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"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.l 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.


Over the years my horizons expanded. I lived in East London near Green Street with its wonderful markets and Bhel Puri houses. I taught myself to cook and became a vegetarian. I frequented Cranks and loved their whole food philosophy. My diet was full of brown rice and green lentils, nuts, seeds and fresh veg. I enjoyed the indian cafe food - very cheap, plenty of veg options, very unlike the Bangladeshi "Indian" restaurants found on most high streets; ghee-laden generic sauces with the veg option being to super-size a side dish. These mostly disappointed though it was the simple tarka dhal with rice that I would generally choose. I did not know what went into tarka dhals that gave them such a wonderful taste an aroma and a mile way from the worthy lentil soups I made at home. I suspected it was not otters. But it was only in the past three or four years that I began to delve deeper into Indian  cuisine. By then I could do a reasonable vegetable curry and not overcook the rice. A keen baker, I could grill my own home-made naan bread, which, even if no match for those cooked in the white-heat of a tandoor, still tasted better than shop bought. 

But I started to read more about Indian cuisine and discover the great regional variations to this great country's food. A whole new world of lentils opened up to me. I discovered the secrets of a good tarka and created my own spice tin. Vegetarian food was honoured in a way many European countries  do not (I'll make an exception for the Italians and Greeks! )

One day after a hard day's work, I was exhausted. I washed some split mung and masoor dal thoroughly, started to bring them to the boil. After skimming the froth off, I added chili powder, turmeric, some roughly chopped garlic and green chillies, and a handful of fresh curry leaves. Once cooked I seasoned with salt and added some crushed kasoor methi and then heated up some ghee. Cumin seeds and mustard seeds a -sputtering, a pinch of asafoetida, sliced onion added to the pan and cooked until browning, I placed the tarka into the pot along with a generous handful of coriander leaf. I gave it a stir, sliced myself a hunk of sourdough bread and took a bowl  through to the living room. It was gorgeous , it hit the spot. If I were to be a condemned man then that would be my last meal. And I realise that I am not now always slavishly following recipes but instead, using them for inspiration. 

In June 2016 I went to a Vegan event. I watched the following 
video . After 25 years of being vegetarian, I realised I no longer was able to consume eggs and dairy. So aged 51 I became a vegan. 

No otters were harmed in the writing of this blog. No cows or hens. This past year I have been trying new recipes from vegan books and blogs, learning and enjoying a plant-based cuisine. This is not intended to be a "proper" food blog. I don't have the creativity and I prefer to eat my food rather than photograph it. Rather, I just want to document my exploration of Indian-inspired plant-based home-cooking and sourdough bread-making, signpost to the writers and bloggers who inspire me, and indulge in idle speculation as to what recipes would go into my own "fantasy" cookbook. 

Thank you for reading.