Still the Best Deal in Town for Cooking Classes – Free!

The best deal in town for cooking classes continues at Whole Foods, at the Fresh Pond store. This week, Quicia Davis worked up two dishes – a Lentil Chili and a Kale & Squash Soup – in just under one hour. Both dishes won rave reviews.

Why are these classes so great? Quicia, a Johnson & Wales grad, is lively, entertaining, and knowledgeable. She’ll answer your questions (even those not related to the dish at hand) as she chops onions and simmers soup. She’s also full of straightforward, down-to-earth advice on products, the healthfulness of food, dietary issues and more.

The simple vegetarian chili from this week's class uses lentils instead of beans. It won universal praise from many cooks who have tried it.

In addition, class size is kept small so you can crowd around the burners and be part of the action (you don’t get to slice and dice, but you do get to sample the completed dishes).

Next Tuesday, January 31:  Meals for Four Under $10.  Featuring Pecan Crusted Toasted Tofu  You can register by phone by calling the store at (617) 491-0040.

This simple vegetarian chili uses lentils instead of beans. Brown lentils work best, Quicia suggested, since they will hold their shape even when tender after cooking. That said, she prefers red lentils in general for their color and ease of cooking, and green lentils for their earthy flavor.

For her class preparation, Quicia reached for a package of sprouted lentils, which are easier to digest and provide better textures. (They’re also more expensive. But she used only half the amount – an 8 oz. package of Tru Roots sprouted lentil trio, which contains a variety of lentil types. As a result, she also cut the tomatoes by half: one can instead of two.)

This recipe elicited nearly 100 comments on the Whole Foods recipe Web site. Lots of suggestions and variations, and nearly universal praise for its good taste and ease of preparation. This is one popular recipe.

We put those many suggestions through our food mill and sifted them into categories to be easily digested (they follow below, after this recipe. We’ll append Quicia’s comments to those suggestions on the post shortly.)

Lentil Chili

Serves 8

This simple vegetarian chili recipe uses lentils instead of beans. Brown lentils work best as they will hold their shape even when tender after cooking. Serve over brown rice or with whole-grain hearth bread.


8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 teaspoons salt-free chili powder

1 (16-ounce) package brown lentils (about 2 1/4 cups lentils)

2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped cilantro


Bring 3/4 cup broth to a simmer in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook about 8 minutes or until onion is translucent and pepper is tender. Stir in chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add lentils, tomatoes and remaining 7 1/4 cups broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes or until lentils are almost tender. Uncover and cook 10 minutes longer. Stir in cilantro and serve.

For lentil novices like myself, here’s a quick chart outlining characteristics, cooking times, and serving suggestions for various members of the lentil and split-pea family.   Green and brown lentils are often sold as common or standard lentils.

Here are suggestions and tips from readers of the Whole Food recipe site:

Vegetable Variations:

Diced carrots; Celery; Corn (someone suggested about 1 cup); Green tomato.

Fire-roasted tomatoes added a great flavor.

Several cooks added sweet potatoes with great results.

One can of regular tomatoes and one can of tomatoes with green chilies.

Fresh tomatoes, but add some salt.

Rainbow chard (added in the last 10 mins to retain some crunch).

Spice Variations:

2 tsp Cumin

1/2 to 1 tsp Dry Mustard & 1/2 to 1 tsp Cumin

1 to 2 extra tsp Chili powder

Chipotle powder [One reader used 2 tsp of Chipotle chili powder instead of 4 tsp regular Chili powder, which added a nice, smoky flavor.]


1 to 2 tsp. of Cajun Creole seasoning

Smoked Paprika

1/2 tsp of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes


1 tsp salt

Redmans sea salt

Couple of shakes of Cinnamon

1 tsp. of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa powder

Couple of shakes of Herbs de Provence.

Oregano with two extra cloves of Garlic

Beans, Chiles and Sauce Variation:


Black beans

Tblsp of Cholula (hot sauce based on a special blend of red peppers, piquin peppers, and spices)

Herb Variation:

Extra cilantro. Or for those who don’t care for the taste of cilantro (cilantro leaves a chemical taste among some people who lack an enzyme that breaks it down, according to Quicia), replace it with parsley, minced fresh chives, or basil.

Soaking the Lentils:

A Whole Foods employee suggested: Soak the lentils overnight in water to cover. (Or even for a few hours). This way the lentils absorb water, and upon heating, cook both inside out and outside in.  Drain and then prepare the recipe using 6 cups of liquid. You can use more liquid if needed. Lentils will not be “tough” that way, as some readers remarked.  One reader who soaked them overnight warned that her chili cooked in just 20 minutes (cooking for the recommended time would produce soup or mush).

Someone cautioned that cooking times can vary drastically depending on the exact type of lentils. If you soak lentils in warm water for 4-5 hours, another reader said, they should cook in 10 minutes.

Crock Pot Variation:

As a big fan of Slow Cookers, I plan to try the suggestion of a Whole Foods employee, who recommended the following:

If you soak the lentils overnight first, you can cook it on high for 4-6 hours. Otherwise, I would cook on low for 8 to 10 hours at least.

Broth Variation:

7 cups of veg broth instead of 8 cups

More Comments:

– Several cooks said the flavors really meld together the next day.

– For people who can’t eat tomatoes, someone suggested increasing the amount of red bell peppers. For those who can’t eat bell peppers, you might want to increase the tomatoes.

– Top it off with a dollop of Fage Greek Yogurt (similar to using sour cream)

– Someone used green lentils, soaked them overnight, and said they were perfect for the recipe.

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