Quick Sautéed Butternut with Red Lentils 

Working with my friend Cameron, a UGA nutritional medicine major student who makes short nutrition and food Instagram videos, I figured on bringing together two of my favorite healthy ingredients. Not only did they pair particularly well, but the resulting dish seemed fully seasonal as the weather cools down. 

As cooked lentils sit, they get thicker in texture. So this dish can either be a side vegetable dish with a meat or other protein, or if diluted can be a soup or stew. This time because of Cameron’s audience, I made the dish completely plant-based, using olive oil for the sautéing. But half olive oil half butter is luscious too. 

Split red lentils (sometimes known as Egyptian lentils) are readily available at supermarkets, Indian stores (Masoor Dal), health or whole food stores, or Ethiopian stores (Misir). 

The recipe serves six as a side dish in a dinner, or if diluted with more water can be a stew or soup.


2 cups split red lentils

4 cups of water, plus more as needed

3 cups 1/2-inch cubed butternut squash (peeled and seeded), about 1 pound

1 small onion, finely diced

1/2 cup olive oil or 1/4 each olive oil and butter

1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Small pinch ground cinnamon

Finely minced parsley for garnish


Rinse the lentils in a pot, draining off most of the water. Add the 4 cups water, and bring the pot to a slow boil, stirring frequently. Add water as needed to keep the mixture soupy. Red lentils break down and become pale yellow colored and tender in 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and seed the butternut and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. (Measure it you as
you cut it, and keep the remainder of butternut for another use.) Peel and finely dice the onion.
Heat a frying pan. Add the oil (plus butter if used) and the onion. Fry until onion begins
to soften, Then add the cut butternut and part of the salt, all the pepper and cinnamon.
Stir and fry over low heat, until butternut becomes tender, 10-15 minutes.
When both lentils and butternut are tender, combine them in the lentil pot. Add water as
needed to the desired level of thickness – moderately thick for a side vegetable dish,
soupy for a soup or stew. Add salt as needed to the desired taste. Simmer a few minutes
and remove from the heat. Taste one final time and add a little salt if needed.
Sprinkle with a little finely minced parsley when serving.



Mushroom and Caper-Smothered Chopped Steaks                      


This is a slightly modified rendition of the dish I prepared for my brother Tom’s last meal. I visited him for a few days in 2008 in our hometown as he was dying. And although he was no longer eating solid food, he wanted to have one final meal for our other brother, several old friends, and me, and enjoy our company as we ate. 

The dish I prepared for that midday meal drew on the modest food that we ate in our childhood, “chopped steaks.”. I bought all the ingredients at the old grocery store down in the village where we always shopped. I remember how I made this because I wrote it up at the time for a different blog I was then writing. 

The recipe serves six.

2 pounds freshly ground sirloin or chuck

1 pound mushrooms (“baby bella” preferred)

3 English muffins, split

Butter or olive oil

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons red wine

1-1/2 cups half-and-half cream or 1/2 cup cream cheese plus 3/4 cup water

4 tablespoons capers, drained

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Parsley for garnish, optional

Shape 6 burgers 1/2-inch thick, evenly flat and a little wider than the English muffins. Rinse mushrooms, trim off bottom 1/8 inch of stems. Slice mushrooms 1/4-inch thick.

Warm oven to 150 degrees.

Heat large frying pan to medium high. Add several tablespoons butter or olive oil. Place split muffins cut side down and fry until just golden. Turn them over to briefly heat the backs. Transfer toasted muffins to a platter in the warm oven.

Heat the pan to hot. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on one side of the burgers and place them in the pan, seasoned side down. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the tops. After one minute, slide a spatula under burgers and turn them over. Fry one minute, then turn them and reduce the heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until desired degree of doneness. 

When cooked, place burgers on the English muffin halves and keep warm in the oven.

Pour off all except 1 1/2 tablespoons of grease or, if there’s not enough, add a little butter or olive oil. Over medium heat, fry mushrooms, sprinkled with 3/8 teaspoon salt, stirring often with a spatula. As mushrooms begin to shed some liquid and shrink, add pepper, and red wine, and continue to stir and fry.

When wine has reduced by half, add the half-and-half or cream cheese and water and cook mixture down to half, stirring frequently. Stir in drained capers and the horseradish. Remove pan from heat. After a minute, taste and add a little salt if needed (capers are fairly salty).

Place burger-topped English muffins on dinner plates. Spoon mushroom-caper sauce over top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley, if desired. Accompany with a glass of red wine.



Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I’ve loved butternut squash since I first encountered it as a kid growing up in southern New

England. My father, skilled at farming, tried the then new vegetable in our family garden when 
butternut seed had just become available about 1950. Butternut quickly replaced the traditional 
Hubbard as the favorite winter squash. 

As its name indicates, the squash is both buttery and nutty in flavor. These features are most
pronounced when the fruits are fully mature, with the skin thick and uniformly tan and the stem
hard and dry. The flesh is then rich orange and sweet. Its luscious intensity is further enhanced
by baking.

Here is an evocative favorite butternut dish for the fall season, roasted butternut soup. It is not too
difficult and shows the squash off to advantage. The recipe serves six, but extra soup stores well and seems even better after a day or two. While typically served hot, butternut soup can also be eaten cold like its non-relative, gazpacho.

1 large or 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds),  ripe and hard1 small onion, finely diced

A 6-inch piece of celery, finely diced

6 tablespoons butter

5 cups chicken broth (low salt) or vegetable broth

1 1/2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

A small pinch of ground cloves

(3 tablespoons cashew butter or ground cashews, optional)

Minced parsley or tiny sprouts (leafy parts) for garnish

Set oven for 350 degrees.

Cut butternut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash, cut side up, on a baking
sheet and roast it until tender when pierced with a toothpick. Let cool.

Meanwhile prepare the onion and celery and fry them gently in the butter using the pot in which
you will make the soup. Stir frequently and fry until the vegetables are tender but not browned.
Remove from the heat.

When the baked butternut is cooled somewhat, scoop all the flesh out from the skin. Place it,
along with the fried onion-celery mixture and its butter in a food processor or blender (this may
need to be in two batches), adding a little of the chicken or vegetable broth. Puree the mixture.
Transfer it back into the pot. Add the remainder of the broth, the salt and spices (and cashew
butter if used). Simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt, and add a little, if
needed, to taste.

Serve sprinkled with finely minced parsley or tiny leaves from baby sprouts.

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