Spiced lentil + coconut soup and a new work direction

Right about the time I had my realisation that "it's not going to happen" (going back to work, that is), I also realised that I did not want to be a general practice Dietitian anymore. For years I was seeing a range of clients, from newly diagnosed Type Two Diabetics (often referred by their GP and/or concerned partner), to people with food intolerances and those wanting to lose weight. These referrals are a general practice Dietitian's bread and butter, and while I enjoyed working with my clients as individuals (I sincerely love hearing how people are living their lives and looking for ways that they can make wholesome and enriching, sustainable changes), when it came to getting back to work after having my baby, I felt incredibly overwhelmed at the task ahead of me. To keep up to date with best practice for the vast range of clients I'd be seeing made me feel anxious. And to be honest, while I enjoyed working with these clients, Diabetes and Fructose Malabsorption were not my passion areas. As a new mum, I was in a completely different world (a world of limited cooking time, interrupted sleep and an eager appetite) and I was loving it! I had fallen head over heels with the entire process of growing a baby, giving birth and nourishing a new life. I had even researched becoming a Midwife (before swiftly deciding that 4 more years at University was not for me), I was that into it. Having recently experienced pregnancy and childbirth, I was acutely aware of the details, as well as the challenges women face during this season. At the time I was deep in the trenches of sleepless nights, and more than ever could appreciate the importance of nourishing yourself with good food to a) help you make it through the day, b) keep yourself well nourished and not depleted as a nursing mum and c) stop you from throwing a pillow at your partner when they don't read your mind. From my training at University I knew how vital good nutrition was from a physiological point of view, in that what you eat and your lifestyle has a huge impact on your wellness from the preconception stage right through to post-partum...but now that I was living it, I could feel on a different level how profoundly true this was, and I wanted to help other mums and mums-to-be out there feel good and confident and happy and nourished. Because doing so makes a huge difference to how we feel day-to-day and how we care for our children. It's a big deal.

On my Dietitian website, Gather and Grow Nutrition, you can read in more detail about the clientele I will be working with. Just quickly, though, I would like you to know that it's not all babies, babies, babies! Those seeking preconception consultations may not want to conceive immediately, they may not even have a partner with whom they've had a "when shall we try for a baby?" conversation...but these ladies will have some health issues they wish to address now (from disordered eating patterns to generally feeling unhealthy or confused about what foods best nourish themselves) so that when the time comes, their body will be ready and optimally fertile. Your health prior to conception certainly influences the health of your baby and your health throughout pregnancy (and beyond!). Addressing any concerns now is an important and admirable act of self-care. I will also be providing support to those who are actively trying to fall pregnant, those who are currently pregnant, and those in the postpartum period, whether they have a fresh newborn, or one or two (or more!) older kiddos. This is what I am living and breathing. This is my passion area. This is what is getting me so excited I could burst!

I would love to work with you, and if you think you'd like to work with me too, head over to my services page to check out what happens during a consultation. If it sounds rad and right, get in contact and we will set up a time to Skype. I've also had someone ask if they can buy a session as a gift for their friend, which is such an ace idea (hello, great baby shower present!), so I have created a link for you to do just that. And if you wish to see a Dietitian in-person for general nutrition concerns, the lovely and clever Emily Scott will be available for consultations at the Mornington Clinic on a Saturday (read more about that here).

Needless to say I am a little buzzed about this new direction and how it's all coming together. It just feels so right, in my bones, you know? Over the past few weeks I have been easing back into work with a small number of clients. My mum watches Joan while I work from home and it's turning out to be so good for all of us. And in between these sessions, whenever Joan gives me a minute to myself, I am busy recipe testing and creating tasty/wholesome/fast meals to share with my clients. One of these recipes is this spiced lentil and coconut soup...

Vegetables are my ultimate feel-good food, so it's no surprise my diet is based around them. I also adore legumes. They totally make me gassy but I still eat them because fibre is hugely important in keeping us healthy, and research is really loving on plant-based proteins. It's worth the farts, folks. Now that we are firmly nestled into Winter, I find myself constantly craving soupy, stewy, curry types meals. My husband adores them too and appreciates a good vegetarian meal (he appreciates any meal, which is how it should be, right?!). Joan, we are finding, likes anything we put in front of her, as long as we sit at the table as a family and eat and babble together. However she is particularly fond of lentils. I think she enjoys chasing them around the plate with her little fingers. If we ever want a slow, lingering meal, we know to serve Joan a pile of lentils and watch her chase and catch them one my one. And the spice? Well, this recipe is not shy on spice, so feel free to take it down a notch or increase the liquid (read the notes below for more detail). When it comes to serving Joan spiced meals like this, I tend to remove her portion towards the end of cooking, then continue cooking it in a separate pot with a bit of water so that the spice is diluted and the lentils/vegetables/etc are not quite as firm. I will also keep her portion very modest and serve it alongside a pile of natural yoghurt.

Spiced Lentil and Coconut Soup

Note: this soup is more of a "stoup" (a thick soup/stew). If you'd like it more soupy, feel free to add more liquid (use water or to dull the spiced flavour, add an extra can of coconut milk), or reduce the lentil content by half. In our house, we serve up one soupy meal with lots of the liquid, then eat scoops of leftover thick, curried lentils throughout the week (they are marvellous over brown rice with a fried egg, or warmed in the pan with some eggs cracked into holes like shakshouka).

Inspired and adapted from Oh She Glow's Spiced Lentil Soup

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 large onion scattering of sea salt
2-3 cloves garlic*
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger*
2.5 teaspoons ground cumin*
1.5 teaspoons ground coriander*
1 teaspoon ground turmeric*
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1/4 teaspoon ground chilli powder*
freshly cracked black pepper
2 medium carrots
1 red capsicum (optional based on the season)
1.5 cups green lentils**
2 cups homemade chicken stock (or good quality low-sodium vegetable/chicken broth)
2 cups water
1 cup coconut milk
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
3 handfuls spinach (or other green - sliced silverbeet/kale/tatsoi... )

To serve: fresh coriander or parsley, sourdough bread or rice/quinoa.

* this recipe creates a keenly spiced soup. If you don't like such a strong spice flavour, cut the spice by a quarter or even half.

** you can use red lentils in place of green, just be sure that they are not the "split" variety, otherwise the cooking time will be shorter and you'll end up with mushy lentils.

1. Heat the evoo in a large pot over low-medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 or so minutes until soft and sweet and sticky. Add the garlic and the spices and cook, stirring, for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the carrot and cook for a further minute, then the lentils and stir to coat.
2. Add the stock, water, tomatoes and coconut milk then ring to a gentle boil. Once boiling, turn down to a gentle simmer with the lid partially covering the pot. Cook for 15 minutes then check your lentils to see how cooked they are. If you are letting the soup rest, you want the lentils slightly firm, as they will continue cooking once you turn the heat off and then again once you reheat the meal. If you're serving the soup now, continue cooking until the lentils are perfect (five or so more minutes), then add your greens and allow them to wilt.
3. Serve with sourdough toast or over rice or quinoa, maybe with a fried egg and always with fresh coriander or parsley.

Heidi xo