Spicy Curried Lentil Soup – Inexpensive & Nutritious!

When it’s cold outside, it’s time to heat things up inside! This spicy soup, redolent of Indian and Thai flavors, will keep the fires inside burning. It’s quite nutritious as well, using lentils as its source of protein. This recipe is also gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan appropriate.

Start with a bag of dried lentils. As an aside, beans are such an inexpensive source of protein. I sometimes get frustrated when I hear the common complaint about how expensive it can be to eat healthy. While that’s certainly true to some extent, our immigrant ancestors prepared many ethnic foods from scratch that did not cost a lot of money. You certainly don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy, that’s for sure!

A bag of beans such as lentils costs less than $2 for a 16 ounce bag – those beans go a long way. Add in some cut up vegetables and you’ve got a high quality, nutritious dinner for less than $10. Better than the dollar menu at McDonalds, because this one pot meal goes a long way!

Brown 1 chopped sweet onion and four cloves of crushed garlic in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Doesn’t this smell absolutely fabulous? Adding the garlic to the onions prevents the garlic from burning and tasting rancid.

Now add in 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger (you can substitute dried ginger if you don’t have it fresh), 1 tablespoon of curry powder, 1 teaspoon of Garam masala, and 1/2 cup of freshly chopped cilantro. Brown for approximately 2 minutes, as the pungent scents begin to blend.

Now add in 3 cups of water and 2 cups of vegetable stock into the onion mixture, along with 2 cups of dried lentils. Stir in 2 cups of chopped carrots, 1 cup of chopped sweet potatoes, 1 cup of chopped celery, 1 bay leaf, and a pinch of sea salt. Add in a can of coconut milk. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes.

Puree two-thirds of the soup in a blender, returning it to the saucepan to simmer for another 5 minutes. I prefer my soups to have a bit of chunky texture, so I leave some of the veggies alone. If you prefer a smoother consistency, puree the whole soup.

Serve hot in a bowl, adding the freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 of a lime into each bowl. Pair it with a sweet wine, like a Riesling, to counteract the spicy flavors.


1 bag of dried Lentil beans

1 Chopped sweet onion

4 cloves of crushed garlic

1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

1 Tbsp. of curry powder

1 tsp. Garam masala

1/2 cup of freshly chopped cilantro

2 cups of Vegetable stock

1 can of coconut milk

2 cups chopped carrots

1 cup chopped sweet potatoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 bay leaf

Sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

Several limes


Stuffed Squash – Healthy Veggie & Gluten-free Meal & Delish Thanksgiving Side Dish

If you are looking to have more “meatless” meals in your household, you’ll flip over these beautiful Stuffed Mini Squashes; they are both vegetarian and gluten-free!  This popular recipe lends itself to many variations. Not only is it delicious, but it’s quite handsome looking as well. While they can take a bit of preparation, this recipe can double as a Thanksgiving Day side dish and will look stunning on your holiday table!

You’ll want to choose a mini squash for this recipe – the squash serves as its own colorful harvest serving dish! I chose the Gold Nugget squash this time, but I’ve also used the acorn, carnival, and sweet dumpling varieties as well. Since the squash are hard shelled, you’ll need to bake them ahead of time before stuffing. Wash them well and then put them upright in a pan with about an inch of water. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing – this can be done ahead of time. I’ve used quinoa as the base for this stuffing, but you can substitute any whole grain that you wish. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that is also a complete protein, which is unusual for a plant food. It’s also a great source of fiber! I’ve used the red quinoa for my recipe.

I like to add a variety of chopped vegetables to the quinoa stuffing to amp up the flavor and nutritional value. In this recipe, I’ve used chopped zucchini, green onions, and spinach; but you can easily substitute or add in whatever you prefer. Saute the veggies and garlic in a bit of extra virgin olive oil for about 3 to 5 minutes before adding to the quinoa.

Raisins and crumbled goat cheese round out the flavor of this stuffing; I prefer golden raisins for both their taste and color contrast to the red quinoa. Mix everything together in a bowl.

Slice the tops of each mini-squash carefully and remove the seeds and guts; keeping the tops on the side for later. Some squashes are meatier than others; if so, you may want to remove some of the squash and mix it in the prepared stuffing. The Gold Nugget variety I used in this recipe isn’t very dense, so I left it alone.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil along the inside of each squash; then stuff each with the quinoa. I like to sprinkle some grated parmagiano reggiano on the top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until stuffing is warm throughout.

For a beautiful presentation, put the tops back on the top of each squash and serve on its own plate. Imagine your Thanksgiving table set with these autumnal beauties!

Ingredients List:



zucchini, chopped into small chunks

green onions, chopped

baby spinach, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

Golden raisins

Crumbled goat cheese

Spices used: Cumin, sea salt, coriander, black pepper.

