Saag Dal

If I’m gonna cover a song, I want to put my own spin on it, and not play it exactly the same as someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and place for traditionalists, and a reason to preserve  things. It’s just that I’m not very good at following directions, or doing what everybody else is doing.

The definition of creativity, according to, is “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like, and to create some meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”. In other words, thinking about, or doing, something in a way that no one else has thought of before. Even though most of us tend to associate creativity with artists, many people not in the art world are very creative. So whether or not you are artistic, I encourage you to embrace your creativity and start thinking outside the box. And just as importantly, supporting and respecting others for doing the same.

If you are a traditionalist when it comes to Indian food, I hope you can respect my creativity with this recipe. I call this Saag dal, even though it contains neither saag (spinach) or dal (lentils). What it does contain is any green leafy vegetable I happen to have purchased too much of this week, and usually some yellow split peas (or occasionally chana (chickpeas). I have been cooking and tweaking and cooking this dish again and again and even though it’s not very traditional, I think it’s more than delicious.

I used collard greens in this incarnation, but I’ve used all types of kale, chard, spinach, turnip greens, etc. Whatever you like, or have, feel free to use here. Also, I like my split peas/lentils soft, so I soak them overnight, if I remember to. If you don’t have time, or forget, don’t worry about it. The peas may be a bit hard, depending on their age, but should be fine. Or feel free to use any kind of lentil here. None really need to be soaked, but it can help with digestibility if you have a problem with that kind of thing. And I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it really comes together pretty easily.

Saag Dal

1 c. yellow split peas, or lentils, soaked for a few hours, drained and rinsed
1 big bunch (or 2 small bunches) of any leafy green
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. brown or black mustard seeds
3 cloves
1 cardamom pod
1-2 T. ghee, butter or coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece of ginger, minced
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 – 1 1/2 c. coconut milk (full or low fat)

basmati rice or naan, for serving*

Place the split peas in a large, heavy bottomed pot with 3-4 cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer until tender, anywhere from 35-50 minutes, depending on how fresh your peas are. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine all the whole spices (cumin through cardamom) in a small skillet over medium heat, and toast until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a powder. Set aside.

Also, while you’re waiting for the peas to cook, you can prep the greens. Cut out the large middle stem, then, using either a knife or a food processor, chop the greens into fine, confetti-size pieces.

When the split peas are done, melt the ghee/oil in the same pot (or a new one if you like doing dishes), over medium heat. Add the onions and let them cook until translucent, then add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper flakes, salt and the spice mix from earlier. After about a minute it will smell like heaven, then you can add the greens and stir to coat them in the oil and spices. Once the greens have begun to wilt, stir in a cup of coconut milk. Finally, add the split peas and stir again to combine. As the mixture continues to cook, the greens will release more liquid. At some point some liquid will begin to evaporate, that’s when you know it’s done. You’re looking for a sauce-y consistency. If it’s too dry, add another splash of coconut milk, if it’s soup-y, keep simmering until it dries out a touch.

Serve with naan or basmati rice

* for the basmati – combine 1 c. rinsed rice with 1 1/2 c. water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes then fluff.

serves 4.

Video: Using Leafy Greens

I’m so excited to share a new video with you. See, waaay back in February, my boy Darren and I had a weekend long video shoot for this website, before it even existed. We shot enough footage for 7 videos! Well, things got busy and editing got put on the back burner. But now it’s finally time for the 2nd installment of the Greens and Seeds video tutorials.

The video on leafy greens includes spinach, swiss chard and bok choy. Arugula, watercress and a few other light leafy green veggies may also fit into this category. I saved the hearty greens (collards, kale, etc.) for a later post, because I cook with them differently. What you’ll see in this short video are shots of a few different greens (so you know what to look for in the store), how to store, chop, and use them in cooking.  Enjoy!

There are a few more videos elsewhere on this site. One is just a preview video for the New Blog, and the other is on Cooking Whole Grains.

Smashed Tomato Penne with Crumbled Tempeh

My Papa and I are a lot alike. We both like hot weather, we’re both smart cookies (and, yes, we’re quite modest about it!), and we both like pasta. We  want to enjoy life, and live it to the fullest – well, who doesn’t, really? But one way we differ is in our philosophy about enjoying life, especially when it comes to food. Dad feels that he won’t enjoy himself unless he’s drinking a Manhattan, smoking a cigar, and eating lots of heavy, rich food. He refuses to compromise and think about his health, because, goddamn it, he’s enjoying himself. Me, I want to enjoy life too, and one way I do that is by eating delicious food (and sharing a drink with a friend). The difference is that I want to continue feeling my best, in order to do all the other things I enjoy. I know that I have a great yoga practice when I eat lots of greens, but that when my belly has been overstuffed with too much animal food my thinking gets foggy. One of my main goals in life is to help people, and I (usually) eat to support my body and brain, so I have energy for the challenge.

Good thing we were able to agree on this dish. I made a variation of it for him while I was visiting. Papa loves hot Italian sausage, so I flavored the tempeh with red pepper and fennel, and crumbled it up for a topping to the pasta. The cherry tomatoes got squashed in the pot, so that all their juices would release and thicken the sauce. Then at the last minute, I snuck in some baby spinach, chopped small and evenly distributed so that you never get a bite with a big hunk of wilted spinach on your fork.

This recipe was inspired by the great vegan cook Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her Tempeh Orzilla was on heavy rotation when I was trying REALLY hard to eat vegan. Well, since then I’ve realized that my body does better with a little animal protein here and there, and slowly my nutritional yeast stash dwindled, to be replaced by cheese. So, sorry Isa, to de-vegan-ify one of your already delicious dishes, but understand, it was all for love.

Smashed Tomato Penne with Crumbled Tempeh

8 oz. whole wheat penne (or other short pasta)
2 T. olive oil, divided
8 oz.tempeh
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 T. shoyu (natural soy sauce)
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 c. white wine
1/4 c. grated fresh parmesan
a few big handfuls of baby spinach, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 T. of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Tear up tempeh and add to skillet. Use a wooden spoon to break up tempeh chunks into crumbles. Stir it occasionally for about 10 minutes, until it turns golden brown, then add the pepper fakes, fennel and shoyu. Stir to coat and cook for a few more minutes. Mine always sticks to the pan, and I throw 1/4 cup of water in the pan and swirl it around to scrape all the bits of stuck food from the skillet.

Once the pasta is done, use that pot (or while it’s cooking use a separate saucepan) and heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium. Cook the onion for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and salt, and let cook for one more minute. Stir in the tomatoes, crushing them with the side of the spoon when they get soft. After about 3 minutes, when the tomatoes are starting to break down, pour in the wine. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. While it’s cooking, use the back of your wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes on the side of the pan/pot.

When you have a thick, crushed up sauce in the pan, turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese, then the pasta (you may have to rinse it in some hot water if it’s been sitting and all stuck together). Finally, while it’s still warm, stir in the spinach, making sure it gets evenly distributed.

To serve, transfer the pasta to a bowl (they’ll be lots of saucy stuff at the bottom) and top with the tempeh.

serves 3-4


Fingerling Frittata

I used to think that fingerling potatoes were just small, overpriced, cute potatoes. I refused to pay so much more money for a potato, just because it was small. But when I found them in bulk at the farmers market, I decided to pick up just a few, so I could see what all the fuss was about. Well, I am here today to tell you that fingerlings are no small potatoes! (well, technically they are small potatoes – but just go with it) They are so smooth and creamy; I would go so far as to say they are buttery. I highly recommend you pick some up the next time you see them. However, if you can’t find them, you can sub any waxy potato (red and yukon gold would both be good).  Slice them thin enough and you can skip the steaming step. Just sauté them until they are soft. Likewise, feel free to throw in any other vegetables that inspire you. 

A frittata is kinda like a crustless quiche, a baked omelet, or a spanish tortilla. But it’s a frittata! Cook the fillings in an ovenproof skillet, pour in the beaten eggs and finish in the oven. Frittatas are pretty versatile. I made this for my favorite nostalgic treat, “Breakfast for Dinner”, but you can have it for actual breakfast. These guys also travel well, just wrap a chunk in parchment and have it for lunch or a snack.

Fingerling Frittata

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, halved (or other waxy potato, sliced thin)
1 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1 bunch of spinach or other greens, finely chopped
6 large eggs
1/4 c. whole milk
3/4 tsp. sea salt
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
handful of chives, sliced thin

Preheat the oven to 425.

Set up a steamer, pour in about 1/2 inch of water and bring to a boil. Steam the potatoes, covered, until tender, 10-15 minutes.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet (cast iron or stainless steel work well), over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until just starting to turn translucent, 3 minutes. Add the steamed potatoes and cook until everything has turned the slightest brown. Stir in the spinach.

While the onions and potatoes are cooking, prepare the royale (fancy chef speak for mixture of eggs and dairy). Combine the eggs, milk and salt in a large bowl and beat well. About 30 seconds after adding the spinach to the skillet, pour the egg mixture.

Swirl the eggs around in the pan to distribute evenly, then pop into the oven for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are just starting to set. Scatter the goat cheese across the surface of the frittata, and slide it back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Finally, to get a great brown on top, turn the oven to broil, and stick the skillet under the broiler for about 30 seconds or so. Keep an eye on it, it can go from yellow to black in the blink of an eye.

Remove from oven, sprinkle chives on top and serve. I like to cut it into wedges and lift them out with a thin spatula.

 serves 2-3