Written by Cynthia Port
I write what I know, and since I know me and I write humor, my books make fun of all the ridiculous facets of me. The facet I’ll tell you about today is my relationship with healthy eating. I know . . . what could possibly be funny about that? But trust me, following this food lifestyle gets ridiculous faster than eating purple cabbage will turn your pee pink.
All my life I’ve been a foodie; I love to cook and plan meals. For the past 4 years I’ve been a gluten free vegan foodie cooking almost entirely from scratch. This of course had to make it into my books, which it did, in the form of the dad of a protagonist. He doesn’t even have a name, actually – so far he’s just “Jenny’s Dad”. A confirmed health nut, he runs the “Incredible Bulk” co-op, its shelves stocked with bags and boxes of powdered and freeze dried foodstuffs that would be really good for you if you could somehow convince yourself to eat it. His favorite after school snack to make for poor Jenny is rice cakes with partially melted “not-cheese” globs, washed down with carob un-milk. And did I mention the “Just the Flax” crackers made with flax seeds, flax germ, flax meal, puffed flax and essence of flax? Nom nom!
In the spirit of Jenny’s dad, here’s a recipe that sounds pretty terrible, but is actually really, really delicious. With only ONE, all natural, whole food ingredient, you can serve it to all of your food challenged friends without worry. Actually, that one ingredient is just the base. To that you will add whatever spices and flavorings you desire. Add Mexican spice and you’ve got a crispy, protein and fiber-rich taco filling. Add Italian spices and make up some vegballs for your spaghetti. Cook up some patty shapes and then crisp them up on the grill at your next backyard get-together (but bring some extras because everybody will be curious to try one!). Once cooked, they freeze beautifully. Here we go!
1 cup Urad Lentils (small, black-skinned lentils available in any Indian grocery store or on-line.) You can get them with or without the skins, but the skins do add some flavor. Okay, I admit, this is a weird ingredient, but it’s el cheapo and it’s also the only required ingredient, so CHEF-UP AND FIND IT!!
PREPARATION: Soak the lentils in water for 90 minutes to 2 hours. While they are soaking, read all about how amazing urad lentils really are: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vigna_mungo
After soaking, drain the lentils in a colander and scoop a generous third of them into a food processor. Add ¼ cup water and grind till you get a fluffy paste (3-4 minutes). Add another third of the lentils and another ¼ cup water and grind for 1 minute. Add the remaining lentils and grind for just a few seconds. Having lentils that are fully ground, partially ground, and whole gives the patties more texture and crunch.
Water amounts vary depending on how long you soaked and how thoroughly you drained, so it’s hard to give an exact amount, but use enough water till the thickness of the mixture is somewhere between peanut butter and chocolate pudding.
That’s it! Now just stir in salt and spices. I use 3/4 tsp salt and a teaspoon of paprika (for coloring). For Indian flavor, add curry powder (or a mix of cumin, coriander, black pepper, red pepper, turmeric). For Italian, add dried basil, oregano, black pepper and garlic powder. For Mexican, use chili powder, cumin, oregano and black pepper. There’s no raw animal products in here, so feel free to taste as you go until you get the spiciness you want.
Heat a nonstick skillet (I use cast iron because, again, health nut) to medium high and add oil (canola or coconut is great). Drop batter into the pan and watch how it sets up like magic as it cooks (because lentils actually are magic). Cook on the first side till nicely browned and crispy, then flip, adding more oil if you need it. Use about a 1/3 cup for veggie burgers, smoothing into a patty shape. Drop by the teaspoon for vegballs and do not flatten. For taco filling, make thin patties and then slice them up into fajita strips when they are done, tossing on extra Mexican spices just before serving.
That’s it! Now go make some. Jenny’s dad will be so proud of you, and your body will be grateful for all the anti-oxidants and fiber!