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The best way to smuggle… red lentils

I think quite possibly, red lentils are the holy grail of vegie smuggling. They have that unique flavour of… well… dirt really, that makes them tricky to hide in a delicious, kid-friendly meal. I have tried all sorts of dahls & stews. I’ve tried to hide them in chillis, fajitas (a way that works briliantly with brown lentils) but time and time again I’ve served them up and gotten a big ‘not happy Jan’ from the kids.

But finally after 18 months of trying and trying I’ve cracked it with this amazingly good pumpkin soup recipe. It is a magic recipe. My kids don’t like pumpkin and they don’t like lentils, but this dish makes them swoon. Admittedly, the quantity of lentils is small, but from modest beginnings I can build. It seems like the trickiest part of vegie smuggling is discovering the first acceptable dish that contains a forbidden ingredient. Once the first meal goes in, the taste seed is planted and you can move on to bigger and bolder things. From here I’ll build a dahl recipe with similar flavours and before I know it, the kids will be pestering ME for a trip down to the local Indian.

vegie smugglers pumpkin and lentil soup recipe

Food alchemy.

Pumpkin, corn & lentil soup

1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled, chopped into 1.5cm cubes
Olive oil
1–2 tsp Moroccan spice mix (the better quality the mix, the better the flavour)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 litre good-quality chicken stock
¼ cup red lentils, picked over, rinsed
420g can creamed corn
Grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Line a baking tray with baking paper and top with the pumpkin in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and as much spice mix as suits your family. Toss to combine and bake for 15–20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft but without too much colour.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan over medium–low heat. Add the onion and cook for 6–8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the pumpkin, stock and lentils to the pan. Stir well and cover. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are tender.

Stir through the corn and black pepper. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to blend until creamy.

Slice the baguette, scatter with cheddar and grill under a preheated grill on medium until it is melted and golden. Cut some slices into cubes and keep some whole.

Serve the soup in cute bowls, with both cheesy cubes hidden throughout and a large slice on top.



If your kids like soups, why not try these other recipes…

Chicken, vegie & pasta soup

Witches Stew



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The best way to smuggle… cauliflower

I was always a good eater as a kid, but cauliflower was one of the few vegies that made my tastebuds recoil. My recollection is that we ate the drab thing a lot – but perhaps that’s just me unfairly forgetting the 6 nights a week that we ate stuff that I really loved (my mum is a great cook).

Funny how the food aversions stick around. I talk to parents all the time who worry about their kid’s eating habits, only to confess mid-conversation that they are themselves modelling the fussy-food behaviour. And I realise that cauliflower is the vegetable that I don’t buy as often as I should (since it’s full of fibre, vitamins and anti-cancer compounds). I use all sorts of excuses in the supermarket – it’s expensive and the kid’s don’t like it… but hang on a minute – that’s not actually true… I never expect the kids to like it but actually my kids DO like it (particularly smothered gratin-style in a cheese sauce and baked).

Recently I bought a chunk of it and served little florets along with broccoli simply microwaved and drizzled with lemon juice – the kids were excited and ate it all up (I think I even heard ‘yay! cauliflower!). Just goes to show what a bit of variety can achieve.

So my lessons learned were..
1. Don’t pass my food aversions onto my children.
2. Don’t assume anything about what they will and won’t like.
3. Keep the vegies served on a regular rotation (absence does seem to make the heart grow fonder).

And if you are nervous about introducing cauliflower to the family, try out this fish pie, which artfully smuggles both cauliflower and parsnip into the top layer. It’s a great recipe for autumn when cauliflower is just coming into season and the unaffordable excuse disappears too.

This is not the vegie of my childhood nightmares!

Family fish pie

Butter, for greasing
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated (peel first if necessary)
400g white fish, cut into 2cm cubes
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk, warmed (soy is fine)
¾ cup grated cheese
1 tbsp finely chopped chives and/or parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp white wine
Salt & black pepper
Canola oil cooking spray

4 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped
1 parsnip, peeled, chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets
25g butter
½ cup milk (soy is fine)
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a lasagne or casserole dish.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft (but not brown). Add the garlic for 1 minute then add the carrot and zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the fish and carefully mix through for 3-4 minutes.

Add the flour and milk and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, chives, lemon and wine. Mix through and season well.

Meanwhile, for the topping, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potatoes, parsnip and cauliflower. Boil for 10-15 minutes. Test one of the largest pieces with a fork. If it skewers easily, drain the vegies into a colander, then return to the pan. Add butter and milk. Mash well. Taste and add more milk or butter if the mixture needs it.

Spread the fish mixture evenly over the bottom of the dish. Carefully put the potato layer over the top. Spray with cooking spray and bake for 20 minutes until golden.


