FOOD BY THE BOOK: Author shares letter collection with children

A featured author in Maria Popova’s “A Velocity of Being” is Seth Godin. His signature dish is dal makhani, a delicious vegetarian lentil soup made in his Instant Pot. The addition of ghee makes the dish extra creamy.

Maria Popova is a Bulgarian-born writer living in New York City. Her blog, Brain Pickings, has a devout following, including well-known celebrities. Each week she sends out a digital missive about books, philosophy, art, science and children’s literature. She is the purveyor of culture in the digital world, a searcher for truth, beauty and meaning.

Her recent project, “A Velocity of Being, Letters to a Young Reader” (Enchanted Lion Books, Dec. 31, 2018) is a collection of letters to children about, according to Popova, why we read and what books do for the human spirit. At a time when literacy is demanded both on the digital plane and in the real world, this book melds the need for digital competency with book learning. At only 34, Popova has apprehended how to bridge the gap between online culture, books and intellect.

Letters from authors include Seth Godin, Jane Goodall, Ursula K. Le Guin, Shonda Rhimes, Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume, Ann Patchett, Anne Lamott, and hundreds of other well-known authors, scientists, philosophers, adventurers and artists whose lives were shaped by reading. Born of her concern for the future of books and her understanding of their place in a democratic society, Popova and her co-author, Claudia Bedrick, are donating all proceeds from the book’s sale to the New York Public Library. Beautifully illustrated, “A Velocity of Being” is a rare find for children and the adults who love them. Find Maria Popova at

Seth Godin, author of “This Is Marketing, You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See,” our last review, sent a recipe to share for dal, his signature dish. Godin swears by his Instant Pot for cooking up this delicious vegetarian lentil soup. His advice to young readers is to discover something new through reading. This is a great segue into the new world of Instant Pot cooking and healthy eating for the New Year. Enjoy.

Dal Makhani

1 cup whole and split lentils (any combination of whole black lentils, red or green lentils, red kidney beans, etc.), soaked overnight

2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as avocado oil)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 large onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

3 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger

1 teaspoon garam masala, see below

1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne

2 tomatoes, chopped

3 cups water

2 tablespoons vegan ghee, adjust to taste

Soak the lentils in cold water overnight. Drain, rinse and set aside. Press the sauté button on the Instant Pot, add the oil and allow it to heat up for a minute. Add the cumin seeds and once they start to brown, add the onion and bay leaf. Stir-fry for 6-7 minutes or until the onion begins to brown.

Add the garlic, ginger, spices (see recipe for garam masala substitute below) and stir, then add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes break down. Add the lentils to the pot along with the 3 cups of water and mix well. Secure the lid, close the pressure valve and cook for 30 minutes at high pressure. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Stir in the ghee, which makes the dish really creamy. Seth is non-dairy and omits garnishes, but it can be topped with chopped cilantro and a drizzle of heavy cream. Serve with naan bread, if desired.

A substitute for garam masala, which is not readily available here, is 2 tablespoons coriander, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon cardamom, 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon fennel seed, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 2 tablespoons crushed red chili pepper and 2 tablespoons ground turmeric. Stir all together and use 1 teaspoon in this recipe. Store remainder in an airtight container.

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