Saturday, 13 December 2014

Basic Roast Vegetable Frittata

Eggs are such a versatile protein: you can boil, poach, scramble, fry, whisk, beat or bake them. Not to mention the countless dishes that couldn't work without the powers of egg. Here is a basic recipe for a roast vegetable frittata that could be altered in many ways to work as a great easy lunch or dinner with a simple salad on the side. 

You could add:
- fresh herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil
- garlic (try roasting on the tray with the veg then just mashing)
- a different cheese e.g. fetta, ricotta
- a different mix of veg e.g. asparagus, grated zucchini, carrot, parsnip, etc
- change the size/shape e.g. make them in a muffin tin and these mini frittatas would be great for school or work lunches (in an insulated lunch box of course!)
- Line the base of a round flan tin with a few layers of filo pastry before pouring in the veg and egg filling and make a quiche

Basic Roast Vegetable Frittata

1 medium potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
Equivalent sized piece of pumpkin, peeled and diced into small cubes
½ red capsicum, cut into small wedges
¼ red onion, cut into small wedges
1/3 C cooked, finely chopped spinach (e.g. from 2 frozen cubes)
4 eggs
½ C skim milk
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 heaped Tbsp plain flour
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
Salt to taste
¼ C cherry tomatoes, halved
To serve:
Large garden salad
  1.     Preheat oven to 180°C and place potato, pumpkin, capsicum and onion on a lined baking tray and spray with a little extra virgin olive oil. Bake for around 20 minutes or until cooked through. Leave oven on.
  2.     Whisk eggs, milk, garlic, herbs, flour, parmesan and salt in a medium sized bowl or jug.
  3.     Spread baked vegetables and spinach on the bottom of a 20cm square baking tray, lined with baking paper. Pour over egg mixture and sprinkle with tomatoes (halved side up).
  4.     Bake for around 25 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Serve with salad

Serves 4

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Top 10 tips to lower your blood pressure

Have you just been told by your doctor that your blood pressure’s a bit too high? Don’t stress (really, that could make it go even higher!) because there is plenty you can do about it.

What does high blood pressure mean?

It means that it’s harder for your heart to pump blood around your body. In conjunction with high blood cholesterol (and the subsequent formation of fatty plaques inside your arteries) it could lead to blockages, heart attacks and strokes. But there are many risk factors and the tips below also cover some of these (such as being overweight, smoking, drinking to excess, having a poor diet high in salt and low in veg, having high cholesterol and being physically inactive).

  1.       Quit smoking- we all know it’s bad for us in just about every way possible (and is a risk factor for just about every disease). But I know it’s hard, so if you need help, chat to your GP or contact Quitline.
  2.       Cut back on the alcohol- aim for no more than 2 standard drinks per day and at least 2 alcohol-free days per week.
  3.       Stop stressing- identify the stressors in your life and find a relaxation technique that helps to combat them.
  4.       Increase the vegetable and fruit portion of your shop and cut back on the processed foods- the extra potassium will help counter the sodium in your diet (not to mention all the benefits of all the other nutrients!).
  5.       Swap refined, white and processed carbohydrates for wholegrains- such as grainy breads, oats, brown rice, barley, quinoa and bran-based cereals.
  6.       Get a healthy dose of heart-loving fats- from oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.
  7.       Make takeaway a treat food- most takeaway foods are laden with salt and fat (usually far more than you would add if cooking it yourself). So embrace the homemade version! 
  8.       Get familiar with food labels- salt is used as both a flavouring agent and a preservative so you’ll find it in many staple foods (including breads and cereals). Aim for <400mg sodium/100g and opt for reduced, or no-added, salt sauces, stocks and tinned products where possible.
  9.       Make water your main drink- cut back on soft drinks, cordials and fruit juice (the whole fruit is so much better!). Add lemon and mint to flavour it, make it ice-cold with ice cubes, or rediscover tea.
  10.       Start moving- exercise doesn’t have to equate to hours slogging it out in the gym. It can be in short bursts and something you enjoy. Just try to get your heart rate up (and remember that every bit of incidental activity counts).

