Warming Dal for a Winter Day

spice house dal recipe

What’s better on a cold winter’s day than a hot bowl of soup for dinner? Not a whole lot, except maybe a bowl of hot dal. There are many variations of this creamy lentil dish throughout India, with each region having their own recipes and methods. The recipe below is somewhat of a mish-mash of a few recipes, accounting for what I had on hand. This dish is great with basmati rice or a hearty naan, roti or other bread.

This recipe makes enough for 4 or 2 with some leftovers.



2 cups yellow or green lentils (or a combination of both). Soak these overnight. If you don’t have time, soak for an hour or two while you prepare the other ingredients.

3-4 large carrots, diced into small pieces

1 large yellow onion, diced into small pieces

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 cloves garlic, diced into small pieces

2-3 tablespoons hot curry powder, to taste (or swap out sweet curry powder if you don’t want too much heat)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne (heat-averse people should skip this ingredient)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

5 cups water

1 avocado (optional – not a traditional ingredient)


Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and some salt. Stir for a few minutes, until the onion becomes translucent. Add all the spices and stir occasionally for the next 5 minutes to bring out their flavor. Drain the lentils from their water and add them and the carrots and the rest of the salt to the pot. Add the water. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let the dal simmer for the next hour and ten minute to hour and a half. If the water is gone after an hour and ten minutes and you have a nice, thick consistency, try a spoonful and decide if the carrots and lentils are soft enough to be eaten. If they’re not, add another half cup of water and let simmer for another 20 minutes.

Although it’s in no way traditional, I love putting a sliced avocado on top of my dal. I also use making dal as an excuse to buy some Indian beer – Kingfisher is my favorite.

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.


Simple and Versatile Thai Curry

I am a huge fan of simple, delicious meals that are easy to make a ton of and make great left overs, aiding in that endless quest for more time during the business of life. Of the various meals I make with the intent of eating a few times throughout the week and freezing a portion of for later, Thai curry is one that stands out from the crowd due to the fact that it gets even better with time. It’s great the day you make it and even better a few days later, when the spices have had time to seep into the coconut milk and become more rich and complex.

Thai curry is also a favorite because of its versatility – almost any vegetable that’s in season and available at the farmer’s market will fit in nicely, and you can even rely on it in winter when we’ve got little more that potatoes and carrots lining the tables of the winter markets. You barely need a plan when going into it, and the only thing you really need to worry about is buying the right amount of cans of coconut milk for how much you want to make. And, of course, that you have some Thai Red Curry Powder on hand. This is a great seasoning with medium heat, and it’s the only thing I use in my curry recipe other than a generous helping of salt at the end (for things like this I like some good old standard Kosher salt).

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Last Salad of Summer

Though the days remain muggy and blistering, the nights are cooling off and the sun is setting earlier – we are in the twilight of summer. Soon the city will be a crisp swirl of colored leaves and we’ll be making up for the lack of warmth with fires and hot drinks – but until then, I’ll be making this salad multiple times a week, a salad I call the last salad of summer.

Summer Salad

I’ve written before about my obsession with local, in-season tomatoes, and you can bet that I’ll be buying them from the farmer’s markets up until the very end of their all-too-short season. This salad recipe is simple – when you have flavors this good, there’s not much need for anything flashy.

This salad is raw, vegetarian, and vegan if you don’t include the cheese. Give it some variety by throwing in other vegetables you have on hand – half of a shredded carrot, small cubes of summer squash varieties, and bit of cubed onion, for example, would all be great additions.

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Summertime Guacamole and an Ode to Local Tomatoes

TIMG_0001omatoes have finally arrived at the markets, marking a period of time that I’ll spend plotting my week around visiting Chicago’s markets and co-ops on various days of the week, knowing that each tomato purchase is only going to last me a day or two. Tomatoes – especially those mixtures of summer sungolds, purple zebras, and baby romas – may just be my all-time favorite local food.

I went my whole childhood adamantly hating tomatoes, picking them off of sandwiches and ignoring them in salads, only to realize, my sophomore year of college, how much I had been missing out. The problem was that I had been eating pale, flavorless, ghosts of real tomatoes my whole life. I was an active Slow Food UW member during my time in at UW-Madison, and was there that, finally, not willing to be called out my cool local food-obsessed friends, I had my first in-season, locally-grown tomato. It was like a warm little piece of sunshine that exploded its flavor in my mouth – it was the ghost of tomatoes past reincarnated into a living, breathing, incredibly flavorful, naturally sweet little piece of happiness.

Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with tomatoes, and look forward to them arriving at the markets and dread their inevitable disappearance. While they’re here, I find ways to work them into almost everything I make. In my opinion, tomatoes are among a small number of foods that easily illustrate the difference between local and non-local food. Potatoes or broccoli seem roughly the same regardless of how far away they came from or when they were grown, but tomatoes are different.

Guacamole, of course, begs to have tomatoes included, but this brief period of the summer is the only time I actually include them. Few things are better on a hot Chicago summer day than some fresh chips and guacamole with a refreshing beer – except, of course, that same guacamole with some locally-grown tomatoes thrown in.

Summertime Guacamole with Local Tomatoes


3 avocados

1/2 of a purple onion, diced into small pieces

10 small tomatoes of any variety (such as sungolds, purple zebras or baby romas), halved or quartered depending on size

2 tablespoons ground Cumin Powder

2 teaspoons salt

3 – 5 sprigs of cilantro (to taste), chopped

1/2 of a lime (for juice)

3 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)


Slice open the avocados and remove the pits (an easy way to do this is to use a heavy knife to strike the middle of the pit, hard, so that the knife gets stuck in it, then pull the knife away pit and all. Scoop the flesh out and put it into a large bowl, then mash with a fork. Mix in the salt, cumin and lime juice. If you’re going to add sour cream or yogurt (which give the guacamole a wonderful creaminess), stir it in at this point. Finally, gently stir in the onions, tomatoes and cilantro. Taste by trying on a chip. Enjoy on a patio or deck with a refreshing summer beer.

Cooking Restraint: Mushroom Pho, vegan edition

Everyone gets bored in the kitchen now and again, from a Michelin star chef to a teenager

Challenge yourself, you'll be surprised at what you come up with.

just looking for some different leftovers to microwave after school, we have all felt the touch of creative culinary stagnation. Cooking and eating the same things gets boring, but trying to come up with new things to cook can seem daunting, scary even. But it can be done, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint.

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