Love and Lentils




Here is the humblest of North Indians meals, a dinner of dal palak (lentils with spinach), delicately spiced cauliflower, and brown basmati rice. Modest ingredients are brightened up with slow cooking and a few peppy spices and flavors. It’s the kind of simple, wholesome food I like best.

Dal is the Hindi word for both lentils and the lentil (or chickpeas, mung bean, green/yellow pea) stew that is a staple of North Indian cuisine. The dal I ate growing up always included scallions, and often included carrot. I’ve used chives here because I like its garlicky bite, especially with watery green spinach. If you use a bit of carrot, its little touch of sweetness will contrast nicely against the strong hearty dal/lentils.

Dal Palak 
1 cup of urad dal/lentils (looks similar to mung beans), rinsed and picked over
6 cups of water
1 tsp powdered tumeric
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 – 2 garlic cloves (depends on how large clove/s are), grated
1 tomato, peeled (see note) and chopped
1 – 2 green chilis (see note), finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
Optional – 1 carrot, chopped into 1/4 inch coins
1/2 lb spinach, well-washed and coarsely chopped
1 – 2 tbsp clarified butter (ghee) [or oil for vegan]
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chopped chive (or scallion)
More salt to taste, a few tablespoons of cilantro if you like

In a large pot, combine water and dal/lentils. Bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes. Remove any of the white foam that rises to the top.
Add in the tumeric, grated ginger and garlic, chopped tomato, chili, and 1/2 tsp salt (and carrot if using). Simmer (low boil) for 30 minutes.
Add the spinach. Simmer for 15 – 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender.
While the mixture simmers away, heat small pan on medium-high heat. Add cumin, toast for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the cumin becomes slightly darkened and fragrant. Add the clarified butter, and wait for it grow nutty and fragrant. Remove from heat, and add chopped chives. Breathe deeply.
When the dal/lentils mixture is done, add the clarified butter-cumin mixture and stir to incorporate.
Add salt. If using cilantro, chop and sprinkle it on – its traditional although I find cilantro to be soapy and avoid it.

* In winter, I use tomatoes I’ve frozen  in summer. This is why I avoid winter tomatoes.
If you plunge a frozen tomato into warm water, you can easily slip the skin right off
** If you don’t like spice/heat, remove the white membrane and seeds of the chili(s)

Slow-roasting winter cauliflower brings out its tender sweetness. Nutmeg and delicate saffron flavor and enhance that sweet mellowness without overwhelming it. Almonds add a bit of protein and crunch.
Sometimes I top this cauliflower with a tablespoon of nutty parmesan and have it with an herby wild rice, or throw in a bit of creamy brie-style cheese and serve it with a side of simple risotto. Other times, I puree it with caramelized onion, homemade vegetable broth and a splash of cream and turn it into soup. 

Roasted, Saffroned Cauliflower
1 medium-sized head of cauliflower (just under one pound)
1/4 tsp saffron + 2 -3 extra strands
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Pinch of garam masala (less than 1/4 tsp)
1/2 tsp long pepper (use black if you cannot find)
2 tbsp butter/clarified butter/oil
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash cauliflower and separate into florets. Slice the larger florets, stems first, into 2 -3 flatten sections. The pieces should be just over an inch wide, maximum, and just under 1/2 inch wide. Place the cauliflower in a baking pan in a pan that is large enough to hold all the cauliflower in a single layer.
In a small pan over medium-low heat, toast the saffron until darkened. It should only take a minute or so. As soon as it darkens, add the butter/oil and other spices and salt. Pour over cauliflower and stir to combine. Place in hot oven and roast for 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven carefully, and sprinkle slivered almond on top of the cauliflower. Place back in oven, turn up the heat to 400°F, and roast for another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove when cauliflower in well-browned on the bottom, and allow to cool before consuming.

Tea pairing: chai, or something brisk and black (an assam, or a smoky Yunnan).

  1. notyet100,

    Delicious meal,..will try the cauliflower roast sometime,,looks yum.

  2. love the way u write… :) simply yet flavor packed meal…

  3. Nandita SS,

    Awesome post Joyti!! A simple meal of dal palak and roasted cauliflower looks so comforting :)

  4. What a strong message you delivered in your post today! It’s beautifully written, and very powerful too. I sometimes wish that I can take a moment more carefully and enjoy and appreciate that moment. From the time kids wake up, my days go really chaotic and by the time they go sleep I’m so exhausted and forget about little yet important things in life. Your post today was a good reminder. It’s nice to have time to think about a lot of things and we all need those times, and time to reflect oneself. You only get better when you spend time for yourself too. Love the way you mentioned about simple meal. We believe in simplicity of meal too. Your dish looks delicious and beautiful!

