Red Lentil and Mint Dhal

lentil and mint dhal

To the untrained eye, this may look like the most unappetising thing since McDonalds started putting an egg-like thing in their breakfasts – little joke there, please don’t sue me, I don’t have the money or the commitment – but it is the most delicious dhal I have ever tasted.  And I’ve tasted quite a few.

Believe it or not, I first experienced it at one of the wee boy’s friends birthday parties.  The children were having the usual array of foods that squidge or crunch, but my lovely friends had made this for the grown ups.

Heavenly on two levels.

Firstly because it meant we didn’t have to pinch, under the guise of helping our child eat, the foods that squidge etc. and secondly, because it was a taste sensation I just wasn’t prepared for, and consequently stayed with me for days afterwards.  I can even remember the exact spot I was standing in, when I first tasted it.  I kid you not.

So what makes this a ‘stand out in the crowd’ dhal then?

I think it’s the mint.  There is something about it that gives the dhal a freshness whilst complimenting the heat of the chilli.  But before you switch off, already coming out in sweats from my mere mention of chilli, the beautiful thing about this, indeed all potentially hot food, is that you can add as little or as many chilli as you like.  So when I’m making it for my family, I don’t add any extra chilli at all.  The cayenne is suffice.  I know, a revelation.

Now then, you’ll need 3 tablespoons of ghee (if you don’t have this I combine vegetable oil and a knob of butter), 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped, 1/2 teaspoon of both cayenne and turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, 185g red lentils, 750ml water, 3-4 green chilli, chopped and 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped mint.

Melt the ghee (or oil and butter) in a pan, add garlic, chilli, turmeric, cayenne, mix together for a minute or so then add lentils, water and salt.  Bring to the boil, then simmer, until the lentils are cooked.

Add the mint.

Stir into the dhal and simmer for approximately 2 minutes.

Nip round the corner to Medina, buy, ‘made whilst you wait, 4 for a £1’ beautiful naan bread.  Come home, heat up the dhal and eat with the naan.

It is, without doubt, the most wonderful thing to have hit your palette in a very long time.  As long as you like both lentils and mint.  Although, I would suggest that it’s worth giving it a go, even if you’re not that keen.  After all, what have you got to lose, and just look at what you might gain…

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Cheese and Lentil Loaf

cheese and lentil loaf

This is an old favourite that I used to make when I was a student.  A recipe originally taken from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen Book, and made on a regular basis as it really is delicious hot or cold and makes a great snack food.  Which is lucky as since giving up sugar – I am now on day 2 – I am trying to beat the urge to snack on bananas.  Let me tell you, when there’s a whole bowl of fruit sitting in front of you waving hello, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to turn a blind eye.

Not that it is in anyway comparable to the multitude of atrocities which humankind bestows upon itself.  A point made very succinctly in another ‘ditch the modern food evils’ diet.  The Whole30 programme.  I don’t know whether you have heard of it, but basically it is a bootcamp for only eating certain foods in which they remind you, albeit very politely, that giving up cheese etc for 30 days is nowhere near akin to losing a right arm.  Well, I’m not sure they use that very same example, but the point is, it’s not true hardship or pain.

Anyway, back to the cheese and lentil loaf.

Wash 175g of red lentils and place into a pan filled with 350ml of water. Pop the lid on and cook for 10 – 15 minutes checking that the pan doesn’t boil dry.  There’s nothing quite like the smell of burnt lentils on the bottom of a pan, and they’re a devil to get off.

When cooked add 110g of grated cheddar cheese, 1 peeled and chopped onion, a tablespoon of fresh parsley or a little less if you decide to use fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, a splash of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of single cream an egg and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix it all up and pour into a greased loaf tin.  Bake at gas mark 5 for approximately 50 minutes.  I say approximately because you need the top to be firm to touch which may take longer than 50 minutes.

Let it cool for 10 minutes and eat with whatever you fancy.  Potatoes, rice, salad, homemade tomato sauce, broccoli…

The world is your oyster.

