It’s what I’ve been drilling into my children’s minds since they were tiny enough to eat a mushy pea.
My daughter came three years before her brother, so, naturally, she was subjected to these instructions first.
I’d say this about every food I placed in front of her, which back then, sat readily exposed in her plastic Barney dinner plate.
I was prepared. I’d read up on all the books. Books about those terrible twos and their picky eating habits. Kids that get hooked on deep-fried, over-processed remnants of chicken and pre-made frozen French fries laden with trans fats and, like little fast food addicts, can never kick the habit.
Mothers had also warned me with their battle stories of sautéed spinach tossed across the room, chunks of stew hanging off the chandeliers, or meatballs flung right into their faces as if their child was Roger Clemens pitching his famous dangerous splitter. There were endless sighs and moans and cries of horror from these women, women I respected, admired, looked up to, who suddenly sat in front of me defeated, with shoulders slumped and permanent stains on their shirts.
So I bought that plastic dinnerware set of Barney, my daughter’s favorite, and held my breath.
And much to my surprise, I watched her eat and not toss.
First it was taboule, heavy on the lemon and parsley, which she gobbled up with glee. If I paired it up with labneh it would be consumed even faster and with my daughter’s enchanting one-dimpled grin.
From that experience my confidence strengthened and I moved on to black beans. But not just any black beans, my nanny Yoli’s caraotas negras, a recipe that required hours of simmering the hearty legume with her famous sofrito of onions, garlic, tomatoes and green peppers.
As my daughter grew older, her demands for variety increased. Rarely did I have to ask her to try it, at least once.
There was baby octopus, sautéed in a pomodoro sauce, which she declared her all-time favorite food at age four. “The yummiest part is the tentacles,” she’d say, eagerly slurping them up.
If a preschooler is enamored with tentacles, you’ve nowhere else to go except to oysters, clams, mussels and snails, all of which were devoured faster than her peers could say “Happy Meal.” An empty plate would inevitably lead to those temper tantrums I’d read up about so fervently, but not because she didn’t approve of the dinner selection, because she wanted more.
Each time I nudged and introduced a new food, I was met by her sparkling enthusiastic eyes, adventurous spirit, and innate appreciation for world cuisine.
Roasted bone marrow.
Korean shrimp pancake.
Venezuelan tripe soup.
And then, she discovered foie gras.
Of course, my husband and I are to blame. “We created this,” he proclaimed (beaming, I might add), recalling that first moment her tiny hand grasped a sliver of Argentinean blood sausage and never let go. Our daughter, and later our son, have paid close attention to our passion for food and travel, becoming our culinary partners-in-crime, exploring the world with us and making the mandatory food stops I research and anticipate along the way.
In Paris, there was the lengthy line winding along Boulevard du Montparnasse for a chance to sample the legendary steak and frites at le Relais de l’Entrecôte. In the Basque town of Errenteria, there was the 6-hour culinary odyssey at the famed Mugaritz, a unique dining experience run by chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, the prodigy of Ferran Adrià, king of Molecular Gastronomy. In Marrakech, we made our way through the chaotic maze that is the Souk Semmarine and climbed up to the rooftop of a dilapidated structure where we dined on the finest lamb tagine, and in Johannesburg we came home with bags of biltong, a South African speciality of dried, seasoned game meat that quickly became my daughter’s favorite snack.
On our last trip to New York, I managed to land a coveted reservation at Prune, the tiny East Village restaurant of famed chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. As we studied the menu, our waitress placed a bowl of seasoned, fried chickpeas in front of us. My daughter was the first to grab a handful, pop them in her mouth, and then ask, “Mom, what are these?”
At fifteen, she was far from that toddler with the plastic Barney plate, learning about the wonderful pleasures of good food. Not once had I experienced the food ambivalence or rejection I had been warned about by those frustrated mothers so many years ago. Quite the contrary, my daughter has blossomed into a seasoned foodie, always willing and eager to try new things and quickly developing a growing repertoire of exotic favorites. I’m not sure if it was the excellent glass of Lebanese Château Musar that was already taking effect on me, but I suddenly started to tear up.
“Fried chickpeas,” I answered, beaming with pride.
“Hmmm. They’re awesome!” She replied, that one-dimped grin beaming back at me. “But we’re going to need a bigger bowl than that!”
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained, patted very dry
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Combine paprika and cayenne in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add chickpeas to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy, 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chickpeas to paper towels to drain briefly. Place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle paprika mixture over; toss to coat.