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Toasted Coconut & Date Slice

The other weekend I had it in my mind that I wanted to bake a healthy slice. So I looked through all my recipe books and searched online, with no luck! Eventually I came across a date and coconut slice recipe from One Handed Cooks  but after pressing the mixture into the pan realised I had forgotten a key ingredient- the coconut! As it turns out, the coconut on the top of the slice rather than mixed in it turned out really well as it gave a lovely toasted coconut flavour. You'll notice there's no sugar in this recipe which is because the dates give a lovely natural sweetness without being over-powering. This slice makes a great healthy snack!

Toasted Coconut & Date Slice

1 C pitted dates, roughly chopped
½ C water
1 tsp lemon juice
1 C wholemeal plain flour
1 C rolled oats
¼ C flaked almonds
1.5Tbsp (30g) table spread, melted (or oil)
½ C apple puree
¼ C desiccated coconut (unsweetened)

  1.       Preheat oven to 190°C. Line a 20cm square dish with baking paper.
  2.       Put dates and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring     until the water is just absorbed and the dates are smooth.
  3.       Remove date mixture from heat and add lemon juice and apple puree.
  4.       Combine flour, oats, almonds and table spread or oil in a medium     sized bowl. Add dates and stir to combine.
  5.       Press mixture in square dish and sprinkle with coconut. Bake for ~25 minutes or until slice is cooked and coconut is golden.

Makes 16 squares

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Should you really be cutting foods from your diet?

There's been a lot of lively debate in the nutrition-sphere recently- both publicly and privately. And while I'm not going to open that can of worms here (as it's a complex topic and one which I can both agree and disagree with), I would like to discuss something else which I have seen quietly spring up alongside many of these new suggested ways of eating: dietary restrictions. And by this I mean the whole spectrum of 'free's'- dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, fructose free, fruit free, grain free, and so on and so forth…

Now, don't get me wrong, there are several health conditions that require the exclusion or reduction of food groups to prevent, manage or treat their symptoms- food allergies and intolerances being the most obvious ones. And even when there hasn't been a diagnosed nutrition issue or reason for diet manipulation, sometimes people just feel better when they don't eat something. Fair enough. We are the masters of our own bodies and we tend to pick up on the signals they're sending us better than anyone else.

But where the waters get a little murky is when you introduce outside influencers to this decision making process. I'm talking about media (new and old), the stories of friends of friends, various interpretations of new research (yes, believe it or not facts can be interpreted very differently by different people) by health professionals or celebrities that pull us along for the ride when there really was no issue in the first place. New diets can seem bright and shiny (like a new toy, perhaps?) and are sold to us with such fervour that we get washed up in the excitement of it all.

Before you know it we're doing our research on what foods to add to, and which ones to cut from, our trolleys, buying fancy kitchen equipment and shaking up our old recipe rut. This can be great! It can renew excitement in wholesome fresh foods and home cooking, reduce reliance of processed and packaged foods and get us more in touch with nature.

Unfortunately it doesn't always lead to a great, lifelong improvement in diet and overall health. What happens when you start having to cook separate meals for the rest of the family because they don't understand why they can't have good ol' spag bol anymore? Or you have to turn down social events because they're based around meals at restaurants which you know won't be able to cater to your special dietary requirements? Or you fall into a cooking rut because you don't really have time to make your own stock or ferment your own foods and you end up falling back on a few key meals that you know are on the 'good' list. Or the grocery bills start piling up because if you do buy anything packaged it must be organic and gluten free and dairy free and low in FODMAPs and no added sugar and no more than 3 ingredients, and not only does the shopping process take a lot longer, but these products always seem to cost a mint! And then you have to forgo that weekend away just to keep on top of it all. And worse still is that secretly, you don't think you really feel any different.

Now, I know this may seem like an over exaggeration to many, but these are the kinds of problems that CAN face normal people simply trying to follow the latest health advice. So MY advice is this: if you feel better by cutting back on carbs or excluding dairy or whatever, and you can happily and easily make these changes to your life, then enjoy! All the more power to you! But if you find yourself losing pleasure in food, or putting strain on your friendships or the hip pocket, then maybe you've taken it a little too far. Eat healthy, wholesome foods most of the time and that one slice of cake or bowl of pasta won't kill you, but it will make life more enjoyable. And isn't that important, too?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Beef and black bean stir-fry

Beef and black bean is a traditional Chinese dish, but you'd be hard pressed to find its star ingredient in your local supermarket. Sure you'll be able to find prepackaged 'black bean sauce' but I really wanted to make my own using the real thing. I managed to find fermented black beans (also called dried or salted black beans) in my local Asian grocer without much trouble at all. And the result was a lovely, easy, flavoursome dish with all the benefits of gut benefits of fermented beans, iron from beef, fibre from brown rice and a whole host of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from a load of colourful veggies!

