Story behind the recipe: Food as medicine

Contributed by Linda Shiue, MD

We worried about Auntie Doll, a longtime patient with diabetes and heart disease, when we learned she had stopped taking her medication and rarely saw her doctor, both due to finances.* Amazingly, she lived almost 2 decades after her heart attack.

Auntie Doll was a beloved member of my husband’s family and the last time she cooked for us, at her home in Trinidad, I understood one of the reasons why she was able to live so long — she had figured out how to heal herself with food. She replaced the white flour in her roti (Indian flatbread) with her custom blend of oats, flaxseed, and whole wheat. She paired it with Trinidadian dal, also known as yellow split pea soup, which can be made with pretty much any legume and can be enjoyed as a soup or a side dish, depending on how thick or thin you make it. In Trinidad, it is made on the watery side and served as a sauce alongside roti.

Instinctively, Auntie Doll understood the power of food as medicine.

*This is not medical advice. Before starting or discontinuing any medications, please consult with your provider.

Listen to Linda Shiue, MD, tell the story behind 2 recipes she learned from Auntie Doll. See below to make the recipes for yourself!


Multigrain roti

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • About 1 cup warm water
  • Canola oil or coconut oil, for greasing skillet

Trinidadian dal

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup yellow split peas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric or curry powder
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil


Multigrain roti

  1. Make oat flour by pulsing rolled oats in a food processor or high-speed blender.
  2. Combine wheat flour with oat flour, flaxseed, and salt.
  3. Add enough water to make a soft and pliable dough. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 small (golf ball-sized) balls, then use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a thin, flat circle, about a 5-inch diameter.
  5. Heat a nonstick or cast-iron skillet and add a thin layer of oil.
  6. Cook until brown on one side, then flip and brown on the other side.
  7. Serve warm with dal or any other Indian dish.

Trinidadian dal

  1. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil.
  2. Add the split peas, garlic, turmeric or curry powder, salt, pepper, and onion. Bring back to a boil, then simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes until the split peas are soft.
  3. Use a swizzle stick (a type of whisk used in Trinidad) or an immersion blender to thicken slightly.
  4. In a small frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil, then add cumin seed. Pour the spiced oil on top of the dal before serving.

Nutrition information

Multigrain roti

  • Calories: 120
  • Total fat: 2.5 g
  • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 100 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 22 g
  • Dietary fiber: 4 g
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 5 g

Trinidadian dal

  • Calories: 140
  • Total fat: 3 g
  • Saturated fat: 0
  • Cholesterol: 5 mg
  • Sodium: 5 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 22 g
  • Dietary fiber: 9 g
  • Sugars: 3 g
  • Protein: 8 g

Note: Nutrition information for Trinidadian dal does not include added salt.