vibrant winter dal with roasted cauliflower + toasted seeds

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I took a real slow down in the days after Christmas and into the first part of the new year and in that time I gave this space a little update. With it, I also set the intention to align the content a little more towards what has been calling to me these last few months.

Like the couple years before it, 2017 was a particularly challenging year. Even as I was in it, I knew it was a year of lessons and great strides were being made, even as it was difficult to see through the moment. Out of it, or out of those years I should say, I’ve developed a fairly different relationship with myself, one where the person before writing this blog post is like a long-ago friend I no longer know well. I spent a lot of the past couple years delving into the silence, watching the chaos in my brain, going far back into memories of my childhood, seeking to understand what and where I lost myself. I wouldn’t say I’m done with all that necessarily, (because are we ever?), but I do believe I’ve forgiven, learned about, and let go of the events and traumas that were keeping me stuck between being the person I am and the one I thought others wanted me to be.

I feel a lot more like me these days. And more free.

Because I’m drawn to the concept of food as medicine, slightly shifting my eating habits, not just the food but the way in which I try to eat it, has been a big component of the shift. I’ve taken to noticing how I feel, whether it’s cold, anxious or ungrounded, hot and fiery-tempered, or calm and assured, and then adjusting my meals to accommodate. I learned this method of tuning in and then adjusting from Ayurveda, and though to explain it, the idea sounds trite, I’ve noticed improvements in my digestion and mental health from the subtle change in how I season foods, the mindset I prepare them in, and how much attention I give while eating. Ayurveda, like other ancient medical systems, puts digestion as the foundation of health since what and how we eat, so we become.

The biggest difference? There’s rarely mind chatter in the line of “diet culture” thinking, i.e. too much, guilt about eating this or that, wanting a different body or trying to control the one I have, etc. If food is medicine and food is fuel, it’s also nourishment, and nourishment for more than just the physical self.

So to get me through the cold and dark of winter, I’ve been making routine bowls of creamy dal, sometimes simple with a few random root vegetables and greens thrown in, and sometimes fancied up with a quick puree, roasted cauliflower and toasted seeds. Either way, after trying a couple dozen different versions of dal these past few years, I’ve come to this recipe. I’ve taken many concepts from Divya Alter’s What to Eat for How You Feel in making it, and compared to many dal recipes, this one tones down the spices and keeps them to those that gently warm and ground “airy” mind and digestion in this cold season.

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Part of the process in making this is preparing your own grounding spice blend to season the roasted cauliflower and dal. It’s a quick extra step but definitely worth it–I tend to add the blend as a quick sprinkle to many meals that need a little extra something, or on days I feel particularly all over the place. My spice grinder is a favored and frequently used kitchen implement, but if you’re without one or prefer to skip this step, using your favorite curry powder will work as a substitute–however, I tend to think a lot of the magic here is in using tailored spices.

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The spices in this blend are ones that particularly help with digestion and tend to be warming and pungent without being outright hot (like cayenne or chili). This results in open circulatory channels and the ability to warm up and eliminate toxins and congestion. It is especially helpful in the cold season or for the cold person. Specifically,

Coriander improves digestion, calms the mind, and binds toxins in the blood.
Fennel regulates and improves digestion, and is a cooling spice in smaller amounts. It balances the warming spices in this blend.
Cumin stimulates digestion, eliminates toxins, and helps with the absorption of nutrients.
Cloves improves digestion, reduces toxins, and opens circulatory channels.
Black pepper improves digestion, opens circulatory channels, eliminates toxins, and enhances oxygenation in the brain.
Turmeric cleanses the liver and helps break down fats, improves digestion, and is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

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Vibrant Winter Dal, serves 4
1 cup split mung dal (split mung beans) or red lentils, or a combination of both
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. grounding masala (see recipe below) or ground coriander
3-4 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
a couple large handfuls diced greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more as needed
cilantro and fresh lime slices, to serve

  • Soak the mung dal or red lentils for 30 minutes. Then drain and rinse well.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add in the turmeric and toast for about 10 seconds. Then add in the minced ginger and bay leaves. Cook for about 30 seconds more and then add in the masala or coriander and mung dal. Stir and cook until the beans are almost dry.
  • Add 3 cups of water and bring the soup to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the beans have become tender and begin to disintegrate. Stir in the frozen peas and greens and cook a few minutes more, just until they are warm and wilted. Add the salt and more water as needed.
  • Then, transfer the dal to a blender and puree, working in batches. Add back to the saucepan and gently warm. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve bowls of dal topped with roasted cauliflower, toasted seeds, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime, as desired.


Roasted Cauliflower
1 large cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets
coconut oil, as needed
1 Tbs. grounding masala
sea salt and black pepper

  • Line a large baking pan with parchment and toss the cauliflower, spices, and oil to coat. Roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • Remove from the oven and spoon atop individual bowls of dal.


Toasted Seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

  • Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat and add in the hemp and cumin seeds. Toast them until they begin to turn golden brown and release their aroma.
  • Divide among bowls to top finished soup.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.

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Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

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At the end of last summer, I purchased a tiny parcel of smoked paprika from the pepper man at our farmers market. I didn’t have a use for it in mind, but I’m all for buying my spices right from the source. I’ve had that paprika squirreled away until this last month, when I finally got my hands on the Ard Bia Cookbook. Ard Bia is a soul-food recharging station, institution, refuge, and dear spot for runners to drop their keys before going for their nightly jaunt, in Galway, Ireland.

