Gingered Sweet Potato Dal + tips for better digestion

Every few months or when I notice a trend in increased GI upset, not digesting foods or absorbing nutrients properly, I strip my meals way back to simplicity so most of the hard work is done for me (in the cooking process). With the turn from late summer into fall, I noticed an uptick in the above symptoms, and since this tends to fall in a pattern each year, I decided to make the last last few weeks about eating primarily very simple, easy to digest meals. Conveniently, and also not so conveniently, these simple meals tend to be needed more as running mileage goes up – which also means less cooking time, planning and prep! If you’re busy and having trouble with digestion — or just enjoy easy, dreamy meals this time of year, the recipe below is one to add to your rotation.

Taking from Ayurvedic medicine, which has much to offer in terms of treating and preventing just the type of malabsorption and upset I tend to experience, I chose to make meal-in-a-pot dishes such as kitchari and lots of dal. Kitchari is a rice and lentil or split mung bean combination that’s perfect for these occasions. Dal, in my opinion may even be more so, as it often eliminates the grain component for even easier food break-down and assimilation.

Plus it’s incredibly delicious on a cold, blustery fall or winter day. And with the addition of sweet potato or other root vegetables, it’s still hearty and fulfilling like kitchari.

The classic dal that I make features red lentils, which I find to be the most digestible bean/legume there is, other than split mung beans, which can be difficult to track down. Red lentils break down and cook quickly, and they don’t usually need soaking or planning ahead. However, if one is already having tummy troubles, soaking is still a good idea. Here are a few more tips to help make lentils and beans more digestible:

– Soak and rinse in a big bowl of water, ideally for a few hours. Discard the soaking water before using the lentils in your recipe.

– If there is foam that rises to the top of the pot while cooking, skim it off. The foam contains a type of protein that is hard on our digestive system. When in nutrition school, my cooking instructor Eleonora constantly repeated, ‘skim your beans’ so often that that’s the one line I associate most with her!

– Make sure the lentils – or other beans – are cooked thoroughly. This means they are soft, not al dente. One of the biggest problems with canned beans, in my opinion, is that most of them are not actually cooked as well as they should be for proper digestion. Cooking until the lentils or beans begin to break apart, or in the case of red lentils, turn into mush completely, is the best way to know they’re done.

– Add spices! Carminative spices, meaning they boost the digestive capacity, is a long-held way in traditional cooking to make meals more digestible. This is why a big soup pot with beans and meat often contains a bay leaf. Other carminative spices include ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, and more. Virtually every cuisine of the world is ripe with carminatives in the traditional recipes for the exact purpose of not only adding flavor, but also boosting digestion!

– Add a squeeze of lemon, lime juice, or vinegar. Ideally every meal contains a slightly sour flavor addition, since sour helps to activate digestive enzymes. Most meals don’t need to taste outright sour, however. A little addition at the end of cooking goes a long way and often balances the recipe that’s missing ‘just a little something.’

– Lastly, eat your foods warm, especially this time of year. If you think of an ideal digestive scenario as a nice little cozy fire in the digestive system, eating cold foods is like throwing cold water on it. Not so great for turning food into nutrients and energy! In the summer months when we can be overheated, eating cold and raw meals makes much more sense and is seasonally appropriate. But this is rarely the case as we turn into fall and winter.


One other little tip that I find incredibly helpful is to reduce stimulus, particularly around meal time, but perhaps throughout the day too to help rebalance digestion. Constantly checking our phones and computers, keeping up with what everyone else is doing while they’re avoiding being present themselves, and eating in a loud, overstimulated environment or while upset or anxious is a recipe for continued GI problems. Our gut and brain are incredibly closely linked. We can go a long way to improve tolerance to the foods we eat just by eating slowly, chewing each bite upwards of 30 times (yes, really!), and not doing anything else while eating, other than eating. If you try these tips, you might also find you enjoy your food more, which is always an added bonus.

Now, onto the dal!


