We fancied a stew, a change to all these raw food textures. My mind immediately stuck on my ‘Hippy Daal’. With the beetroot and apple raita that was being chopped up, this was going to be a feast!
Hippies like daal (Dhal, Dal, Dahl however you take it), I like hippies, daal likes me…… I’ve cooked this a million times, maybe more, over camp fires and in people’s homes, in the back of jeeps and beside roads. We eat it in the Beach House every week and every week it changes, but the heart of the dish remains the same. Lentils and spices cooked with love, stewed until creamy. Food that ‘clings to your ribs’ as we say. It’s a true one pot wonder and cheap as chips.
Daal is the food that keeps India ticking over, it comes in many forms, made with lentils, beans or chickpeas. All Indians eat Daal of some description and I was told that one state had to ban Daal, because the people were eating too much of it and not getting a balanced diet. Daal is normally a super healthy dish (unless you add loads of ghee) so these are quite drastic measures, but show the passion for the dish in India. A land fuelled on daal.
Cooking daal is so simple and I’ve made it even simpler. I have cut out the steps of frying the onions and spices etc and fast forwarded straight to whacking it all in the pan and bubbling the stew until it becomes thick and gooey. It saves on washing up at least. This is a basic recipe and is wide open to bits being added and spices thrown in.
Daal in India is always made in pressure cookers, as are most curries. Anybody who has travelled around India will be familiar with the sound of your dinner hissing away in the kitchen, regularly reaching a kind of hissing climax that sounds like an imminent explosion. It can be quite therapeutic, knowing that food is one the way and the potential of a hot chapatti just tops things off. Chai mileaga!
I like all lentils and yes, some people do call me a hippy, not always because of this though. Yellow lentils keep their shape, but also break down a little to form that lovely creaminess. You can experiment until your heart is content with this one.
You cannot be shy with your spices here, they must be added with gusto and happiness. Remember to take care of your spices, they are sensitive to light and the air. Keep in a cupboard in an air tight container preferably, for long term, keep in the fridge. I still have my stash of spices brought back from my favourite little spice market in Mumbai. They have retained their potency.
Because this post relates to Indian cuisine, I must mention Kolpona Cuisine, the best place to go online for India recipes. I love the way that Desi Chick cooks, plenty of oil and spices, and bold, bold flavours.
The garam masala here adds a nice bit of spice, I like the touch of cinnamon and cloves. Really, you can use any India spice here and it will still turn out fine. You can substitute all of the spices for the same amount of your favourite curry powder if you liked.
Daal keeps brilliantly, just add a little water to loosen it up again when re-heating. I server my daal quite thick, but in India its normally halfway to a soup (or a full on soup depending on the quality of the restaurant you’re eating in). I like it nice and thick though. In fact, the best Indian food I have ever eaten has been in the U.K. In Leicester and London in particular, we are blessed to have such a culturally diverse nation, it certainly means some interesting food.
The best Indian restaurant in Britain is the Jungle Club in Leicester. Eating there is the complete Indian experience on these shores. It’s such a colourful place, decorated like a jungle, with monkeys and tigers all over the place. There is also a kids play area and a working mans club attached, just to add to the spice!
Strangely in the north east of England, where my family all hail from, we have a dish not disimialr to Daal. Lentils cooked in stock, cooled to form a thick paste. Its called ‘Peas Pudding’ and we traditionally spread it on sandwiches with ham and beetroot and plenty of butter. The bread we use is a soft doughy white loaf called ‘Stottie Cake‘ which is very similar to the ubiquitous round load of Morocco. Small world eh! ’Stott’ means bounce in Geordie (a dialect in this little corner of the world) and the bread is so dense, it bounces when dropped. The north east of England was a mainly coal mining area and the food there was designed to fill up the miners for the hard labour they carried out 6 or 7 days per week miles below the surface.
This method produces a great daal, although not traditional in anyway. Its carefree cooking, lentils are very forgiving, just let it bubble nicely and you know, dinner is on the way. This daal is a meal in itself.
Makes one big panful:
2 cups of yellow split lentils (any lentils will do really, soaked overnight in filtered water), 1 big onion (chopped into small pieces), some root veg (we used one large potato, and half a swede and 1 carrot, also using parsnips, sweet potato etc would all be grand. Chopped into small chunks).
2 inch piece of ginger (finely chopped), 4 cloves garlic (mashed/ finely chopped), 4 bashed cardamom pods, 2 teas garam masala, 1 teas cumin seeds, 1 teas ground coriander, 1 teas turmeric, 1/2 teas chilli powder, 2 teas flax seeds (good for the belly), 2 teas curry leaves, sea salt to taste
I added two teaspoons of tamarind pulp to give it a nice fruity edge (optional).
Rinse you lentils well and cover in a large, heavy bottomed pan, with an inch and a half of water (more water can be added if needed throughout the cooking). Bring steadily to a boil and then add all you veg, ginger and garlic. Lower heat to a fast simmer and cook for 5 minutes, then add all of your spices and stir well, bubble gently for around 20 minutes, add some more water if needed, then cover and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring when you are in the area. Check that you stir the base of the pan and no daal burns on the bottom. Easy as that.
We’ve had it cold in sandwiches before, now we eat it with salads and some Beetroot and Apple Raita, you can thin it down into a soup…cook it down and make lentil fritters…use it as a dip, the list goes on.
We like to stir in some more richness, we use yoghurt (soya or whatever you preference), ghee (authentic and delicious) or just a little good oil. The last two will give a nice shine to the daal.
Lentils are packed with protein, a good source (of many) for a veggie diet. Daal contains a protein content of around 25%, similar to meat and is very low in fat but high in carbohydrates. It is also high in vitamin B and iron.