Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Vegan Moroccan Lentil Stew

Several days ago, I was sitting in my cubicle minding my own business when my co-worker Abby barged into my personal space, thrusting a Styrofoam cup just south of my nose.

“Try this.”
I was about to slap her about, this way and that, for intruding unannounced in such an unwelcome manner.  However, as I raised my hand above my head to strike, the scent of cumin and coriander tickled my nostrils.  After a few tense moments, I quickly shelved my offensive game plan in favor of a ‘waiting and holding’ pattern.
“This is really good.   You’ll love it.”
As the warm aroma of spices continued to permeate my outer defenses, threatening to deactivate my deflector shield, I relaxed my clenched fist, reached timidly for the cup, and queried my colleague.
“What’s this?”
“Moroccan lentil soup.”
She offered me a plastic spoon, which I plunged curiously into the concoction of veggies and lentils, giving a few cautious stirs.  Finally, I relented and took a hearty spoonful.   Within moments, the savory combination of veggies, lentils and spices, warmed my palate… eventually hypnotizing my belly.
“Oh, that’s good!”
I shoveled the remainder of my generous sample around the bottom of the cup, inspecting the variety of veggies present in the mix.
“Is that cauliflower?  It is… And kale!”
“The original recipe called for spinach.  But I thought that kale would hold up better since it’s a bit more toothsome.”
“Good call.”
I loaded up the spoon and wolfed down another satisfying bolus, finishing off with an obnoxious slurp.
“That’s repulsive…  And so are you.”
“Yes.  Yes, I am.”
A lump of half-chewed cauliflower and lentil plummeted from the side of my mouth onto my desk, as I continued masticating the remainder of the delicious soup.  After bathing off my the soiled corners of my mouth with a wet corner of paper towel, which I’d dipped into my mug of water, Abby revealed that she'd discovered the recipe in the January 2013 issue of ‘Eating Well’, one of the magazines to which we subscribe in our department.  She was even kind enough to make me a copy, in spite of my abhorrent, gluttonous display.

I perused the recipe as I gulped down more water.  Carrots, onions, garlic, cauliflower…   lentils, of course.  And a great mix of spices, including cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon.  The presence of turmeric was especially satisfying to me, as Dr. Michael Greger had recently run a three-part series of videos about the cancer-fighting properties of this wondrous spice over at

In the first video, ‘Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer’, Dr. Greger introduces population-based data showing that some of the most common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions where turmeric is a dietary staple…   in this case, India.  While he stresses that many factors may be at play, cautioning that “population studies can’t prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk,” he gives credit to these types of studies for the role they’ve played in leading to further research.

In the second video, ‘Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric’, he describes how curcumin, the yellow pigment found in turmeric, is currently a subject of great interest to the National Cancer Institute for its potential role in blocking every stage of cancer transformation, proliferation, and invasion.  He highlights a study in which a group of smokers pee on bacteria in a petri dish over the course of a month, while consuming less than a teaspoon of turmeric per day.  The results were significant, revealing that the number of DNA mutations in the bacteria decreased steadily and significantly over the 30-day period. 

In the third video, ‘Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death’, he investigates the role that curcumin plays in activating the death receptors within cancer cells, keeping them under control, and ultimately leading to their destruction.  The specific review he focuses on shows that, “…curcumin can kill a wide variety of tumor cell types through diverse mechanisms.  And it's because curcumin can affect numerous mechanisms of cell death at the same time, it's possible that cancer cells may not easily develop resistance to curcumin-induced cell death, like they do to most chemotherapy.”

I had been made aware of the cancer-killing power of turmeric from some of Dr. Greger’s previous vidoes, and this three-part series was enough to make me want to include some of this mellow yellow spice within my diet several times a week.  Throw in the cauliflower and kale, whose anti-cancerous benefits have been demonstrated repeatedly in research, and you have a concoction that the Big Pharma would just love to patent, bottle up, and sell during pink ribbon month.

Luckily for us, drug companies can’t make any money selling turmeric for $3,000/month as an anti-cancer drug when we can buy it in the spice aisle any time we want for just a few dollars.  Of course, a soup can have all the cancer-fighting power in the world.   But that rings hollow if it just tastes like chunky mush.  Fortunately, that’s not the case with this soup, which happens to be absolutely delicious.

It was so good that I decided to forward the recipe to my wife the very next day, as she still hadn’t decided what to make for dinner that evening.  Within a few minutes, she texted me her approval, indicating that she’d make a big batch to last us for the next few nights.

When we sat down to enjoy several bowls on the first night, I was amazed at how flavorful the soup was after just a few hours on the stove.  Most soups taste best after all of the ingredients and spices can fester, meld, and make sweet love in a big vat for at least twenty-four hours.  However, this was delicious right away, and it was just as good for the next evening’s dinner, as well as several days’ worth of lunches at the office.

While the original recipe is available online at Eating Well’s website, you can find our version down below, with the few modifications that we've made.

Vegan Moroccan Lentil Stew


  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 cups chopped cauliflower (about 1/2 medium)
  • 1 3/4 cups lentils
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups chopped kale with the stems removed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat; add onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and pepper; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add broth, water, cauliflower, lentils, tomatoes and tomato paste; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender but not mushy, 45 to 55 minutes.  Stir in kale and cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Just before serving, stir in cilantro and lemon juice.

Just as good for lunch the next day...

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