Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vegetarian Lentil Loaf with Checca Sauce

This recipe entered my life a couple years ago while running on the treadmill at my University gym.  Those were the best workout days- running while watching The Food Network.  Whoever decided to put on that channel out of the billion others is a genius.  Before long, I had run 10 miles and I had dinner planned.

Anyway, this vegetarian dish is beyond amazing.  It is a little labor intensive, but well worth it.  

Aaron begs me to make it all the time.  Since it does take a little time to prepare, I now make two batches at the same time.  Sometimes I freeze one loaf, or in this weeks case, i'll just eat it the rest of the week.

It is healthy, filling and packed full of healthy starches, making it is especially great for runners.

It can be baked in a meatloaf pyrex dish or any casserole dish.

What you need:  

Checca Sauce: 
1 pint cherry tomatoes (approx. 2 cups, or 12 ounces)- I ALWAYS buy more.  At least double this.
3-5 Scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped
3-5 chilis (optional)
8 fresh basil leaves (or more, depends how much you love basil)
2 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lentil Loaf:
1 cup lentils (type does not necessarily matter)
4 1/2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice, rinsed well
2 white or yellow onions, finely chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
2 celery ribs, sliced and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen corn kernals
10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves (approx 4 cups), or 1 package frozen spinach
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
1 cup mushroom
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded parmigiana cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp chipotle powder
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tomato, sliced


Checca Sauce:  
Combine the scallions, garlic, basil, chilis and oil in a food processor.  Blend well.  Add the cherry tomotoes and pulse the mixture until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped, be careful not to puree the mixture.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Lentil Loaf:
1.  Place the lentils in a large saucepan filled with cold water.  Bring the water just to a boil over high heat.  Carefully drain the boiling water and rinse the lentils.  Let aside.
2.  Meanwhile, in a heavy large saucepan, over medium heat, bring the vegetable broth to a boil.  Add the rinsed brown rice and return to a boil.  Decrease heat to low, cover the rice, and allow it to simmer undisturbed for approx. 10 minutes.
3.  After 10 minutes, add the lentils, onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper.  Cover and continue cooking without stirring until the rice and lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed- approx. 30-45 minutes.
4.  Turn off the heat, sprinkle the frozen corn over the rice and lentils and let stand, covered, for approx. 5 minutes.  Uncover and fluff the rice and lentils with a fork.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes more.

(By this point, nearly all the liquid should be absorbed.  If there is still liquid, continue to cook on medium-low until water evaporates.  Too much liquid and you will have a runny loaf!)

5.  In a large skillet, cook the spinach over medium heat until the spinach wilts, approx. 3 minutes.  Drain and squeeze the excess liquid from the spinach (ALL LIQUID).  Transfer spinach to a work surface and coarsely chop.

6.  In a large bowl, mix the spinach, lentil and rice mixture, mushroom, egg, mozzarella cheese, half the parmigiana cheese, sliced almonds, basil, salt, pepper, chipotle powder, and approx 1/3 of the checca sauce.  Mix well.

(I always add the eggs last, so that I can taste the mixture without having to consume raw egg)

7. Grease a large loaf pan or casserole dish.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.  Arrange the sliced tomato in a row over the lentil mixture.  Sprinkle casserole with remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

8.  Bake uncovered at 350F for approximately 30-45 minutes (or longer depending on oven).  It should be heated through, with cheese on top starting to brown.

Depending on how much liquid was in the loaf prior to cooking will determine how "firm" the loaf is held together.  Either way, it will taste the same... Delicious!

Serve with the checca sauce that remains (and I always add some lowfat sour cream).

Note:  I usually add more cheese and vegetables.  I hate following recipes.  So, if you like this after the first try, next time try playing with the recipe.  The original doesn't call for mushroom, bell pepper, sliced almond, or chipotle seasoning.  In the future I may even throw in some eggplant.

I was not going to add this photo because it's not really arranged in a way that was meant for photos, but  whatever.  This is what my plate looks like when I eat... And, I ate it all!

Original recipe found here

What are your favorite vegetarian recipes?
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Caroline Ricardo said...

This looks amazing Jess! Will definitely be trying this soon. I'll be taking out the mushrooms though (my hubby & I don't like them). Hopefully it'll work out! Thanks for sharing!

Abby said...

This looks delish! My husband is about as far from vegetarian as a man can be so I don't really do many vegetarian recipes. I eat a lot of easy things like veggie burgers (my weakness) and salads.