An Antioxidant Spicy Seafood Stew with the Superfood Salmon

When the chill is on, there’s nothing like a bowl of soup or hearty stew to warm up your insides. But many stews are typically prepared with a meat base, like a beef or lamb. At our house, we make a lot of seafood stews, loaded with healthy vegetables and delicious seafood. This is one of my favorite recipes, which was created by my son, who cooks dinner for us once a week. It uses the incredibly healthy superfood wild Alaskan salmon as its base.

Wild Alaskan salmon is one of the best sources of fish protein around. One four-ounce serving of wild Alaskan salmon contains 87% of the recommended daily allowance of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, better mood and cognition, protection from cancers, joint protection, and improved macular function.

Studies have shown that wild Alaskan salmon has the least amount of pollutants and has a better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids than does farmed salmon. A higher ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is believed to cause inflammation in the body, a precursor to cancer.

My son uses a somewhat unique cooking method for the vegetables – he combines them in a pot without any liquid or oil, keeps the heat at medium low, and allows them to cook in their own juices. It works amazingly well when you use vegetables with a higher water content.

Word of caution – we like our stews spicy around here. I had to warn my son after a recent trip to Penzey’s Spices to only use 1 pod of the pepper with 140,000 heat units. His answer? We’ll have to see about that. While those peppers aren’t in this recipe, he does liberally spice this stew with chili powder, paprika, sate (a Thai spice), and other spices. Let your tastebuds determine how much, if any, of the spices you will use.

There are some who do not like the strong taste of wild salmon – farmed salmon has a much milder taste. While I prefer the wild salmon’s taste, it does take some getting used to. The great thing about this stew is the strong taste is masked by a myriad of other flavors, making it an ideal way to get finicky kids (and adults) to eat it.

I like to call this an “antioxidant stew” because of all the wonderfully healthy cancer and inflammation fighters from the salmon and vegetables. Fight those winter germs!

SPICY FISH STEW— Wild Alaskan Salmon (8 to 10 ounces)
— Red Bell Peppers (2)– Two Tomatoes– Green Onions

— Carrots, Cut into Coins

— Celery, several stalks

— 4 small Potatoes, chopped

— A package of Chicken Broth

— Fresh Cilantro

— Chili powder
— Paprika
— Sate
— Garlic powder
— Curry
— CinnamonPROCESS1. Chop onions and add them to large pot under low heat. Dry cook onions, stirring frequently so they don’t burn.

2. Chop the rest of the vegetables and add to pot. Stir frequently.

3. Add contents of 1 package of chicken broth and continue to stir.

4. Throughout this whole process, be sure to add desired amounts of the following: chili pepper; paprika (more of this than anything else); garlic powder; sate; very little cinammon and curry; really anything else to add some depth to the whole matter (An odd thing: a squirt of Sriracha sauce (and nothing more than a squirt) adds some spice, a hint of flavor and doesn’t disrupt the taste — you really can’t taste it if it’s not too much).

5. As you’re doing all that, sloppily cut some potatoes. You’ll want those in there soon after the veggies and broth so they have time to cook and soften.

6. Cover and allow this all to mingle.

7. After about 10-15 minutes (as the veggies soften), cut up the fish into torn pieces. Add this to the whole deal. Stir it up so the fish can get in on all the spice and broth and whatnot. Add more spice if you’re like me and so inclined. Then cover it up and let it sit for a while.

8. Mind the fact that fish continue to cook a few minutes after you take the heat off, so to make sure your fish doesn’t wind up rubbery or burnt, be sure not to leave it all on too long. 10 minutes with the fish in should be fine. After about 5 or 6, stir in some cilantro. This’ll add even more flavor. Cover and let it go.

9. Serve in a bowl, with bread or naan.

(Courtesy of Eric Lutz)

Hot Italian Giardiniera – a Symphony of Vegetables

Giardiniera is a wonderful mixture of a variety of vegetables, marinated in a vinegar base with oil added. The blending of the various flavors creates a delightful topping for almost anything. Chicagoans all know that a real Italian beef sandwich ain’t nothing without some spicy giardiniera. Pizza enthusiasts add it to flavor the piping hot cheese.

But its collaboration of healthy vegetables makes it perfect for almost anything. We’ve mixed it with a bit of lowfat mayo to add spice to a piece of halibut; topped a roasted polenta and vegetable dish; and even used it as an interesting dip for a party. And it’s vegetarian.

The hardest part of this recipe is chopping up all the veggies. So put on some good tunes, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have some fun in the kitchen!

And congratulate yourself – by making it from scratch, you’ve participated in your very own Slow Food movement.