Beef and black bean stir-fry

500g beef eye fillet (or another lean cut), sliced
50g Chinese black beans, rinsed (found in an Asian grocer)
2 long red chillies, thinly sliced (remove seeds for a milder heat)
1.5 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
1 C reduced salt chicken stock
½ brown onion, thinly sliced
1 ¼ C long grain brown or white rice
2 dinner plates full of vegetables (~8 cups) e.g. broccoli, bok choy, carrots, beans, mushrooms, zucchini, cabbage etc

1. Cook rice in boiling water, drain.
2. Meanwhile, cook beef, chilli, ginger, garlic and black beans in a large frypan over medium-high heat until beef is well browned. Remove from frypan and keep warm.
3. Add onion to the pan and sauté over a medium heat until translucent. Add vegetables and cook until just tender. 
4. Lower to a simmer, add stock and return beef mix to pan, stirring until well coated and beef is heated through.
      4. Divide rice and stir-fry among dishes.

Serves 5-6

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Lemon Soufflés

So I've brought you my recipe for chocolate soufflés before (click here if you missed it), but even more simple are these lemon soufflés. Light as air with a super citrus tang, made from only lemons, egg whites, cornflour and a little bit of sugar. I have adapted these from a Donna Hay recipe and they make for a very impressive dessert! The recipe makes 3 large individual serves, but you could use smaller 3/4 cup ramekins and divide the mix amongst 4.

Lemon soufflés
1/3 C lemon juice
1 Tbsp castor sugar
¾ Tbsp cornflour
2 large eggwhites at room temperature
2 Tbsp castor sugar, extra
Icing sugar, to serve

  1.      Combine lemon juice, 1 Tbsp castor sugar and cornflour in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for ~8mins or until thickened. Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate until cold.
  2.      Pre-heat oven to 180°C and prepare 3 x 1-C capacity ramekins by brushing lightly with margarine (or spraying lightly with oil) and dusting with castor sugar. Place on a baking tray.
  3.      Beat eggwhites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Pour in extra castor sugar in a thin stream and beat until thick and glossy. Set aside.
  4.      Beat lemon mixture from the fridge until smooth. Gently fold eggwhites into the lemon mixture.
  5.      Spoon into prepared ramekins. Smooth the tops with a spatula and run a knife around the edge of each ramekin (to ensure the soufflés aren’t caught on the sugar and rise evenly).
  6.      Bake for ~10-12mins or until the soufflés have risen and are just golden on top. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately (they will start to drop almost straight away once removed from the oven). 

Serves 3.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Fooditian: The new (more aptly named) title for trained foodies (AKA Dietitians)

I may have the word ‘diet’ taking up a significant portion of my professional title, but the truth is, I wish I didn’t. The word diet conjures up many negative connotations of restriction, guilt, hunger and images of boring, uninspiring food. And unfortunately, when client’s come to see me they often think that is what I’ll put them on. But that’s actually not what Dietitians are all about (would you ever have guessed?).

I like to educate people about healthy food, give them new recipes and meal ideas to try, get them excited about food and teach them how to decipher food labels so that they can choose healthier products themselves. I like to show people how to get in touch with their own body and listen to the signals it is sending them. Not actually hungry? Then don’t eat. Feeling full but enjoying a delicious meal? Then stop, save the leftovers for the next day and enjoy it twice! And believe it or not, we have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to medical conditions too. In fact, we studied ‘medical nutrition therapy’ or ‘clinical dietetics’ at university and have a good understanding of the relationship between food and the body (how does food impact on cholesterol, or blood pressure, blood sugar levels or energy levels, bowel function, or appetite, recovery from surgery or healing of wounds, body composition or athletic performance? We could tell you). Some of us even work in hospitals and determine tube feeds to sustain patients while they can’t eat for themselves, or in aged care and encourage higher calorie foods in malnourished older residents. So it isn’t all about weight loss. And heck, even in ‘weight loss’ cases, it isn’t all about weight loss.

