Baking & cooking with an enthusiastic amateur
The last three main course recipes that I posted used chicken, so I figured it’s time to premier a vegetarian main course. Vegan, actually, as I didn’t end up using any animal products whatsoever! While I love meat and chicken, I’d like to move towards a more flexitarian diet. Vegetarian staples like rice, beans, quinoa, and tofu are often cheaper than most meats, and in many ways healthier as well. From a more practical perspective, I have a few vegetarian friends, so it’s nice to have something creative up my sleeve for them, rather than falling back on “Here’s pasta with red sauce.”
A friend of mine had been encouraging me to try lentils as a cheap protein source, so I got a bag at the store for $1.39. Not too bad, since according to the bag, it contains 14 servings. Each of those servings contains no fat, not much in the way of carbs, and 8 grams of protein. Again, not bad at all – But how do they taste?
Well first, I would need to figure out how to cook lentils, having never done so before. In Cooking Light: Annual Recipes 1999, I found a recipe for lentil dal. The dal contained tomato, onion, cauliflower, and cilantro, all flavors I like, except for the cauliflower, which I chose to omit. To accompany it, I wanted to spice up some jasmine rice a bit, so I turned it into a more pilaf-like dish, sauteeing it with seasonings in oil before cooking it as usual.
Unfortunately, I did make an error when cooking. In my rush to pull everything together at the end, I forgot to add cilantro and lime juice! However, I think they still tasted quite good, if a little less vibrant than they might have. If you’d like to try it with those, just add one tablespoon fresh lime juice and 1/2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro at the end of the cooking process.
The end result of this recipe was tasty and extremely cheap. It’s also quite filling, considering that each serving is under 300 calories, which would make it a great candidate for lunch. I hate filling up on breakfast and lunch when I’d rather save my indulgences for dinner & dessert, so being able to bring some low-calorie but satisfying leftovers to work is always a plus.
As part of a complete meal, I served this with homemade vegetable samosas and mango lassi. The end result was filling and extremely delicious, and all the flavors worked very well together. Making all these dishes at once was quite a project, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it so well without a lot of help from a friend. As such, if you’re going to make all of these, recruiting an extra pair of hands to help with stirring and chopping will go a long way. On the other hand, just making lentil dal & rice and serving them with some frozen samosas would be tasty as well, and much more manageable!
Lentil Dal & Rice
Adapted from Cooking Light
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 large sweet onion, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons peeled & grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt
One clove garlic, minced
One cup canned diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup dried lentils
One tablespoon vegetable oil
One cup uncooked jasmine rice
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups water
For the lentils, heat olive oil to medium heat in a saucepan. Add onion, ginger, cumin, turmeric, salt, and garlic. Saute for 4-5 minutes, then add tomato and cook for another two minutes. Add lentils and water, stirring together. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, rinse rice three or four times; drain well. In a separate saucepan, heat oil to medium heat. Add rice and spices, including salt. Sautee for four to five minutes, until it starts to lose some of its opacity. Add water and stir; bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Serve lentils over rice.
Makes four servings.
Cost per serving: $0.56 ($0.38 for dal alone)
Calories per serving: 278 (86 for dal alone)