2 red bell peppers, chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

8 Banana peppers cut into rings

8 fresh jalapeno peppers, diced (add some seeds if you like it hot!)

2 stalks of celery, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 cup of cauliflower florets

1/2 cup of sea salt

Water to cover

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbsp of dried oregano

1 tbsp of red pepper flakes

1 tsp of black pepper 

1 8 ounce jar of green olives, stuffed with pimentos, chopped

1 cup of white vinegar          

1. Combine the peppers, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and celery into a large bowl. Add the salt, mix, and cover with enough cold water to cover. Cover with a plastic wrap or aluminium foil and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. After the mixture has sat for a day, drain the saltwater and rinse the vegetables with fresh water.

3. Mix together the garlic, oregano, red and black pepper, and chopped olives. Pour in vinegar and mix well. Add into vegetable mixture, cover, and refrigerate for two days before using for best results.

You can fill canning jars with the fresh giardiniera and store in your refrigerator. When using, simply add your own olive oil and mix together.

Lentils with Spinach are a Girl’s Best Friend

Forget those diamonds – lentils are a girl’s best friend. This power-packed legume will keep your stomach looking slender and your digestive system feeling regular! At only 230 calories for a 1/3 cup serving, yoLentils with Healthy Greens & Goat Cheeseu’ll get 63% of your daily fiber requirement and one third of your daily iron and protein requirements – how’s that for a multitasking maven? And one quarter cup of lentils is equivalent to a 4 ounce serving of meat.

Lentils also help regulate your blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and prevent heart disease. And they are incredibly versatile, working well in many dishes.

My favorite all-time lentil recipe is from our local restaurant, Francesca’s Amici; their Lenticchie e Spinaci pairs warm lentils with spinach and goat cheese. Billed as just an appetizer, they are filling enough for a meal, especially when paired with a crisp salad filled with a variety of vegetables.

For a cheese, you can’t go too wrong with goat cheese – while it’s got some saturated fat, one ounce only contains 76 calories. Just use it in moderation for a bit of flavor!

I believe that the original recipe contains mascarpone cheese as well. I’ve only used goat cheese to cut down on the dairy and calories. I also add in a couple of other green, leafy vegetables to increase the antioxidants.

I also gave it a hearty and somewhat French flavor by adding in a dash of cabernet sauvignon to the legumes along with the vegetables. This can be skipped if you prefer.

A glass of Chilean Carmenere, a red wine redolent with plum and vanilla flavors, would pair wonderfully with this belly-warming dish. Perfect for when you crave a comfort food but want something healthier!

Lentils with Healthy Greens & Goat Cheese

1 16 oz. bag of dried Green Lentils, washed and drained

1.5 cups of Spinach, torn into pieces

2 ribs of Swiss chard, torn into pieces

1/2 cup of Kale, torn

Chopped celery, 2 ribs

1/2 cup of Chopped carrots

1/2 cup of Baby onions

2 cups of Vegetarian stock, organic or free range, low sodium

2 cups of water

3 ounces of Goat Cheese

2 cloves of Garlic, chopped

Olive oil

Dash of Cabernet Sauvignon

2 Bay leaves

Pinch of sage

Pinch of thyme

Black pepper, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

1. Heat a deep frying pan over medium low heat; add a bit of olive oil and heat.

2. Add in chopped garlic and baby onions; saute for two minutes. Add carrots and celery and saute whole vegetable mixture for 4 more minutes.

3. Pour vegetarian stock and water into the pan; add dried lentils and stir.

4. Add in bay leaves, thyme, and sage. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for about 30 to 45 minutes. Check frequently and add in more water if needed – you don’t want the lentils to burn! Francesca’s serves the lentils al dente, which is how I prefer them – with a little chewiness. If you want them softer, simply simmer longer.

5. Stir in spinach, kale, and swiss chard into lentil mixture until well mixed; add in a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, if you wish. Stir in chunks of goat cheese and turn heat to low. Stir for about five minutes. Add pepper and sea salt to taste.

Portabellas Italiano

If you are carnivorous, you’ll find that portabella mushrooms are a worthy substitute for meat. They are rich with umami, which is one of the five basic tastes. Much like a piece of roasted meat, they’ll impart that savory flavor that many people crave.

Whether a meat lover or a vegetarian, portabella mushrooms are the perfect star of any meal. In this recipe, I stuff the beautiful, plump caps with a mixture of vegetables and spices that will tickle your tastebuds. Cook them in your oven or on the grill!

In this recipe, I also use lycopene-rich tomatoes; processing the tomatoes into a sauce and combining them with olive oil helps to optimize absorption of lycopene. Men who eat at least two servings of tomato sauce per week were 28% less likely to develop prostate cancer, according to recent studies. It’s also heart-healthy and low in calories!

