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“Choose your days,” Wise Old Bear advises the little girl. “Make them sunny or gray.”

This useful mantra from Nebraskan Paula Wallace’s charming children’s book is especially apt for those of us prone to February funk. Groundhog prognostications aside, winter remains full of gray.

So we look to cheery Nigella Lawson for an easy, transporting dinner that banishes the blah. Quick-cooking red lentils join spicy sweet potatoes for an warming, orange-hued dal. And “bright rice” speaks for itself. Cucumber raita on the side tastes like the summer to come.

Any of these dishes can add some sunshine to your supper and leftovers can light up your lunch. All three will make it easy to choose your day!

Red Lentil Dal

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

2½ cups (10 ounces, about 1 medium) finely diced sweet potato

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Thai or bird's-eye red chili

1 cup red lentils

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup canned chopped tomatoes

Salt

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions

Pieces of coconut flesh from a fresh coconut (optional).

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and sauté onion until softened. Add sweet potato and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add minced ginger and garlic; stir, and reduce heat to low.

Finely dice chili, keeping seeds if you wish to add more heat. Add chili, lentils, coriander, cumin, turmeric and ground ginger to pan. Stir until lentils are well coated with oil. Add tomatoes and 4 cups water. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat until mixture is at a fast simmer. Cook uncovered until lentils and potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, and continue to simmer until mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk dal to amalgamate lentils and sweet potatoes. If dal is too soupy, increase heat and cook for a little longer.

To serve, place dal in a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. If desired, shave thin strips of fresh coconut on top. Serve hot. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Bright Rice

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 cup diced orange bell pepper

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1¼ cups basmati rice

2½ cups vegetable broth

1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained salt to taste

Directions

In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper, and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mustard seeds, turmeric, cloves and cinnamon, and sauté for 1 minute. Add rice and mix until well coated with oil.

Add vegetable broth and chickpeas. Stir briefly, and allow to return to a boil. Cover, and cook on lowest possible heat for 20 minutes. If rice has not absorbed all the liquid by then, cover pan with a clean dish towel and place lid over it. Allow to sit off the heat for 5 to 10 minutes. (This method may be used for keeping the rice warm and moist for up to half an hour.)

To serve, fluff rice with a fork, and add salt to taste. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Cucumber and Cilantro Raita

Ingredients

1 cup plain yogurt

Scant ½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion

½ cup finely diced peeled cucumber

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine yogurt and salt. Mix well. Add scallion, cucumber and cilantro. Mix again and transfer to a small serving bowl. Yield: 1¼ cups.

Source: Nigella Lawson, nytimes.com

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Lynne Ireland lives to eat and welcomes comments and questions from others who do (or don’t). Contact her at features@journalstar.com.

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