Spices bought me to study Ayurveda, they were something that intrigued me but I never really knew how to use them in cooking. I was always afraid i would put too much and overwhelm a dish. It wasn’t until I learnt about the medicinal properties of spices that i truly became aware of how to use them in recipes. Over time I have learnt that certain spices like to hang out together too cinnamon is a good pal to cardamon, coriander has a crush on cumin and turmeric well she likes to play the field. I also discovered that spices need fat to truly bring them to life so the first thing I need to do when I am making a pot of dhal is to make myself a big ghee. I then add the ghee to the split mung dhal when it is cooking along with the chosen spices, turmeric is always in there because it is the wonder spice and then in winter Ill pop in some black mustards seeds to warm it up, some cumin seeds to aid digestion and some garam marsala to round it all off. I use split mung dhal instead of red lentils as it is more digestible and deliciously creamy . Make sure you buy the yellow split mung dhal and not the whole green mung beans to avoid an epic dhal fail!
Now the secret to a good dhal is using plenty of liquid, but having said that dhal is a bit like porridge and everyone likes it a different way, i like mine like a thick soup others like it watery. The most important thing is you cook your dhal in plenty of water to avoid it catching on the bottom of the pan. And remember it does thicken on standing. I always make my dhal the day before as with all spiced food it tastes way better the next day.
If your dhal is lacking in flavour you can spice it up by frying extra spices in ghee and folding it through your dhal at the end. I love to do this in winter to give my dhal a bit more punch. I often fry the tomatoes for this recipe in some extra ghee until their skins soften along with extra turmeric, cumin seeds and garam marsala then either mix it through or simple pour it over the top of the dhal just before serving. Last of all make sure you season your dhal well, I use Himalayan salt and then once it is off the heat I use fresh lemon juice. This just lifts the whole dish and brings all the flavours together.
Good dhal takes time, as I said before it always tastes better the next day and if you are smart you will make a big pot so you have plenty of left overs.
Pumpkin and spinach dhal
1 1/4 cups (255 g) mung bean or red lentils
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon each of turmeric, garam marsala, black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli
6 fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon Himilayan salt
½ tablespoon organic coconut oil
1 tablespoon ghee
1 tablespoon lemon juice
300 g baked pumpkin
100 g baby spinach leaves
extra garam marsala, for sprinkling
Put lentils, tomatoes, ginger, spices, chilli, bay leaf, curry leaves, salt and organic coconut oil into a pan with 3 ½ cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the left are just soft, don’t over cook them you don’t want them to be mushy. Remove the from the heat, stir in the ghee, lemon juice and pumpkin and spinach leaves, sprinkle with garam marsala, return the lid, allow to stand for 5 minutes. Serve with steamed brown rice. Serves 4