Got it in the Bag (lunch that is)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

   Work lunch. Weeknight dinner.

   These four words are enough to strike fear into the heart of any person aspiring to make healthier food choices. Especially people taking care of children or with a not stay at home job. Which is, by my estimation, nearly everyone.

   I've mentioned before that getting into the habit of bringing my lunch to work was without a doubt one of the best things I've ever done for myself as a working adult (and study exhausted college and medical student, for that matter). Choosing to take control over what passes your lips at work is a sure fire way to achieve whatever health related results you are interested in whether that is weight loss, clearer skin or better sleep- you name it and home cooked, well chosen meals will get you there.

   I work in a hospital and one would think that would give me cafeteria access to foods that promote health and well being, but one would be very, very wrong. It is an unfortunate and well known fact that hospitals are eons behind the times in providing fresh, additive free, whole foods based meal options for not only the people who work there, but for the patients inhabiting their rooms.

   There are articles out there about the fabulous, health nut foodie approved fare offered by companies like Google, but not all of us are fortunate enough to work for corporations this forward thinking. My hope, of course, is that all work places (hospitals especially!) will kick out the fast food chains and the vending machines and offer real nutrition one day.

   In the meantime, we all have the power to make choices which tell our employers that the calorie dense, nutrient free food they have on board is just not acceptable. We can send that message by consistently taking our food to work and not handing our precious dollars over to companies that by no means have our best interests in mind.

   Bringing lunches and cooking after work isn't easy; I of course know this. But with a little persistence and planning, it is absolutely possible.

   Enter, the lovely and adorable lentil. Lentils are just fabulous. They are nutty, rich and complex in flavor and provide lots of minerals, vitamins, fiber and protein.  Properly soaking them makes them cook much faster (and therefore become weeknight meal friendly) and also allows them to more readily release all their nutrient goodies once they hit your gut.

   Growing up my mother and I were the only ones in our household who really loved legumes, lentils in particular. Because everyone else disliked them so much they rarely graced our stovetop, and in my pre-cooking-ability days I often got my lentil fix with salty, naughty cans of Progresso. Thankfully I can now re-create my childhood bowls of beany goodness without any of the BPA or other unpronounceable additives, but to this day my heart twinges with fondness when I pass those metal towers in the grocery store.

   I thought about putting a fancy garnish on the bowl I took photos of but ultimately decided against it. This soup is delightfully brown with just a flash of green and orange- strong and proud in all her sturdy simplicity. A garnish would just be totally beside the point!

Simplest Lentil Soup
Makes 8 - 10 servings

I like to make a huge pot of this soup on Monday night. We have it for dinner (usually fancied up with a side of creamy brie and sliced baguette) and then enjoy the leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. 

2 1/2 cups french green lentils, rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 cups vegetable broth (I usually do 8 cups broth and 4 cups water)
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
8 carrots, sliced
8 stalks celery, sliced
1 large bunch tuscan (dinosaur) kale, sliced into thin ribbons

   The night before making your soup, place the lentils in a medium sized mixing bowl and fill with cool water, enough to cover them by about three inches.  Cover and set on the counter overnight. In the morning, drain the lentils and rinse them well. Replace lentils in the bowl and cover with another 3 inches fresh water. Cover, place in the fridge while you go about your day.
   When you're ready to make dinner, drain and rinse the lentils again. Heat the olive oil in an 8 quart soup pot. Add the onion and sautee until translucent and beginning to brown. Add in the lentils and your broth/water. Add the spices and stir to combine. Cover your pot, bring to a simmer.
   Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and tomato paste. Stir to combine the paste and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, until the carrots and celery are your desired tenderness. Add the kale, bring back to a boil, then turn the heat off and allow the kale to get nice and soft while you set the table (kale should sit for 5 minutes at least). Add additional salt if needed prior to serving.


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