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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

As promised, today's blog post features my most favorite entree I've made yet! Once I perfected it, I was so eager to share it with all of you. Spaghetti was a weekly meal in my house growing up. As far as I'm concerned, my mom made the best spaghetti in the world! It was the most flavorful dish she made and it easily beat out all of the spaghetti dishes I tried at Italian restaurants. The trick was adding water to the sauce and letting it simmer for up to an hour. She explained to me that as the water evaporates over time, the flavors from the ingredients become more potent. Boy was she on to something! You know when people say that leftovers taste better because the flavors were able to mingle and marinate together overnight? It's true for so many dishes, especially one like spaghetti.

I realize, though, that most of us just simply do not have time to wait on a meal for that long so the spaghetti recipe I am sharing today does not require a long simmer time, but if you have the time, by all means, simmer away!

As an added bonus, I've also included a cashew Parmesan "cheese" recipe for you that comes from one of my favorite bloggers. The spaghetti can hold its own without any toppings but some faux Parmesan never hurt anyone. It is actually quite tasty and gives a nice added flavor to the dish. And with only 3 ingredients, it's a cinch to make, not to mention much healthier than its counterpart. It lasts a long time, too.

It was a no-brainer for me to come up with a healthier, vegan & gluten-free alternative to one of my favorite meals. And yes, it passed the "dad test." He raved and raved about the sauce. It is very filling thanks to the lentils, walnuts and brown rice pasta. No one's spaghetti will ever live up to my mom's but this comes mighty close. ;-)

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

Lentils - I just recently tried lentils for the first time and was so happy to find that I really liked them. You can put them in everything from soups to salads to sauces to veggie burgers. They're even delicious on their own sprinkled with some Celtic sea salt. Lentils have a pretty plain, nutty flavor on their own. I cook them with a bay leaf and mix in some sea salt after they're done cooking to enhance the flavor. Luckily, they do not have to be soaked before cooking so they're hassle-free, too.

Enough about how lentils taste. What kind of nutritional profile are they workin' with? Lentils are considered a heart-healthy food because they are packed with soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol and prevent clogged arteries, reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke. The soluble fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and provides us with steady, slow-burning energy. The insoluble fiber contained in lentils helps to support digestive health, prevent constipation and sweep toxins out of the body. The folate found in lentils helps to lower homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. This legume is also rich in magnesium, which helps to lower blood pressure and also regulates muscle and nerve function. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

1 cup supplies us with a whopping 18 grams of protein, 16-18% of our daily value of magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B6 and has only 230 calories. To recap, lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, are low in calories and contain hardly any fat, yet they keep us full, satisfied and well-nourished. So, yes, they can also help with weight loss. [source]

It would be wrong of me not to mention that lentils are not a complete protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids out of 20 that the human body cannot make so we have to get them from the food we eat. That's why they're called the 9 essential amino acids. If a food has all 9 essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. Lentils lack a sufficient amount of 2 essential amino acids: methionine and cysteine. However, they do contain lysine, which is the most important amino acid for vegans and vegetarians to have in their diets. There is no need to "combine proteins" to ensure you're provided with an adequate amount of protein so long as your diet contains a variety of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) and you're taking in enough calories (energy) daily.

Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese"
Spaghetti inspired by this recipe
Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" original recipe

YIELD: 3 servings of spaghetti, approx. 3/4 cup of Parmesan "cheese"


For the spaghetti:
• 8 oz. brown rice spaghetti pasta or other gluten-free pasta *See note
• 1 1/4 cup garlic marinara pasta sauce
• 3/4 cup green or brown lentils, cooked (how to cook lentils here)
• 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast *See note
• 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• 3 Tbs ketchup
• 1 tsp basil (dried or fresh)
• 1 tsp oregano
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 3/4 tsp sea salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped (optional)

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
• 1 cup raw cashews
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
• 1 tsp sea salt


For the spaghetti:
1. First, cook the lentils. Then, cook the pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Dry toast the walnuts for a few minutes in the pot, being careful not to burn them.
3. Add in the rest of the ingredients, except for the lentils and red bell pepper, and stir well. Let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add in the lentils and red bell pepper a few minutes before time's up and stir well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
4. Rinse and drain the cooked pasta in a colander and serve desired amount on a plate. Top with the sauce and cashew parmesan "cheese", if desired.

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and mix until a fine crumb forms resembling Parmesan cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months or freeze up to a year.

You can find the brown rice spaghetti pasta brand that I linked at Whole Foods, Sprouts or other health food stores in individual packages. I found that this brand has a longer cooking time than what is given on the package. Jovial organic brown rice spaghetti is also delicious and cooks quicker but it is more expensive.
• You can buy nutritional yeast online or in bulk at a health food store, which is what I do to save money. It is not an active yeast, don't worry! It won't disturb the healthy bacteria in your gut. It is actually really nutritious as it contains vitamin B12, which all of us, vegans and omnivores alike, need, but especially vegans and vegetarians. Many vegans love it for its cheese-like flavor.
• Every product I link you can buy in store. I buy most everything at Whole Foods or Sprouts. I just link them for you so you can see what the product looks like, the ingredients, price, and so forth. I buy all nuts, seeds, legumes (such as lentils), and whole grains in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods.

Much love to you all! <3

"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." Rumi


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