To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility. - James Carse
Three and a half years ago, I started playing with food. I didn't see it as play at the time; I simply needed to feed myself and was growing tired of my daily rotation of eggs, fried rice and frozen fake meat (I know, I know. What can I say?). One day, compelled by a force I cannot identify even now, I found myself scrolling through the recipe index of Smitten Kitchen. Skimming past countless dishes that sounded complicated or completely off-putting to my ridiculously picky palate, I eventually came across one that lit my brain neurons ablaze: a salad of spiced squash with lentils and goat cheese. A vegetarian dish with cheese, plant protein and nary a green vegetable in sight?! This I could get on board with.
The following day, I gathered the ingredients and laid them out on the kitchen counter. Had the trusty recipe by my side. Grabbed a knife, centered the butternut squash on the cutting board and…totally froze. How the hell was I supposed to open this thing!? After passing through a brief yet incapacitating moment of bewilderment, I did what any resourceful person who grew up in the digital age would do: ran upstairs to my room, grabbed my computer and typed, "How to cut a butternut squash" into YouTube. Needless to say, this turned out to be a successful research tactic.
While certainly clunky at times, the rest of the process was manageable. I didn't chop my finger off, didn't scorch the squash. I assembled the finished elements together and sat down at the table for the moment of truth. Took my first bite and…OH MAN, WHAT?! It was SO DELICIOUS. I was flabbergasted. Not only that the recipe was supremely tasty, but that I had made it. With real, whole foods and spices. With a knife and an oven and boiling water. Completely from scratch. I couldn't recall a time when I had felt simultaneously so accomplished, surprised, and simply satisfied.
Suffice to say that that was the beginning of it all. The obsession, the learning, and ultimately the play. I buried myself in recipes, spent all my free time in the kitchen, became acquainted with seemingly endless ingredients and techniques. I learned an entirely new language and eventually gained the confidence to experiment freely with those tools myself.
And so, here we are. Food on the counter, fingers on the keyboard, camera in hand. Just a few more ingredients for possibility and for play.
LET'S TALK LENTILS!
Alright, enough with the story telling. Let's get our knowledge on.
In spite of their compact constitution, lentils are a nutritional powerhouse and help keep balanced many of our bodies' essential functions. Their small size makes them a great legume to cook from scratch because they don't require the overnight soak that many more hefty pulses do (although if it crosses your mind in time, soaking any grain/legume/nut/seed overnight is always great to aid in easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients).
Like most legumes, lentils are an excellent source of protein, constituting a whopping 26% of their calories! One cooked cup provides our bodies with 18 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and zero cholesterol—a claim I've never heard any protein-rich animal able to make. Choosing protein sources with these drastically lower amounts of fat and cholesterol mean great things for our heart health and help prevent major diseases, including cancer.
Most of us learn at some point in our young lives that fiber is that thing we should include in our diet to help our bodies eliminate waste regularly. But why is that the case? Structurally, fiber is a complex carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. It is divided into two distinct types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which is absorbent, soaks up water and other bodily fluids to create a gel-like substance that grabs bile (which is filled with cholesterol) and shuttles it through our digestive system. Insoluble fiber helps bulk up the waste and keep us regular. The exciting news about lentils is that they contain significant amounts of both!
While keeping our digestion and elimination flowing smoothly, the soluble fiber in lentils is also significant in that it helps stabilize our blood sugar levels and provides long lasting, slow-burning energy. This energy boost is also aided by lentils' hefty dose of iron, which is a key player in transporting oxygen to all of our bodies' tissues. This consistent flow of oxygen is a huge part of what keeps us alive!*
Suffice to say that while this delicata squash and lentil salad is crazy good for you, you should mostly make it because it's super delicious. Chock full of seasonal produce, fresh herbs and warming spices, it will surely bring a playful twist to your winter table.
Spiced Delicata Squash, Lentil & Pomegranate Salad
1 cup de puy lentils
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 delicata squash, large
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 cup arugula
1/3 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
sea salt & ground pepper
3 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 218°C.
2. Cut the ends off the delicata squash, slice in half length-wise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice the two halves width-wise into 1/4" half moons.
3. In a roasting tray or on a baking sheet, toss the squash with coconut oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Spread the squash out so that each piece is laying flat on the tray and none are overlapping.
4. Place squash in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until the bottom sides are nicely browned. Flip each piece over and cook until the other sides are equally golden, 10-15 minutes.
5. While the squash is roasting, rinse lentils and pick out any stones. Place in a pot and fill with water 2" above the lentils. Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until lentils are soft but still toothsome; mushy lentils make for a very sad salad! Taste them after 12 minutes and gauge the remaining cooking time from there.
6. Once the lentils are cooked, strain out the water and season with salt to taste.
7. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.
8. In a large bowl, combine arugula, pomegranate seeds, mint, and lentils. Toss with the dressing. Gently fold in squash and serve warm.