I admit I haven’t done much world travel, but I have learned to create the illusion of travel in my own home. It’s not such a novel idea. I copied it from one of my favorite places to visit at Disney World, – Epcot. I love getting to experience so many different cultures in one place all on the same day. It is a day of fun listening to the different music styles, seeing the fashions in clothing, and, of course, tasting all the flavorful foods.
This week I decided to create a little magic of my own right in our kitchen at home by traveling around the world with lentils and rice. Using lentils and rice as a base, I researched flavor profiles from a few different countries. For example, for a little taste of the middle east, I cooked the lentils and rice with lots of onions and cumin, cinnamon, and allspice to prepare a dish similar to what you might dine on in Lebanon.
On another day, for Italian flavor, I used the base of lentils and rice and added rosemary, oregano, and thyme with some onion, tomatoes, and spinach. It was delicious with a ciabatta roll!
For my last dish using lentils and rice I imagined myself in Spain. I gathered diced tomatoes, chopped onions, chopped green pepper, a Spanish spice blend (paprika, cumin, and chili powder), corn, cooked lentils, and cooked brown rice.
First I dry sauteed the onions & green pepper. Not adding oil keeps the calories of the dish down.
After a few minutes, I added the Spanish spice blend and the diced tomatoes.
Following that, I added about a cup of rice and one and a third cup of lentils.
It had a warm aroma from the peppers, onion, chili powder and cumin. The peppers and corn gave the dish a little bit of crunchy texture next to the soft tomatoes, rice, and lentils. I topped it with a tomato salsa and chopped cilantro for garnish. This would make a delicious burrito for lunch later in the week. This dish could be from region of Mexico or Spain with the key ingredients of green pepper, onion, paprika, cumin, and chili powder.
Batch cooking the lentils and rice allowed me to use them for this meal and still have some to use later in the week for other dishes. With the base taken care of it was easy to change the flavor throughout the week without even needing a recipe to follow. You can make your own spice blends to have on hand or use a blend that is already on the market.
Using the no oil saute technique and loading in the vegetables produces a healthy dish anyone can appreciate no matter what country you are from. Increased fiber helps Phytonutrients and antioxidants from the plants help fight oxidative stress and free radicals in our body protecting us from disease.
In addition plants are our only source of fiber.
Fiber has numerous health effects. It slows down the rate of digestion and how full you feel after eating, but perhaps more importantly, fiber changes how our body digests nutrients. Soluble fiber soaks up water and is used by bacteria in the gut to create fatty acids, producing energy, and add to the health of the cells lining our gut. It makes sense that increased fiber has been linked to better bowel health in terms of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and cancer. The average American is getting 15-20 grams of fiber a day versus someone eating unprocessed whole plant food nutrition gets about 75 grams a day. That’s quite a difference!
So imagine what other countries you could travel to simply by swapping out some of the key ingredients and loading in some vegetables. How about Morocco by adding cardamon, clove, and chives or you could go to India with aromatic spices such as cumin, turmeric, coriander seed, cilantro, – don’t forget to include the fragrance and creaminess of coconut.
I can picture us there, on the Malabar Coast!