Archives for posts with tag: cumin


Any dish that ends “…with ginger and chili” I am predisposed to like. It’s kind of my current favorite flavor profile. I generally like heat over sweet, and there is something medicinal, healing, about the combination. When I can remember to, I like to start my mornings steeping ginger and chili in hot water, sometimes with a little bit of fresh squeezed lemon, and if I’m feeling a stuffy nose coming on, a tiny bit of honey.

So when I stumbled upon a recipe for a spicy butternut squash soup I perused the ingredient list and liked what I saw: coconut milk, fresh ginger, fresh chili, cilantro, turmeric. This was a recipe for October, for crisp weather and fending off colds. It is warmth in a bowl.

I’m in Vermont for a few days watching over a two-month-old kitten named Sam—short for Sammy Davis Jr., naturally. While born feral and therefore fearful of humans, she surprised me this morning when I woke to discover her resting peacefully on my chest. Up, down, with my breath. I picked long red chili peppers with my stepmother from her garden before she headed out of town, putting the better part of one to good use in this recipe. Now I just need to find something to do with all the Swiss chard, white eggplant, and green tomatoes we picked. In the meantime…


Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger and Chili
adapted from Brooklyn Vegetarian

2 tablespoons coconut oil (olive oil works well too)
1 medium onion, diced
Knob of fresh ginger, approx. 1 inch, peeled and minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh red chili pepper, minced, to taste (I used a piece 2 inches long)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley or cilantro, to garnish
Scallions, to garnish

In a large saucepan heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until it turns translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, and chili and sauté for about 1 minute, then add the cumin and turmeric. Stir, then add the carrot and celery and sauté for several minutes until they begin to soften. If the pan gets too dry you can add a spoonful or two of water, so the onions don’t stick. Add the squash, broth, and coconut milk, season with salt and pepper, and slowly bring to just before the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the squash is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Allow the soup to cool some before transferring to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, in batches if necessary. You can reheat the soup in its pan before serving if you’d like. Garnish the soup with sliced scallions and parsley or cilantro.

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Lentils can be quick. Let me prove it to you. I worked from home yesterday and in the time it took me to get ready to go to a noon yoga class I had prepared a dahl with rice.

I’ve written before on dahl but that was a little more labor-intensive and time-consuming than this quickie meal. This meal, while it can be put together in a snap, still has plenty of payoff: filling, satisfying, and spicy, these lentils go great with steaming basmati rice and a side of greens.

I’m not sure how or why, but dahl is one my ultimate comfort foods. Given that I grew up on pb&j and fish sticks, this isn’t necessarily intuitive, but it’s now a given. Once I discovered I could make my own at home, well, the rest is history.

And one of the best parts about this dish was I had everything on hand and did not consult even one recipe. I worked from memory and guessed on the amounts of everything.

If you have garam masala on hand it will make this meal all that faster. If not, you have a couple of options. Either use what you have and make the best of it: turmeric powder and ground cumin will go a long way. If you have coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and the time and patience, I’d recommend quickly toasting these in a small cast-iron skillet, then grinding in a spice or coffee grinder. You can see my recipe here for a homemade curry powder, or garam masala.

Any lentils will really work here, except maybe French green lentils, which I’d use more for salads than dahl. I used the red lentils I always have on hand—the pinch of turmeric is what turns the dish yellow. I threw in half a veggie bouillon cube for flavor, but you definitely don’t need to.

The key to making this dish, and making it seem effortless, is getting everything cooking in the pot, then forgetting about it while you go do something else for a while, like some downward dogs.

Curry in a Hurry

Makes 4 servings

1 tbsp olive oil, butter, or ghee
1 medium onion, diced
2 dried red chiles
1 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 c water
1 c lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 bouillon cube, optional
salt, to taste

In a large, sturdy pot, heat your oil or butter over a medium flame, then add the diced onion. Cook the onion for about 5-10 minutes; you can leave the lid partially on to speed along the cooking and avoid the onions smoking. Once the onions are translucent or starting to brown, add a dash of salt, 1 or 2 dried red chiles, depending on how much heat you like, the garam masala, and turmeric. Give it all a stir.

Add 1 c of water and the lentils and turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you can add the bouillon if using, and the remaining 1 c water. Turn the heat down to simmer and cover completely. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes, if that’s all the time you have, a little bit more if you’ve got the time. Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and let stand for at least 10 more minutes.

Quick tip: I turned off the heat on the lentils after about 15 minutes of cooking, went to my class, and when I came back they were done. (If you like them more creamy, or completely dissolved, let cook for longer.) Same with the rice, I turned off the heat after it cooked for only 15 minutes, and it cooked itself in the steam with the lid on.

Serve the dahl over rice. If it’s spicy you might like a little plain yogurt spooned on top. I also like to eat this with a side of sauteed collard greens or kale.

That’s right. This is supposedly the best vegetarian chili in the world. It’s adapted from a popular recipe on and I have to say, it’s mighty tasty. Shout out/apology to my cousin Bill, a chef in Texas, who might take issue with the idea that chili can even be vegetarian let alone mighty tasty.

Alright, for starters, it’s been cold here in New York the past two weeks. After tackling the carrot soup thing I wanted more stick-to-your-ribs fare but I haven’t been buying or cooking much meat. So instead of braised short ribs, beef bourguignon, or polenta with sausage ragù, I went with a chili packed with beans, veggies, spice, and all the warmth with none of the meat.

The original recipe called for an inordinate amount of jalapeños and chopped green chile peppers so I toned these down and my version still had a little kick. You could add a few dashes of tabasco to your bowl if you find it’s lacking heat. The recipe also called for such oddities as ground Boca burgers – I cut these out and increased the veggies. And of course, if possible, start with cooked dried beans instead of cans but don’t worry about it if you buy canned.

Vegetarian Chili
Adapted from
Serves 8

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp salt
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (4-oz.) can chopped green chile peppers, drained
3 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) kidney beans
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) garbanzo beans
1 c cooked (or 1 15-oz. can) black beans
1 package (15-oz.) frozen whole kernel corn

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, jalapeño, garlic, and green chile peppers. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the celery and bell peppers have softened.

Mix the tomatoes into the pot, breaking them up into smaller pieces. Season with chili powder and black pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzos, and black beans. Bring to a boil and, if there seems to be a lot of liquid, let it boil until some of the liquid evaporates, roughly 10-25 minutes. Then lower the heat and simmer for additional half hour or so. Whether you have a lid on or not depends on if or how much you want liquid to evaporate. Stir in the corn five minutes before turning off the heat.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, creme fraiche, or shredded cheese, sliced scallions, and maybe some avocado. I also served this with broccoli that had been roasted in the oven on 400 degrees for 25 minutes and tossed with olive oil and salt.

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