This is one of the savoury dishes that I first learnt to cook (spaghetti bolognese being the obvious other). My home economics teacher was so surprised that I even knew what lentils were, let alone how to cook them, that she gave me a special achievement award at the end of term! That was the kind of school I went to – learning to spell was less important.
It was actually quite a challenge to write this recipe down because I cook it from instinct. I’ve listed the ingredients in terms of what is essential and what is optional, just in case you don’t have any of the later in your cupboard. This is because dhal is an excellent standby for when you’ve not had a chance to go shopping, or when you’re on a really tight budget, and I don’t want to put you off making it just because you don’t have one of the spices or some fresh coriander.
This is another recipe for my daughter Elizabeth who has been eating dhal with gusto since she was 4 months old.
Serves 2 with leftovers for the children
- 250g split red lentils
- ½ litre of cold water
- 2 dessert spoons of ghee (you can use less if you’re being good)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 onion finely chopped or sliced finely
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ – 1 teaspoon salt (I use at least 1 teaspoon but then I love salt)
- ½ teaspoon of ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
- ½ tin of tomatoes
- A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Begin by cooking the lentils. I like to rinse them first (I find this reduces their wind inducing capacity). Put them in a medium size pan and top with cold water. Swirl the water around with your hands and then drain. Do this about 3 times or until the water is a lot less cloudy when you swirl. Add the ½ litre of cold water to the pan and bring to the boil.
Simmer on a low heat until the lentils are soft and have absorbed most of the water (this should take about 30 minutes), you don’t need to drain them. Add the tomatoes (if using) in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
In a pestle and mortar crush the garlic with the salt and dry spices (turmeric, ground cumin and ground coriander).
Heat half the ghee in a frying pan until smoking hot. Add the onions and fry until well coloured. Then add the dry spices and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes stirring well. Finally, add the remaining ghee and when the mix is really hot add to the lentils. Stir until everything is well mixed and check the seasoning. Add most of the chopped coriander and then ladle into bowls.
Garnish with the remaining coriander and serve with a naan style flat bread (as below) or rice.
NOTE: You can cook the lentils in advance but it’s best not to add the hot spice and ghee mix until just before serving. This is because lentils have a strange quality that absorbs all flavour and dulls it down so you’ll just end up having to add more salt and spices later to get the taste back.
A naan style flat bread
I’ve tried several different recipes for naan and they have all come out tasting like a dry flat scone –just not right at all. Bizarrely the recipe below is the most naan-like even though it’s just a regular bread mix rolled flat and cooked in a dry frying pan. Because of the addition of yeast the texture is lovely and soft. You could brush them with ghee once cooked if you wanted a more authentic taste.
- 275g strong white bread flour
- 3g yeast
- 5g salt
- 175ml of tepid water (you may not need all this amount)
Mix together all the dry ingredients then add the water a little at a time until the mix comes together in a soft dough.
Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is nice and elastic. Cover and set aside to prove for at least an hour (although 2 is better).
Divide the dough into four portions and roll each out with a rolling pin to form a thin disc. You will need to flour your work surface and pin liberally to stop the dough from sticking.
Heat a frying pan until it is very hot and then cook the flat bread for about 4 minutes on each side until golden. Don’t worry if it catches a little and don’t add any oil to the pan. Once cooked keep warm under a tea towel while you continue the process with the remaining three portions.
NOTE: I find that using an old frying pan where the non-stick has come off works a treat for flat breads.