The aim is to give someone the power to make their own decisions and to support them through that process. Sure, we can make suggestions, but ultimately it’s not up to us what actually goes into their mouth. In fact I try to avoid giving out meal plans because I know they aren’t going to be stuck to. And that’s ok! Food is about so much more than just fuel, or an energy in energy out equation, it’s about pleasure! Do you really want to miss out on a piece of cake on your birthday or order salad at a famous Italian pasta restaurant? I sure wouldn’t. Be flexible and be kind to yourself. Eat well most of the time and those few occasional treats aren’t going to do you any harm.

My tip? Stop focusing on the numbers on the scales. Focus on you, how you feel and the health benefits associated with your healthy lifestyle. Want to find out more about food and how it affects you? Speak to a Dietitian- it’s what we do! Or maybe we should change our title to Fooditian (do you think it’ll catch on?).

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Chermoula spiced beer bread

There's something very satisfying about making your own bread, especially the smells that come wafting out of your kitchen while it's baking! I wanted to start with a relatively easy recipe that I could flavour with a new chermoula spice mix I'd discovered in a spice appreciation class (see here for more on this). So I cast my mind back to food technology in high school when we'd made beer bread (I know, beer in school? Surely that's not allowed now!). Now, I'm no lover of beer, or any alcohol really, but when it comes to cooking and you're left with just the flavours, it seems to work so well! Not to mention, the yeast in the beer helps this bread to rise beautifully.

I served my bread with chermoula-rubbed lamb and onion
skewers, grilled vegetables (capsicum, eggplant, zucchini,
mushrooms and spinach) and tzatziki and hummus on
the side- delicious!

Chermoula is a North African spice blend made of cumin, paprika, onion, turmeric, cayenne, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and coriander leaves. It goes really well with grilled meats and vegetables and gives a spicy Moroccan flavour. If you don't have access to chermoula, any other herb or spice mix will do, or the bread can be just as good without any other flavour additions (as it lets the beer shine through).

Chermoula spiced beer bread

3 ¼ C plain wholemeal flour
330mL bottle of beer (dark ale recommended), at room temperature
1 tsp dry instant yeast
1-2 tsp salt
Optional: 1.5 Tbsp chermoula or other herb or spice mix

 1. Combine flour, yeast, salt and chermoula (if using) in a large bowl. Run beer bottle under a tap of running hot water for a few minutes to warm. Add to bowl and stir gently to combine.
2. Knead dough on a floured surface and return to bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for at least 1 hour.
3. Punch down mixture (press with your fist a couple of times) to get rid of any large air bubbles. Again, cover and let rise for at least 2 hours or refrigerated overnight.
4. Form dough into a loaf and place on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle the top with plain flour and slash with a knife (forming 1 vertical line or 3 angled lines). Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 230°C.

5. Put 8-10 ice cubes in a tray and place at the bottom of the oven (this will humidify the oven allowing a nice crunchy crust to form on the bread). Put bread tray on the middle rung of the oven and bake for 20-35mins or until the bread has risen and the crust is nicely browned.
6. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Makes ~15 small slices.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The complete balanced meal planner

Here it is: the dietitian-devised complete balanced meal planner! Choose any combination of steps 1-6 and you will create a healthy, and flavoursome, balanced meal. Give it a try for yourself and have a go planning your dinners (or lunches) for the week.

Step 1: Choose your protein
This should take up ¼ of your plate. Choose lean meats and trimmed of skin and fat, dried or reduced salt tinned versions of lentils and other legumes, raw or dry roasted, unsalted nuts and natural nut and seed butters (without added sugar or salt) and reduced fat dairy, where possible.

100g beef, lamb, kangaroo, veal, chicken, turkey, pork or fish (in the form of mince, steak, breast, diced, sliced, tinned, skewers, rissoles, meatballs, etc)
Meat alternatives:
2 large eggs
170g tofu or tempeh
1 C lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, cannellini beans and other legumes
30g nuts, seeds, or nut or seed paste
1 cup (250mL) milk
½ cup (120mL) evaporated milk
2 slices (40g) hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, fetta)
½ (120g) cup soft cheese (ricotta, cottage)
¾ cup (200g) plain natural or Greek-style yoghurt

Step 2: Choose your carbohydrate
This should take up another ¼ of your plate. Choose wholegrain and low GI versions where possible.

