Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dahl (not the author, the food)

Seeing as the shops all seem to be getting carried away with early Christmas enthusiasm, I've decided to go with the 'if you can't beat em, join em' philosophy. That in mind I've been thinking of my Christmas wish list. This may also be a result of having too much time on my hands resulting in excessive day dreaming. Regardless, the first thing on my list, in case anyone's interested, is Indian cooking lessons. As you can see I'm throwing caution to the recessionary wind this year and thinking BIG! Realistically, there's not much chance of getting what's on the list anyway so might as well be creative. 

I love Indian food. Really love Indian food. I desperately miss the cheap and cheery Indian restaurants of London and have found it hard to find the same experience in Dublin. That said, I think there's some great places opening up that I have yet to try,  so I've not lost hope on this front yet. There's lots to explore out there I'm sure. To be honest I can't really afford to go out for dinner much these days so I thought I'd try a little home experimentation in Indian inspired cuisine. (I say inspired because I'm sure it's about as authentic as a leprechaun in a sari.)

I've also been trying to explore a more vegetarian diet. Like most Irish people I've been raised on a diet of meat and potatoes and feel cheated when the meat is left off the plate. However, what with all this talk of global warming and upcoming food crises, I've been becoming increasingly more aware of how much meat I eat just for the sake of eating it, not because I'm actually enjoying it or need it. Don't get me wrong, I'll never be a vegetarian, I just couldn't do it, but I would like to start eating a little more responsibly, both for my benefit, the environment's and let's not forget my pocket's.

So pulses would seem to be where I'm heading. Which brings me to the Dahl. It seems to embody perfectly the combination of my newly embraced pseudo-vegetarianism and my love of Indian food. Tarka Dahl is one of my favourite things to order in an Indian restaurant (yet I rarely do order it because I would feel cheated if I didn't have some sort of meat curry - idiocy really) and I'd dearly love to learn how to make it properly. In the absence of anyone to teach me how to make it I took it upon myself and yesterday I gave it a try. I had a quick glance at a few recipes online and then made it up from there. The result was actually not bad. I wouldn't say it was anything like any Dahl I've had in an Indian restaurant but it was definitely something I would try and make again. Maybe I'll follow a recipe next time. But where would the fun be in that?

Here's what I did.

Serves about 4

250g green lentils
2 bay leaf
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin 
1 tsp coriander
half tsp cayenne pepper
pinch chilli flakes
1 onion 
1 inch ginger 
2 cloves garlic
3 tomatoes
oil or butter for frying

  1. Add your lentils and bay leaf to a pan of salted, boiling water and simmer as per instructions (about 20mins). You can use stock if you want more depth of flavour.
  2. Fry the onions, ginger and garlic in the oil.
  3. Add the turmeric, cumin, corinder, cayenne pepper and chilli flakes. The spice mix is really up to yourself. I toasted cumin and coriander seeds, about a teaspoon of each, in a dry pan. I then ground them in a pestle and mortar and added a teaspoon of turmeric, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a few chilli flakes. 
  4.  Fry the spice mix with the onions, garlic and ginger until it starts to give off an nice aroma.
  5. Add three chopped tomatoes.
  6. Simmer for ten minutes with a lid on. Make sure it doesn't go dry, you may need to add some more water or stock.
  7. When the lentils are done add them to your sauce. You can add some of the cooking liquid as you like depending on what consistency you want your sauce to be.
  8. Some recipes suggest breaking down the lentils a bit to make them more of a paste-like consistency. Next time I would try and do this with half of the lentils and keep the other half whole to vary the texture.

Onions, tomatoes and spices give the basis of your flavour. I added peppers too!

End result - not bad!

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