Complete, All-in-One Tomato Dal Mix in a Jar Gift – Just Add Water & Butter

An all-in-one-jar dal mix for gift-giving, with tomatoes and aromatics included – easy for the giver to prepare using packaged ingredients and spices, and simple for the recipient to make, as only simmering is necessary.

Complete All-in-One Tomato Dal Mix in a Jar Gift Tags

One Christmas in the 1980s, a well-meaning neighbor gave my mom a jarred dry bean soup mix. It sat in our pantry for years and never got made, because it called for additional ingredients we didn’t keep on hand.

Having seen lots of variations on holiday soup mixes over the years, and knowing that Indian recipes are enjoyed by but not a competency for most Americans, a dal mix occurred to me many years ago, but there was always The Tomato Problem and The Sautéing Aromatics Problem. I didn’t want to give a gift that’d clutter up the pantry because it needed another purchase or too many steps.

A decade ago, I ran across dehydrated tomato powder for the first time and thought ooh, I could make a tomato dal mix with that.

Within the last couple years, I ran across ready-toasted minced onion and roasted garlic powder and thought there’s the sautéing aromatics problem solved.

This is flavored with a dried tomato and aromatics blend that calls on freeze-dried ingredients, plus a masala of toasted and untoasted spices. It eschews tempering because of its unfamiliarity to many Americans. I made this for my neighbors, so it’s composed with Standard American Diet folks in mind; its spice blend is sweetly fragrant, with a light touch of green chiles.

Using the prepared mix only requires simmering the dal with water and butter, then adding the seasoning packet toward the end. Even the butter could be skipped, if needed.

So this recipe has been percolating since 1984, give or take, and I think it was worth the wait.

There are directions below to prepare one jar of mix or a dozen.

Complete Tomato Dal Mix in a Jar

  • Servings: 6 per jar
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

An all-in-one-jar dal mix for gift-giving, with tomatoes and aromatics included - easy for the giver to prepare using packaged ingredients and spices, and simple for the recipient to make, as only simmering is necessary.

Credit: She Spills the Beans
measuring spoons
measuring cups
small skillet
wooden spoon or spatula
small heatproof bowl
large bowl
spice grinder
kitchen scale (optional)
small wax paper cookie bags or plastic treat bags
adhesive tape
pint (16 oz) canning jars
jar funnel
printer paper
hole punch


For one jar:

Spice Masala:
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
1/2 t anise seed
3/4 t black peppercorns
1/8 t turmeric
1/2 t roasted garlic powder
1/4 t ground cardamom
1/8 t cinnamon
1/8 t ground cloves

Seasoning Mix:
10 t (29 g) tomato powder
1 t (1 g) freeze-dried green chiles
1 1/2 t freeze-dried ginger*
1 T (6.4 g) dried minced white onion
2 t (4.3 g) dried minced toasted onion
1 T (1.75 g) freeze-dried cilantro
1 3/4 t (10 g) table salt
1 T (14.5g) granulated sugar

To finish:
1/3 c (15 g) air-dried tomato flakes

3/4 c (170 g) split yellow moong dal

For 12 jars:

Spice Masala:
2 T (12 g) ground coriander
1 T (6 g) ground cumin
2 T (15 g) anise seeds
3 T (33 g) peppercorns
1.5 t (6 g) turmeric
2 T (21 g) roasted garlic powder
1 T (9 g) ground cardamom
1.5 t (3 g) cinnamon
1.5 t (3 g) ground cloves

Seasoning Mix:
2.5 c (343 g) tomato powder
3/4 c (21 g) freeze-dried cilantro
1/4 c (12 g) freeze-green chiles
6 T (2 g) freeze-dried ginger*
3/4 c (77 g) dried minced white onion
1/2 c (52 g) dried minced toasted onion
7 T (120 g) table salt
3/4 c (174 g) granulated sugar