Chilli

veg chilli

I know what you’re thinking, ‘What the bally heck has a leaf and a stick swimming in a sea of orange, got to do with chilli?’

Well, this is the thing, chilli is a funny old foodstuff if you ask me.  It’s one of those meals everyone seems to learn to cook as soon as they fly the family nest to pastures new and independent.  Consequently there are a plethora of recipes out there, not just on paper, but in people’s heads, about how to cook a chilli that will satisfy all on a cold, dark, night.

However, it’s not until you begin to look at other people’s recipes that, in my opinion, you begin to see a pattern emerging. There are certain ingredients that are a given.  And then, every so often, up pops a little surprise and you think,

‘Well I never, I’m going to give that a go’

And so it was for me, with adding a bay leaf and stick of cinnamon to chilli.  Which is what the leaf and stick, are.  I would never in a month of Sunday’s thought that was a good idea, but I tell you what, I recommend it all the time now.

As for the other ingredients, I put in the following:

Onion, garlic, ground cayenne cumin and coriander, meat (or today, meat free soya alternative) tomatoes, tomato puree, stock cube (usually beef), boiling water and thyme.  Salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Then add the leaf and stick, and simmer.

Just before I wax lyrically about beans, just a little note regarding meat.  I often cook this with minced beef, but occasionally use the soya alternative and sometimes just use vegetables.  Whatever you decide to put into your chilli, what I do recommend is that you let everything sit in itself for a while.  You know the thing, make it, turn it off and leave it, then come back to it later that day or the next, and just reheat.  There is something about a chilli, like so many other one pot dishes, that improves with time.

Onto beans.  For years I religiously tipped a tin of kidney beans into the chilli after twenty minutes or so, and thought nothing of it.  However, recently a lovely friend of ours made us a chilli and put in haricot beans.  The very same beans that are in tins of baked beans.  And do you know, it was lovely.  It was only then that himself admitted that actually, he wasn’t that keen on kidney beans in chilli, so ever since then I have used haricot.

It takes a while getting used to the different colour, but a sprinkling of fresh coriander always helps brighten any dish and compensates for the anticipated deep aubergine flecks.

Meanwhile, we have a new addition to our household.  A thing of utter beauty who sounds as mellow as the maple tree she was made from.  Yes, we have added to our increasing musical instrument collection and now have Bessie the double bass, lounging elegantly in a corner.  I shall, of course, endeavour to keep you updated on progress as the year unfolds, but for now I must return to the chilli…

Lentil Dhal

lentils #2

The wonderful thing about lentils is that they are easy to add to anything in order to give it a bit of bulk, but actually are pretty good as a main ingredient too.  I make a lovely cheese and lentil loaf where the lentils, although not full of flavour, add a wonderful texture to the loaf.  Similarly, lentils make a lovely dhal.

Now then, I follow a recipe given to me by my friends which works every time and allows you to temper the spiciness of the dhal, depending on what your palette can cope with.  I am always taken aback when people start reaching for the water, tea or yoghurt for something that I think is mild.  So often I misjudge the chilli scenario. These meals I put in the ‘learning curve’ pile.

So, this dhal.  Well, it’s as simple as you like.  Warm a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan – you can use Ghee if you like but it is humongously bad for your arteries and heart, apparently.  Just so you know.  Back to the oil.

Chop two cloves of garlic and 2 – 4 green chilli.  My advice on the amount of chilli to add is, if you are not that fond of heat, start with two, you can always add some fresh chilli later.  If you quite like a kick, chop up three, if you enjoy a runny nose, four.  I buy the long thin ones.  Obviously if you go for the larger chilli you will need more as they are milder.  The reverse of this may be adhered to also.

Add the garlic and chilli to the oil then add half a teaspoon of cayenne, and half of turmeric.  Let them get acquainted then add 185g red lentils, 750ml water and a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes or so, until the lentils are cooked.

Now then, if you fancy eating a dhal that will make you wake in the morning wanting to make more, add 3 – 4 tablespoonfuls of chopped, fresh mint.

Trust me when I say, this is scrumptious.

p.s. Today’s post is dedicated to my gorgeous niece, Madeleine.