Gingered Sweet Potato Dal, serves 3-4
adapted from Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind by Kate O’Donnell

Use the larger amount of coconut oil if you tend to have dry skin, variable hunger, feel often bloated, gassy, or constipated, and less if you tend to accumulate extra congestion, have oily skin, and slow metabolism.

1-2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. cinnamon, optional but delicious
1/8 tsp. fennel seeds
1 3-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
1 cup red lentils
4-5 cups water
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced small
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a squeeze or two of fresh lemon or lime juice

  • Warm the coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the spices including fresh grated ginger, and stir just until they start to smell.
  • Add the lentils and sauté for 1-2 minutes, making sure they’re nicely coated. Then add the water and diced sweet potato. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer until the mixture is creamy and soupy, about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. The lentils will be broken down, making a nice porridge-like consistency. Add more water if you need to.
  • Near the end of the cooking time, add the salt and pepper, and a squeeze of citrus. Remove from heat and enjoy!

Fig + Olive Pâté with Seedy Snack Crackers

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Like most people, I tend to fall into the same routine when it comes to my daily snacks. My usual is to cycle through variations of dried fruit and nut or seed bars, which I make in batches every couple weeks and then grab and go mid-morning as needed. For later in the day or when I need hefty snacks, I often throw a big bunch of ‘functional foods’ in the blender and make a smoothie bowl that is mostly tasty, but more importantly packs a good nutritional punch to make sure I’m getting in what I need during training cycles.

The Recipe Redux challenged us to share healthy bites and bars this month and it ended up being the perfect incentive to put a new spin on my snacking go-tos, as well as finally experiment with a flavor and ingredient combination I’ve had in the back of my mind for months. The result is this absolutely delicious pâté.  It wasn’t exactly what I was after when I began, but that’s the beauty of the creative process. Sometimes getting out of our own way and letting the result happen leads to something even better than we’d imagined.

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Beyond the flavor, I’m really excited about the ingredients I’ve used here, how they work together, and the sprinkles of good nutrition they’ve got going on. Part of this is because I’ve added anchovies, and here’s why:

For almost a decade, my doctor has had me taking daily fish or cod liver oil for its high omega-3 content. Now that I’ve gone to nutrition school and read the research, I find there’s evidence that suggests taking fish oil supplements or eating fatty fish can help just about any illness condition or improve general health. The reason is because in our modern society we simply don’t get enough of the type of essential fatty acids called omega-3s–or more accurately, we eat too many of the other types, including the also essential omega-6s as well as saturated and trans fatty acids.

But on my journey towards nutrition school over the years, I started out with environmental sustainability in mind and our oceans’ health has long been one of my concerns. I’ve experimented a lot and continue to eat all the vegan sources of omega 3’s, but they involve a more complicated metabolic conversion and thus (for me as well as many others) are less hefty in their benefits. This has led me right back to taking my fish oil supplements even as I’ve questioned whether they’re contaminated with heavy metals, been oxidized during processing, or are simply unsustainable given the current state of global fisheries. This is definitely the case of the more you know the more complicated the scenario…

Over the winter months, I finally read The Omega Principle, which was less about the nutritional benefits of consuming fatty fish and more about every other aspect of the sustainability in doing so. If this is a topic you too are interested in, I highly suggest reading it.

Beyond all my chatter about the above, anchovies are one of the most nutritious and sustainable fishes we can eat. There is a subtle but definite umami thread to this pâté due to a small amount of anchovy paste, as well as a good base of hemp seeds which provide a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids from plant sources. Pureed together with sweet figs, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of thyme and rosemary, and you’ll be wanting to snack on this sort of easy but fancy tasting treat all the time. I know I will!

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Fig + Olive Pâté, makes 4 small or 8 more substantial servings
Recipes notes: In my quest to make a savory snack bar, I added some cooked millet to thicken the mixture. The result was this thick pâté and not a bar at all. Beyond millet, you can add another leftover cooked grain like rice or quinoa, or leave it out if you don’t mind a looser more tapenade-like consistency. 