To finish:
4 c (180 g) air-dried tomato flakes

9 c (2.04 kg) split yellow moong dal


  1. In a small skillet over low heat, toast the coriander and cumin, stirring, until fragrant. Turn them into a small heatproof bowl.
  2. In a spice grinder, buzz the anise seed and peppercorns until finely ground. Add them to the small bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients of the spice masala – the turmeric, roasted garlic powder, ground cardamom, cinnamon, and ground cloves – to the small bowl. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the seasoning mix ingredients – the tomato powder, freeze-dried green chiles, freeze-dried ginger, dried minced white onion, dried minced toasted onion, freeze-dried cilantro, table salt, and granulated sugar. Mix thoroughly but gently, as the tomato powder is fine and becomes airborne easily.
  5. For each jar being prepared, combine in a bag:
  6. – a slightly rounded tablespoon (1 T 1/8 t or 7 g) of the spice masala
    – a scant 1/2 c (66 g) of the seasoning mix
    – 1/3 c (15 g) air-dried tomato flakes
    Settle the ingredients into the bag, fold the top down, and tape or tie closed.
  7. Place each sealed bag into a pint canning jar. Using the jar funnel, add 3/4 c (170 g) of split yellow moong dal to each jar.
  8. Place the lid and ring on each jar and screw down the rings.
  9. Print as many copies of the instructions as jars being prepared. Using the hole punch, punch a hole in a corner of the instruction sheet. With the string, tie the instructions to the jar.
  10. Tomato Dal Mix Instructions: Open jar and set seasoning packet aside. Pour dal into sieve and rinse under running water. Drain. Place dal in medium saucepan. Add 6 c water and 3 T butter. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the dal disintegrates. Add contents of seasoning packet and simmer another 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender. Enjoy over rice, with papadums, or with your favorite flatbread. Makes six servings.

    *I used Penzeys freeze-dried ginger; if using Litehouse, which is cut in larger pieces, and measuring by volume, press it into the measure.

Apple and Caramelized Onion Chutney

My mom and stepdad arrive for Thanksgiving. I am at the kitchen table, running four Granny Smith apples through the apple peeler.

“I’m using that thing you bought me that I said I didn’t need but totally did.”

I wanted to make a contribution to Thanksgiving dinner but it needed to be something that could be done ahead. Trying to operate while Other Stuff was going on in the kitchen would be too difficult physically and mentally. I decided on chutney as it isn’t injured by waiting, and apple because we possess the automatic apple peeler above, which cuts prep time to a minimum and was acquired for us by my mom despite my mild objection that How often do I need to peel a bunch of apples? Mom was right: More often if it’s easy.

Chutneys are my kind of kitchen task – I deeply enjoy the multifactorial balancing of sweet, tart, rich, and spicy on which their success relies. They’re little kitchen jewels with their strong flavors, perfect as embellishment.

Chimp and Mom helped me with this. Chimp caramelized the onions for me. Mom kept an eye on it while it simmered.

Apple and Caramelized Onion Chutney

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A sweet and aromatic accompaniment to curries, cheeses, flatbreads or anything that needs a little fillip to glorify it.

Credit: She Spills the Beans


155 g (about one medium) finely chopped yellow onion
Oil for the pan
800 g (about four) Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
8 g sweet curry powder (1 T)
100 g dark brown sugar (1/2 c)
40 g water (about 3 t)
20 g honey (1 T)
28 g butter (2 T)
3 g table salt (1/2 t)
5 g grated fresh ginger (about 1 t)
3 g lemon extract (3/4 t) or the zest of half a lemon
3 g (about 1 t) cider vinegar (more if you prefer a very tart chutney)


  1. Slowly sauté the onion until deep brown and sweet; this may take up to an hour.
  2. Push the onion aside and add a little more oil to the pan. Drop the curry powder into the oil and allow to bloom a few moments, stirring, until saturated with oil and fragrant.
  3. Drop the apples on top of the curry powder and stir in to bring the blooming to a halt. Add the brown sugar, water, honey, butter, and salt. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and allow to simmer very slowly for about an hour until the apples are tender and the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup.
  4. Stir in the grated fresh ginger, lemon extract, and cider vinegar. Remove from the heat.

