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Recipes: Healthful, but not boring or flavorless, meals for 2018, please

Lentil soup jazzed up with coconut and turmeric, squash with just a hint of chorizo, and saucy veggie lettuce wraps.

 Turmeric and Coconut Lentil Soup With Coconut and Chili Topping.
Photograph by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.
Turmeric and coconut lentil soup with coconut and chili topping.

I’m not one for major new year’s resolutions, but I do like to reboot my diet after holiday indulgences. Eating healthy, however, doesn’t mean eating boring. Build a meal around nutrient-dense ingredients and bust the bland with spices, fresh herbs, chilies, and citrus. Lentil soup, heady with coconut, turmeric, lime, and chili, is satisfying and comforting, while bold Mexican-inspired spaghetti squash uses rich chorizo as a flavor enhancer rather than the focal point. We finish up with delicate lettuce tofu wraps that pack a punch with sweet, sour, and spicy notes.

Turmeric and Coconut Lentil Soup With Coconut and Chili Topping

Serves 6-8

Red lentils cook more quickly than other varieties and break down into a creamy puree. Add jalapeno seeds to make a spicier soup.

2        tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coconut or vegetable oil

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2        carrots, peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)

1         large onion, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3        small jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (about ½ cup)

3½   teaspoons fresh minced turmeric or 1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric

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1         tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1         tablespoon grated or minced garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         teaspoon ground cumin

1         pound red lentils, rinsed

1         13.5-ounce can coconut milk

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1         cup coconut flakes

½      teaspoon garam masala

3        tablespoons lime juice

½      cup roughly chopped cilantro

In a Dutch oven or large soup kettle over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the carrots, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes. Add half the jalapenos, the turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cumin and stir until fragrant, about 40 seconds.

Add 3 quarts water, lentils, coconut milk, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to low and simmer until the lentils have broken down and the soup has thickened, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, with the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss coconut flakes with remaining teaspoon oil and garam masala. Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake until golden and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add lime juice to the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toasted coconut, remaining chopped jalapeno, and cilantro.

Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash With Black Beans and Chorizo

Serves 4

1         small spaghetti squash (about 3½ pounds)

8        ounces fresh Mexican chorizo, casing removed

Olive oil, as needed

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         tablespoon minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce, plus 1 tablespoon of the sauce

1         15-ounce can tomato sauce

1         15-ounce can black beans, drained

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2/3      cup grated low-fat or regular pepper jack cheese

Optional toppings: diced avocado, diced onion, cilantro leaves, thinly sliced radishes

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the squash 5 times with a paring knife and microwave whole until it softens slightly, 5 to 7 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

Place the squash halves cut sides down on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender enough to pierce with a paring knife with minimal resistance, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the flesh from the shells, leaving ¼ inch of flesh on the shell wall. Place flesh in a large strainer set over a bowl to drain for at least 15 minutes (do not discard liquid or squash shells). Measure reserved squash liquid and add enough water to make 1 cup. Change oven setting to broil.

Meanwhile, cook the chorizo in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, stirring, until the fat is rendered and the meat is browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer chorizo to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve fat (you should have at least 1 tablespoon; if not, supplement with olive oil). Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, chipotles, and adobo sauce to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the color has darkened, about 8 minutes. Add squash liquid mixture, black beans, spaghetti squash, and chorizo and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place reserved squash shells on a baking sheet, cut side up. Divide the spaghetti squash between the 2 shells. Top with cheese and broil in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and browned. Serve with toppings, if desired.

TIP: FRESH IS BETTER

Fresh turmeric can be found in many local food stores. It has a livelier flavor than dried, and the bright orange flesh is both earthy and peppery. Once the skin is scraped or peeled off, turmeric can be cut into coins, matchsticks, or cubes, grated with a microplane, juiced, or thrown into smoothies.
anthony tieuli
Fresh turmeric can be found in many local food stores. It has a livelier flavor than dried, and the bright orange flesh is both earthy and peppery. Once the skin is scraped or peeled off, turmeric can be cut into coins, matchsticks, or cubes, grated with a microplane, juiced, or thrown into smoothies.

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Five-Spice Roasted Tofu Lettuce Wraps With Quick Pickled Vegetables and Peanut Sauce

Serves 4

You don’t need to mince the garlic or ginger. Chop enough to measure and let the blender do the work. Serve with white or brown rice.

½      cup plus 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

3        tablespoons sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1         large carrot, peeled and cut into thin julienne (about 1 cup)

1         5-inch piece daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin julienne (about 1 cup)

1         14- to 20-ounce block firm or extra-firm tofu, drained

2        tablespoons hoisin sauce

1         tablespoon cornstarch

1         tablespoon sesame oil

½      teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

¼      cup peanut butter

1         tablespoon chopped ginger

2        garlic cloves, chopped

2        tablespoon lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

1         tablespoon sriracha

1         head bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and leaves separated

¼      cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring ½ cup vinegar, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ cup water to a bare simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the carrot and daikon (make sure they are submerged), and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Line a small baking sheet with a triple thickness of paper towels. Halve the tofu block lengthwise, cut each half crosswise into ¾-inch slices, and arrange on the lined baking sheet. Top the tofu with a triple thickness of paper towels. Place a second baking sheet on top of the tofu, weight it with a large skillet or pot, and set aside to drain, at least 20 minutes.

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the pressed tofu into ¾-inch cubes. Whisk hoisin, cornstarch, sesame oil, and five-spice powder together in a bowl. Toss tofu in hoisin mixture to thoroughly coat. Spread tofu on prepared baking sheet and roast, stirring halfway through, until tofu is browned in spots and edges are lightly crispy, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine peanut butter, ginger, garlic, lime juice, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, sriracha, and ¼ cup water in blender and puree until smooth.

Serve tofu with lettuce leaves, pickled veggies, peanut sauce, and chopped cilantro.

Eva Katz is a contributing editor at Cook’s Country magazine and a freelance recipe developer. Send comments to cooking@globe.com.