Desi often teases me (not seriously, he gets the vegan thing) about how, when we travel, I miss out on the best food.
In New Orleans, while he was enjoying the seafood this city is so famous for, I was scouring menu cards– often fruitlessly– for beans and rice made without meat stock. He won’t let me forget the day we traipsed a mile or more to get to a Greek restaurant where I could finally order some hummus and felafel and the usual vegan suspects. As I devoured the tasty (albeit not adventurous) food, I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days.
When we go to India, it is he that my parents love to feed more because he will eat all that fresh fish they tend to gorge on in coastal Goa. When we traveled through Mexico, a food-lover’s paradise, I often had to make do with sides (delicious ones) or scour my Happy Cow list for veg-friendly restaurants and then get a bus or a train to get there.
Eating vegan when you travel is not always difficult, as my prelude might have made it seem, because more restaurants are vegan-friendly these days. But truth is, it’s not always easy either, especially for someone who loves delicious food as much as I do and hates the idea of salads for most meals. I do remember a time I did do that — it was when we took a road trip through the south a few years back. The trip was wonderful but while Desi was out sampling all kinds of dishes that the south is famous for, I was picking at raw leafies and wondering if I’d ever see a decent meal again.
Of course, being vegan and eating out also makes for some great memories. Like the time we were in Lisbon, exploring the port neighborhood of Alfama. The winding, narrow streets are dotted with taverns where you can listen to Fado, the melancholic but sweet music that springs from Lisbon’s belly, and we came across a particularly beautiful one outfitted with what looked like wood parts of a massive, ancient ship. As we stood outside, scouring their menu to see if I could find a vegan-friendly option, the cook — who happened to be passing by– offered to make one for me.
Happy as can be, we went in, listened to some beautiful music, and I ate a meal I will never forget– a delicious pasta with beans and herbs– made specially for me.
Pasta and legumes are made for each other. Together they are perfectly nutritious and delicious vegan eats because they pack a huge protein and fiber wallop. And although you’d think — with all that olive oil floating around every pasta recipe you see– that you’d never be able to make one that was tasty and low-fat, truth is that legumes offer a perfect opportunity to create pasta dishes that are low-fat or even fat-free and utterly flavorful.
My Slow Cooker Lentil Bolognese recipe today is a perfect example of a pasta sauce that’s meaty, delicious, healthy and — best of all– easy. This is also a versatile dish that would go great with not just pasta but also with quinoa or brown rice. I have a fat-free option for you in the recipe, but keep in mind that you are using just one teaspoon of oil for a recipe that makes eight servings, which means you get no more than 5 calories per serving from the fat.
To serve the bolognese, use a pasta that’s either broad– like pappardelle– or a shaped pasta like penne rigate, elbows, or shell pasta. You want something that’s wide enough to serve as a vehicle for the bolognese, or shaped so it will suck in and hold the sauce. The bolognese is gluten-free, so if you are a gf’er you can make it with gluten-free pasta. You might want to first read my helpful hints on cooking gluten-free pasta.
Now for the recipe. Enjoy!
- 1 cup French puy lentils (brown lentils or masoor dal are a perfectly delicious substitute)
- 2 carrots, chopped into 1-cm pieces
- 3 sticks of celery, chopped into 1-cm pieces
- 1½ cups tomato puree
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 cups vegetable stock (use water if you don't have this)
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 1 tsp dry rosemary
- 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced
- Salt to taste
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Soak the lentils in enough water to cover and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a crockpot turned to the high setting, combine the oil, onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Add ½ tsp salt and half of the ground black pepper. Give it all a good stir, cover with the lid, and walk away from it for 30 minutes. (You can make this dish fat-free by adding a couple of tablespoons of stock instead of the oil). I find this first extra step of "sweating" the mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery really helps build the flavor.
- After 30 minutes, take off the lid, give everything a good stir, and add the lentils, tomatoes, vegetable stock, dry herbs, chipotle chili, remaining black pepper and salt to taste.
- Mix well and cover the crockpot again. Let the bolognese sauce cook for two hours on the high setting or until the lentils are tender. The carrots will still have some bite, which is wonderful. Check salt and add more if needed.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Add to the crockpot and give everything a good stir. Add some of the pasta cooking liquid if the pasta is too dry.
- Garnish with fresh parsley and serve hot.