Save money and your health by going vegetarian for the first week of every month

Lentils get a kick in the pants (for once) with the bright flavors of cilantro and salt-cured lemon
Lentils get a kick in the pants (for once) with the bright flavors of cilantro and salt-cured lemon

Vegetarians and vegans can skip this post (unless you want to see the recipe for Lemony – Lentil Soup with Cilantro at the end but I’ll warn you, there is chicken broth involved). Carnivores, listen up! It is easy to get into a food rut. Our family has been thrashing around in a toddler food rut lately, brought on by laziness, exhaustion, and a greatly revised monthly grocery budget (I can’t look at another homemade enchilada, I just can’t).

After a nice child-free weekend in which Small Boy went to his grandmother’s house and Huzzybee and I stayed up into the wee hours of…11:30 p.m., the two so-called responsible adults in our family were feeling a little worse for wear. True, turning out all of the lights except for a candle or two, making Old Fashioned cocktails in the dark, and telling ghost stories until Earth Hour 2014 finished was completely worth it, but the next day we agreed that our livers and our bank account needed a break. We set upon a monthly resolution to spend the first week of every month eating vegetarian. So, for the next few days I shall chronicle a vegetarian entree, it’s acceptability, it’s budget-friendliness, and preparation time.

Because we are in possession of a tiny meat-eater I spent quite a bit of time researching the best ways for him to get enough protein without having to resort to too much tofu. Small Boy’s 2nd birthday falls on Friday of this week and our meat-fast continues until Sunday, so we decided to allow a filet of salmon on Friday because it is one of his favorite foods and my Norwegian husband can’t go for long without his fishy meals.

My first meal, Lemony-Lentil Soup with Cilantro, is from Epicurious and I chose it because Monday was March 31st and my grocery budget doesn’t reset until April 1st. As it so happens, I had a homemade jar of preserved lemons, a 10 lb bag of lentils, a wilting bunch of cilantro, and some homemade chicken broth all ready to go. Naturally, because I am almost completely incapable of following a recipe without “improving” it, my version is slightly different from the original. Also, since we are all sick with colds, I allowed us to CHEAT with chicken broth for this soup, but I am sure that using all veggie broth would also have a lovely result.

Small Boy ate three full bowls of it with a slice of rye bread, and Huzzybee declared it to be one of my “good soups”, which is his highest compliment.

Lemony-Lentil Soup with Cilantro (Reluctant Matron style)

1 cup brown lentils, washed and picked over
1.5 cups of water
2.5 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of bouillon broth (1 cup water plus 1 tablespoon bouillon)
1 slice preserved lemon (or 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice (I had to let the Epicurious commentors talk me into the allspice but it is worth it. Don’t skip the allspice!)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon for sautéing

Place the 1/4 cup olive oil in a blender (I used my trusty Magic Bullet) with the cilantro, the already chopped preserved lemon and a splash of juice from the preserved lemon jar. Puree until a beautiful green paste forms. Set aside. Saute the onions for about 3 minutes on medium high heat, then add the allspice and pepper. Continue to saute for another minute, then add the water and lentils. Bring to a boil and slowly add the rest of the liquids. Bring to a boil for a minute and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 to 40 more minutes, skimming any foam that forms. Note: if your lentils start to look a little thick just add more water or broth, depending on taste. After at least 3o minutes of simmering add in the lemon and cilantro paste. You shouldn’t need to add salt if you are using preserved lemon, but if you used lemon juice instead then this is where you will salt to taste. When you are satisfied with the flavor and the lentils are soft remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Then blend in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary, until a smooth consistency is reached. Garnish with some additional chopped cilantro or lemon zest.


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