Clean Cooking: Day 1 of the Goop Cleanse Challenge and Curried Lentil Soup

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
- Henry David Thoreau

I am generally not one for making New Year's resolutions.  I tend to classify them in the same category with Lenten Promises - intentions made in the presence of others (usually under the influence of peer pressure), which are often abandoned and forgotten within a matter of weeks.  Perhaps that characterization sounds cynical, but I always found the exercise of making New Year's resolutions to be a tad pointless.  Shouldn't we try to do the right thing everyday?  And shouldn't there be a larger goal guiding the decisions we make about the foods we eat, the amount we exercise, and the energy we devote to the people around us, besides the fact that one more year has passed?

Be that as it may, New Year's Day came and went, and I was without a holiday resolution. I was dedicated to continuing the blog, but I was looking for new inspiration to guide my cooking and writing in the new year.  And then yesterday, just as I was getting ready to start my day and test a new granola recipe, I received a new Goop newsletter.  The email described a Cleanse that Gwyneth recommended, and I was immediately intrigued.  I was a fan of Gwyneth's cookbook, My Father's Daughter, and generally liked to read any advice that she had to give related to healthy cooking.

I scrolled down the email to see some interesting healthy recipe suggestions, including one by Jamie Oliver, and I was feeling pretty good about the idea of a "Cleanse."  I was thinking to myself, "I like to try new healthy foods, maybe I should give this a shot." I clicked on the link to the Goop Cleanse Manual to take a look at the program details and was quickly confronted with a feeling that surprised me - betrayal.  I'm not talking about betrayal in the dramatic sense, but the sort of betrayal one might feel after thinking they had mastered a particular video game, only to find out there was another level waiting for them that no one had told them about.

To participate in the Cleanse, I would be giving up dairy, eggs, wheat, oats, bananas (!), tomatoes, and a bunch of other foods that frequently made appearances in my kitchen.  Many of these foods were part of my routine, which I had become pretty content with, and participating in the Cleanse was going to throw off my habits.  But maybe that was a good thing.  When we stop challenging ourselves, we risk becoming complacent and set in our ways, whether those habits are really beneficial or not.

While I couldn't afford to purchase the Goop Cleanse supplements and follow the 21-day program with the shakes, I decided that I was going to at least follow the Elimination Diet for 21 days and see how I felt.  I liked the idea of slowly reintroducing foods at the end of the Cleanse and being able to really zero in on which foods might have negative effects on your physical and mental well-being.  It reminded me of a science experiment, which is always a good thing for me.

I decided to approach The Elimination Diet as a challenge - one that held additional possibilities that could never be explored without a firm intention to follow the list for a set period of time.  21 days is an arbitrary period of time, but I felt it would be a long enough period to really challenge me and truly explore what it means to focus on "clean" foods.  While this is a personal challenge for me and my body, I am mainly focused on challenging my cooking and recipe-writing skills.  I plan on posting only "clean" recipes for the next three weeks.

C likes to say that cooking healthy food involves a higher degree of difficulty and should therefore be graded on a curve.  Most foods taste pretty good with a stick of butter in or on them.  But working with healthy, whole ingredients presents additional challenges to the cook, which can be tackled by embracing the natural flavors of fresh ingredients and learning how to season food well.  I'm not asking for extra credit to cooking foods that are both healthy and delicious, I just think that people need to adjust their expectations away from the over-the-top creations that they see on TV and embrace simple, whole, fresh foods.

I should also note that I am not trying to lose weight on the Cleanse but rather increase my energy level and learn whether I have a sensitivity to any of the foods that I eliminate.  So while I'm pretty sure that I'm not allergic to peanut butter and bananas, I am going without both of these foods for the next 21 days and will eventually reincorporate them into my diet after the Cleanse is over (on a great peanut butter and banana sandwich with whole wheat bread if possible!).  So I bid farewell to some of my favorite foods for now in search of a new way of eating, cooking, and (hopefully) thinking.

Last night I decided to make my first official "clean" meal to start the Cleanse off right - Curried Lentil Soup.  I love this soup and have made it many times before, and I was excited to think that many of the foods that I enjoy cooking actually fit right in with The Elimination Diet. This is a very inexpensive soup to make, and you should be able to find French green lentils at most grocery or bulk food stores.  It's really filling and makes a great lunch to bring to work.

Curried Lentil Soup (6 Servings)
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2010

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons curry powder (or more, depending on taste)
1 cup French green lentils (aka Du Puy)
4 cups water, plus 1/4 cup for the chickpeas
1 15- to 16-oz. can organic garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Green onions, chopped (for serving)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery to the pot and sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Sauté for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and curry powder and stir for about one minute, until the spices are fragrant.
2.  Add the lentils and water and bring the soup to a boil by increasing the heat to medium-high. When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that the soup is just simmering (likely medium-low heat on your stove).  Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender.

3.  Purée the chickpeas with 1/4 cup water, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the lemon juice.  You can use a food processor or mash the chickpeas by hand if you want a more rustic soup. (If you mash them by hand, I recommend heating them for a couple minutes in the microwave first and then mashing with a potato masher or other mashing tool.  In fact, heating the chickpeas first will help you get a smoother purée whether you're using a food processor or a masher - try it when you make hummus).
4.  When the lentils are fully cooked, stir in the chickpea purée.  Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and curry powder if you like.  You can also add additional water 1/4 cup at a time to thin the soup to your desired consistency.
Serve with chopped green onions and sliced lemons if you like.
Nutrition facts for one serving, made with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1.5 Tablespoons olive oil:

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 356 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 
Saturated Fat 
Trans Fat 
Total Carbohydrates 
Dietary Fiber 
Vitamin A 105%Vitamin C 11%
Calcium 10%Iron 20%

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