Sunday, March 04, 2007

On the Cheap

In Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, he notes that Americans spend a great deal less of their income (approximately 10%) on food than other nations around the world. It's (one part of) Pollan's argument that in order to eat better as a nation, we must commit to putting more value on what we put into our bodies and spending more money to do so. I think this makes a lot of sense, but does present a serious problem for all those people in the US who have trouble affording even "cheap" food. They may have trouble paying rent, so a shift in even 2% of income to the food budget would be impossible. I find it particularly confounding that whole grains, of which all of the grain-based foods in my kitchen are made (except for Our Hero's pumpernickel sandwich bread), are more expensive than grains that have been processed and stripped of their nutritional value. Makes no sense to me.

In any event, this dish is quite affordable and virtuous, a protein-and-fiber-packed vegetarian meal. Cucumber-cream dresses it up a bit. The original Cooking Light recipe (I told you this month's issue was good) called for baby spinach in the cream, which made no sense to me. I added flavorful cilantro, which was quite refreshing and tasty. And doesn't it look pretty?

Dal with Cucumber Cream
Cucumber Cream:
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber
Dash of salt

1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. cumin seed
1 t. yellow mustard seeds
1 cup chopped onion
2-3 cloves minced garlic
Equal amount minced ginger
1 t. crushed red pepper
1/4 t. turmeric
3 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth, or homemade stock
1 1/4 cups dried lentils
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped tomato (plum would work, I used diced canned)
1/4 t. salt
2 T. fresh lemon juice

Prepare dal. Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds, cook 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper, and turmeric. Cook one minute, stirring. Stir in broth, lentils, and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until very tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer 20 minutes or until thick and creamy, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in tomato, salt, and juice. Serve with hot cooked brown rice and cucumber cream.

Prepare cucumber cream while dal simmers. Blitz all ingredients for cream in food processor. Cover and chill until time to serve.

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