Giving Up Vegetarianism

If I’m going to bring this blog back, I think I’d better get this out of the way first: At the start of 2015 I gave up giving up meat and began eating chicken. I’ve been doing so, most days, for three years now.

And I never stop dreading it as it sits there on the plate.

I made the decision to give meat-eating a shot because the specialist I’ve seen for myalgic encephalomyelitis, while supportive of my vegetarianism, had also several times encouraged me to try taurine as a supplement, as he does for all his patients. I found that I couldn’t tolerate it in the form he prescribes (magnesium/taurine injections), so as an alternative, tried a dietary source.

It didn’t take long to tell that it helped. I was doing really terribly at the time, and within a couple weeks it was apparent my strength was improving. I’ve tried going off the chicken for a week or two, and after that amount of time it’s clear that not eating it results in me losing ground.

So this is a positive result, but disheartening. Meat was not a favorite of mine growing up, and 24 years of vegetarianism solidified that indifference into loathing. And though I’ve been eating it for three years now, I haven’t been able to overcome that. I don’t know if I could with beautifully-carried-out poultry cookery (had I not so many ME-imposed dietary restrictions), and frankly, I suppose I don’t really want to.

I know that hating eating chicken doesn’t keep the chickens I’m eating from needing to be slaughtered to be on my plate, but I think I’d feel still more guilty about the whole matter if I were enjoying it. I can imagine an argument that the best valuing of the slaughter of that life would be to get the maximum enjoyment out of the flesh it yielded, but that’s an appeal to a hedonism that isn’t in my makeup.

It’s probably best for my social relationships that the cardiac insufficiency compels me to I eat as I do, alone, reclining, because I know I make horrible faces while trying to get the chicken down with the minimum awareness of I am chewing and eating the flesh of another animal.

There is the possibility of taking taurine as a supplement, which would be less traumatic for me and certainly for the chickens, but would mean repeated trials of supplementation vs. meat-eating to determine what I could tolerate and evaluate whether it gave as much benefit. And with the instability, fragility, and lack of margin that are fundamental to ME, it’s often a lot easier to go on with something you know works than to undertake a lot of efforts toward something that might or might not.

Hello (Again) World!

Nearly eleven years ago, I had to abandon this blog.

Since then, most of that time I’ve been some flavor of bedridden, because my cardiac output is too low for me to be reliably upright. I’ve repeatedly been over the terrain from unable to walk across the room, to able to walk out into the garden for three minutes but needing to be flat the other 23:57 of the day. That latter state is where I am now. (I know bedridden’s not a perfect descriptor for the latter state, but “housebound” isn’t quite right for that degree of not-able-to-be-up either.)

In 2011 I started writing a blog about my illness. After three and a half years of that, I felt like I’d said about all I had to say about being sick. But despite having been out of the food marketing world nearly as long as I was in it, I’ve never stopped reading about and thinking about food.

This past January, I saw Ruby Tandoh’s tweet about the need for more diverse voices in food writing. I’d already been thinking for a while about starting to write here again, as over the past year I’ve used as much as I can of my long-fought-for energy improvement on small kitchen tasks, adapted to my circumscribed function, and what she said was useful validation for something I’d struggled with when I was writing here the first time around.

I fell ill about six months after I started this blog in 2003. It was my first taste of an experience I’ve come to call poverty of energy.

Poverty of energy’s first manifestation for me was wanting to keep up with the achievements of healthy people engaged in the same pursuits but not having the ability to do the activities that could make that possible.

Because I needed so much rest to keep going even at a reduced level, I wasn’t able to work as a healthy person might on repeating recipes for development or on site design or on getting better at photography. So I had a blog that was not-great at those things, and as a result I always felt like it, and I, didn’t measure up.

That’s why Tandoh’s tweet was so useful. The past eleven years have been one big lesson in accepting a life of not measuring up, and feeling like that might make what I have to say about food and cooking useful rather than require discounting because my pictures will never be magazine-ready was something I needed to hear from the outside.

I hope you’ll grant me the same permission to fall short.


So I never came back as I promised to, did I? Until now.

