Monday, August 4, 2014

Meatless Monday: Ugly but delicious dhal

Ugly but delicious dhal // via Lilybett and Boy

I have plenty of comfort foods - things I turn to when the weather's awful or I want to blub over a bowl of something. But Indian food is my comfort cooking, what I look for when there's a need to pound spices with a mortar and pestle, to idly stir, to stand in the kitchen next to the stove and fry pappadum after paddadum. It is the food of feasts and gatherings remembered, when the upstairs neighbours come down and the extra chairs are dragged in from the kitchen.

This dhal recipe began its life in a fairly 70s looking book in a kitchen far north of here, and was the one dish we always cooked from scratch rather than working from a store-bought paste, combining the headiness of onions and spice with the creamy blandness of lentils and coconut. I copied the recipe out years ago and have bastardised it so often I'm not too sure I remember how the original tasted.

Once again, my food photography astounds me with it's ugliness (and reminds me not to capture steaming pots ever again). Dhal tends towards the ugly side of delicious anyway, so my ego is a little mollified. If these photos could convey smell, though, these would be some of my favourites.

To make your own ugly pot of deliciousness:

  • Wash a cup of red or yellow lentils, then cover with water (a few centimetres above the lentils) and bring to the boil. Cook until very soft then drain but reserve the liquid.
  • Chop finely or whiz in a food processor two onions, two cloves of garlic and one green chilli (we always used the big, non-fiery banana chillis but I tend now to use red or green capsicum). I also add spinach or kale to the mix because the mother in me demands it. 
  • Dry fry one tbl of ground coriander, and one tsp each of tumeric and ground cumin (I actually prefer roughly ground coriander and cumin seeds here but it does leave the dhal a little rough around the edges) until they become aromatic. Add in the onion mixture and fry until onion smells cooked rather than raw.
  • Pour in the cooked lentils and mix until combined. Mash the lentil mixture if it's not completely smooth. 
  • Stir in 1/4 cup of coconut milk or coconut cream (the original version calls for regular cream but the coconut is way better). Dear Boy has decided the winter-solid coconut cream is his new treat and demands spoonfuls of it if he sees me open the tin.
  • The dhal should have the consistency of thick soup but if it's too thick you can thin it out with the reserved liquid. It's round about this point I threw in some peas to the mix.
  • To serve, I fry up some roughly ground coriander seeds, dig into my fried shallot/onion stash, or sprinkle with fresh coriander if it's handy. I also dollop on a fruit chutney because I'm a sucker for chutney but natural yoghurt is good too. Eat with as many pappadums as you possibly can. I am all about the extras with Indian food. 

Do you have any comfort cooking favourites?


  1. It definitely doesn't look like the most appetizing, but I bet it smells amazing which makes up for it.

  2. Some of the best foods are ugly! Looking forward to trying this!

  3. I'm pretty good at ugly foods too! This however sounds delicious! I love hearty, warming Indian foods and don't cook dhal anywhere near enough, so I shall have to give this a try!

  4. So many great flavors in this dish! Yum!


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