1 cup cooked pasta (spaghetti, penne, risoni, lasagne sheets, cannelloni tubes, wonton wrappers etc), noodles (rice, egg), rice, quinoa, pearl barley, buckwheat, bulgur, polenta or semolina
2 slices bread, 1 medium roll, 1 flatbread (wrap, pita etc)
4 crispbreads
2 small English muffins or crumpets
1/3 cup flour (wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, rice, corn) or breadcrumbs- into patties, pancakes etc
Starchy vegetables:
1 medium potato, sweet potato, parsnip, taro or cassava
1 medium corn cob
1 cup lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, cannellini beans and other legumes

Step 3: Choose your vegetables
This should take up the remaining ½ of your plate. Each of the following is 1 serve; aim for 3 or more serves to fill half your plate. Choose fresh, frozen, or reduced salt tinned versions and as many different colours as possible.

½ cup cooked green, orange, white or purple vegetables (e.g. broccoli, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, mushrooms, beetroot, etc)
½ cup cooked beans, peas, lentils or other legumes
1 cup leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, rocket, kale, silverbeet, etc)
1 cup raw salad vegetables (cucumber, capsicum, sprouts, etc)
1 medium tomato

Step 4: Choose your cooking method for each element
Note: Plate elements (protein, carbohydrate and vegetables) can be cooked together or cooked and kept separately.


Step 5: Choose your flavour base
Usually in tablespoon quantities per plate.

White or red wine
Soy/tamari/hoisin/oyster/fish sauce
Herb or spice rub
Reduced fat cream or evaporated milk
Curry paste

Step 6: Choose your flavour additions
Usually in teaspoon or tablespoon quantities per plate.

Herbs- fresh, dried or paste
Lemon, lime or other citrus
Cheese- parmesan, fetta, ricotta, mozzarella, etc
Condiments- mustard, chilli jam, etc
Olive or nut oils

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins with sweet spices

A few weeks ago I went to a spice appreciation class at Herbie's in Rozelle (click here for their website). It was a lovely afternoon and the perfect birthday present for anyone who, like me, loves anything related to food. The idea of flavouring your food with herbs and spices instead of added fat, salt and sugar, is definitely one that appeals to me, and which, in my opinion, offers infinitely more possibilities! 

Now, when you think of herbs and spices you generally think of savoury dishes, right? Well, if you have ever added vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice to cakes or other baked goods, you've added spice to sweet dishes too! This time, I decided to venture further than these traditional ingredients and experiment with one of my Herbie's purchases: fragrant sweet spice mix. Made up of coriander seed, cassia, cinnamon quills, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, poppy seeds, cloves, cardamom and rose petals, it really is delicious to smell (and taste!). 

And so, this was my creation: sweet and fragrant strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins, full of fibre, low in saturated fat and sugar and with plenty of flavour! A perfect afternoon treat. Note: if you don't have access to this fragrant mix, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with still give a lovely flavour!

Strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins with sweet spices

1 ½ C wholemeal SR flour
¾ C rolled oats
¼ C LSA 
¼ C brown sugar, plus 1 Tbsp extra
2 tsp fragrant sweet spice mix
1 egg
½ C skim milk
½ C reduced fat Greek-style yoghurt
¼ C oil (olive, canola or macadamia)
1 tsp vanilla
¾ C strawberries, diced, plus 2-3 extra, sliced
2 Tbsp macadamias, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Combine flour, oats, LSA, brown sugar and fragrant sweet spice mix in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, milk, yoghurt, oil and vanilla.
  4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and gently combine. Fold through diced strawberries.
  5. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cases, top with chopped macadamias and a sprinkling of brown sugar (from 1 Tbsp extra). Place a strawberry slice on each.
  6. Bake for 25-30mins or until lightly golden and skewer comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

I’m going to be honest here and say it makes me sad to imagine a world without dessert. I’m a self-confessed dessert fiend and I’ll have something sweet after dinner most nights. My family and friends can vouch for that- if I turn down dessert they know something’s wrong!

Many of you are probably thinking that as a Dietitian, shouldn’t I be eating healthily, like, all the time? The truth is I’m just like you, I have my vices, and dessert is one of them! So I wanted to answer a question I commonly get asked:

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

The answer is: Yes! But it does depend what you consider ‘dessert’ and how much you have of it.

