Sunday, 30 April 2017

In the beginning...

Dal can be a very simple dish. The following recipe, or a variant of it, was probably my first dal back in the eighties. This is based on a River Cottage recipe which in itself was based on a recipe by Indian Chef Udit Sarkel, but you will find similar recipes elsewhere. 

250g red lentils
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbs oil, I use a local rapeseed oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

Wash the lentils then bring to the boil in 800ml water, or more if you want a thinner dal. Scoop off the scum, add the turmeric and salt. Cook for 20 mins. You can add more boiling water if you want a thinner consistency. Meanwhile heat the oil to a frying pan, add the cumin seeds and cook for a minute or so, they will darken and become fragrant. Add the onions and cook for 10 mins or so, stirring occasionally. You want them golden, with a few crispy bits!  Add the onions to the dal. Stir and leave for 5 mins. Serve with coriander leaf. I tend to add a lot of leaves rather than a mere garnish. You could use other fresh herbs. I like lime wedges on the side. Good with rice, parathas or my preference, homemade sourdough bread. 

Variations: Add chopped fresh chillis in with the cooking dal, or 1/2 tsp of a good quality red Kashmiri chilli powder.

So simple, so quick. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

The humble lentil

"So what do you eat then?"

Lentils. I know it's a bit of a cliche. When I was younger, lentils came in three varieties, red, green and brown. In the Eighties I made some terribly worthy vegetarian dishes that were all uniformly brown in colour and heavy as a house brick. In an endeavour to lose its brown rice and sandals image, many authors began exploring recipes from cultures where vegetarian food was more the norm. I remember reading a lovely paperback by David Scott, I still have a copy, full of flavours from across the globe, and no artificial meat substitutes. I loved the simple flavours of Middle-Eastern grain salads and still remember my first proper falafel and hummus pita bread stuffed full of salad and topped with tahini dressing. But it was  Indian home-cooking which won my heart. And the dals... Oh the dals. "Not just a load of old lentils" Rose Elliot had written. Now my food cupboard was stuffed with many varieties of lentils and pulses. Dal became my go to comfort food. Dal and rice. Dal and a hunk of sourdough bread, accompanied with greens, a pickle and a simple raita.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

No otters were harmed....

"I think I've been cooking it wrong for years. You're telling me that tarka dal doesn't have any otters in it? At all?" A reply to How to cook perfect dal

I was brought up in a provincial town in the north of England during the seventies. Food was of the meat and two veg kind, where the veg was usually out of tins. Food was bland; take away food consisted of fish and chips, or more likely, meat and potato pie. Curries were exotic. We would have a Vesta beef curry occasionally, the meat in the middle surrounded by a ring of over cooked rice. My dad used to like Heinz mulligatawny soup, a sweet, peppery,hot beef soup. We went out for a family meal to an Indian restaurant just once. I do not remember the food other than the rice being multi- coloured. The only things I knew about India were that it was a cricket-playing nation and was the birthplace of Ghandi.