I've outlined the five steps below to keep the process moving along smoothly for you, but you might as well embrace the mess that will ensue.

My Italian tomato gardener husband had strict requirements for this sauce.  There would be no such nonsense of carrots, peppers, or celery.  No wine, no oregano, and certainly no Italian seasoning blend.  This was to be a tomato sauce in the purist sense.  I had to agree with him on this one.  I let the tomatoes speak for themselves, cooking them for a short period of time, keeping the sauce fresh and light.  The result was a slightly garlicky chunky red sauce, sprinkled with flecks of onion and a hint of salt to balance it all out.  Let me tell you, a sauce this good cannot be bought.  It just doesn't exist in a store.  It's the stuff Italian grandmother's pump out without batting an eye.

I'd like to think my husband's grandmother would be proud of this accomplishment: my first real deal tomato sauce.  She was the one who recently taught me how to make homemade cavatelli pasta.  Although she speaks very little English, her expression is always telling, with a soft smile breaking at the corners of her mouth.  She will often call me 'bella' whenever I see her, offering up a warm embrace.  She sits at the head of the dinner table; a sweater draped over her shoulders, usually enjoying a glass of wine that taints her cheeks a rosy red.  Somewhere in Flumeri, Italy back home during her summer vacation, she might be making her own tomato sauce right about now.  I won't tell her I splurged on homemade pasta in the store this time around.  Something tells me she would understand.  Besides, I have to go clean up the tomato wreckage, although I'd much rather be at that spa in Switzerland.

~Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe~

approximately 4 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced very finely
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds from pepper mill

Step 1:
You'll need 3 bowls.  Fill the first with ice and water.  The second will be for the tomato peels, and the third for the whole peeled tomatoes.  Set them up in this order, making an assembly line. 

Step 2:  
Bring a large pot of water up to a boil.  Drop the tomatoes in batches for just a minute or two.  As soon as the skin splits, remove with a slotted spoon and submerge into the ice bath.  Once cool enough to handle, peel the skins away.  Place the skins in your second bowl, and the peeled whole tomatoes in the third.  Keep going with this process until you've worked your way through your batch of tomatoes.

Step 3: 
Cut the peeled Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Remove the tough white part near the stem.  Squeeze and remove the seeds into a discarding bowl, holding onto the fleshy interior and exterior.  It's OK if some of the juices travel along with it to the seed free tomato bowl.  Don't worry too much if there are still a few seeds, as long as you have removed the majority, things will be fine.

Step 4:
At this point, you will have a bowl of seed free tomatoes and accumulated juices.  Transfer this mixture, including the juices to the food processor.   Give it a whirl for a few seconds until you have a tomato puree. 

Step 5:
In a saucepan, add olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, cooking for just a few minutes until slightly brown, taking care not to burn the garlic.  Add the onion and saute for a few minutes until it is translucent.  Add in the tomato puree.  Bring up to a slight bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and let it cook for 45 minutes.  Add in the salt and pepper.  Serve over your favorite pasta.  Makes 4 cups.  I stored my batch in a mason jar in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it.  

You may be able to get your hands on a large bin of tomatoes fairly inexpensively this time of year from a farm or farmers' market.  Don't worry if they look like a bunch of stragglers.  This is the perfect use for them.  Although I've only tried making this with Roma tomatoes, I would imagine many other varieties would work just as well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Carrot Apple Ginger Juice

The first time I tried this juice was at a coffeehouse in Salem, MA called Front Street .  It's tucked away on a cobblestone side street in this historic and vibrant city.   On the interior, local artwork hangs on the walls and it emanates a funky, no frills kind of vibe.  It reminds me of a coffeehouse I used to work in during college.  It's always bustling at lunchtime, serving up great salads, sandwiches, and juices.  I make a point of stopping there whenever I am in the area.  I order this juice to go and it travels with me  around the city, a favorite destination this time of  year.  The historic homes, the wharf, the eccentric shops and people watching.  Tour buses, boats docked in the harbor, tourists posing alongside statues, and outdoor restaurants filled with smiling faces.  I take it all in. 

The course of my walks may change, but the juice is a constant.  I've remained loyal to the carrot, apple, ginger combination and now make it at home with my juicer.  I received a juicer from my brother as a gift and we couldn't wait to tear open the box.  He brought it over one afternoon, along with copious amount of fruits and vegetables.  We started juicing everything we could get our hands on.  This trend continued over the following months in my kitchen.  I juiced greens like kale, spinach, parsley, celery, cucumbers, and even lettuce.  I juiced pears, oranges, lemons, limes, and watermelon.  And I'll say this...juicing makes you feel good! So good in fact, that the clean up is just a small price to pay for such an invigorating and fresh treat.