  5. Woww… lovely and healthy recipes.. beautiful pictures too !!

  6. Simplicity at its finest and best, Joyti. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post with us. I feel inspired!

  7. Priya,

    Your posts are always a delight to read :) Love the pics. And yes, I really like some carrots to go along with dal. But usually, I just stir fry some and put them too as a side. The roasted cauliflower sounds wonderful!

  8. Love these delicious dishes. Really enjoy reading all about your vegetarian cooking as I like to learn more…

  9. Foodycat,

    Absolute perfection!

  10. Emma,

    Beautifully written post. So true, it’s incredibly brave to put yourself out there .. without that though, it’s not an enjoyable life.

    I love roasting cauliflower – yours looks deliciously spicy and flavoursome and I adore the sound of those lentils.

  11. Priya,

    Wow, beautiful post, love that roasted cauliflower.

  12. Shri,

    Beautiful Joyti! Sometimes it is so hard to believe and how often we forget the simple blessings in this mad rush.
    Perfectly illustrated by the recipes.

  13. Anna,

    That cauliflower looks to die for! But then again I’m a sucker for anything roasted :D

  14. Lady Grey,

    I truly adore your writing – you always have me completely captivated.
    I love how you said “the time spent perfecting a meal is an expression of love”. I agree completely.
    I am so glad you are back, and strong, and happy.

  15. Wow… really write a lot which captures all our heart….nicely written.

    Delicious dal palak & cauliflower roast.

  16. divya,

    looks amazing!

  17. this looks yummy. couldn’t agree more that sharing food is a most sincere expression of cosmic love.

  18. Love this traditional meal Joythi, welcome back.

  19. What a beautifully written post. And what a wonderful sounding meal – absolutely delicious!

  20. It is a gift to be able to prepare a meal and you have captured that so well. Love your photos. I may have to adapt that cauliflower for soup!

  21. Joyti, this is delicious! I love your writing. So true, faith in yourself!

    I am definitely going to make the cauliflower with almonds. Yummy!!

  22. I envy your welcoming vulnerability and openess. Feel it to the max. And a simple dish is usually the best. I am particularly curious about the gorgeous cauliflower.

  23. “…energy is not created nor destroyed. It has always been, the force that creates life and dreams. That is love. … It means knowing their dreams and hopes, taking away their fears, offering words of encouragement.” I love these words so much. It’s so easy to forget how important that is and to get caught up in other things. I am working every day to remind myself of the importance of that. And there is beauty in that struggle as well. Thank you for writing and sharing such beautiful things.

  24. I have to agree that the beauty of slow cooking is that it brightens and enhances modest ingredients, making a great foundation for spices and flavours. In fact, I love the fact that in so many cultures simple ingredients are combined to make such wonderful,nourishing meals. I’m thinking Tuscan and Indian cooking here. Your photos are fantastic and really help to tell your story.

  25. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best ! The same goes to your simple yet very tasty meal :)

  26. Joyti, I truly enjoyed your beautiful thoughts, illustrated by the art-like photos in your posts. (Delicious Dal Palak recipe, too!) Love is my favorite ingredient, too.

  27. Amelia,

    Hi Joyti, thank you for sharing your thoughts. So glad to see you back in action. I always enjoyed looking at your pictures, those clicks of yours are all excellent.

    Thanks for sharing Dal Palak, it look so delicious.

    Take care, have a nice week a head.

  28. Beautiful post. Life is short, enjoy every moment of it.

  29. It takes courage to be vulnerable. And release ~ acceptance ~ trust. But oh, the special and beautiful things that come of it. Thanks for the beautiful post, Joyti.

  30. What a great vegetarian meal. I love the look of this and the flavours must be wonderful. I’m finding the older I get, the more quickly I’m moved to tears xx

  31. What a comfort food to have! I love your gratitude towards life. If you’re a butterfly, you have already emerged from the cocoon and wondering around the beautiful things!

  32. Natalie G,

    This looks like an incredible and flavorful meal! Thanks!

