Disaster Dal


by Laura V. Anderson

Some days, dinner does not go as planned. I’ve been working some late nights lately, and I wanted to throw together a fast, easy dinner that didn’t require a trip to the grocery store. Since I already had red lentils and spices in my pantry, dal was the obvious solution. I also had a bag of red potatoes lying around, so I decided to add a few to my lentil stew for heft. 

Tired, hungry, and harried, I peeled and chopped fresh ginger and garlic, and I cubed my potatoes. I transferred these to a soup pot as I rustled around for the other ingredients I needed. My kitchen is small—the two square feet or so of counter space it offers are perennially taken up by a dish rack and an electric kettle. There wasn’t really enough room for the soup pot on the counter, but I managed to balance it pretty well on the edge—or so I thought. Five seconds later, as I reached into my cabinet for coriander seeds, I heard a bang and looked over to see cubes of potato and flecks of garlic and ginger bouncing across my studio apartment.
One of the downsides of living alone is that you have no one else to blame when you find your parquet covered with potatoes. So I did what anyone would have done under the circumstances: I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes and briefly fantasized about Chinese takeout and a stiff drink, then walked over to the closet, found my broom, and began sweeping.
This story has a happy ending: I swallowed my frustration and started the dal anew—slower and more carefully this time. The last of my fresh ginger was now mixed with dust bunnies in the garbage, so I used ground ginger instead (not ideal, but better than nothing), along with coriander seeds (I was too lazy to crush them, though they would have benefited from it), cardamom, cloves, black pepper, a cinnamon stick, and an ancho chile. Once the lentils were bubbling and dissolving, the potatoes softening, and the spices aromatizing my apartment, I could almost see the humor in the situation. Once I ate my first bowl, I was actually smiling.

Posted in Indian


  1. Anonymous said...

    Oh my goodness, been there, done that. I’ve never had dal, but just the thought of the smells of the spices that you mentioned makes me want it…now. Coriander seeds and cardamom are two of my fave flavors. Glad you neded up in a brighter place…

  2. Flywalk said...

    One of the advantages of living alone (or being alone in the kitchen) – and making something that’s going to be cooked – is that you can pick things off the floor! The old five-second rule (with a quick rinse if you’re going to get all picky about it).

  3. minimalistwoman said...

    What a cool save! When I am tired I burn things, just from not using good judgment. I think my husband has gotten to be a good cook because I am tired a lot and he knows what his dinner will taste like unless he intervenes 🙂

  4. elizabethr said...

    Such a great piece — reminded me that I’m not alone in my nightly cooking exploits (whatever’s in the fridge and cupboard, is what’s gonna make the meal.) I often think of dinner as my own private version of "Chopped," with the result rendering me The Winner — or not! …In any case, I love this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants dal… It sounds divine and I’m going to make a version of it sometime soon!

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