In need of a restorative food hug while suffering from an annoying bout of ‘summer’ flu, I cooked up a big vat of Anna Jones’ Black dhal from her fabulous book a modern way to eat.
Although it’s called black dhal, the finished dish is actually a chocolaty brown colour, however, the uncooked black lentils are little white gems with a black husk. I’d never come across black lentils (also known as urad dhal or black gram), and thought that I’d struggle to find them. Luckily, I have a very handy International Supermarket on my high street, which as its’ name suggests, sells a wealth of international produce. If you can’t find what you need in here, you won’t find it anywhere. Having hunted the ‘grains pulses wall’ (yes, you heard right, there is a wall of grains and pulses), I came across Urid Dal. Not sure whether I’d found what I needed, I bought it anyway, and with the help of Google discovered it was just what I needed. Hoorah.
Now, back to the dhal itself. While it takes a whopping 2-3 hours for this beautiful, smoky dhal to reach maturity on the hob, you can throw the ingredients together in about 15 minutes then leave it alone, bar a few stirs every now and again.
Anna uses dried pulses for her dhal, I’m usually a fan of already hydrated beans and lentils in tins as I can’t be bothered or generally forget to soak them overnight. Luckily, Ms Jones does mention in the recipe, that although ideally you should soak the lentils and kidney beans (they’re also used in this recipe) overnight, you can get away with soaking them for just a couple of hours, you’ll just have to increase the cooking time.
With the dhal bubbling away on the hob, there was plenty of time for a long game of traffic jams with the toddler’s toy cars and a few episodes of Peppa Pig.
I served the dhal topped with yoghurt and coriander with charred chapattis.
The verdict from the toddler: When asked if he’d like to try to dhal he replied with an usually polite: ‘No thank you.’
The verdict from the husband: ‘It’s nice. It’s got a kind of Mexican smoky beans thing going on.’ Not bad husband, as Anna describes the dish as ‘half barbeque Boston beans and half creamy spiced masala’.
The verdict from the cook: ‘It’s done the trick, I can breathe again…’
- 200g whole dried black lentils
- 100g dried kidney beans
- Groundnut oil or coconut oil for frying
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 cardamom pods, split
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- A thumb-sized piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
- A small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped.
- Soak the lentils and beans in a bowl of cold water – overnight ideally, but a few hours will do/
- Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions for 10-15 minutes until soft and lightly browned. Add the dry spices, garlic, ginger and tomato puree and stir for a couple of minutes.
- Drain the lentils and beans and add to the pan with the chopped tomatoes and 2 litres of cold water. Bring to boil, then turn the pan down to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 2-3 hours, until the beans and the lentils are cooked and the liquor has thickened. Occasionally stir the dhal and top up with water if it becomes too dry.
- Once cooked, mash about half the beans and lentils with a potato masher, then add to the pan – this makes the dhal nice and creamy.
- Serve in a bowls topped with a little yoghurt, fresh coriander and naan bread or chapattis.