Recalibration

Whenever a friend asks me for advice about food (what are they thinking, right), my answers are pretty consistent. Read your labels, avoid processed food, less packaging is usually better, yes you have to cook, buy ingredients not meals, and for pete’s sake put down that soda. Great advice, and I follow almost all of it much of the time. This is the way with advice right? Right? Please tell me I’m not the only well-intended hypocrite out there. This week I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of the central mission that Big Sis and I adopted when we started this enterprise. Eat food, real food. Just food, not chemicals, not gimmicks, not time-savers, and not substitutes.

A few months back, I decided to cut meat and dairy from my diet most of the time (weekday vegan). For the most part I’ve been pretty successful at staying true to the eat food, real food tenants, but there has been some slippage as I’ve tried to replace food items that are near and dear to my palate and I’ve found myself sucked in by some items that definitely don’t honor the other part of our shared philosophy, which is that eating real food can be affordable. Due to my enthusiasm and sporadic attention, the grocery bill has become a bit of a monster. We haven’t talked about this much, but Big Sis and I both believe that it is possible to maintain your current budget, and in some cases even decrease your spending by replacing processed foods with real food. This belief doesn’t even begin to take into account the long term savings in health care and work lost to illness that healthier eating can provide – don’t worry, I’m not about to do any math here, although I am now tempted to Google to see if someone else has already done that math….. Stay on target. Stay on target.

beautiful, simple, inexpensive lentils

And so after paying the last month’s bills, I decided it was time for a bit of a recalibration. Time to remind my brain and my body that there are simpler ways to stay true to my dietary choices without breaking the bank. And so I whipped up an old friend, one that you should meet as well. Enter bulgur and lentils. These two humble (and CHEAP) ingredients can be manipulated into a variety of dishes on their own, but put them together and a world of possibilities opens up, particularly for those interested in replacing some meat based dishes in their recipe box. I stumbled upon this combo in The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn years ago. As a side note, if you are looking to shrink your expenditures and you come across a used, or better still a library copy of this book, you will find a wealth (hahahaha) of ideas on how to economize in just about every category of domestic life. At any rate, the recommendation here is to mix lentils and bulgur and cook them in water (2 water to 1 lentils and bulgur). This mix can then be used in essentially the same way that you would use ground meat. We used the ridiculously large amount that I made this week in veggie burgers and for a taco/burrito night. The bulgur-lentil mix performed beautifully in both of these areas. My son was particularly taken with his grainy beany tacos. I thought I’d share these simple, cheap, real food recipes with you, just in case you need to recalibrate too – or just in case you’re looking to save a little money and improve your family’s nutrition. Eat food, real food.

Lentil Bulgur Mixture – from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 4c water
  • 1c lentils (I used plain brown, super cheap, lentils)
  • 1c bulgur

Bring water to a boil, add lentils and bulgur and simmer for 45 minutes.  Do check and stir periodically as they will stick on the bottom, particularly if you over cook.  When finished, I turn off heat, leave cover on and let them steam a bit to make the bottom sticking phenomenon go away (works with rice too, by the way).  I doubled this recipe and we now have far more of this mixture than we can use in a reasonable amount of time.  I will try freezing, but remember that this is an expandy food when you make your own.  This mixture should be refrigerated once cooked.  Feel free to make the mixture ahead of time by a few days and save yourself some meal prep time.

happy little burgers waiting to go in the oven

Lentil Bulgur Burgers – adapted from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 2 c lentil-bulgur mixture
  • 2 c bread crumbs
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper (opt.)
  • 4 T mixed herbs (I use bail, oregano and thyme)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs (flax, soy, or chicken)
  • 2 T soy sauce or Bragg’s plus milk to make 1/2 c (I used almond)
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds (opt., but I like the texture)

Preheat oven to 350 if you want to bake your burgers.  Mix the first six ingredients.  Add eggs and soy sauce/milk and mix well.  Stir in sunflower seeds.

amazingly yum and easy pretzel rolls

If you have time, chill for at least half and hour (I did it without the chill and it wasn’t a problem).  Form into patties.  Fry 10 minutes per side, or bake (on parchment or lightly greased cookie sheet) at 350 ten minutes per side.  The fried version has a more burger-like appearance, so if you’re looking to convince someone, that may be a better approach.  I find baking easier in process and for cleanup.  We served our burgers on these pretzel rolls from our friend Somer at Good Clean Food. Traditional burger toppings plus a little kimchi for me. Delish!

Lentil Bulgur Tacos

I must confess that I got a bit slapdash here, so I’m going to describe my procedure without measurements as I would be completely fabricating quantities any other way.   Saute chopped onion until soft.  Add minced garlic.  Add chili powder, cumin, and a little soy sauce or Bragg’s.  When fragrant, add enough lentil bulgur mixture to satisfy your crew.   Turn heat up a little if you’d like to get some browning on your taco filling.  Cook until flavors meld and all is warm.  Serve with taco shells or tortillas and fixings.

No chemicals, no gimmicks, little packaging, no “time savers” (although it really didn’t take long), and no weird factory substitutes.   Just food, real food.  Cheap and delish.