The Somerville Arts Council proudly presents a taste of its forthcoming book, Nibble. This book will include art essays, a restaurant and market guide, features on the local culinary landscape and recipes galore. One such recipe—and the story behind the recipe—is featured here: North Indian Dal & Roti.  Written by Shape Up Somerville’s Jill Sahai; photos by Somerby Jones.

My husband’s family grew up in northeast India in the ancient city of Arrah, where many families are vegetarian and dal and roti are staples. Dal is like a thick lentil soup spiced up with coriander, chili, curry powder and cumin; roti is traditional Indian flat bread made with wheat flour and typically used to scoop up the dal. When I ask my husband Shanker about memories associated with these dishes, he replies simply, “Dal and Roti was a meal that we would have when my mother needed to go shopping and there was not much left in the house!”

 Growing up in Montana, my family ate a lot of processed and ready-made foods. Now, as an adult who is starting my own family, I love cooking healthy, fresh and whole foods. I’ve often noted how my husband’s cooking is inherently healthy. Whereas we Americans might take vitamins or eat products enhanced with Vitamin D or iron, the dishes of Northeast India already are nutrient rich. For example, dal is made with orange lentils, which are high in iron and fiber; roti is made with wheat flour, which is high in protein.

We cook dal and roti weekly not only because it’s healthy—it’s also delicious! Plus, these dishes will fill your house with a warm and inviting scent as roasted spices linger in the air.  Dal is simple to prepare, but as with so many Indian dishes, there are a slew of spices involved.  We find these spices at great prices at Little India in Union Square, where Dipti Umesh greets us with a friendly smile. My husband says the selection of unique foods and spices at Little India remind him of the markets he visited as a child.

This recipe for dal and roti has been in my husband’s family for generations. We are thrilled to share these recipes with the community and can’t wait for you to experience a little of Northern Indian in your own kitchen.


Traditional North Indian Dal


1 ½ cups orange dal

1 medium onion diced

2 tablespoon. olive oil

1 teaspoon. coriander powder

1 teaspoon. curry powder

½ teaspoon. chili powder

¼ teaspoon. garam masala

1 teaspoon. salt

1 teaspoon. toasted cumin seeds

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

½ lemon

1 teaspoon turmeric


1.      Rinse the dal until water runs clear. In a large pot add the rinsed dal and cover with two inches of water.  Bring the dal and water to a boil and add the salt and turmeric.

2.      Reduce heat to medium-low and allow the dal to simmer for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile add the coriander, curry, chili, garam masala, roasted cumin seeds, and 1 tbs. of olive oil to a dry pan and roast over medium low-heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant, reserve spice mixture in a separate bowl.

3.       In the same pan used for roasting the spices add the diced onion and reaming 1tbs. of oil, cook onions until soft about 10 minutes, then add the spice mixture to the onions and cook another minute, add the onions and spice mixture to the dal and let the flavors merry together for another 15 minutes.

4.      Serve warm. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.




1-cup wheat flour

½ tsp salt

1-cup warm water

1 teaspoon butter or olive oil


1.      In a medium sized mixing bowl combine flour and salt then slowly add the cup of water in ¼ cup intervals making a soft dough (if dough seems to wet add a bit more flour to firm up).

2.      Next, kneed the dough a few times and separates it into 8 equal sized balls. (you may want to add a small amount of oil to your hands so the dough won’t stick to them).

3.      Then on a floured surface roll out the dough balls into 2-inch circles then heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet for a few mins over medium-high heat. When the pan has been heating for a few minuets add the oil or butter to the pan, then the rolled out circles of dough.

4.      Cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes until the dough begins to brown and puff up. Set cooked Roti on a plate and cover with paper towels to keep warm until it is time to serve.


Jill Sahil is the graduate intern for Shape Up Somerville, a city-wide nationally lauded campaign to increase daily physical activity and healthy eating through programming, physical infrastructure improvements, and policy work. Look for Shape Up Somerville healthy recommendations on menus throughout Union Square and all of Somerville. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more teasers and info on the Nibble book release!