This dhal is easy to make, cheap, filling, nutritious and suitable for most dietary requirements; there’s nothing to not like about it. Dhal freezes really well, so you can make a big pot, freeze it in portions and then enjoy it when you’re too busy or tired to cook from scratch.
Spinach, Squash and Sweet Potato Dhal
Makes 8-10 portions
4 tbsp oil (vegetable, sunflower, olive or coconut)
2 medium onions, peeled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and grated or finely chopped
5cm piece of fresh root ginger (approx 30g), peeled and grated or finely chopped
2 tbsp garam masala
1-2 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
500g red lentils, rinsed well
1 small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks separated
1 tbsp nigella seeds
600g diced sweet potato and butternut squash (total prepared weight, widely available already mixed)
4 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
1.5 litres boiling water
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
250g baby leaf spinach
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of ½ lemon
Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-low heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger with a big pinch of sea salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring, until the onion has softened. Add the garam masala, chilli flakes, turmeric and mustard seeds, stir thoroughly and then add the lentils. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add to the pan with the nigella seeds and diced sweet potato and squash. Give everything a good mix.
Dissolve the bouillon powder in 1.5 litres of boiling water. Pour this hot stock into the pan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently and deeply so the lentils don’t stick to the base of the pan. The lentils and squash should be tender and retain no bite. Add the coconut milk and spinach, then stir well. After 2 minutes, remove from the heat and season to taste.
Freezing guidelines: Divide the dhal between individual freezer-safe containers. Leave to cool completely with lids off then seal, label and freeze. It will keep fine for up to 3 months.
Reheating guidelines: Remove the container from the freezer and defrost in the fridge. Once fully thawed, tip the dhal into a pan and gently heat, stirring regularly, until piping hot. To cook from frozen, tip the dhal into a pan, cover with a lid and place over a low heat to thaw. Increase the heat to cook.
… with Cauliflower and Spinach Pakora
I don’t often deep-fry, so when I do, the results have to be worth it! Dhal served with yoghurt, naan or rice and deep-fried pakora is quite a feast. While that may be too much on a weeknight, it’s one of my absolute favourite ways to feed a crowd, putting it all out on the table and letting everyone help themselves.
2 portions of Spinach, Squash and Sweet Potato Dhal, defrosted if frozen
½ small cauliflower, broken into very small florets
1 generous handful of baby leaf spinach, torn
1 tbsp chopped coriander
oil, for deep-frying
For the batter
150g gram (chickpea) flour
2 tsp garam masala
½ tsp pul biber or mild chilli flakes
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp flaked sea salt
170ml soda/fizzy water
1 tsp nigella seeds
2 tbsp yoghurt (regular or coconut)
naan or cooked short-grain brown rice (optional)
To make the batter, combine the flour, spices, baking powder and salt in a bowl. While beating well with a balloon whisk, pour in the soda or fizzy water in a slow and steady stream until you have a thick batter the consistency of pouring custard. Add a little more water, if needed.
Heat up the Spinach, Squash and Sweet Potato Dhal and keep warm while you make the pakora. To make the pakora, fold the cauliflower, spinach and coriander into the batter. Make sure all the veg and herbs are thoroughly coated with batter.
Pour enough oil into a large high-sided saucepan to fill it one-third full or at least 10cm deep. Heat the oil to 180°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, a drop of batter will brown in 45 seconds when the oil is at the correct temperature.
Take a small spoonful of the pakora mixture and gently drop it into the hot oil. Keep the spoon close to the surface of the oil and don’t drop the batter from a height. Be careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Fry just a few spoonfuls at a time and don’t overcrowd the pan. The pakoras are done when the batter is puffed up and they’re golden brown all over. This will take about 3-4 minutes for each batch.
Finish the dhal with a good squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of nigella seeds, a dollop of yoghurt and some fresh coriander leaves.
Remove the pakoras from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with flaked sea salt, which helps to keep them crisp.
Serve the pakora immediately alongside the dhal. Add some naan or cooked short-grain brown rice, if you’re really hungry.
Extracted from Green by Elly Pear (Curshen) (Ebury Press, approx €25). Photograph by Martin Poole.