As late as this recipe is, it’s time to celebrate Mediterranean Diet month! Originating in the Mediterranean basin (well, obviously), the Mediterranean diet is currently touted as one of the healthiest lifestyles in the world, as it centers around whole unprocessed food, physical activity, disease prevention (specifically slowing Alzheimer’s disease in this recent study!), and mental and emotional stability. Countries in this region of Europe have followed this diet for years, and around the late 2000’s was brought back to life to combat the health risks of the Standard American Diet.
That being said, if you’re wondering what makes the Mediterranean Diet so “special”, it’s not because there’s a magical ingredient that stimulates weight loss, though the focus around using (extra) virgin olive oil as the main cooking fat source distributes the impression that EVOO is the “superfood” of the Mediterranean diet. As noted, the Mediterranean diet simply consists of fresh and unrefined foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, as well as moderate amounts of meat, eggs, seafood, and low fat dairy. But of course, a vegan Mediterranean diet is totally viable, and would be something I’d follow if I were to try the Mediterranean diet.
Personally, I don’t think that the Mediterranean diet will solve all your weight loss or health problems, because like any diet, nothing is a one-size-fits-all. I don’t consume or cook with any oils, so EVOO is not a staple in my diet, but I make sure to eat countless servings of vegetables, greens, legumes (usually in the form of beans or organic tofu), complex carbohydrates, and a source of healthy fat every single day. Sometimes my serving sizes will vary–I may consume three servings worth of beans one day but nothing for the rest of the week, or two servings of fruit six days a week and five servings of fruit on one day. I’m not perfect, though. I do love a good toasted baguette stick or a scoop of vegan Ben and Jerry’s.
So, lentils, chili, and Gochujang. Why? Lentils are obviously one of the world’s richest sources of iron, and packs a killer punch of molybdenum (aids in enzymatic support, antioxidant protection, and bodily sulfur balance), folate, copper, fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B1 and B6, zinc, and protein! However, not everyone likes the blandness of lentils, which is where chili and Gochujang come to play. Chili consists of extremely warming and antioxidant-rich spices, and Gochujang just gives the spice an extra tangy kick that elevates the flavors from a 7/10 to a 10/10.
Given that traditional Gochujang is high in sodium and is made of corn syrup, be sure to check the ingredients and nutrition facts panels on the Gochujang products you can find, or you can also make your own at home! However, please adjust the levels of Gochujang to your spice tolerance, however. Start small, since Gochujang really punches you in the face. If you find that the lentils need more chili, add more chili sauce.
That being said, the Mediterranean Diet is the best foundation for consuming more fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and more nutrient-dense foods that are much less refined. These lentils are absolutely perfect for incorporating more servings of legumes as well as fiber and minerals. I served mine with two toasted whole wheat baguettes and they were SPLENDID. More whole grains, more legumes, more vegetables? It’s a triple win meal!
RECIPE (serves 3-4)
- 1 cup of dry green lentils; any lentils will work, but the texture will be more pasty if the lentils are red
- 1/4 cup Gochujang sauce*
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
- 1/4 tsp sea salt or to taste
- Optional: a pinch of scorpion chili pepper flakes to garnish–I know, I’m crazy!
- Soak the lentils in two cups of water for at least five hours, ideally overnight.
- Drain and rinse the lentils when finished soaking.
- In a medium saucepan, bring three-and-a-half to four cups of water or vegetable broth to a boil. Add a pinch of salt if desired.
- When the water boils, pour in the lentils and reduce the heat to medium.
- Stir the lentils around. When the lentils expand a little, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by mixing the Gochujang, tomato paste, and spices in a separate bowl.
- Once the lentils finish cooking, drain any leftover water from the saucepan and rinse the lentils if necessary (but drain that water as well).
- Keep the lentils in the saucepan. Evenly incorporate the prepared chili sauce into the lentils.
- Serve warm with a side of whole grain rice, whole grain bread, vegetables, on top of a salad, or as an accompaniment with any entree.
*= If Gochujang sauce is too spicy for your liking, reduce the Gochujang sauce to 2 TBSP and increase the tomato paste to 6 TBSP.
Have you ever tried the Mediterranean diet? How do you like to eat beans?