There’s more, there’s so much more, really. I could go on and on with this list, but, if you are anything like me, you may glaze over lists, maybe get a bit antsy, peek at your Smartphone to check what’s trending on Twitter or send a quick text. Maybe you only brake for exorbitant lists offering up 110 Hot New Sex Tips You Need To Know or Lose 50 Pounds in 50 Minutes Forever, stuff crazier than watching that merengue-dancing golden retriever your cousin Rob posted on Facebook. How does she do that?
My lentil list is not sexy, but it’s worthy of you, because:
LENTILS ARE CHEAP AND QUICK.
Yeah, I capitalized that, centered it and made it bold. I’d set it up with blinking lights and all, if I was computer savvy enough.
I want to tell you more.
I want to ask you to imagine coming home at the end of the day from work/school/the doctor’s/whatever.
Place yourself there, in that moment.
That moment where your body aches, where you’re fed up (because Casey didn’t like your Instagram picture or Horace informed you the Excel spreadsheet you spent the last 5 days preparing is of the wrong month. And he wants the right one on his desk tomorrow.)
Heck, maybe you just got a pedicure and banged your toe as you got out of the car.
So now your toe is throbbing and your Passion in Pink is messed up.
Would a list really do it for you then? Would you really give a crap that:
Lentils stabilize your blood sugar.
Lentils are a great source of protein.
But if you were to open the door to your house and be enveloped by the aroma of gently sautéed onions and garlic, fresh tomato, and earthy lentils, man, you’d feel revived; you’d feel better.
I remember I did when I was a teen coming home from high school drama, the kind that required a flow chart to properly comprehend.
I’d shuffle into the kitchen and my nanny, Yoli, would be there, hovering over the stove. There was always a lot of stuff going on in her kitchen, numerous dented pots and pans simmering or sautéing something or other. But when the lentils were showcased, I knew instantly from the comforting smell of her tangy tomato sauce and my mood automatically shifted for the better.
I’d sit at our scratched up, round wooden table at the far end of the kitchen and Yoli would present me with a bowl of steaming white rice topped with her reviving lentils.
Life instantly improved. After that, I could tackle anything.
Lentils increase energy.
Now, I realize we don’t all have a Yoli stirring in love and lentils upon our arrival from a less-than-wonderful day.
But we all dig the words cheap and quick (which is why I centered them before) and adding healthy and easy to the mix is only a sure win.
You may want to be proactive and get your lentil game on before you and your ruined pedicure grumble towards the rest of your day. The stuff keeps great in the fridge and then it’s really just a quick pop in the microwave until it is ready to work its magic on you.
But if you aren’t the planning type or are so busy you can’t even find the time to go to the bathroom, then, no worries, you can really whip this up in a flash. (And, hey, find the time to pee. That’s just not healthy.)
Here’s a good way to end the list:
Lentils are low in calories and have virtually no fat.
It’s true! One cup of lentils = 230 calories.
Which makes the whole experience delicious, nourishing, quick, and, best of all, guilt free: a happy list worth revisiting on dreary and delightful days alike.
It’s a breadless week for Jews following the rules of Passover and for those addicted to carbs that can be tough going. Especially at lunch, when a tasty sandwich begs eating. I like matzo just as much as the next guy, but how many times can you slather it up with butter, pizza toppings and peanut butter? (Hopefully not at the same time.)
Look at this bread-free week as a time of renewal. You always said you wanted to eat more salad, now here’s your chance! Of course, lettuce can wilt in a heartbeat, especially if you are packing your lunch to go, and, I don’t know about you, but somehow, I feel hungrier when I’m done with a bowlful of Boston Bibb than before I started. I know it’s roughage, which is great for you and keeps the gut working and all that Dr. Oz stuff, but, the mind is a powerful thing and when I’m offering it some lettuce, a few tomatoes, and a cucumber slice or two, well, my food-obsessed mind tends to get a bit panicky.
If this happens to you, it’s a good time to reach for the grains.
Take lentils, for example.
Red lentils are a win win.
Not only are they tasty, but they are incredibly healthy too. In fact, Dr. Oz called them one of “The Best Anti-Aging Superfoods of 2011.” Okay, this was on his blog in 2011, but trust me on this, these grains and their benefits have been around forever and remain the same today: rich in protein and loaded in fiber, two properties that help make us feel fuller.
So, you don’t have to fight the urge for a thick piece of Challah or a crunchy baguette. You don’t have to sigh at the thought of another piece of lettuce, either. Plus, this power-packed, savory dish has a vinaigrette, so, whether you choose to eat it warm or cold (both viable options) you can still call it a salad, or better yet, a Supersalad!