Juicing is a great way to densely pack vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants into your diet.  Drinking this in the morning is like drinking a tall glass of sunshine.  It makes a standard glass of orange juice seem a little humdrum.  Carrots and apples go so well together since they are both naturally sweet.  Personally, I love the spicy kick of the ginger at the end of each sip; and ginger is excellent for your digestive system and heart.  Play around and adjust the ginger to your liking.  You may like a big punch, or just a hint in the background.  If you don't like ginger, simply omit it.  The carrot and apple combination is great on it's own too.  I'm determined that the juicer has a different fate than my bread maker, which I believe is hibernating in my basement.   If you are new to juicing, this is a great recipe to start with.  Take it with you for a walk around your favorite city.  

~Carrot Apple Ginger Juice Recipe~

4 carrots
3 apples (cut in quarters)
1 1/2" piece of ginger root

Adjust juicer to appropriate settings.  No need to peel.  Add carrots, apples, and ginger to juicer.  Stir before pouring into a glass.  Serves 1.

~Scenes from my morning stroll around Salem in all its quintessential New England glory...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Black Bean Grilled Corn Salsa

I want to like football, I really do.  I used to love going to watch our high school football games as the weather started to change.  Wrapped in my big puffy jacket, hot chocolate resting in my mitten hands, gossiping with friends.   It was more of a social event in the stands, but still.  I love the idea of watching football with family and friends at home, staking out a spot on the couch, everyone coming together to enjoy good food.  Maybe that's what keeps me coming back, the food.  Maybe it's not so much the football, I'll admit.     

If you've been following this blog, you may already be aware of my salsa addiction.  I've mentioned before I make many versions of it, and it's time I share this one.  It's hearty, healthy, and great for a crowd, going over particularly well with the guys.  It's the kind of thing I like to make on a fall Sunday afternoon during the start of football season while the veggies are still piling in.  We keep a big bowl of this salsa within arms distance, and share a bag of our favorite tortilla chips for scooping.  It's healthier than most football fare, but no less flavorful.  I should mention that my idea of football watching might also include thumbing through cookbooks for new recipes and reading novels from time to time.  But hey, I'm trying.       

I like to leave the tomatoes on the chunky side.  Don't worry about cutting everything uniform.  It's meant to be rustic.  Simply toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and refrigerate to let the flavors come together.  It's best to make this the day of, or day before you are going to serve it.  Try it out during this year's football season.  Bring it to a friends house for your next get together.  Snack on it while reading novels.  No judgement.  In the meantime, I'm going to continue to want to like football, and will always root for the Patriots.  If nothing other than to catch glimpses of Tom Brady while snacking on salsa.  I told you, I'm trying.     

~Black Bean Grilled Corn Salsa Recipe~

4 tomatoes, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small red onion (or 1/2 of a large onion)
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced
1 cup grilled corn kernels
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (or 1 can)
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 2 limes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds from a pepper mill

Chop tomatoes, and dice bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro.  Add to a bowl with corn and black beans, stirring to combine.  Squeeze lemon and lime juice over top.  Season with cumin, sea salt, and pepper, giving it one last stir. Serves 6 (makes 8 cups).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Homemade Hippie Granola and Dog Treats

My husband and I set out for a walk in the woods early Saturday morning to soak up some nature.  I concocted a few energy packed snacks earlier in the week to take along; granola for us, and peanut butter treats for our dog.  I'm calling it my hippie granola.  My boss jokingly called me a hippie one day, referring to my love of yoga and Volkswagen.  I'll admit, I do have some hippie-esque qualities.  Although you'll never catch me in Birkenstocks, I revel in a good downward dog, have a fondness for Seventh Generation cleaning products, and have been known to hug a tree or two.  There's also nothing I love more than being outside in nature, taking in its sights and sounds, and filling my lungs with crisp morning air.  

Anyone who knows me will tell you I always have snacks packed wherever we go.  I am constantly snacking throughout the day, on fruit, veggies, granola bars, nuts, and hummus.  Going on a walk is obvious cause for such snacking, and a delicious one at that.   It was easy enough to pack and filled with protein to keep hunger pains at bay.  Loaded with dried blueberries, oats, nuts, and seeds, it has  sweetness from the addition of maple syrup and cinnamon, and smelled divine while slowly baking away in my oven.

