Pre-Thanksgiving Purge: Dal

Although ostensibly a day devoted to giving thanks, Thanksgiving for many descends into gluttony – or at the very least eating a bit too much food that is a bit too rich. Whatever effect this might have on one’s soul, it definitely takes a toll on the body, as the pending post-thanksgiving naps will attest. The days after Thanksgiving give no respite, either: these are days devoted to the consumption of leftovers, constructing, eating and immediately regretting ever-more ridiculous “Thanksgiving sandwiches”. I’m not saying I don’t like Thanksgiving – quite the opposite, I assure you – just that it has a way of making one’s body feel pushed to the limit.

Anticipating this food binge in the days before the big day, I’m filled with a puritanical need to purge. For about three days before Thanksgiving I adopt an almost-vegan diet, avoiding meat, heavy fats and anything that feels like it will linger past its welcome in my gut. Simple meals of grains and vegetables – in small portions – is what I crave before a meal that is complicated, rich and excessively-portioned.

If you too are both excited for and slightly dreading Thanksgiving indulgence, or if in the aftermath of the holiday you’re ready to give up on the damned leftovers, make a meal of this dal and flatbread, inspired by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Flatbreads & Flavors.


  • ½ medium onion, sliced thin
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper, ground
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • Dash ground turmeric
  • Cinnamon stick, a couple of inches long
  • ½ cup cilantro

Fry onion in vegetable oil in 4 qt saucepan over medium-high heat until edges start to brown. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lentils and water and stir to combine. Add salt, spices and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until porridge-like. Off heat, stir in cilantro and adjust seasoning. Serve warm.


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp black pepper, ground
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ½ cup water

Pulse flours, spices and salt together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade to evenly distribute. Add yogurt and water and process until dough has formed a cohesive, smooth ball – about two minutes in my processor. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rest about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 3 oz balls – you should have 14. Allow the balls to rest 20-30 minutes. After the dough balls have rested, begin rolling them out: they should be rolled as thin as possible, as if for tortillas.

Heat a dry large skillet over medium high heat. Cook one flatbread at a time, flipping after bubbles appear all over the surface of the bread. The bread should be dark brown, almost charred in spots. Store cooked breads in a towel to keep warm while you prepare the rest of the breads.

Note: Purists will note this is not actually puri, which should be fried in oil. You might recall the whole point of this meal was to avoid fats like that – if it makes you happier think of these as puri-inspired flatbreads. Also, if you can get it, substitute 3 cups Indian atta flour for the flour in the recipe.

Serve the dal and puri together, using torn off bits of bread to scoop up the lentils.


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6 comments on “Pre-Thanksgiving Purge: Dal”

  1. Linda 23 November, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I love this post. I’ve been wanting to make Dal and even have some red lentils. Have you tried the dal that Amel makes at the Khyber Pass?

  2. A Ann 24 November, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I know what you mean! Made dal last week (from a 1970’s recipe called Purpoo Muligatwany). It had quite a lot of lemon juice added at the end (with the cilantro) which I thought brightened it up considerably. Have a happy thanksgiving you two!

  3. Tom 24 November, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Lemon juice would have been great; how I wish I could grow a lemon tree in my apartment!

  4. Nick 7 December, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Monica and I spied your recipe last week and made it tonight for dinner. Mmm, it was good! We added both lemon and pepper flakes for a bit more kick, especially since we don’t have any fresh cilantro right now in London. Hope you’re well!

  5. Tom 8 December, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I am glad you enjoyed it Nick! I am also sorry to hear you are bereft of cilantro (or coriander, as it were) – I guess I’ve come to take it for granted in the USA.

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