  33. Gloria,

    Joyti I would like talk so much engligh to tell you about is in my heart.:)
    Always I enjoyed and love your recipes and post and your pictures!”
    This is a nice and wonderful post like life dear, sometimes joy, sometimes peace others tears; the last times arent easy times to me; but I know all live difficult or nice moments.
    Only I wanna say I m soooo happy you are here again and love lentils.Blessing dear your friend. Gloria

  34. Gloria,

    Love cauliflowers too!!!

  35. Julia,

    Ohhhh Joyti, I too have been a teary-eyed tear fest lately too…tears have been flowing over both positive and negative things…maybe it’s the time of year or just much needed, but I can completely relate to the importance of crying! I’m so impressed by this meal! I love lentils, cauliflower and anything that resembles curry. I’m pinning this to make soon and will let you know how it turns out! Thanks for another moving post…I love how real you are!

  36. yet another wonderful cauliflower dish–although I must say that your Dal recipe has me more excited.
    and I am glad that you are experiencing such heart-opening joy and wonder in the world.

  37. I agree, I can only cook properly when I care about the meal and care about the people I’m cooking for. When I don’t give a toss is when I make stupid mistakes and it just means there’s little love for what I’m making.

  38. “Be part of the energy” – yes! I so believe in putting your true self out there, positivity, warmth…it’s what you get back. You must be open to give and feel and love and live! Love it. I’m so happy to have you back again. You seem very happy. I so appreciate you sharing these recipes, how beautiful, they look divine. My husband would go mad for this meal! Yum.
    Heidi xo

  39. Another wonderful post and I agree that cilantro is soapy, but I will try this Dal Palak without it!

  40. Cakelaw,

    How delicious! I would never have imagined serving cauliflower this way, but I like it.

  41. Hi Joythi! I truly love coming over and just love the organic rustic feel of your photography. I am truly inspired. Though I eat lentils, I have never really truly cooked them on my own. Time to give it a go :D. ♥Jo

  42. M D,

    Wow! That’s so well written. Love ur posts! Beautiful dal!

  43. I adore the photography. So beautifully captured and arranged. I made cauliflower soup last Wednesday. So good during the winter months, too.

  44. Joanne,

    I’ve definitely found myself overtaken by happy tears more as an adult than I ever was as a child…and it’s actually a nice experience. These dishes are both gorgeous. Simple and yet soul-touching.

  45. Tumeric, chilis and ginger?? I’m SO in. And your post is beautiful btw!

  46. Sissi,

    Even the humblest ingredients can create a real feast when well spiced up and which cuisine does it better if not Indian?
    A very moving and inspiring post. Thank you.

  47. Do we share the same stars? In the last few months I have undergone a positive transformation and have developed a new perspective towards life. I have started perceiving and understanding situations from a different angle. Now I feel blessed for those little joys around me and my heart is filled with love. You have made me realize it one more time. Thank you
    It is so true that simple meals like this gives you truck loads of positive energy. Absolutely yumm.

  48. This meal is perfection in my eyes. There is nothing more comforting than dal and rice :) And I so agree that cooking is an expression of love!

  49. LOL! I have always been a bit of a sop too, I have happy tears too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve. Love your recipe… it looks so flavoursome!!

  50. Beautiful thoughts, very well written
    and a wonderful recipe.
    Your post nourishes the soul, thank you Joyti !

  51. Amy,

    This is a beautiful post, your writing, your thoughts, and your recipe. I totally agree that the time and simple, wholesome ingredients we put in a dish, is definitely love. :) Have a wonderful weekend.

  52. Krys,

    There weren’t lentils at the dining hall yesterday and I think I was a little devastated on the inside. Nonetheless, this looks lovely and I especially like that there’s spinach in it! Thank you for sharing and it’s good to hear that you’ve been having these happy tears more often. Hope you’ve had a great weekend! xx

  53. rooth,

    Mmmm, I just sent my friends some wonderful sounding lentil recipes from NPR – let me know if you’re interested in them as well

  54. This is such a lovely lot of recipes indeed! I definitely want to make these ones as soon as it cools down a little here :)

  55. Anonymous,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  56. Krystal,

    your writing is so beautiful and always uplifting. as are your recipes i think!

  57. Beautiful and inspiring post Joyti, a pleasure to read it!

  58. Sarah,

    mm, this sounds lovely. i’d love a bowl now :) beautiful pictures too!

  59. Lovely read, Joyti..and such simple yet filling recipes are what I look forward to cooking at home! Beautiful clicks.

  60. Joyti, Lovely thoughts. It’s a wonderful feeling to open our minds and hearts, I believe great things can do happen when one accomplishes that. And the Dal Palak looks irresistible {lentils and roasting cauliflowers are my favorites}Have a nice day!

