About a month ago Ellen Kanner e-mailed me about her new book Feeding The Hungry Ghost. The name intrigued me so when Ellen offered me a chance to read the book, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s part cookbook, part memoirs but most of all reminds us all how many things and events in our lives are connected with food. Ellen is The Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger so I thought this would be a good spot to share my interview with Ellen and she kindly provided two recipes taken from her book for you to try.
Budget Smart Girl (BSG)-Your Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, what sort of topics do you cover there?
Ellen Kanner (EK)-What I love about writing about food is that it’s so subversive. It allows me to talk about big-picture issues, like education, the environment, your health, food policy, fabulous things to eat and the amazing people who grow or produce it. I’ve been Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger for four years and I haven’t come at the same topic twice. The one common element is, I end each post with a new recipe that takes some of what I’ve discussed and gives you a practical application — something fresh and wonderful to eat for dinner.
BSG-Have you seen more interest in meatless meals recently?
EK-Absolutely. I’m really excited. For the first time in eight years, American meat consumption has declined. For some people it’s a matter of health, for others, it’s the environment, but for a lot of people, it’s just the fact that meat has become too expensive. Well, welcome to the feast — a meatless diet is exciting, abundant and affordable.
BSG-And you’re also the syndicated columnist for the Edgy Veggie. Maybe you could tell us about that too?
EK-The Edgy Veggie is also meatless, but here, I do a really targeted focus, whether it’s eating for your health or what to do with what’s in season or a round-up of new glutenfree products. And I always include a recipe.
BSG-And now to your new book, Feeding The Hungry Ghost. Tell us about it. Is it something you’ve been working on for some time and how long did it take you to write it?
EK-While I get to cover great topics for Meatless Monday and as the Edgy Veggie, it’s very focused — this chef, that nutritional focus, this seasonal vegetable, that farmer. Food is a much bigger story. I wanted to talk about how it connects us — to the planet, to each other and connects us to our minds, bodies and spirits.
BSG-What would you like readers to take away after they’ve read it?
EK-A sense of enthusiasm and empowerment. Cooking and eating meatlessly should begin with pleasure. It gives us the power to change the world, and we can have a great time and a great meal doing it.
BSG-Lots of people assume you can’t eat healthful foods on a budget or that it takes extra time in the kitchen, chopping veggies, cooking beans etc.
EK-One of the biggest misperceptions about a vegan diet is that it’s expensive. I’d love to kill that rumor once and for all. Hello, dried beans? Whole grains in bulk? Seasonal produce? This is food that’s sustained us since we came to walk on two legs. Sorry, I can get a bit passionate on the subject.
Food preparation doesn’t need to take a long time. Most of my stews and soups come together fast. Any simmering can happen on its own while you text your friends or enjoy a glass of wine. These dishes keep in the fridge or you can freeze in small portions and enjoy when you’re ready. Either way, you get many meals with little effort and little cost.
BSG-Have any tips to share with my readers and some must have, low cost pantry items, for the Budget Smart Girl?
EK-Beans, beans, beans — chickpeas, black beans, lentils, any kind of dried beans you like. They’re high in fiber and protein, low in calories, madly versatile and super-cheap.
BSG-Any recipe you’d like to share?
EK-What could be better — and easier — than lentil soup?
The following recipes are From Feeding the Hungry Ghost. Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Kanner. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
Deep Basic Comfort Lentil Soup
Homemade soup needn’t be a struggle. This lentil soup is simplicity itself.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 cup lentils
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable broth or water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes.
Pick through your lentils and remove any pebbles or odd bits. Pour into the saucepan with the vegetables. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until everything has become tender and fond of each other to the point of coalescing, about 1 hour.
If a smoother, more velvety soup appeals, feel free to purée using an immersion blender, taking care to avoid splatters. Otherwise, simply season generously with salt and pepper. Feed to yourself, an invalid, an infant, or anyone who needs more from less.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Red Lentil Soup with Indian Spices
Rather than your basic brown lentils, which are serviceable but drab, this recipe uses red lentils. They cook in minutes and with the tomatoes, give the soup a rosy, hopeful tint. The spicing is gentle and reminds you things will not always be so hard. The greens add signs of life, not to mention calcium, vitamin C, and tryptophan, the amino acid that promotes a sense of well-being. Can’t have too much of that.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 large onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 cups red lentils
5 cups vegetable broth
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Juice of 1 lemon
2 handfuls fresh spinach or kale, chopped — add another handful if you’re a greens freak like me
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
In a generous-size soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the oil darkens and spices turn fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and turn translucent, a few minutes.
Add the lentils and cook, stirring, for a few minutes more, until the lentils deepen in color and glisten with the spiced oil.
Add the broth and the tomatoes and their juice, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the lentils are tender and have become one with the soup, about 30 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.
If you want the soup to be silky and smooth, you may purée with an immersion blender, but really, it’s not necessary. Jacob didn’t. The lentils are small, soft, and have coalesced into the soup.
Gently stir in the spinach and cilantro. They will wilt into the soup. Season with salt and pepper.
The soup keeps several days in the fridge.