 

I’ve been to Galway, once for a weekend. William and I ate pizza at a pub’s bar one Friday night, a music session going, families, babies, all the locals stacked around the “stage.” We didn’t know about Ard Bia then, though I know for a fact we walked right past it.

 

The Ard Bia Cookbook is gorgeous coffee table art for good food folks. The menu is a homey infusion of local and global flavors, and the cookies come standard gluten-free even though an assortment of diets are catered to. Fish is a highlight, being as Galway is situated; local meat, cheese, and vegetables are showcased galore.

 

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I’ve needed to be taken to another place these last few weeks, if only figuratively, and this book has been a welcome reprieve. This winter seems to have hit hard, you see. For so many I know, this season has been awash in illnesses of all sorts, sick kids and sick families, joblessness and wondering where this life will lead next, injuries and aches. This too is a season for new babies, tired parents, soon-to-be moms, and tough little steps each day leading to big life changes {resolutions!} I fall right in there with the masses in feeling less than optimal, as if no matter how hard I try, life is a series of two steps forward, three steps back. The Recipe Redux January challenge was to make something smoky, and so I turned to the Ard Bia Cookbook pantry section, found an interesting Smoked Paprika and Orange-Infused Oil, and incorporated it into a comforting vegetable chowder to combat the winter chill.

 

When I sit down and reflect back on the day and all it brought, a bowl of warmth brings a little more cheer, a little more sunshine into my heart. Wherever you’re at on this winter day, I hope that if you too have broken pieces, they can be mended back together through the uplifting words of a friend, a bowl of warm soup, or perhaps in finding a sliver of light reminding you of one more thing you can try to make it through.

 

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Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

Serves 4, inspired by Laura and Ard Bia.

Plan to infuse your oil a few days prior to making the soup. It will make a big batch that will keep for quite a while and can be used for all number of things. Alternatively, use another oil like coconut or canola as the base and add an extra 1/2 teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. There are also infinite combinations of winter vegetables that can be used here, so play around with something interesting, or use what you have on hand. 

For the chowder:

1 Tbs. Smoked Paprika + Orange-infused Oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 leek, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 thyme sprigs
1/2 Tbs. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
1/16 tsp. black pepper
1/16 tsp. cayenne
1 pinch each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves and ginger
1-2 parsnips, chopped
1/2 a celeriac, peeled and chopped
1/2 a head of cauliflower, chopped small
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup orange juice
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
orange zest, for serving
additional infused oil, for serving

 For the Infused Oil:
8 oz. good quality canola oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. orange zest

Heat the infused-oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the leeks and celery and continue to sauté until they are soft, about 5 minutes more. Add the garlic, thyme, and spices to the pot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsnips, celery root, and cauliflower and stir to coat in the oil. Next, add the orange juice, the vegetable broth and the beans, stir again, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid and lower the heat to simmer. Let the chowder cook and bubble until the parsnips and celery root pieces are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the thyme stems and ladle half of the chowder into an upright blender. Purée until smooth. Pour the puréed portion of chowder back into the soup pot and bring it back to a nice simmer. Check the chowder for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and ladle into soup bowls. Top with a bit of fresh orange zest and a drizzle or two of the infused oil.

To make the oil, stir together the paprika, orange zest, and oil and pour into a glass container to store it in. On the stovetop, bring a small pot about half full of water to a simmer. Gently emerge the container of oil into the pot, and allow to warm up for about 15 minutes. Then, remove the oil container from the hot liquid bath, shake to nicely mix the spices, and set aside to infuse for at least three days prior to use. This concoction will keep for a few months in a cool, dark place.

 

Olive-Raisin Roasted Cauliflower

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Standing over the cutting board, slicing olive flesh off the pits, I am drawn to contemplation once more.  My heart has felt heavy these last few weeks. For me, late winter has typically been a time of drawing in, folding the blankets of life around me, closing the curtains, blocking out drafts.  For whatever reason, this time of year leads me to risk less, to soak in my quiet hours of solitude, to ignore phone calls and invitations.  I have fallen into this pattern once more, and am in need of getting out of my head, putting my energy to use on a cause less related to my own.  I am reminded of my current tasks, the most important to listen for answers, though the urgency of the everyday often fiddles the knobs on my ears and speeds up the actions of my feet.

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Yesterday was a warm and sunny late-winter afternoon. School was finally out for the week, spring break just around the corner. Ready for some dialing in to the right listening frequency and slowing down of the feet, I longingly looked out the window, ready to feel the sun.

One of my students walked in and in the space of only a few minutes, a forceful acknowledgement fell suddenly into my lap.

There are lives more challenged; basic needs going unmet. My own circle of worries bumps into other circles that are stretched further, weighted far heavier than my own.

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In this moment, I willingly set aside my worries of the day-to-day. I set aside the fact that I cannot control the actions and decisions of others. I’m drawn back to focus on listening. Though I wish it weren’t so, these things, tough situations for undeserving people, happen for a reason.

Time, patience, understanding. Smoothing the blankets. Opening the curtains to let in the light, thoughts flow brighter filtered through golden rays.

There it is, spring is on it’s way.

Olive-Raisin Roasted Cauliflower, adapted from Plenty

Juice from half an orange
1/2 a head of cauliflower, chopped
1/2 a medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup mixed olives, pitted and diced
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 Tbs. garlic-infused olive oil
Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
small handful fresh parsley, minced
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In an medium-size oven-proof casserole dish, pour in the orange juice.  Toss in the remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Cover with foil and transfer to the oven. 
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender, but still a bit firm.
  • Take from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool down for a few minutes.  Stir in the parsley, and adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.