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The best way to smuggle… beetroot

So, since we can’t have the beetroot brownie too regularly for dinner, I guess I’ll move onto recommending this delightful pink meatloaf as a way of getting beetroot into your kiddies. Using fresh grated beetroot gives it a definite pink tinge, which is perfect for little girls with a meat aversion (like Miss Fruitarian). A 225g can of beetroot can be substituted, but boring brown will prevail.

Apparently (so you’ve told me on Facebook), meatloaf is a bit popular. It IS a perfect easy-cook, that can sit in the fridge all week and be easily reheated or put on toasties or spuds. And an egg-free meatloaf recipe was requested, which is why you’re getting this snippet recipe from the second Vegie Smugglers cookbook (buy the digital cookbook here).

vegie smugglers beetroot meatloaf

All hail the photographers and stylists who can make meatloaf look good.

Pink meatloaf

500g beef mince
1-cup fresh breadcrumbs (about 1 slice of bread)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 zucchini, chopped
1 beetroot, peeled, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, chopped
3 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Spray a 10x18cm loaf tin with canola spray and line with baking paper.

Add the mince to a large mixing bowl.

If you have a hand-held food processor, use it to make the breadcrumbs from a slice of bread. Add to the mince. Pulse the onion and garlic, add to the mince. Pulse to chop the zucchini, then carrot, then beetroot (use gloves to avoid staining your hands), adding to the mince mixture each time. (NOTE – A grater will work perfectly for those of you without small kitchen contraptions).

Pour over the sauces and season really well. Use your (gloved) hand to mix everything together really well, then press into the loaf tin.

Bake 45-50 minutes until cooked through.



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The best way to smuggle… fruit

home made ice blocks to smuggle fruit

Yay! Summer on a stick.

We went swimming twice on the weekend, which means that Summer must be close. For the next few months I will constantly be picking up randomly dumped, sodden cossies and towels, I will struggle to get anyone into bed before 8.30pm and any half decent TV show will disappear for the ‘non-ratings’ period – which is a dinosaur concept that the networks should seriously rethink (note to ‘traditional’ media – Youtube has no such hiatus).

Apart from the crap TV, humidity, sticky sunscreen and mosquitos, Summer is so packed full of so many reasons to be happy. Christmas. Sitting on strange men’s knees. Beaches. Swimming. Holidays. Nectarines. Fireworks. Mangos. Peaches. Cherries. Apricots. Plums.

There are however, some strange little children who are not fond of fruit. Do you have one of them? You’re in luck over the next little while – you can hide virtually any fruit if you blitz it and freeze it into an iceblock. Choose whatever is in season and you won’t need any extra sweeteners. Try out a bunch of combinations until your kids are munching away happily.

And to make it irresistable, invest in fun iceblock moulds. Try this swirly one, or here’s a rocket inspired one.

And what’s in the iceblocks pictured above? The yellow one is mango and peach chunks with freshly squeezed orange juice. The white one is blitzed up rockmelon and vanilla yoghurt. For the other two combinations, you’ll have to buy the cookbook – I do have to make a living somehow!

Off to the pool…

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The best way to smuggle… potatoes

What do you do if your little lovely is one of those few who refuses to munch on mash or chomp on chips? That’s the challenge set for me by Christina in Mildura. A child who doesn’t eat potato!!! Yes, more common than you might think. So I’ve had a look through my recipe stash and brushed off this delicious potato gnocci recipe.

Before you all grimace and turn away, gnocci is actually easy to make. It IS a little messy while you’re rolling them out, so put the answering machine on, pop on something you can sing along with and relax for a bit of mummy play-doh time. Once the prep work is all done though, the actual cooking only takes about 3 minutes. Watch them while they’re cooking – they sink to the bottom initially then rise up to the top of the water. Give them another minute from this point and scoop them out to drain. Whack over this amazingly easy no-cook sauce, a few olives and some parsley for the grown-ups and you have a happy potato-eating family.

Both the sauce and the gnoccis can be made several hours ahead and left in the fridge until you need them – just coat the gnoccis in enough flour that they don’t all stick together.

potato gnocci

Potatoes, spinach, capsicum and tomatoes all lurking here.

Super simple pasta sauce with potato & spinach gnocci

This sauce is so tasty and easy to make, and really cheap in the summer when everything is in season.

4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp salt
2 cubes frozen spinach (about 50g), thawed and excess water squeezed out
1 1/2 -2 cups plain flour

1 red capsicum
2 roma tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper

For the gnocci: Steam, microwave or boil the potatoes until tender. Mash roughly. Add the salt and spinach then mix through the flour in 1/4 cup amounts until you have a dough that isn’t too sticky. Divide into softball sized pieces and roll out into sausages. Cut bite size pieces. Roll them into a round shape and press down with a fork. Toss in a little more flour and set aside.

