Irene made this dhal last weekend when my niece was staying, and we had it again last night, with different accompaniments. The recipe started with Anna Jones’s killer Dhal with crispy sweet potato and quick coconut chutney, but Irene adapted the method slightly to follow her mother’s practice. She cooks the onions first, then the garlic, ginger and chilli, and finally the spices to ensure they are thoroughly cooked before adding the lentils and stock. The two versions I give here are Dhal with sweet potato, and Dhal with roasted beetroot and greens.
The crispy sweet potato is very good with it. I have mixed feelings about the coconut chutney – I know you’re supposed to temper the dhal with spicy oil, but I quite like it just with some fresh coconut and coriander on top. How do I get fresh coconut? My little local Indian shop sells frozen grated coconut, which is incredibly convenient, as you can just break off what you need, and I think it has a better texture than desiccated coconut. While I’m on useful tips about coconut, I recently discovered coconut milk powder, which is an absolute boon for anyone who regularly cooks for one or two (or indeed six). Most recipes are for 4 servings and call for a 400ml tin of coconut milk, so I was forever ending up with half or three-quarters of a tin of coconut milk left over from a recipe and having to think of something else to cook with it in the short window before it went off. Coconut milk powder means you can make up just as much as you need, and you can make it thicker if your recipe calls for coconut cream (or indeed thinner if you’re trying to cut down on fat). All that, and it’s lighter to carry home from the supermarket too!
Yesterday we had dhal with roasted beetroot, stir-fried beetroot leaves and yoghurt. I had bought a lovely bunch of beetroot with fresh leaves from the greengrocers, but you could use chard or spinach if your beetroot doesn’t still have its leaves. If you don’t eat dairy, I think coconut yoghurt would be a really good alternative to greek yoghurt here, and you could add some chopped cucumber and a little ground cumin to it if you wished.
For both versions, start by roasting the vegetable accompaniment, then get on with the dhal while the vegetables are in the oven.
For dhal with sweet potato you will need:
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- rapeseed or vegetable oil
- 6 tbsps grated coconut (or to taste)
Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan/Gas 7. Give the sweet potatoes a good wash – I use a soft vegetable brush – as you are going to cook them with their skins on. Roughly chop them into 1.5cm cubes and toss them with a drizzle of oil, some salt and pepper and the seeds (the fennel seeds are nice but not essential). Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes by which time they should be soft, and well browned and crispy.
If using frozen grated coconut allow it to defrost. Alternatively, soak some desiccated coconut in boiling water to soften. Serve the sweet potatoes with the dhal, a good scoop of coconut and some chopped coriander. (The rather messy photo above shows the dhal and sweet potatoes with Anna Jones’s coconut chutney – and added broccoli!)
For dhal with beetroot you will need:
- a bunch of beetroot (4 large or 6-8 small)
- Beetroot greens or a bunch of chard or 200g spinach
- rapeseed or olive oil
- 150ml Greek or coconut yoghurt
Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6. Cut off the tops of the beetroot, keeping the greens if you are using them (you can also eat the stems if they are in good condition) and trim the root end. Wash, and if using large beetroot cut into halves or quarters – small beetroot can be cooked whole. Put into a roasting dish into which they fit snugly, add 50ml of water and cover with foil. Roast for 40-50 minutes until the beetroot are tender to the point of the knife.
Once the beetroot are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, which should slip off easily. Drizzle over a little oil, and season with salt and pepper.
While the beetroot is roasting, wash the beetroot or chard/spinach and slice roughly. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan or wok. Once it is hot stir fry the greens for a few minutes until wilted and glossy green. If you’re using the stems, add them first and cook them for a couple of minutes more than the greens. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the beetroot and greens with the dhal, a scoop of yoghurt and some chopped coriander.
The ingredients for 4 generous portions of dhal are:
- 1 onion
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- a large thumb of fresh ginger
- 1 green chilli
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 200g red lentils
- 400 ml coconut milk (from a can or powder)
- 400ml vegetable stock (we used vegan Marigold bouillon)
- 50g spinach (unless you are having greens separately)
- a small bunch of fresh coriander
- juice of 1 lemon
Put the oil to heat in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the onion and cook over a slow heat – I started it at 5 and then turned down to 4 on my induction hob – for at least 5 minutes until the onion is soft and golden.
Grind the cumin and coriander seeds, add them to the pan with the turmeric and cinnamon and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring, until the scent of the spices rises. Now add the lentils and stir them about so that they are coated with the spicy onions.
Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for 20-25 minutes. If you are having spinach, wash it and stir it in until it has wilted – Anna Jones specifies two handfuls of spinach but I tend to make those rather generous handfuls, so you can decide how much you want. Finally, add the lemon juice and chopped coriander – keeping some back to garnish the dish – and serve with your chosen accompaniment.
You could, of course, serve the dhal with brown rice for a more substantial meal, with your favourite curry, or with other roasted vegetables – cauliflower roasted with cumin is next on my list to try!