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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Recipe Makeover: Pasta Edition

Obviously I have been cooking for a decent number of years before I made this blog. When I first started cooking I was so brain-washed into thinking that the only way to cook a tasty and fast meal was to fill my recipes with fattening and unhealthy ingredients. My go-to quick meal was always mac 'n' cheese. When I was growing up I was just a picky eater that most of my meals had to have cheese as the main ingredient or something had to be topped with cheese. I was the Cheese Queen, as my mother would always joke.

When I had to re-vamp my diet and lifestyle, my recipe arsenal also had to under-go a dramatic makeover. I had to learn about new foods and how to cook them in a healthy way, but, at the same time , not compromise on flavor. It was a challenge for a while, my tastebuds definitely had to adjust to the healthier, unprocessed foods, and I think that is why so many people quit on their diets. They begin to miss and crave the foods that they once loved because they don't know how to make a nutritious and low-calorie meal taste just as good as its decadent counterpart.

A lot of the recipes I use or come up with are just me experimenting and hoping for the best. If you there are healthy foods out there that you love, all you have to do is think of the best way to incorporate the ingredients so that the flavors sing in perfect harmony with one another.

Like I said, mac 'n' cheese use to be my best friend (and my thighs' worst enemy), but so was all pasta. Personally, I think carbs get a pretty bad rap when it comes to dieting, but whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas are very healthy for you, in moderation. The recipe I'm going to share with you today is a recipe makeover for pasta with meat sauce. Lentils are so much healthier and provide a lot of protein, so this meal is not only wholesome, but satisfying. 

Spaghetti with Tomato and Spinach, Lentil "Meat" Sauce
  • 1/4 c. Dry lentils (I used red)
  • 2 oz. Dry Barilla Plus Thin Spaghetti
  • 1/2 of 1 Large, red tomato, or 2 small roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 c. Spinach
  • 1/2 c. Mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c. Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp EVVO
  • Splash of white cooking wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook lentils according to package instructions.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti. Break the Spaghetti in half and scatter in pot when water begins to boil. Keep the heat medium-low because the pasta will cook quickly. 
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and spinach to a food processor (or blender) and give it a few pulses, until ingredients have pureed.
4. In a medium-sized skillet, on medium heat, add EVVO, garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Sauté until tender. 
5. When lentils are done cooking (They usually take about 15 minutes), add to skillet and stir. Add the tomato and spinach puree to the skillet, as well as the splash of wine. Reduce to low-heat and little the sauce simmer. 
6. When spaghetti is al dente, drain and add to the skillet. Toss in the grape tomatoes and stir until pasta is coated in sauce. Simmer for a minute or two. (This would also be a great time to cover the skillet and make a quick tossed salad!)
7. Turn off the heat and plate the pasta, trying to keep many of the lentils on top of the spaghetti. Mangia!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total: 40 minutes

Nutrition: (Serves one) Calories: 500, Total fat: 7g, Sat. fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 253mg, Total carbs: 77g, Fiber: 10g, Sugars: 10g, Protein: 27g

This dish can easily be made for the entire family, all you have to do is multiply the ingredients to accommodate the number you are serving. This dish is loaded with vegetables that can fly under the radar of even the most picky of eaters. And you can easily use this recipe as a guideline and use your favorite vegetables instead! Lentils are a great, healthy way to get the same protein that you would have gotten from ground beef, without the fat and cholesterol. It is a really hearty dish that will keep you full for hours. If you're looking to make a pasta and lentil dish in a pinch, you could always cook the lentils while you cook the pasta (they generally take the same amount of time), and then just add the lentils to your homemade or jar sauce. There really are zero excuses for you to not substitute lentils for meat. And here's the extra bonus: lentils are super cheap! Especially compared to meat and poultry. Enjoy!

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