It's very cost effective to make your own granola at home.  I bought most of the ingredients for my hippie granola in the bulk section of my grocery store, with plenty left over for another batch when this one runs out.  And I should also mention, this granola is better than anything you can buy in the store.  Free of preservatives too.  You can customize the granola any way you like.  Swap out the blueberries for cranberries or dried bananas, papaya, or pineapples.  Try macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts rather than almonds and walnuts.  You get the idea.  You could even add chocolate chips after it has cooled.  I store the granola in glass mason jars on my counter for quick access.  

Best of all...You don't have to be a hippie to eat this granola.  Although maybe like me, you'll start developing some hippie tendencies.  You may find yourself walking barefoot over blades of grass, listening to the birds, and snacking on this granola.  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  Get out there and enjoy nature in all its peace and tranquility.  It feels great after a long workweek spent indoors.  It's waiting for you right outside your door.   


~Homemade Hippie Granola Recipe~ (For the Humans)

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried sweetened blueberries
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Measure out dry ingredients and place in a large mixing bowl.  Add wet ingredients (vanilla extract, maple syrup, and vegetable oil) and stir until well combined.  Spread mixture evenly on a baking sheet into a single layer.  Bake low for 60 minutes, turning about every 20 minutes or so.  Let cool completely and store in airtight containers.  Makes approximately 7 cups.

~Homemade Peanut Butter Treats Recipe~ (For the Dogs)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup water
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp chunky peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, initially with a fork.  Once the ingredients start to come together, use your hands to make sure everything is incorporated, and form into a ball.  Roll the dough out into 1/4" thickness, just like you would do if you were making cookies.  Use a cookie cutter to cut out individual treats.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Let cool before sharing with your pup.  With the 1 1/2" cookie cutter I used, this made 56 dog treats.  Store some in the freezer for another time.

I should mention, Yager also enjoyed his peanut butter treats.  He said your dog will too ;)

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."- John Burroughs

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lentil Tacos for Two

As an educator, September always signals the start of the new year for me.  Even though I work year round, the longer more relaxed days of summer seem to come to a halt. The back to school buzz drones on.  I start shopping for new materials for my students, clean up my office, and splurge on a fancy new weekly planner.  I nail down my new schedule, overdose on colorful post-its, and relish in crossing off any number of items on my to do lists.  The organization seems to carry over at home and I become a bit more systematic in my cooking approach as well.  This is when I latch onto some of my favorite dinners; the ones I know so well I don't need to bother following a recipe.  Tacos make the cut.

We have taco night once a week in our house. On the night my husband gets together with his old friends to play street hockey, we have tacos before he heads out the door.  I'm not sure when or how this routine came to be.  I think in most homes, it's nice to have a routine to grasp onto amid the revolving busy weeks.  I never have to think twice about what I'm making on this night.  I remember hearing somewhere that people have about seven dinners in their repertoire they rotate each and every week.  Something tells me most families have tacos on that list.  For those of you in households where one is a vegetarian and the other is not; this is a great dinner you both can share with one minor tweak.  I have these lentil tacos, which make great leftovers for the next day's lunch, and my husband has chicken tacos.  They're easy, quick, and they're fun.  

A medley of lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, and red onions overflow tiny little bowls at our filling station.  I'll put on a big pot of quinoa or brown rice to serve alongside.  We had this routine in my house growing up too.  Something about building your own little portable dinner always sat well with me, being in charge of my own fillings, making it just the way I like it.  Red lentils cook up pretty quickly.  I don't mess with them too much.  I add an onion, chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder, and let them simmer away as I get going on the toppings.  Fill soft or hard taco shells with the lentils and get busy adding all those colorful varieties of vegetables on top.  I like to use blue corn taco shells.  Sometimes I'll even stuff the quinoa or brown rice right inside my taco too.  It makes for a protein and fiber packed dinner.  Who knows, if you haven't already incorporated a taco night in your weekly menu, maybe you'll give it a try.

~Lentil Tacos for Two Recipe~

1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup red lentils
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 cup vegetable broth or water

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for a few minutes until it softens. Take off the heat for a moment and add red lentils, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.  Add vegetable broth and water and return to heat, stirring to combine the spices with the lentils and onion.  Bring up to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-35 minutes until the lentils are cooked through.  You may need to add additional broth or water to compensate for the absorption if you find your lentils need more time.

Spoon lentil mixture into individual tacos and add your favorite toppings.  Serves 2.  (Depending on how full you stuff each taco, you should get about 2-3 tacos per person).  If you are making these for one, do what I do, and store the leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.