Lentil dhal two ways

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.

IMG_6072For 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!)

Dhal with beetroot and greensFor 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!

Lentils with squash and spinach

Lentils with squash and spinach

A new discovery, this lentil dish is both comforting and fresh-tasting, thanks to being flavoured with orange peel and juice. The idea came from the beginning of a Lindsey Bareham recipe in her column for The Times, which Irene found online. The introduction and ingredients made it sound delicious, but the rest of the recipe was for subscribers only, so the method below is our guesswork (and the sage and fresh chilli our additions). So far, we have had it hot with sausages and pan-fried pheasant breast (separately, obviously) and at room temperature with salad and goat’s cheese. I plan to polish off the leftovers with some ham for lunch tomorrow, and Lindsey Bareham also recommends it cold with hard-boiled eggs.

These quantities make enough for 3 servings, or 4 as the accompaniment to something more substantial.

1 large onion
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 oranges
1 cm piece dried chilli
150g puy lentils
1 bay leaf
3 sage leaves (optional)
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
250g butternut squash
100g spinach
1 fresh red chilli to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 210°C. Chop the butternut squash into bite-sized chunks and toss in 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking tray. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until tender. I tend to roast more butternut squash than I need for one recipe, as there are lots of recipes that you can then make easily, such as soup, pumpkin rice, squash with aubergine sauce, salad with mushrooms or risotto.

Softening onions for lentils with squash and spinachCut the onion in half and slice thinly. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions slowly with a good pinch of salt, stirring regularly and reducing the heat if they start to show any sign of browning. After about 10-15 minutes, they should be soft and golden – rapeseed oil gives them a particularly lovely colour.

Add the lentils and stir them in to coat them with the oil. Pare several long strips of orange rind and add them to the pan with the dried chilli, bay leaf and the sage leaves torn into strips. Stir and cook for another minute or two, then add the hot stock to the pan.

Lentils with squash and spinach 2

I used 1 tsp of Marigold bouillon made up with 250ml of boiling water, but found I needed to add a little more water. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes in case you need to add a little more water.

Wash the spinach and squeeze the juice of the oranges. After 15 minutes the lentils should be nearly tender – if not, give them another few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the spinach to the pan (if you’re using previously roasted, cold squash as I was, add it at this stage to warm through).

Adding spinach and squash to the lentils

Put the lid back on and cook gently for another 3-5 minutes until the spinach has wilted. By now, the squash should be ready to come out of the oven. Stir the spinach into the lentils, add the orange juice and the squash if you are  haven’t already done so. Give it a final stir and check the seasoning, then serve hot, warm or cold. It may not look elegant, but it is delicious!

Lentils with squash and spinach

Roast red peppers stuffed with lentils

Straightforward to make, satisfying, a foretaste of summer and good for you – what more do you want? Oh, and it can easily be vegan, so this is altogether a useful recipe to have in your repertoire. I added some goat’s cheese, but I’m sure the dish would have been just as tasty without it. The recipe was inspired by one of those Waitrose recipes on cards that I glance at but rarely get round to cooking.

However, as my recipe books have been in boxes while I am having some work done in my flat, I was looking for new ideas for supper that wouldn’t tax my already rather frazzled brain. I love both red peppers and lentils, so this jumped out at me. You could make it with ordinary red (or yellow) peppers, which might hold a bit more filling than these long thin romano peppers, though these do look nice and have a good flavour.

I’m not that fond of the sharp taste of sun-dried tomatoes, so just used cherry tomatoes instead, as the cheese would be adding some piquancy. However, I would recommend keeping the sun-dried tomatoes for depth of flavour if you’re not going to add cheese. The recipe specified a pack of ready-cooked lentils, which may  be useful if you’re short of time, but lentils are so quick and easy to cook that it never seems worth buying them pre-cooked, and I often have leftover cooked lentils in the fridge.

