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  • Warming Curried Lentils and Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Soy-Free, Nut-Free Option)

    I can tell that winter has sunk in (albeit, we don't have much snow here in WI, and it has been warm enough for a few brisk runs outside this past week) with my "hibernation mode" kicking in. Outside is hot lava. Inside is not. Must stay inside. As my sister texted me this week, cabin-fever mode is kicking in! I have been day-dreaming about our summer CSA in efforts to look forward to warming weather. We're going to try out Jenehr Farms this summer in Sun Prarie for two reasons: closer to home so less carbon foot-print, and strawberry picking is included in the CSA price!! (!!!!) We've decided to get a full share this year, since we really love our organic veggies, and found that the half-share we got last season was just enough to get us through two weeks.

    The funny thing about being a complete shut-in is that I should be working on productive things (like my research maybe??). But sometimes, you just need to take in the winter-blues in order to get over them. You know? So instead of fighting it this year like I did the last, and being really critical of myself, I am trying really hadrd to be lenient on myself. Didn't make it to the gym for that workout I planned the night before? Oh well-30 minutes on our uber-crappy elliptical will do. Didn't get up at 7:30am as planned on Sunday? Bake some lovely pumpkin bread while gazing outside, and enjoy the sunshine streaming in instead! And maybe even start prepping for dinner at 2pm. And then take pictures of it all. My point is: when winter has you down, take it easy, and do things that make you happy (and perhaps get some vitamin D supplements, too...). 

    This stew (I guess it is a stew) is a laid-back dish that comes together quickly after the squash is roasted. The extra hour needed to roast the squash is perfect for a lazy weekend day, or a weeknight when you have a bit extra time (or just really want to turn the oven on to warm up a bit...). The roasting dries the squash out a bit, allowing the broth to seep into the squash bits, and also produces some great caramilzed flavors that help gently sweeten the entire dish. This along with lots of warm spices (ginger! cinnamon! smoked paprika!) and hearty, fast-cooking red lentils makes for a perfect cold-weather dish. And please, don't be afraid of the long ingredient list and resist the temptation of using only pre-made curry powders...I supplemented the flavors with my favorite yellow curry powder in this recipe, but please use the actual spices as well. It really pays off! Be sure to serve with lots of toasted cashews and chopped fresh parsley and cilantro. For a quick side to help scoop this stuff up, warm a few flatbreads (pita, naan...) and drizzle with garlic oil, sea salt, parsley and cilantro. It is all amazing, with the spicy, sweet and savory flavors going on...

    For a super-duper filling dish, serve over grain of choice that has been drizzed with some lime juice. Whole-wheat cous cous, basmati rice, brown rice or bulgur are good options. Or hell, do this and the garlic-pita as well! I want ALL the carbs! *evil laugh*. That got a bit weird-sorry...

    Note: while roasting the squash is not 100% necessary, the dish will be fine if you throw the squash in right when you start to cook the lentils. Both will cook at the same time, and even if not, overcooked red lentils aren't the end of the world! They form a creamy, filling broth, that is equally declicious. If you are gluten-free, don't use a gluten-containing grain and/or pita when serving (duh). And if you can't enjoy cashews, try toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds. Also, if you want to, you can keep the skin on the squash. Most butternut (and kobocha and kuri) squash have a tender skin, but a few I have had recently have not, hence why I peeled mine.



    Warming Curried Lentils and Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Soy-Free, Nut-Free Option) //yields 4-5 large portions or 6-7 portions when served over a grain// 

    Roasted Butternut (or Kobocha or Red Kuri Squash):

    • 1 medium squash, peeled and diced into ~1" cubes (about 4 cups)
    • ¼ tsp smoked paprika
    • ¼ tsp cinnamon
    • ½ tsp sea salt
    • 1 TB melted coconut oil

    Stew:

    • 1 medium sweet onion, diced small
    • 3 to 5 cloves garlic, finley minced (reserving 1-2 TB for garlic oil)
    • 1 TB coconut oil 
    • 3 TB olive oil (1 TB for the stew, 2 TB for garlic oil)
    • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed well
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • 1 ½ tsp cumin
    • 1 ½ tsp paprika, plain or smoked
    • ½ tsp turmeric
    • ½ tsp red chili flakes
    • ½ tsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp (or to taste) mild curry powder (optional)
    • 1 TB freshly grated ginger
    • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 cups vegetable stock
    • 1 TB tomato paste
    • ½ cup chopped each freshly parsley and cilantro
    • Fresh lime juice, to taste + to toss any grain this will be served on
    • ½ cup cashews, freshly toasted
    • Whole grain pita or flat bread (I saw that Trader Joe's in Madison carries naan now!)

    1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place coconut oil in the warming oven to melt. Toss the cubed squash in the spices and oil in a large bowl, or straight on a parchment-lined pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, unutil just starting to brown and soften. Take the squash out and set it aside until you're ready to add it into the stew.

    2. In a heavy-bottomed pan (cast iron is best!) with a lid, warm on medium heat 1 TB coconut oil and 1 TB olive oil (or just 2 TB coconut oil). Add the onions, and saute with a pinch of salt until translucent, tender and just starting to brown (about 7 minutes or so). Add the garlic and breifly stir until aromatic, and then add all the spices and tomato paste. Stir until fragrant (about 1 or 2 minutes on medium heat-careful to NOT burn the spices!).

    3. Add the broth, and using a wooden spoon, scrape the spicy-tomato paste bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. While the broth warms, pick-through and wash your lentils. Add the lentils to the warmed broth, and place the lid on the pot. Simmer the lentils for about 10 minutes, until just starting to tenderize. Add the roasted squash, stir, and add a bit more broth if the mixture looks thick. Place lid on, and simmer for 10-15 minutes more until the squash is cooked through. 

    4. While you wait for the whole stew to finish, chop the parlsey and cilantro, and slice up lime wedges. Toast 1/2 cup of raw cashews over medium heat in a small pan, or in a 350F oven for a 7-10 minutes. If serving with pita, now would be a great time to pop it into the oven with the cashews. Prepare garlic oil for drizzing pita bread and/or stew by combing 1 to 2 TB reserved minced garlic with 2 TB olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt. Allow the oil to sit for a few minutes to infuse. 

    5. Check the stew, stir, taste and adjust seasonings. I added a squeeze of lime juice to pop the flavors. Serve over grain of choice (if desired), along with the garlic oil drizzled pita, cilantro, parsley, lime squeeze over top, and toasted cashews. Eat...enjoy...repeat. 



    Peel the squash: a good peeler is essential for this! I love my Rada Cutlery peeler. It is heavy-duty, sharp AND made in the USA! 

    Cut the squash into ~1" cubes.

    Admire how beautiful the squash is...I would love to (in theory...) paint a room this sunny yellow-orange color. It is so darn cheerful!

    Everything all measured out, since I had the time and the sunlight was beautiful!

    And the spices! They smell incredible:

    And the lentils...we can't forget about the lentils...

    Toasted 'shews:

    Roasted squash: it is just starting to brown a bit-now is the perfect time to stop the roasting:

    Steamy and spicy! The onions, garlic, tomato paste, spices:

    After you've added the stock and lentils, allow the lentils to cook with the lid on for about 10 minutes before adding in the roasted squash:

    After simmering and cooking the rest of the way, the lentils are tender and the squash is also cooked through with the spicy broth! And you're done! Drizzle with lime juice, and sprinkle generously with the chopped parsley, cilantro, and toasted cashews: