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 Dictionary.com, 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.

Spring Lentil Soup

Happy May Day! It finally seems like Spring has sprung. We spent the weekend in the Catskills, with sunshine, green grass and trees, in a house built into a waterfall (no joke!). It wasn’t quite warm enough to sit on the deck overlooking the old trout pond and drink a beer while the sun set (sigh…) but we did manage a hike in the surrounding forest.  And to warm up our faces after the brisk walk; a bowl of lentil and bulgur soup, loaded with spring carrots, chard and garlic, and brightened up with a punch of lemon. Topped with some pine nuts and a dusting of cheese, this is a dish that sings out springtime. Not that bitter radish in a salad to lighten up after a cold winter kind of spring, but the warm up after a rainy afternoon (or hike through the woods).

The deck we walked out onto from the door in the kitchen. Not warm enough to dine outside on the water, but good enough to sit and sing a few tunes.

Darren loved the soup. He said it tastes like a garden. My favorite part is the garlic. You leave a bunch of cloves whole and let them cook with the lentils and bulgur. After about 20 minutes the garlic is so soft that you can smoosh it against the side of the pot, and it just melts into the soup. And one more note: try to find skinny, small carrots to ensure they will be tender in the 20 minutes it takes for the lentils to cook. And it won’t hurt to slice them very thin.

We enjoyed cooking in this homey, but still waaaay bigger than ours, kitchen.

Spring Lentil Soup


1 T. butter or olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced
4-6 thin, spring carrots, bias cut (diagonal)
1 T. herbs de provence
8 cloves of garlic
1/2 green lentils
1/2 medium bulgur
2 c. vegetable stock
1/4 c. pine nuts
1 small bunch of swiss chard, de-stemmed and chopped
the zest and juice of 1 lemon
handful of basil, torn into pieces
some freshly grated parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano)

Melt butter in a large pot over medium low heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 7-8 minutes. Stir in the carrots and herbs de provence and cook for another few minutes. While it’s cooking, crush the garlic cloves with the side of your knife and peel, but leave them whole. Throw the garlic into the pot, along with the lentils and bulgur, and stir until all is coated with the butter and herbs. Pour in the stock and 3 cups of water, bring to a boil. Turn to low, cover and simmer until lentils are about tender, 20 minutes.

While the soup cooks, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until brown and fragrant. Keep a close eye on them, they go from raw to burned in no time.

After 20 minutes, add the chard to the soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the zest and juice.

Serve topped with the pine nuts, basil and cheese.

serves 4