2 large red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 leek
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp capers
4 cherry or sun-dried tomatoes
100g lentils (or 200g cooked lentils)
1 tbsp lemon juice
grating of lemon rind
handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
50g goat’s cheese (optional)
30g pistachios

Preheat the oven to 200° C, gas mark 6. Start by putting the lentils on to cook (unless you’re using ready-cooked ones). Rinse and cover with around double the amount of cold water, adding a bay leaf and a clove of garlic if you have them and are feeling fancy. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for around 15-25 minutes, checking regularly after 15 minutes as you need them to be just done, not mushy. Just tip up some extra water if they seem to be getting dry before they are tender. The cooking time given on packets of lentils is often too long in my experience, though this will obviously vary according to the variety and age of the lentils (the longer they’ve been in the packet, the longer they may take to cook).

Then halve the peppers through the stalks; don’t remove the stalks, as I did on auto-pilot, since they help the peppers to hold their shape in the oven. Carefully remove all the seeds and pith. Brush lightly with a third of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the peppers on a baking tray lined with greaseproof or baking parchment and roast for 20 minutes.

Slice the leek, finely chop the garlic and pick the leaves off the sprigs of thyme. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and gently fry the leeks, garlic and thyme for 10 minutes. Stir regularly and be ready to turn the heat down if the leeks or garlic show any sign of catching – you want them to be soft and golden with no bitter brown edges. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan with the capers and cooked lentils. When the lentils are ready, drain them and tip into the frying pan too. Stir everything together and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice, zest, parsley and pistachios.

By now the peppers should be done. Spoon the lentil filling into the peppers and top with the goat’s cheese if you are using it. Put back into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Lentil and sweet potato pie

This vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, proved to be perfect for dinner on an autumnal day when neither of us felt like cooking anything too demanding. This was partly because I was having a bake-in, making brownies and a fig and blackberry tart, inspired by one I’d eaten at Allegra McEvedy’s wonderful wine bar Albertine (only thing wrong with it is that it’s not round the corner from my flat!).

So I cooked this comforting pie, fragrant with thyme and spices but requiring only some chopping, stirring and mashing, alongside the baking. It was a substantial dinner: I made a half quantity, and have almost two portions left, so the full recipe below would feed six generously and eight more politely, especially if you were serving a starter and dessert. I have slightly reduced the quantity of sweet potato, but feel free to add an extra sweet potato if you like lots of mash. Next time, I might try adding a bay leaf and some mushrooms to the lentils, as I think they would go well and ring the changes.

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
4 spring onions
grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
2 clove garlic
slug of olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
half a small pack of thyme
1 400g tin tomatoes
400g puy lentils

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender either by baking in the oven at 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6 for 30-45 minutes (depending on size; remember to pierce the skins so they don’t explode), or boiling them in a pan of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. I baked mine because I wanted some for making brownies too, and I had the oven on for pre-baking a pastry case. Heat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200º/gas 7 for the pie.

Peel and chop the carrots and onions, trim and chop the celery and finely chop the garlic. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a slug of olive oil and, when hot, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they are softening. Roughly crush the cumin, and add all the spices and the leaves of the thyme to the pan. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the tin of tomatoes, the lentils and two tins full of water. Crush the tomatoes a bit with your spoon and turn up the heat to bring everything to a brisk simmer. Give it a stir from time to time, and add a little extra water if necessary. After 15-20 minutes the lentils should be just cooked and the sauce thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan, chop the spring onion and cook it gently in the oil for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato and mash. Check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Tip the lentil mixture into an oven dish and top with the mashed sweet potato, roughing up the surface with a fork. I added a  few knobs of butter on the top, because that’s what I do with shepherd’s pie to get a nice crispy top, but obviously don’t do this if you’re cooking for vegans.

Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden and the pie is sizzling hot. I followed the recipe in adding some thyme to the top of the mash, but I don’t recommend this – the thyme just crisps up without adding much flavour and makes it look disconcertingly as if the pie is covered in dead flies!

Serve with steamed green, such as cavolo nero, kale, spring greens or cabbage. And don’t blame me if you feel very full afterwards.