The Daily Beet

12 May Adventures with Ami: A Lesson in Lentils

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The basics of learning about plant-strong living is the topic of discussion with the athletes who have come to learn how it can help them improve their health.  Class begins with a run down of what we mean by whole foods plant-based foods.  I had several examples on the countertop on display.  Each food group covered from vegetables to whole grains and beans all the way to herbal teas.  We discuss the different types of whole grains and beans I have available.  From dried, frozen, canned and ready to eat shelf stable items.  Vegetables and fruits, fresh and frozen.  We discuss sodium, label reading and options available to them.  From dried beans, frozen beans, no salt added canned beans, reduced sodium canned beans and the regular salt heavy canned beans.  They are surprised at the differences in sodium between the options available.  They have printed copies of the label reading guidelines that we use to learn how to read a food label.  The athletes in class ask great questions about each item and name some of the things they have tried.  Their concerns range from it being too hard, too expensive and not flavorful enough.  I set out to set their minds at ease.

We discussed breakfast options, types of oatmeal and other grains that make a hearty breakfast.  Options for traveling abroad that they can take in their suitcase.  The Team USA boxers travel extensively to tournaments in all parts of the world.  Making plant-based living work for them is highly dependent on what they can access overseas.  Taking some plant-strong staples in their luggage can really make it easy.  Things like pre-cooked rice bowls we recently discovered at walmart and Whole Foods market are great for packing on a trip.  We also found some pre-cooked lentils that are shelf stable at target. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, all you need is some fresh fruit and veggies for a great meal.

Once we’ve covered the basics, we start discussing meal options.  Finding plant-strong meals that the athletes are likely to love starts with finding out their favorites.  Tacos and burritos are almost always in the top 5 favorites.  What I love about this, is the ease in which you can transform a high-fat food based with animal products to a plant-strong wonder!  We cover some ways to swap out the meat and dairy of a typical taco or burrito, live fresh sliced avocado, roasted sweet potatoes and salsa. Part of the transformation can be accomplished with lentils.

One of my favorite things to make is lentils.  Lentils are cheap, (around 89 cents a pound for brown lentils) versatile, nutritious and easy to cook!  I often use lentils as a ground beef substitute.  You can use straight lentils or a lentil blend.  My favorite recipe is a blend of lentils and grains.  The texture is great and the flavor can be modified in as many ways as your imagination allows.  I use the following recipe as my base. It makes a large batch.  This recipe stores well and can be frozen.

tacocrumbles

Ami’s Lentil Crumbles Recipe

The basic ingredients include:

1 cup bulgar wheat

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup black lentils/french green lentils

spices to taste

6 cups water

Combine Lentils and bulgar wheat with the water/or brothAdd any seasonings being used, in addition to onions or other vegetables you might be using in your recipe.

Cook the Lentils: Bring the water/broth to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water to be sure you have enough liquid for your lentils to soak up depending upon your recipe.  You don’t want soupy lentils though, so only add a little water at a time. Test the lentils for tenderness to determine when done.  The lentils should be tender in the center. You want to let the lentils rest for about 20 minutes after cooking.  This creates a thick and crumbly mixture.

With this basic recipe, you can make lentil crumbles to fill your tacos, top your nachos, make BBQ sandwich filling or layer into your lasagna.  All you need to do is change the spices.  Here are some of my variations:

Basic no-beef style:

I like the texture of black (caviar) lentils if you can find them in addition to the bulgar wheat and brown lentils.  I use garlic, a chopped onion, black pepper and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to flavor my basic beef style lentils.  You can also use veggie broth in place of all or some of the water for a richer flavor.  Add your seasonings to taste.  Start with a little, as you can always add more.  Stuff peppers or zucchini with this blend along with some sliced mushrooms.

Taco crumbles:

I use my basic ingredients and use cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper as my seasoning, along with Bragg’s Aminos and diced onions.  You can make your taco crumbles as spicy as you’d like by adding more cayenne.  Experiment with the levels of spice you use.

Italian crumbles:

Starting with the basic ingredients, I add garlic, basil, oregano and black pepper along with Bragg’s Aminos.  I like to add diced onions and sliced mushrooms or green peppers too sometimes.  This blend is perfect for layering in a lasagna or over whole wheat pasta with diced tomatoes.

BBQ crumbles: make the basic beef recipe, adding low sodium BBQ sauce and a little liquid smoke.  Use rosemary, sage and thyme for a Thanksgiving meal flavor.  Or try a Moroccan spice blend to spice them up or Herbs De Provence – one of my favorite spice blends that contains: French thyme, savory, fennel, rosemary, marjoram, basil, lavender and tarragon.  Have fun trying new variations, swap out ingredients and make your own creations!

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. She is also the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • justme

    love lentils…thx for some more traveling ideas

  • Colleen Durrett

    how long does this last in the fridge? or can it be frozen?

  • kathleen

    Is there a substitute for bulgur wheat for gluten sensitivity?

    • Shirley

      I was wondering the same thing I wonder would Kasha or buckwheat work?

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