  61. Through your kind words you put the joy out in the world :)!

  62. pia,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  63. Such a beautiful post and recipe. I love your style :-)

  64. Arti,

    Hi Jyoti,
    I just stumbled on your blog once again while I was going through some of my old Shivratri posts. I hope you remember me!!
    I read your 2013 post and am sorry that 2012 was not a very good year for you and I hope and wish that this year is a good one.
    I love your writing dear, your photography and presentation skills are still superb! I would love to try out that Palak Dal :) Happy Shivratri :)

  65. Beautiful heart warming post right here Joyti. It’s always great to read your posts. Plus thanks for sharing another hit recipe

  66. your words made my world better today. Beautiful, soulful, open and loving words. and this meal is not humble yet elegant. Have a wonderful week!

  67. What a great read!! The recipe sounds pretty darn good too! :)

  68. Debs,

    My goodness Joyti I’m glad you’re back. I love reading your posts, looking at your beautiful photography and trying your recipes.

  69. Juliana,

    Lovely post Joyti, yes, life is filled with ups and down…nothing is permanent…and I believe that our life experience makes what we are.
    Both the lentil and the cauliflower look delicious…
    Have a great week my dear!

  70. Good that you are taking life as it comes…love both the dishes.

  71. I love your writing..and recipes too…

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  73. Erica,

    Thanks for visiting my blog!!!Love your writing style and this lentil dish sounds delicious…I’m a huge lentil fan!

  74. Great post, great recipes.
    Love the combination of different spices!

  75. Dhal is quite a staple here. This is like comfort food for me. When my mother in law makes it, it’s like love in a bowl:-)

  76. Great colours and photos in this blogpost. I will admit i am not the biggest fan of cauliflower but this recipe may have changed my mind!!

  77. Your blog is beautiful :) And so are your words. Keep on keepin on, lady!

  78. What a beautiful mix of ingredients. Thanks for the recipe.

  79. Anonymous,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  80. Anonymous,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  81. well, you then are a very very lucky girl.
    and it’s even greater that you have a passion to hold on to.
    i find myself in the same situation, but i’m still not prepared to face the world.
    i keep hiding each day as i can. it’s not living truly, i know, but i just can’t. not yet.

    but i’m really happy for you.

  82. Yasmeen,

    Must repeat myself from previous recent posts… so glad you’re back, feeling good, and discovering life again. I understand what you are going through on a cosmic level, having moved around quite a bit and being faced with prioritizing my energies and finding myself and the whole lot that comes with it. Not the most poignant way to describe such an important time, but I know you understand!

    We eat dal constantly in this house, often with spinach and cauliflower (thanks to my indian nanny who was my 2nd mother, I have a stash of her recipes that I constantly refer to). Next time, I’m going to try yours and think of you x

  83. You have a beautiful way with words Jyoti. I only know you from the last 3 posts I read and I do hope you have many bright mornings and lots of love to hold on to in the days to come..

  84. Anonymous,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  85. Anonymous,

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  86. bronwyn,

    Oh you’re back! I am so happy to read your words again but I am sorry to hear that you’ve had a rough go. 2012 was a strange and hard year for many (myself included) i think. Opening your mind and your heart is very scary indeed and I am happy to see you are putting yourself out there. I am not sure if I am truly doing that yet, but I am trying. Lovely words.

    On the matter of cauliflower – I just roasted 2 heads yesterday with just a bit of salt and pepper and was thinking that I needed a more interesting spice combo because I just cannot get enough cauliflower these days. I think because I spent the winter eating cauliflower tart at a cafe by my office, I want to eat it all the time now. Will try this version next.

    Welcome back!

  87. Shri,

    Loved the post, the colours and the mood.
    I hope the year will bring much joy and satisfaction for you.
    While not a great fan of saffron, loved the cauliflower post. I roast vegetables with Indian seasonings instead of the traditional method.

  88. Amy,

    I love your simple, yet wholesome meal, especially the spiced cauliflower. It’s so true, the time we spent perfecting a simple meal for the family is filled with love. :) You post is very well said. Totally agree with opening up our hearts to let the world in.

  89. A lovely, simple, sumptuous dish; classically delicious, we loved it.
    Also, must say was touched by your heart-felt narrative. Thank You.

  90. Simi Jois,

    Loved reading this post, so well written…it goes so well with the simple food!

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