Sabut Masoor Dal (Whole Red Lentils)

One of my favourite lentil curries often made at my in-laws, I have just reduced the use of oil to the bare minimum 😊 Enjoy with naan, boiled rice or fragrant zeera (cumin) rice for a wholesome, healthy and heart-warming dish on a cold winter’s day.

Prep time: 5 mins

Cooking time: 45 mins

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole red lentils
  • 3 cups water + plus a more during cooking
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 green chilliest ( optional)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste, or 2 cloves finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • Handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • Fresh ginger slivers and lemons wedges (optional garnish)

How to prepare

  1. Rinse the lentils and pressure cook until tender (about 20 minutes).
  2. Heat the oil gently in a saucepan and add the cumin. Wait till they change colour.
  3. Add the onions and green chilli; cook until the onions have softened.
  4. Add the garlic and cook off for 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in the tomato with the salt, cover and cook until softened completely.
  6. Add the dry spices and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add a little water and continue cooking to create a semi-dry mixture – ‘bhuna’.
  8. Add the cooked lentils to the pan and mix well.
  9. Add 1/4 – 1/2 cup hot water, stir again and bring to boil.
  10. Simmer the dal until the desired consistently is achieved – add more water if you preferred a runnier curry.
  11. Stir in the coriander leaves and remove from the heat.
  12. Top with the ginger slivers and lemon wedges, if using.
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Chef Talk

Arguably the best job I ever took took on, albeit a short lived one, was the role of a chef in a school, much to the chagrin of my father. Having himself been a chef for 40 years, to this day my father fails to see the logic in my so-called ‘madness’.

I was hired by Cucina Restaurants who provide contract catering services for schools and the Head Chef who interviewed me, now some two years ago, said to me at the time, “If you can cook Indian, you can cook anything!”

So armed with Cucina’s recipe folder and a whole load of enthusiasm I embarked on what was to be the most enlightening three months of my life. Working with a small team of catering assistants, I had the privilege to delve into a diverse range of cuisines, including Italian, Mexican, Asian, and of course, British and the inevitable Indian where undoubtedly I came into my own.

Cooking for over 200 covers a day, looking back now, the experience seems almost surreal, given the circumstances under which I worked at the time. With a shortfall of staff, I was not only prepping and cooking, but also cleaning up with my team which meant I always stayed back in the kitchen long after my staff had departed in order to prep for the next day.

Now, those who know me will understand my physical limitations – hence my father’s objections – at least in part. Being of a very petite frame (in both height and width!) my will often outweighs my physical capabilites. So I persisted with the job, chopping relentlessly, stirring 7 kilo curries in the deepest pans, lifting enormous mixing bowls, lugging hefty serving dishes and flitting between steamers and ovens at light speed. Needless to say, it wasn’t long until the physical injures afflicted took its toll and I felt compelled to call it a day. NOT because I didn’t like the job.

What I did take with me from those few intense months was some invaluable learning. Catering for large numbers has never been a daunting thought since then and I am always cooking up different dishes for my family as in last night’s Chicken Arrabbiata. The chicken was prepped similarly to how I used to make Wednesday’s Roast Chicken, with of course a few added ingredients. It wouldn’t be Najma’sotherwise 😊

 Chicken Arrabbiata 

Aside

 

Curry pastes are readily available in the ‘World Food’ isles in most large supermarkets nowadays or from food retail wholesalers. They are easy to use as the paste simply needs to be dissolved and cooked to your desired consistency. The sauce can then be used to create a variety of meat, poultry, vegetable or seafood dishes.

However, if you are having trouble sourcing the paste or would simply rather make your own, this simple recipe guides you through the steps for making a batch of Chinese Curry Sauce for up to four portions.

Prep Time: 5 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or coconut oil (if obtainable)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 medium onion (cut into chunks)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (depending on size)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 ground cumin
  • 1/2 ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tsp mild or hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp soya salt
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • salt and pepper as needed

Chinese Curry Sauce

How to cook

  1. Gently heat the oil and cook the onions until slightly browned.
  2. Add the garlic, star anise and chilli flakes. Stir fry until the garlic is slightly browned.
  3. Add the flour, cumin, ginger, five spice powder, curry powder, salt and pepper and cook gently for 30 secs until a paste starts to form.
  4. Gradually add the water whilst stirring to make a lump free sauce.
  5. Bring to boil and simmer until the mixtures has thickened slightly (no more than 10 minutes).
  6. Remove from the heat and blend the mixture with a stick (hand) blender. If the sauce it too thick, add a little boiled water and simmer for another 1-2 minutes.
  7. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Your sauce can now be used immediately or cooled and refrigerated for up to three days or stored in the freezer for 3 months.

Chinese Curry Sauce

Shobji Bhaji (Vegetable Stir Fry)

Sometimes there really is nothing like good old Bengali cooking.

This is a very simple, yet beautifully presentable recipe, representative of the staple ‘dry’ vegetable dish served with every Bangladeshi meal. The panch phoron seeds lend a wonderfully aromatic flavour that is so typical of Bengali cooking.

The key here is to stir fry the vegetables over a high heat, using little or no water. This will ensure that the vegetables do not stick together and become and mushy.

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 3-4  

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp panch phoron (bengali five spice mix)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece root ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp ground, roasted cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 250g mixed veg (fresh or frozen)
  • 2-3 small new potatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • fresh, chopped coriander to garnish each piece

How to cook

  1. Heat the oil in a large wok or karahi over a medium flame.
  2. Add the panch phoron and bay leaf. Wait for seeds to sizzle.
  3. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 mins.
  5. Add the dry spices and cook for another minute (adding a splash of water if the spices begin to stick to the pan).
  6. Add the vegetables with the salt. If using frozen vegetables use a wooden spoon to break any chunks.
  7. Stir fry for 10 mins on high heat ensuring they are evenly covered with the spices.
  8. Add a splash of water, stir, then turn down to heat and cover.
  9. Cook for another 5 mins or until the vegetables are just tender. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
  10. Remove from heat and garnish with chopped coriander before serving.