I love dahl. I love it I love it I love it. It’s the most comforting of all South Asian dishes. It has the ability to warm you on a cold evening and cool you after an abundance of chilli. It can be a robust main, a complimentary side or a spiced, thick soup. Heck, it can do anything it wants. It could be the school cricket captain and play lead guitar better than anyone else around. I even saw it get off with a girl I fancied after a disco once. And it will grow up to be an astronaut. I can’t find room in my heart for jealousy though, it’s just too charming.
Dāl (or dahl) is a derivative of the Sanskrit verbal root dal, which means ‘to split’ (*pushes glasses back up nose*). It basically means it is a dish made from pulses which have been husked and split so, theoretically, you can make it with pretty much any pulse you like (as opposed to what Christopher Woodhead told me). For me though (and to avoid an overnight soaking and hefty cooking time), I prefer red lentils. They have such a great texture and tend to look after themselves when cooking. I do find that they take on a fair amount of salt though, so be warned.
I was trying to think of something to serve with the dahl and decided I would like to try Pilau rice. I’d never cooked it before but had a reasonable idea what spices to use to get a good result. I did a small amount of research online and, needless to say, there seems to be around 100,000 different ways to go about it. Taking advice from Fleetwood Mac, I decided to go my own way with the rice and so, recipe drawn in my head, I headed home to make my spicy feast. Then I passed a market stall and I saw my first ever Globe Courgette.
Have you seen one? They’re hilarious! Small, perfectly spherical little squashes crying out to be stuffed and roasted. A beautifully testicular member of the courgette family. Indeed, if you were to sit two alongside a normal courgette it would probably be enough to tip me over the brink of gaiety into a useless, tearful collapse. Me and all the other ten-year old boys. Anyway, with all thoughts of testicles aside, I sliced them open and stuffed them.
This serves 4. Easily.
Pilau stuffed courgette with red lentil dahl
For the stuffed courgette:
4 globe courgettes, tops removed and centre scooped out (keep this!)
300g basmati rice, well washed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3 tsp cumin, toasted and crushed
3 cardamom pods
For the dahl:
200g red lentils, well washed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin, toasted and crushed
4 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful spinach, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190C. Make the rice first. Fry the onion in a little oil until softened. Add the cumin, cardamom, turmeric and cloves and mix well. Add the rice and mix so the rice is coated in the spices. Add the bay leaves and then around 600ml boiling water. Bring it to the boil then turn it down very low and cover with a lid. Simmer until cooked – around 15-20 mins or so. In the meantime roughly chop and then fry the leftover courgette with a pinch of salt until cooked through. When the rice is cooked remove from the heat, take of the lid and leave for a minute or two to let any excess moisture steam away. Mix in the courgette and then spoon into the prepared squashes. Put the lids back on and place on a baking tray in the centre of the oven. They’ll take about 35 – 40 mins.
For the dahl, fry the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger until softened then add all the spices at once. Mix in the tomato puree and then the lentils and mix to coat. Pour in the water, bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick and cook until the lentils are tender and the dahl is thick and oozy – you may need to add a splash more water. At this point check for seasoning (can take salt!) and mix in the tomato, spinach and coriander leaves if using.
Your baked courgettes should be just about ready (test with the tip of a sharp knife or a skewer) so put a healthy portion of dahl on a plate, drizzle with yoghurt and top with a juicy squash! I want it again.
Just around the corner from my house is a very nice Thai restaurant called Smiles. I would recommend it to anyone; It’s a quaint, friendly place to eat, they do great tofu dishes and, if requested, they will walk my order straight to my door. The problem they have is that everything tastes like liquorice. The majority of their main dishes have a distinct aniseed flavour. They are still delicious but, once you’ve tasted one dish, the rest taste a bit similar; tofu with basil, chilli and liquorice, red curry with bamboo shoots, lime leaves and liquorice. (The menu doesn’t actually say that, by the way. Nobody would order.) It means I don’t eat there as often as I would if they just held back a bit on the anise. They also appear to be shut a lot on days I want to order. Turns out they’re just closed on Mondays.
They do, however, have a starter which (literally) blew my mind. Tod Mun Kao Pode or Sweet corn cakes to those of you not in the know. They are thin, crunchy, sweet and spicy little fritters which come with a little pot of homemade sweet chilli. I love them and had not had them in ages, so I decided to reproduce them at home. I failed horribly but, in the process, made really good fritters anyway. Mine were kind of airy and light, a bit scotch pancake-like in texture. I had them twice, both with different accompaniments. The second days batch were not as fluffy as the previous day. they were crunchier and denser. I think maybe it was something to do with baking powder not being active or something. I don’t really know. I’m not a scientist.
Sweet corn fritters
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
75g plain flour
40g sesame seeds
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
A handful of chopped coriander
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk in the soy sauce and then the eggs. Stir in the corn, spring onion and chilli. The mixture should be quite thick and sticky. My Mum would call it ‘clarty’. Don’t ask. Fry in small batches in a little oil in a non-stick pan until fluffy and golden. That’s it.
It makes a decent amount of mixture so I had fritters twice. The first time was as a side dish to a tofu stir fry. I served it with a dip made by combining 2 tbsp honey, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp soy, 1/2 a sliced chilli and a handful of finely chopped coriander. Worked nicely. For lunch the next day I had it with some leftover cous-cous salad and fresh salsa.
This Monday I started a new job. Sitting around on Sunday evening with an impending early start, I was reminded of times past when I had slightly overdone it on the previous two days. No matter how you spent your Sunday afternoon, you could never escape the drained, dehydrated and lethargic feeling you get after a heavy weekend. Not exactly how you want to be feeling when you have to board a tube with 4 million other people, crush your face into someone else’s armpit and then try to impress your new employers.
This brought to mind an old soup recipe I tried a while ago which, eaten on a Sunday evening, purges and re-energises. I served it with a simple loaf of homemade soda bread.
Carrot, ginger and orange soup.
To feel better, you will need;
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g red lentils (about half a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mug)
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A large knob of Ginger, about 50g, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 litre vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Heat some oil in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further few minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin and mix well. At this point I normally squeeze the grated ginger into the pan so that you get the flavour without the ‘dog hair’ like fibres. You could use muslin to do this but I didn’t have any so I used a cloth napkin. Add the carrots, half the orange juice and the lentils and mix well. You could swap half the carrots with butternut squash but, again, I didn’t have any. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and then add the stock. Put a lid on and let simmer for around 30 mins or until the carrots are tender and the lentils are cooked through. Put the soup in a blender, whizz until smooth and then pour into a clean pan. It should be quite thick at this point, which is where the remaining orange juice comes into play. Add a little bit at a time, stirring all the while, until you have a consistency of soup that you like. Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if it needs it. Ladle into bowls, top with a scoop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of chilli and serve. Some torn coriander (cilantro for you Americans) tossed on top would’ve been nice too but I didn’t have any.
The easiest bread ever. Delicious hot out of the oven and also makes great toast the next morning. Most recipes call for buttermilk but I think it’s much nicer with yoghurt. Tastes less like a scone.
500g plain flour
400ml live yoghurt
2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp salt
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. Stir in the salt. Add the yoghurt and mix until you have a basic dough. It is good if it’s a tiny bit sticky. Tip onto a floured work surface, knead for a minute or so and form into a rough ball; it should look scruffy! Place on a floured baking tray, dust with flour and, using a serrated knife, score the top with a cross. You can go pretty deep – about a third of the way through. put in the oven and bake for 40-45 mins. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Nomnomnom.