10 January 2013

The Lentil Loaf that Turned Me into a Carnivore

It's alive!

And by it I mean me. As some of you may have noticed, it's been a long time since I last posted. I'm not entirely sure where the time went but I've spent a lot of it trying to figure out my life. As part of that exciting process I gave up meat for a while.

Anyone who knows me wasn't surprised by that decision--I'm a crazy animal lover with a strong sense of guilt. I've actually been a vegetarian before as well (for five long years), but I really thought this time I'd stick with it. I was prepared to give up so many foods that I love (bacon, BBQ, burgers...) I was willing to put up with the ridiculously limited vegetarian options available at most restaurants. I was okay with cohabiting with three unrepentant carnivores (two feline, one human). And I was more than happy to live with a clear conscience.

And then came the lentil loaf.

Don't get me wrong--I actually really like lentils (including in loaf form). And I like cooking. What I don't like is wasting hours (nearly four!) and multiple ingredients to make something completely blah. It was unsatisfying. It was too sweet. It was way too high in carbs for something that wasn't a dessert. And suddenly it occurred to me that for way less time, effort, and ingredients I could have had a delicious and satisfying meat loaf. And my resolve collapsed. There's a reason why there aren't more vegetarians in the world, I realized. With apologies (and thanks) to the animals I'm back to eating meat. Delicious, delicious protein.

I still feel guilty about it, of course. I fully believe animals have intelligence, personalities and souls. I guess I'm putting some major black marks on my karma. I am trying to mitigate the badness of it, though. We're making a point of getting humanely raised meat (we've just signed up for a CSA program with local farmers--I'll let you know how that goes). I also will be getting and reading The Compassionate Carnivore (although given the pile of books I got for Christmas that could take a while). I'm also happy to hear your (constructive) thoughts on the issue. Anyone else struggling with being a meat eater?

For you curious types, here's a few pictures of the lentil loaf process (as well as the recipe)...

The ingredients, including a package of vacuum-sealed dates
Freshly ground nuts
Cooking the first batch of ingredients

Mmm...appetizing. I think this is the stage where I first started worrying.

Getting ready to mix it all together

Ready for its first stint in the oven.

Preparing the glaze.

Just what the loaf needs--another layer of sweetness!

Now it's ready to go into the oven for the second time. I really started worrying when it was finally finished yet still looked exactly the same.

Vegetarian Meat Loaf
[Found online a while ago but I can't remember the source now. Please speak up if this is yours. My comments in brackets...] 

You need:                 

A food processor (you will save yourself a lot of headache, trust me.)
1 cup dry brown lentils
2 medium carrots, grated or shredded
1 cup finely diced dates (I did mine in the food processor) (these are essential to a meaty flavour) [There was no meaty flavour. The dates just added unnecessary sweetness.]
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons HP sauce [I'm not a fan of HP sauce so I used BBQ sauce]
1/2 cup ground or very finely minced pecans (did 'em in the good ole food processor)
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
3 large eggs

Sauce for Topping Loaf:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

First, note that you can do all your chopping in the food processor. You might as well, because you need it anyway to get the lentils the right texture, so if it's already got to be out, you may as well take advantage of it. Do the pecans first, then do the onion, celery, and carrot, and lastly the dates, because they are sticky and you  want to minimize the cleaning effort.

1. Cook your lentils in plenty of boiling water for about 20 minutes, or until they're very soft but not yet mush. Drain them really well and set aside to drain more.

2. Meanwhile, saute the onion, carrot, celery, and dates in the butter over medium high heat for 6-8 minutes, until things are getting soft (like the onions) and there isn't a lot of liquid. You should stir a lot to make sure all the liquid gets a chance to evaporate. Add the garlic, cumin, soy sauce, and HP sauce and cook for another minute.

3. Pulse the lentils in the food processor until they're smooth. Put them in a big bowl. Pulse the cooked vegetables in the food processor until they're smooth. Add them to the lentils in the big bowl. Mix all this well and make sure it's cool enough to not cook eggs.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients for the loaf to the bowl and mix well. Make a sling with tin foil and put it in the bottom of a loaf pan. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan for easy removal. Spoon in your loaf mixture and cook for 20 minutes at 375ºF.

5. While it's cooking, add the sauce ingredients to a small saucepan and cook on low for 5 minutes, until thickened. After your loaf has cooked for its 20 minutes, take it out and slather it with the sauce. Then put the loaf back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

6. Let it cool for about 10 minutes, then slice and serve as you would normally serve meatloaf! In our house, that means with lots of ketchup. [The ketchup surprisingly did help--probably because it actually added some flavour to the thing.]

I'm curious if any of you try it to know what you think (just remember you've been warned). As for figuring out my life I'm still working on that. The only thing I know for sure right now is that I have an ongoing passion for crafting, decorating, reading and gardening--everything that this blog is about. I don't expect to be taking any more long breaks anytime soon.

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