If you were celebrating, I hope you had a lovely Diwali this year. I love Diwali; it’s full of colour, lights, friends, family, parties, presents and sweet treats. And treats they should be! This is the time of year when our kitchen counters and refrigerators fill up with mithai (Indian sweets – cloyingly sweet, creamy, nutty and buttery), cakes, dried fruit (the sensible option and, lets face it, the last to be eaten), tarts, biscuits and any other sugar and butter laden goody you can think of. It takes a lot of will power to ensure that your gobs and tummies don’t fill up on this stuff too, I mean, it’s everywhere! I don’t have a very sweet tooth so am happy with just a nibble, but I know so many of you struggle to resist these goodies. I am guilty of enabling some Diwali bingeing as I made cupcakes and mini-cupcakes in 3 different flavours for my friends this year – Carrot and Cream Cheese; Coconut, Rum and Lime; and Pistachio, Cardamom and Vanilla with Rose icing. In my defense, they were tiny, yummy and very justified as a once-in-a-year Diwali treat – I don’t plan on making them again soon! Unless you are on a restricted diet for health reasons, it’s okay to indulge a little during this festive time, as long as you are able to get back on the moderate eating and regular exercise wagon again. Just because you fall off it doesn’t mean that you have to stay on the ground. Get up and get moving!
A great way to exercise is a dance class or DVD because it is fun and playful as much as it is a real workout. If you live in England, Mumbai or Prague (indeed, Just Jhoom! has gone international) please look out for a Just Jhoom! class near you, they are starting in new locations every week and they are fantastic; imagine dancing and exercising to your favourite new Bollywood songs! As long as there are new songs, there will be new routines. We don’t have any in Kenya yet (coming next year hopefully) so I use the Just Jhoom! DVD. I love it! I love the song choices, I love the dance routines and, after many years, I enjoy exercising. As a bonus, I have also learnt some new dance moves that ensure I will throw much better shapes on the dance floor!
This has been a light eating week after the slightly (but appropriately) indulgent one last week. Light does mean not bland and unsatisfying, rather, it forces me to get more creative with flavours. I’ve had my eye on some split red lentils (I know, I lead an exciting life) in the pantry which have not been used in a few months. 2 shelves down, there is some coconut milk. Coconut is one of my favourite flavours and coconut milk is one of my favourite ingredients to cook with but I use it in moderation because it is high in fat and especially saturated fat. Whenever I see a recipe that calls for coconut milk, I halve the quantity and the dish still tastes great. South Indian food, Thai food, Rastafarian food (Ital) and Swahili food use a lot of coconut milk in their cooking and vegans often use it as a dairy substitute. I decided to make a red lentil, coconut milk and vegetable soup for dinner tonight, combining Thai and Indian flavours. Instead of vegetables, you can poach chunks of meaty white fish in the soup. I don’t know why I waited all this time to take those lentils off the shelf, it was scrumptious! You can have it on its own as a soup or pair it with some steamed rice as a curry.
Red Lentil, Coconut and Vegetable Soup
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a starter
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes; Cooking time: 30-35 minutes
200g split red lentils (masoor)
200ml or half a tin of coconut milk
1½ cups or 250g cauliflower florets
1 medium carrot (90g), chopped into bite size pieces
1 large onion (150g), finely chopped
2 lemon grass stalks, ends lightly bashed to help release flavour
2 heaped teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1½ tablespoons tamarind puree (not concentrate!) or juice of 1 ½ limes
1½ teaspoons coriander powder
1½ teaspoons raw cane/brown sugar/maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
Salt to taste
1½ tablespoons sunflower/olive oil
1 litre (1000ml) of water or more
Heat the oil in a non-stick wok or pan on medium heat before adding the chopped onions.
Cook the onions slowly and let them get a medium brown colour, adding a tablespoon or two of water as they cook to soften them. This will take 4-5 minutes.
Add the lentils, coconut milk, lemon grass stalks, ginger, garlic, red chilli, tomato puree, tamarind or lime juice, coriander powder and sugar. Stir well before adding the 1 litre of water. Increase the heat and let it come to a boil.
When it has started to boil, reduce heat to medium and let it cook for 20 minutes, by which time the lentils will have softened completely. Add salt, taste and adjust seasoning to achieve the right salt/sweet/sour balance to your liking.
Now add the cauliflower and carrots or fish and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the vegetables/fish are done to your liking. Do check it from time to time and add more water if it starts to dry up.
Fish out the lemon grass stalks (or leave them in if you don’t mind eating around them), sprinkle the coriander on top or any other garnish of your choice and enjoy!
Per serving(as a main course, the vegetarian version): Calories 252, Protein 7g, Carbohydrate 23g, Sugars 6g, Fat 16g, Saturates 10g, Fibre 5g. Very low in Cholesterol, a good source of Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.