For the sauce: slice the capsicum into large flat pieces (remove seeds) that will fit under your grill. Grill on high until they are totally blackened (don’t worry about a burning smell, in this case burnt is good). Remove and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Pull the skin off the capsicum pieces, chop into smaller chunks and place into the bowl of a mini food processor or blender. Blitz. Chop the tomatoes into large chunks and add them to the machine. Blitz more. Add the oil, vinegar and seasoning and blitz to combine.

Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil. Drop in the gnoccis (separate as you go so they don’t stick together). They are cooked about a minute after they have risen to the top of the pan. Drain. Place in your serving bowls. Pour over the sauce mixture. Stir through and add parsley and parmesan to taste.


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The best way to smuggle… brown lentils

Unless I told you (which of course, now, I have) you’d never know that lentils lurk in this delicious meal. They meld seemlessly in with the vegies, mince and mexican flavourings.

Wraps like tortillas are endlessly awesome at hiding stuff from kids. I always roll a short length of foil around the lower half of them (a great tip from Mel, my book editor). It minimises the mess and turns them into a more exciting space-stick dinner.

Remember that kids always take their cues from YOU. So don’t pull faces and make jokes about hippies. Lentils are incredibly good for you, and these fajitas are REALLY tasty. Let me know how you go!

Beef & lentil fajita recipe

Don't ask, don't tell.

Beef & lentil fajitas

1 tbsp canola oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
500g beef mince
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
½ green capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
400g can brown lentils, rinsed, drained
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
½ sachet taco seasoning mix
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano

To serve
10 ready-made tortillas
Lettuce, shredded
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
Avocado, sliced
1 cup grated cheese
Coriander leaves

Heat the canola oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onion and spring onion until golden and softened, 5 minutes or so. Add the mince and cook until totally brown, breaking up lumps as you go.

Add all the capsicum, carrot, lentils, sauces and taco mix (go easy, taste then add more if needed. The sachets tend to be very salty). Or, if you are making your own flavour mix, add all the ingredients now. Stir well. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Prepare tortillas according to packet directions.

Tip mince mixture into a large bowl and serve surrounded by the accompaniments all in their own dishes. It’s a fantastic, colourful spread. Let kids build their own fajitas by wrapping a little of everything in a tortilla and they’ll be devoured in no time.


This can all be made ahead, stored in the fridge and put together at the end of the day.

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The best way to smuggle… tomatoes

Over on the Vegie Smugglers facebook page (yes, that’s a blatant, go and ‘like’ it advert), I’ve had a request for solutions to an ongoing tomato battle.

Raw tomatoes can be tricky and I’ll tackle them later. Let’s start with cooked tomatoes, which are a little friendlier to kid’s tastebuds. A recipe that works well is The best-ever vegetarian lasagne. But really, if you think of cooked tomatoes, bolognaise is the dish that springs to mind. The classic Italian dish is SO popular, that people make fun of it. But let’s remember that it’s a cliché for a reason. A million families across Australia wouldn’t cook it every Tuesday night if it wasn’t a ‘bums on seats till the bowl is empty’ winner.

Alas, Claire on Facebook admitted to supermarket-jar-dependence. Easy to understand. But not nearly as tasty (or healthy) as home-made.

My suggestion is to get the menfolk onto it. There’s something about being king of the kitchen and brewing a big pot of meat that seems to appeal to them. Get them cooking up a double batch this weekend and freeze lovely kid-sized portions. Then you’ll have a quick and healthy meal ready to rock whenever you need it. Most households have a bolognaise recipe that they swear by – this is my husband’s fine work. There are a lot of ingredients, but please don’t be deterred, give it a try and marvel at how good bolognaise can be.

Adam's bolognaise

Me Tarzan! This my meat (with red stuff).

Adam’s bolognaise sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
500g veal mince
500g pork mince
1 large brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 large zucchini, grated
1 tbsp chopped basil
¼ cup chopped parsley
400g can chopped tomatoes
700ml passata (bottled tomato puree found in the supermarket near the Italian pasta sauces)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato sauce
½ cup red wine (optional, but recommended)
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 bay leaf
Salt & black pepper

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the veal mince and brown, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove from pan and set aside. Do the same with the pork mince using another tbsp of olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil and cook the onion gently over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and carrot and stir for 1 minute. Add the capsicum and zucchini and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Throw in the herbs for 30 seconds then add the canned tomatoes. Stir that through then add half the passata and cook until the sauce bubbles.

Add the veal mince, then the rest of the passata and the pork mince. Stir well then add the tomato paste, tomato sauce and red wine. Stir through the mushrooms, add the bay leaf and season to taste. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (simmer for up to an hour if you have time).

Serve sauce with fettuccine topped with parmesan and herbs.


KIDS ALSO LOVE IT when you serve this sauce scooped into cooked large pasta shells. No effort or fuss, they just pop them straight in – vegies and all.

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