1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted
3/4 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs. anchovy paste
6 Tbs. hemp seeds
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely minced
1/3 cup cooked millet (optional, see notes)

  • In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and puree until they come to a thick paste that is almost but not completely homogenous.
  • Serve with crackers or sliced vegetables.

 

Seedy Snack Crackers, makes about 12 crackers
If you’re going to eat crackers, skip the boxed versions and make these instead. They are super simple, highly adaptable, and free from questionable oils. Plus they’ve passed the flavor test–they’re quite popular and quickly gobbled at parties! Double or quadruple the batch if you’re likely to share with others or snack on for several days.

2 Tbs. sesame seeds
2 Tbs. walnuts, chopped
2 Tbs. hemp seeds
4 tsp. ground flax seeds
1/4 cup amaranth flour (or other whole grain flour)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. honey
1/3 cup water

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and combine until you’ve got a loose batter. Add more water if it’s not loose enough.
  • Line a small baking sheet with parchment, and then spread the seed mixture as thinly as possible.
  • Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently cut into 12 pieces without separating them. Return to the oven and bake for 30 additional minutes or longer until they are crunchy and completely dry. They should no longer have a supple doughy feel to them.
  • Remove from the oven, cool completely, and then break into pieces.

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Savory Vegetable Crumble

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This time of year when the super cold and miserable days have passed (fingers crossed),  but the new season’s produce is not yet available is when I struggle the most with coming up with delicious and inspiring meals. Lately I’ve been weathering this ‘season’ by eating lots of steamed cabbage (my annual end-of-winter staple), keeping it lively with some hearty winter salads, lots of pancakes and waffles, and putting a new spin on ‘classic’ recipes. Like turning a fruity-dessert-crumble into a savory one-dish dinner option with whatever is on hand.

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In tune with the way I’ve been cooking, The Recipe Redux challenge of the month is to  be resourceful and Spring Clean Your Kitchen by cooking with ingredients that are actually on hand now, trying not to go to the store to buy anything new.

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This one has my clean-out-the-fridge vegetables with golden beets, turnips, onions, garlic, mushrooms, frozen peas, and cooked Lima beans all stewed together with a creamy ‘gravy’ and topped with a savory crumble topping. I’ve made variations of this so many times and equally love topping it with quinoa flakes, which are not consistently stocked in my pantry, or old-fashioned oats, which definitely are. Go ahead and change it up depending on what you have. It will be delicious just about any way you go about it.

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Savory Vegetable Crumble, serves about 4
There appears to be lots of ingredients here but they come together quickly. Use what you have and simplify or substitute as needed. This was originally inspired and adapted over many versions from Chickpea Flour Does it All.

1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots or golden beets, diced
2 turnips, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups cooked Lima beans
2 tsp. Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1/2 tsp. dried sage (use less if ground)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. salt (adjust to taste)
black pepper as desired
1 cup water or liquid from cooked beans
2 Tbs. arrowroot starch

for the crumble topping:
1 cup quinoa flakes or old fashioned rolled oats
½ cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
2 Tbs. hemp seeds
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. minced sage and/or rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper – to taste
¼ cup coconut oil
2 Tbs. water, if needed

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and get out a large baking dish, such as a 11-inch pie pan or 9×13″ pan.
  2. Combine all the vegetables, mushrooms, and Lima beans in a large bowl. Add the seasonings and water or bean liquid and toss everything together to coat.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the arrowroot starch with a small amount of water and then pour into the vegetable mixture and stir once more to combine it.
  4. Transfer the mixture into the baking dish and set aside.
  5. Make the crumble topping by combining the quinoa flakes or oats, chopped walnuts, hemp seeds, and salt and spices. Mix in the coconut oil with a fork or your hands until the mixture resembles course crumbs. If it’s a little dry, add up to 2 tablespoons water.
  6. Then spread the crumble evenly over the vegetable filling and place it into the oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the topping is browned and the vegetables are tender and bubbling.
  7. Remove from the oven, cool just slightly, and dig in!

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