Make sure to buy large portabellas that are unbroken and well formed for ideal stuffing. Clean them thoroughly by scrubbing them with hot water and a mushroom brush. I usually allow 1 to 2 mushrooms per person, and serve them with a mixed salad.

Because of their savory taste, you can pair this entree with a hearty, tannin-rich red wine like a cabernet (also heart healthy). Enjoy!

Large Portabella Mushrooms (either whole or just the caps)

2 Zucchini squashes, cut into quarters

1 yellow squash, cut into quarters

3 carrots, chopped into small chunks

Swiss chard, several leafs, chopped

4 to 6 baby green onions, washed and chopped

1 small can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (substitute your favorite)

2 cloves garlic, minced

Fresh basil

Fresh thyme (or dried)

Extra virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Grated Parmaggiano Reggiano cheese, to taste (or your favorite Italian cheese)

1. Wash mushrooms and de-stem, if necessary. Rub a bit of olive oil on the outside of each cap.

2. Prepare stuffing. Heat a saute pan on stove, then add in a small pour of olive oil, over medium heat.

3. Saute baby green onions and minced garlic in oil for about 4 minutes.

4. Add in chopped carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash; saute until slightly browned but still crisp.

5. Pour in the can of tomatoes, chopping them into pieces. Mix with sauteed veggies and heat for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

6. Mix in chopped Swiss chard and chopped basil and thyme into mixture, blending well. Add a bit of sea salt, to taste.

7. Stuff each mushroom cap with veggie mixture until brimming – don’t be afraid to “smoosh” the stuffing into the cap. Sprinkle some of the grated Parmaggiano onto the veggie mixture.

8. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees or on a grill using the indirect heating method. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until stuffing is slightly golden and mushrooms are juicy and fragrant.

Spicy Pumpkin Gumbo

Celebrate fall with this delicious and healthy soup. This soup was inspired by the pumpkin gumbo I had at our local wine bar, Flight 112 – it was so unique I had to go home and make my own healthy version!

Pumpkin and other fall squashes are incredibly nutritious. Their beautiful orange hues indicate an abundance of carotenoids, an antioxidant that helps free radical activity. Squashes are a superfood in the battle against cancer and heart disease, and are naturally low in calories.

Most of the squash soups that we see are pureed – this brothy soup caught my attention. I used a Kabocha squash, which is a Japanese variety with deep orange tones. The big pumpkins that we use for carving are not appropriate for cooking, as they are too stringy. Use a smaller pie pumpkin, which is sweeter and has a better consistency.

The pumpkin is roasted first and cut up into small chunks.  Clean the outside of the pumpkin thoroughly with soap, water and some scrubbing to get rid of any possible bacteria – remember that when you cut through hard shelled fruits and vegetables, your utensils are exposed to the germs. The skin of the kaboch squash is edible as well.

The original recipe used kielbasa for flavoring – I’ve substituted a chicken andouille sausage (100 calories and 1.5 grams saturated fat) to keep the smoky cajun flavoring that makes a gumbo delish. I’ve also added a lot of extra veggies, cuz that’s how I roll! Enjoy!

1 Pumpkin (small to medium size), washed and cut into chunks

5 carrots, cut into coins

3 stalks of celery, cut into small chunks

1/2 cup fresh spinach, washed and chopped finely

1 small onion, chopped

3 pieces of Sausages by AmyLu Chicken Andouille Sausage, cut into coins

1 box of organic, low sodium chicken broth (you can substitute veggie as well)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1.5 tbsp of cumin

1.5 tbsp of ancho chile powder (can use plain old chili powder)

1.5 tsp of garam masala

1 tsp. of cinnamon

ground black pepper

dash of sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out the pumpkin chunks. Spritz each chunk with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Roast for one hour. Let cool slightly.

2.  Heat a soup pan or dutch oven over a medium hot burner; add a little bit of olive oil after 30 seconds. Add the chopped onions and garlic into the oil and saute for about 2 to 3 minutes. (Cooking the garlic with the onions prevents it from burning and getting a rancid taste.)

3. Turn the heat down to medium low and add in carrots, celery, and spinach; saute for two minutes.

4. Pour the chicken stock into pan; add in 3 cups of water. Turn the heat up to medium.

5.  Add chunks of squash, skin and all (told you there was a good reason to wash it well!), into soup mixture. Although we are not going to puree the squash, we do want to mash it ever so slightly, to add texture and consistency to the soup.

6.  Add in sausage coins and all spices. Heat over a medium flame for approximately one hour.

The result: a hearty and delicious fall soup that will pair well with a crisp mixed green salad. I prefer not eating the sausage myself, so I take the chunks out. You can top with your own roasted pumpkin seeds for an additional crunch!