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!

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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