The reasons why dessert has made it into the dieting bad books:
  1. Often eaten after a large meal, when we’re not hungry, making it unnecessary kilojoules (or calories) which can be difficult to burn off if all you’re doing after eating it is relaxing on the couch then going to bed.
  2. Typically laden with excess sugar and fat, particularly pre-packaged and restaurant types.
  3. Extras like whipped cream, ice cream or icing sugar, which can really add up.
  4. Can provoke a night time binge that starts with a bowl of ice cream, gets followed by some chocolate and finished with a few bickies. 

How to make dessert part of a healthy diet
  • Don’t eat if you are truly stuffed after dinner (a feeling we want to try and avoid at any meal).
  • Dessert should be small and not a hugely significant energy contribution to your diet- practice the art of mindful eating if you struggle with this one.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and processed desserts and instead choose desserts made from wholefoods. Cooking, or preparing, it yourself is generally the best option so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
  • Make dessert contribute positively to your nutrient intake in some way- whether it be a source of  calcium, fibre, protein or antioxidants (from dairy, whole grains, nuts, fruit, etc).
  • Reduce your portion size- if you enjoy making your own sweet treats, cut the cake or slice into smaller pieces than the recipe recommends and avoid going back for seconds.
  • Dessert shouldn’t really be a habit. Always ask yourself ‘do I really feel like this?’. If the honest answer is no, then it would just be a waste to eat it- save it for a time when you know you’d really enjoy it!
  • And who said dessert has to be ice cream or cake? When I think of dessert I think of sweet, but that doesn't mean you're limited to ‘dessert’ foods. How about yoghurt with berries? Or a hot chocolate? Or a muesli slice? Or even a handful of trail mix or dry cereal? 

Healthier dessert options
  • Fruit salad with yoghurt.
  • Milk based rice, semolina or sago pudding.
  • Baked ricotta with berries.
  • Homemade cake lower in sugar and butter, made with wholemeal flour and flavoured with fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut or nuts.
  • Individual serves of (ricotta-based) cheesecake, pudding, cake or pie, baked in a muffin tin or small ramekins. 

Links to some of my healthier sweet treat recipes:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Lentil ‘meatballs’ with pasta, greens and lemon pesto sauce

Lentils. They were once only the domain of vegans and 70's hippies, but I'm keen to bring them back. Small legumes, full of fibre and protein, they make a wonderful meat alternative, and are a great way to bulk up a meal (without the cost of meat). You can buy them dry or canned and I must say, for me canned is the way to go. No soaking or cooking required, you just open the can, pour into a fine sieve and rinse. 

Brown lentils especially go well as the basis of burgers, rissoles and 'meatballs'. I adapted this recipe from another one I saw floating around the internet and they're super tasty. They work especially well with my homemade basil pesto, but if you don't have the time, you the bought stuff and just add a good squeeze of lemon.

Lentil ‘meatballs’ with pasta, greens and lemon pesto sauce

375g tagliatelle or fettucini
1 leek, sliced
3 C silverbeet, finely sliced
1 large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
½ medium eggplant, cut into matchsticks
1 C beans, halved crossways
1 C broccoli florets

Lentil ‘meatballs’
2x400g cans brown lentils, rinsed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ C reduced fat ricotta
¼ C grated parmesan
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp mixed herbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
¾ C breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

Lemon pesto sauce
1 bunch basil (~2 C)
4 Tbsp toasted pinenuts
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp water

1. In a food processor, process lentils and parsley until mostly smooth, but some texture still remains. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Add eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, mixed herbs and breadcrumbs. Stir well and let mix sit for at least 20 mins.

3. Make lemon pesto sauce: in the same food processor process all lemon pesto sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water to thin further, if desired. Refrigerate until needed.

4. Roll tablespoons of lentil mix into balls and place on lined baking trays. Spray with a little olive oil. If making 'meatballs' ahead of time, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed.
5. Bake lentil ‘meatballs’ at 205°C for 20-25mins or until golden brown.
6. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a saucepan of boiling water and stir-fry greens in a large frypan.

7. When pasta is cooked, drain and toss through vegetables along with lemon pesto sauce. Divide among bowls and top with ~6-8 ‘meatballs' per bowl. Top with extra parmesan.

Serves 6 plus a few leftover ‘meatballs’ for lunches :)