Some nights when I’m traipsing home from work in the dark and the rain, I know exactly what I want for dinner: a comforting spicy bowl of creamy lentil dhal. Perfect for curling up on the sofa with and watching some trashy TV. And when you fry the spices, your house will smell amazing! You would normally eat this as a side dish with other curries, but I think this is good enough to eat on its own in a big bowl as a main meal, garnished with a fistful of fresh choppped coriander.
To make a big pot (about 4 large servings):
1 tsp fennel seeds
1.5tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
30 cardamom pods
2 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 medium onions
2 small hot chillies
2 fat thumb-sized pieces of peeled fresh ginger root
3 fat cloves garlic
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 cups (about 600g) yellow mung dal lentils (you could also use red lentils)
Optional: 1 organic chicken or vegetable stock cube
First up, toast your spices – dry fry the fennel, coriander, cumin seeds together in your large pot until they smell fragrant (one minute on a medium heat should do it) and then grind them up in a pestle and mortar, then put to one side in a bowl. Repeat with the cardamom pods – dry fry until fragrant, then bash the pods in the pestle and mortar and remove the husks. Then grind up the black cardamom seeds and add to the bowl. Dry fry the nigella seeds and cinnamon stick and place them in the bowl of spices – no need to grind.
Thinly slice the onions and fry in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed (or sunflower) oil and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until translucent. Chop the chillies and grate the ginger on a cheese grater – add to the onions and fry gently for a few minutes. Add the spices and stir well for a minute. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the mix – take care not to cook the mixure very long so that you don’t burn the garlic. Add the tinned chopped tomatoes, stir, and let bubble away for a couple of minutes while you boil a full kettle. Add the lentils to the spice and tomato mixture, mix, and then add about 700ml boiling water – stir everything well. Turn the heat down to a low simmer and put the lid on the pot.
The cooking time depends entirely on the type of lentils you are using, how old they are and where they’re from – I find that pulses all have wildly differing cooking times. The yellow mung dhal lentils I used above were cooked after 30 minutes. Take the lid off a few times during cooking and stir, making sure the lentils don’t catch on the bottom of the pan. If the lentils look too dry, add more boiling water. The lentils will soften and go creamy. When the lentils are soft, add a chopped chicken or vegetable stock cube to add a bit of saltiness, and cook for a further 10 minutes so that it is absorbed. (Note: never try to cook pulses in salty water or stock – they won’t soften.)
Ladle a generous portion of dhal into a large bowl and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. I love my dhal drizzled with a bit of tamari soy sauce – this might seem a bit strange, but it’s really delicious!