Spice Mama of the Month - Guest Post

My favorite part of each spice series is the guest post, and this one is no exception. This month's Spice Mama, Shilpa Agashe, is a dear friend whom I went to school with in India since age 4! Shilpa is a creative, intelligent, life-loving, beautiful mother, inside and out. A a software engineer working in an investment bank in Tokyo and a mother of a 4 year old daughter, Shilpa is a perpetual juggler, doing it all with ease and grace. Shilpa has lived in Tokyo since 2006 and loves Japanese food but cannot stand seaweed, one health benefit she has willingly decided to forgo. The biggest skill Shilpa has acquired since moving to Tokyo is how to cook in a tiny kitchen! She loves creating Indian dishes for her non-Indian friends to show them that Indian food isn't confined to the oily and fried stuff one invariably sees on restaurant menus. She also likes to remind folks that no one makes naan at home in India ;). Here she shares a recipe for a simple and delicious regional Indian classic, from the state of Maharashtra, that is classic comfort food for young and old alike. 

Guest Post
by Shilpa Agashe

When you live away from home, you always carry a little bit of home with you. In my case, that turns out to be my never fail, ever trustworthy pressure cooker and a hot bowl of varan-bhaat. 

Varan-bhaat is as simple as it sounds - yellow lentils and rice. But, its comfort, nourishment and nostalgia - all in one bowl. It's the kind of food you eagerly come home to after a long vacation and endless restaurant dinners. My 4 year old daughter loves it, and lest I forget she always asks me if I put limbu (lemon) and toop ( ghee or clarified butter) before I serve it!


12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
We have previously discussed the nutritional benefits of lentils here. But here's something you might not have heard before - curcumin, the active component in turmeric, can heal a leaky gut. A leaky whaaaa?! Yep that's right, a leaky gut! A healthy digestive tract has an intact lining of tightly-knit cells that prevent ingested foods and toxins from entering the blood stream before the digestive system has processed and detoxified them. When this lining becomes leaky (literally, rife with holes), which can happen for a plethora of reasons, mostly related to diet and lifestyle, the foods, chemicals and toxins we ingest can enter the bloodstream right away and are perceived as threats by our immune system. This, in turn, leads to increased inflammation which has been shown, over and over again, to be the basis of many chronic diseases, including eczema, psoriasis, asthma, Alzheimers, depression and even diabetes! Research shows that curcumin in turmeric increases the levels of a protein in the gut (called Intestinal Alkaline Phosphatase or IAP) that forms tight junctions between the cells lining the digestive tract and heals a leaky gut (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25474287) Another compelling reason to ensure your pantry is stocked with this powerful, golden spice!

1 cup yellow lentils (toor daal or split pigeon peas in English which can be found in Indian grocery stores)
2.25 cups water or 3.5 cups if not using a pressure cooker
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon hing / asafoetida also found in Indian grocery stores (optional but aids in the digestion of lentils)
Salt to taste
Toop (ghee / clarified butter) or a neutral oil like Rapeseed or Canola for drizzling
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon coriander powder
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Good squeeze lemon juice


Curcumin in turmeric
increases levels of
Intestinal Alkaline
Phosphatase (or IAP)
which heals disruptions
in the gut lining




Wash the lentils thoroughly. Add the water and soak for 30-60 minutes, especially important if not using a pressure cooker.

Cook lentils in a pressure cooker with the turmeric and hing, if using, on a high flame for 15 minutes (4-5 whistles)  and then on a medium- low flame for 10 minutes. If using a regular pot, bring the lentils, turmeric, hing and water to a boil on high heat, about 5 minutes, and then lower to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 50 minutes until the lentils have dissolved. 

Open the pressure cooker once the steam dies out (or the pot once lentils have dissolved) and mash them to make the mixture nice and creamy. Add salt to taste.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice, with a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of sugar, cumin and coriander powder and toop! Shorter grained rice is preferable for varan-bhat but Thai jasmine rice works just as well. Serve with veggies of choice as a side for a complete, nutritious, comforting meal.

For babies 7 months and up, check out our recipe for a more easily digested turmeric moong daal and avocado puree under Recipes