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!

Rosemary-Balsamic Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

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I’ve been a long-time participant in the monthly Recipe Redux challenge, a recipe challenge founded by registered dieticians and focused on making healthy, delicious meals. One of the things I love about the monthly themes is that it challenges me to keep trying new foods or techniques, and to be open-minded when sometimes I want to fall back on the same old thing. In fact, one thing I’ve noticed this winter is that William and I have regularly taken to relying on “oatmeal night” on weeknights when nothing else sounds good and we want a quick and easy comfort meal. We both love oatmeal, me even more than him, and I’d gladly eat it for several meals a day.

But there’s one thing we all need more of in our meal routines, and that’s diversity, because the more different whole foods we eat, the better our gut and overall health tends to be. So I’m glad for the extra push to focus on diversity. This month, our theme also speaks to this idea, with the idea of adding in a new ingredient with the new year.

Since I’m always trying to work on adding whole foods and encouraging others to do so, I focused on seasonally appropriate locally grown Jerusalem Artichokes, which are also known as sunchokes. Even though they’re not entirely new to me, Jerusalem artichokes are just about the only locally grown vegetable I don’t regularly add into my winter routine, for no particular reason. If they’re new to you, they are not artichokes, nor from Jerusalem, and they’re actually from the sunflower family. Many years ago when I was managing school gardens, we grew sunchokes, and the plant was a truly towering, sunflower-esque behemoth. In the late fall, we dug up the tubers, which are quite knobby and look like ginger roots. Texturally, they’re somewhat akin to a waxy potato and jicama, and the flavor is mild and just a touch nutty. I’ve had them before in soups, but thinly sliced and roasted is where their flavor and texture really shines!

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Now, beyond just tracking down a novel vegetable, Jerusalem artichokes have some unique nutritional aspects that make them worth eating more often. That’s because they are particularly rich in inulin, a type of fiber that assists the digestive system, particularly because it feeds the good bacteria in our lower gut. We can think of inulin as fertilizer for the digestive system! In addition to their digestive health benefits, sunchokes also host an impressive amount of iron, calcium, and potassium. For those of us ladies (or men) who are super active and always in need of good sources of iron and calcium, this is a great vegetable to add into the winter rotation!

Here, I’ve sliced the tubers into thin chips and roasted them on low with a little water for 30 minutes, to help make them more digestible. Since they are so high in inulin compared to what most of us regularly ingest, it can initially cause some GI upset, and this method of slower-roasting helps. Then I upped the heat and added rosemary, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar to finish them out and get the right crisp-tender texture. Once they’re done, they are absolutely delicious.

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Rosemary-Balsamic Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Chips, serves about 4
20 oz. Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
a couple good pinches of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp. coconut oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with parchment, spread out the sliced sunchokes and add the water. Bake for 30 minutes. Then turn up the heat to 425 degrees.
  • Add the salt and pepper, minced rosemary, oil and balsamic. Toss to coat and then bake for another 15-20 minutes, until crispy but still soft. They’ll have some crispy golden edges but still slightly soft centers.
  • Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving.

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