There are delights of dhal on a number of levels. The foundation of lentils makes it nutritious. It is low in fat and very cheap to make. Dhal is an authentic vegetarian dish (in this case vegan) that is very versatile and can be made reasonably quickly with a good range of store cupboard spices. You can ring the changes with the combination of spices and make it as fiery or temperate as you choose.
In this case, I included the combination of the Bengali five spice seasoning, panch phoran, a typical combination of spices used across east and north-east India. What makes this spice mix distinctive is that unlike most spice mixes, panch phoran is always used whole and never ground. While all these benefits may encourage one to make this dhal, the pivotal reason is that it is delicious and the aromatic scent of the roasting spices gives much anticipatory pleasure during cooking.
A meaty week
Those (few) who follow me on Twitter will know that I have been kept extremely busy with the garden and as well as being engaged in a meat-fest of late, having taken delivery of half of a Gloucester Old Spot pig from my neighbour. This, coupled with the end of the licenced greylag goose season and the start of the fly fishing season, means I have been involved in a time consuming frenzy of meat preparation. We have butchered the pig, prepared, plucked, boned and cured goose, caught and prepared trout – I caught my first two brown trout of the season on Saturday. More on the Old Spot will follow in due course – we are currently curing the belly for bacon as a finale.
The freezer is so full of meat, and so overwhelming has the immersion in meat preparation been, that I need the counterbalance of a significant amount of vegetarian dishes. As an ex-vegetarian, it is sometimes easy to overstep the mark with meaty indulgence. Dhal is therefore welcome and indeed mandatory!
Dhal with panch phoran
I have used this recipe, or variations of it for a long time, particularly when I was vegetarian. It came from a book that was a really excellent resource for me and that I still use a lot: Mridula Baljeker’s unambiguously titled ‘The Low Fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook.’ Within 45 minutes, a delicious dhal can be served, important when you are busy, want to cook from scratch but don’t want an epic cooking experience.
125g red lentils
125g yellow split lentils
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tbsp groundnut or other flavourless oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp onion seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
8 -10 fenugreek seeds
4 small dried red chillis e.g. bird’s eye
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 small tomato, deseeded, for garnish
- Rinse the lentils and drain, place in a pan with 850ml water. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat a bit and cook for 5-6 minutes. Reduce the heat further to a slight simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
- Add salt and lemon juice and beat the dhal with a wire whisk, adding water if it is a bit too thick. Add the fresh coriander and keep on a low heat while you prepare the spices.
- Heat the oil in a small pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds. As they start to pop, reduce the heat to low and add the rest of the spices and chillis, except the turmeric.
- Let the seeds pop and the chillis blacken slightly. Stir in the turmeric and pour the spices over the lentils, scraping the mix off the saucepan. Keep warm until any accompaniments are ready. I served the dhal with fluffy basmati rice, carrot raita and chapatis. Garnish with fresh tomato and coriander.
This refreshing accompaniment for the dhal takes only 10 minutes to prepare and the zesty coolness of the raita is an ideal foil to the warm spicing of the dhal.
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
10 black peppercorns
150g natural yoghurt
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
175g grated carrots
juice of 1/2 a lemon
a few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped
- Dry fry the cumin seeds and peppercorns in a small pan over a medium heat until they release their aroma. Transfer to a plate to cool.
- Mix the salt, sugar and lemon juice with the yoghurt.
- Crush the spices with a pestle and mortar and fold most of them through the yoghurt together with the grated carrots.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of the remaining spices and some fresh coriander.
Garlic, chilli and coriander chapatis
Chapatis are a quick and easy accompaniment to make. I like to add some complementary ingredients give additional flavour, this time, fresh red chilli, chopped coriander leaves and crushed garlic.
300g chapati flour (use plain or wholemeal if you can’t get this)
pinch of salt
1 finely chopped red chilli
1 crushed garlic clove
handful of fresh coriander leaves
splash of groundnut oil
- Put the flour in a bowl together with the salt, chilli, garlic and coriander. Add just enough water to the flour to make a stiff dough. Knead for 3-4 minutes then rest wrapped in cling film in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 5 even-sized balls and roll until very thin (2 – 3mm).
- Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add a splash of oil and place the chapati in the pan, turning frequently until golden brown.