Where have I been? At the end of 2007, right after Christmas, I very suddenly became bedridden. It happened almost literally overnight. And I thought I
 would bounce back some, as I always had up to that point, but I 
didn’t. So two weeks into 2008, I resigned from my job, which I had been 
doing from home since mid-2006.

What caused it? I stopped being 
able to sleep in October 2007. One night I went to bed and I just
 couldn’t fall asleep. Same thing the next night, and then the third
 night I slept for two hours. Then two days without sleep and then
 another two hours. We started trying over the counter stuff, which
 didn’t work, and then prescription stuff. After a few months of almost
 no sleep, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t sit up. Bedridden.

the process of trying to find something to get me to sleep, a doctor
 who failed to warn me what I was getting into had me on 2 mg of
 Klonopin, which quickly turned on me. I started a six-month hell of
 withdrawal in March of 2008. In May, we moved me from California to my
 mom’s house in Indiana, via air ambulance. And I went downhill all the
way through 2008. In the fall of that year my sleep drugs failed and I
 again went months without sleeping. Already totally bedridden, I believe
 I came pretty close to dying. I couldn’t lift a glass, couldn’t move my 
legs, my heart was going crazy, and the lack of sleep and another poorly-tolerated drug threw me
 into a sheer hell of paranoia and delusion.
At the beginning of
 2009, because of a fortunate leftover forgotten prescription for a
 soporific muscle relaxant from that same stupid doctor who’d prescribed
 the Klonopin back in California, I survived a couple months by finally
 getting a little sleep. Then in spring of 2009, with the combination of
an off-label prescription for an anti-psychotic and a new beta blocker
 (both of which I’m still on), I started to get some full nights of sleep
 for the first time in a year and a half.

Soon after that, we heard from Dr. Cheney,
 a prominent ME/CFS doctor whose waiting list I’d been on for a year and
a half. He could see me in June. So in June 2009, we took me – lying
 down in the back of my mom’s SUV – from Indiana to his clinic in 
Asheville, North Carolina. I spent two full days with him. He told me 
that of all the patients he’d seen in his twenty-five years of treating
 ME/CFS, I was among the half-dozen most severely affected.

 we left North Carolina, we took me to Pennsylvania, where Chimp had 
bought us our first house, near the college at which he’s now teaching. 
Once we got there, it took me a couple months to recover from the trip.
 While that was going on, it took about 90 days to add each medicine and 
supplement Dr. Cheney had prescribed, carefully, one by one, to avoid
 confounding any negative reactions.

Slowly, after about another
 three months, I started noticing tiny, tiny improvements. After six 
months, a little bit more. I could pet a cat a little. I could type a 
sentence or two. I could participate in a conversation for a few 
minutes. By Christmas Day 2009, I was able to walk the twenty feet from
 my dayroom to lie down in the living room to visit with my in-laws,
 who’d come up from Maryland. By March of 2010, I was able to walk to the
bathroom again – something I hadn’t been able to do since 2007.

this point – a bit more than halfway through 2010 – I’m still
 technically bedridden. But there are gradations of bedriddenness,
 believe me. In 2008, I literally could not get out of bed and walk
 across the room. Right now, I wake up in the morning in my bed, walk the
20 feet to the couch in my dayroom, and lie back down there, where I
 spend my days. Most days, if I want to, I’m able to get a snack out of 
the pantry five feet away. I can walk to the bathroom a couple times a 
day. If I’m having a particularly good day, I’m able to get up and walk
 10 feet or so to the kitchen table and sit there for a few minutes,
 talking with Chimp. I’d say I’m about 98% bedridden.

So all of
 that’s why I’ve never been back. And because I remain bedridden, I don’t 
have any plans to start blogging again. I miss the food business. I
 miss cooking even more. I miss the grocery store and my friends at the 
farmer’s market. I miss blogging somewhat less than all of those things,
 I’ll admit, but I did enjoy it.

Someday – hopefully soon – 
there’ll at least be some treatment for my illness, and those of us who
 are suffering will be believed – and vindicated.