Saturday, February 13, 2016

Multiculturalism on the dinner table
Curried Lentil Soup; photo from Woman's Day

Back in the 1970s when I was much, much younger and spent a good part of my day dealing with a couple of little barracudas, figuring out what to have for various meals was a definite annoyance. You know, it's bad enough that a person  has to cook 7 days a week, but meal planning on top of the kitchen drudgery? Not fun. Just about every cookbook aimed at novices (which I was) includes some sample menus but doing the same half dozen dishes over and over gets old fast. Then I discovered this wonderful feature in Woman's Day magazine: the month of menus. Something different for every day of the month. It wasn't always something I particularly wanted to cook and on a fairly regular basis I'd get annoyed by the food editor's assumption that every reader was going to easily find the same ingredients in their small town IGA that someone living in New York City could track down, but the menu at least presented possibilities. If the menu said something about fresh fish, it was easy enough to substitute some frozen cod.
Fast forward forty years. I'm still using the Month of Menus, and I still regularly curse the food editor for some odd ingredients -- farro? What the hell is farro?! -- but the menu still serves as a handy way to provide more variety on the dinner table. It has changed over the decades, of course. Back in the '70s it would include basics like meat loaf. It also included a suggestion for a simple dessert. A suggested Sunday dinner might be fried chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, salad, and sliced bananas in orange juice. They had no problem including stuff like frozen fish sticks or canned fruit cocktail as ideas.

There is no way either of those items would make it on to the Month of Menus now. The menu makes concessions to people's hectic lifestyles but you're still going to do a lot of from scratch cooking. And the suggested desserts vanished in the '90s. Woman's Day still publishes a lot of dessert and snack recipes but apparently you're eating that stuff at other times of the day, not when dinner ends.

All of which brings me to the thing that caught my eye this month. Two things, actually, although the multiculturalism has been creeping in for a long time. Fusion cooking is nothing new to anyone who reads Woman's Day. They've been pushing stir fries of various types for decades, doing various Latin dishes, and introducing readers to the use of fresh ginger root, lemongrass, and other spices for a long, long time. The February menu includes a couple of curries, tofu tacos, feta salsa verde, and a number of other goodies that show just how far we've traveled since the 1970s fried chicken or basic spaghetti with a hamburger meat sauce. There is no hamburger, no ground beef in any form, on the February 2016 menu.

Granted, there are burgers. Turkey burgers. (I shudder at the thought, to be honest. Had we done burgers on that particular day, they would have come from a shredded cow.) In any case, red meat in the form of beef is almost nonexistent on the menu. It turns up about once a week. Pork, chicken, and fish make appearances more often. But what struck me was the number of vegan dishes. Yep, vegan. No messing around with halfway measures and simply going meatless -- the menu includes several dinners that I could serve to vegan friends with no worries. Like the tofu tacos, which actually sound pretty good. The way the tofu is prepared it might actually be edible. If I can managed to track down some tofu (Larry's doesn't carry it; apparently there aren't many tofu eaters in Baraga County), we'll test drive the recipe.

Woman's Day used to do Meatless Mondays as part of the menu. That feature has vanished; they've switched to a stealth approach. Which is fine with me. An occasional vegetarian or vegan recipe strikes me as a good idea, a sensible thing to do when beef can be a real budget-buster, especially when the resulting dishes don't make a person feel like they're sacrificing anything. We did a curried lentil soup (a soup that I'd be inclined to call dhal, but if Woman's Day doesn't want to be explicitly ethnic, that's their call) yesterday that is really good. I'm clipping the recipe; we're going to do it again. I have a hunch we'll probably save and repeat the other vegan curry, too. It uses chickpeas. I'm not quite as optimistic about those tofu tacos, but you never know.

Curried Lentil Soup
1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 tsp cumin
6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups red lentils
2 large carrots, grated
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 bay leaves (optional)
1 cup light coconut milk
Kosher salt and pepper
Cilantro, for garnish when serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, covered, stirring occasionally for 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the borth, lentils, carrots, thyme, curry powder, cinnamon, and bay leaves (if using); bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper; simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro if desired. Makes 6 servings.

I didn't have fresh thyme so skipped it (I was afraid powdered might be too intense) and used only one bay leaf (it was big). We also skipped the cilantro; I'm one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes really nasty and can't understand why other people like it. I really liked this soup. It was fast and easy to make, it's low cost, and it's a nice, hardy soup for a winter day. Best of all, because there's just me and the S.O., it made enough that I was able to put two containers into the freezer so we're getting three meals out of prepping for one.

As for farro, thanks to the magic of Google I now know that farro is a type of primitive wheat. It is being touted as a substitute for quinoa as it is equally nutritious. If it's showing up in Woman's Day recipes, one can only assume that it can be found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it to make it to Larry's.


  1. Life is uncertain, eat dessert first..

  2. Never read Woman's Day - Do most of the cooking now - sometimes I even like it.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. I have cooked lentils every way known to man kind..I had it the other day at meals on sucks..bites and blows..tastes like at the beginning you start with a gym sock.

  4. JackieSue, this was the first lentils recipe I've found that's actually a keeper. Think it was the spices that did it.


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