Soup and salad is a popular healthy meal choice at many restaurants but sometimes the meals miss the mark. The combinations can be either too light, leaving you hungry, or too high in calories, negating the good intentions behind the meal choice.
Several colleagues at The Times recently adopted gluten-free, dairy-free and cholesterol-free diets to improve their health. But these dietary restrictions, while healthy, limit meal options.
Inspired by their decisions, two Times employees set out to make a hearty and healthy soup and salad entree that would meet the criteria of their restricted menus.
Lentil and bean bowl
Finding a recipe for a soup that has no dairy, egg, soy, meat or wheat isn’t exactly easy.
I scoured the cookbooks The Times has collected throughout the years and found a recipe for a lentil and bean bowl in Grace Episcopal Church’s cookbook.
The ingredients — lentils, black beans, chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and tomatoes — all met the dietary criteria I was seeking and boast a reputation for being heart-healthy and filling.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one serving of lentils provides more than 50 percent of a day’s recommended dietary fiber and 36 percent of the recommended protein. Chickpeas and black beans also provide ample amounts of heart-healthy fiber and muscle-building protein.
To make the dish, I started by sauteing chopped onions and garlic in a small amount of olive oil.
By themselves, lentils taste somewhat earthy or nutty. Cooking the lentils in chicken broth amplified the flavor.
After 15 minutes on a low boil, the lentils softened and I added a can of tomatoes, black beans and chickpeas. I rinsed the canned beans before pouring them into the pot to help remove extra sodium.
The beans required about 10 more minutes to cook.
I expected the dish to look more like a “soup,” but the lentils absorbed more of the water and chicken broth while cooking in the end.
“This is soup?” editor Shannon Casas asked as she peeked in the bowl.
Casas said she has a few favorite recipes using lentils as well and enjoyed the dish.
“It seems healthy and it’s delicious,” Casas said.
Whatever my co-workers were expecting when they tasted the bowl, they didn’t complain, even the ones who aren’t fans of the ingredients.
“It was good and I don’t even like lentils,” said Latrice Williams, who tried a bowl and complimented the flavor.
Authentic Greek salad
Finding a gluten-free salad was pretty easy, so I thought making it would be snap. Usually it requires no more than 30 minutes to prep the ingredients, combine them and add the final touches.
However, if reach for your favorite chopping knife only to realize it’s not there or in the sink or dishwasher, your time has more than doubled. It added at least 10-15 extra minutes for me.
Instead of using my chopping knife, I grabbed a long serrated bread knife — normally used for cutting French bread — and chopped three plum tomatoes, one green pepper and half of a red onion. It was a little tricky, but no blood was shed while slicing the fruits and veggies.
While chopping the onion I realized made a mistake by making the salad in the morning. My eyes watered, hindering my ability to finish the task quickly. But once the onion was chopped and added to the salad, my eyes cleared and I moved on to peeling and chopping the cucumber. The fresh scent eased the sting in my eyes and made my stomach lurch for the fresh taste. But I had to move on.
I added pitted black olives, rinsing them before adding them with the other ingredients. I couldn’t find the fresh fruit in the produce aisle, so I found canned black olives.
With the chopping complete, I moved to make the dressing. This proved quick and easy — less than five minutes.
I measured out the extra virgin olive oil, added fresh lemon juice and red wine vinegar and tossed in chopped garlic, oregano and dill weed. With a quick twist of my wrist with a whisk in my hand, I blended the ingredients in a small bowl. And the smell of dill (or green grass as I call it) wafted up, making me think of a fresh spring day.
Next, I tossed the salad ingredients in a bowl, drizzled the dressing over the food, and sprinkled on some feta cheese on top.
The end result seemed successful as one colleague gave it two thumbs up.