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The Dal Cookbook
We have always had those little red lentils on supermarket
shelves. They seemed to be the only ones available when I was growing
up. Mum would put them in a beef stew with half a cardboard tub of
yellow ‘curry powder’ and call it ‘Indian’. We would eat that with
mashed potatoes, as rice was for pudding.
Well the above recipe, although containing lentils, fell short of
authenticity on almost every count; but India does truly
have a wealth of lentil or dal recipes that offer a real taste of the
subcontinent in the most delicious and economic fashion.
Those red lentils are still found in supermarkets but these days they
will be flanked by packets of other varieties. The array might be
confusing to the novice dal cook, but they are all mild in flavour, and
some are interchangeable. It’s just as much about texture as taste.
The Dal Cookbook offers simple recipes for comforting and healthy food.
Spice adds vibrancy, and a raft of half a dozen or so spices will
enable the home cook to produce every recipe in this book. Buy your
spices in plastic bags from an Asian supermarket, as they will likely
be a lot cheaper than collecting those little glass jars. You know the
ones: you still have paprika from that range and it’s gone pink with
age. Don’t display spices in sunlight, and don’t use out-of-date spices
as they lose their kick.
So buy those spices with confidence, as these recipes will have you
using them frequently and to great advantage. Part of that advantage is
financial. Money is tight these days and food prices have taken an
unseemly hike, of late. Lentils provide one-pot meals that are
comforting – the sort of food that one craves on cold winter nights,
and one doesn’t have to be Madhur Jaffrey to produce them. Author
Krishna Dutta has selected dishes that can easily be rustled up in a
The book is divided by region, and there are even some dal dishes that
one recognises from restaurant menus. However, one doesn’t need a
professional kitchen to tackle these lentils. Many of them just need a
largish pot and perhaps a small pan …and a hob. The Dal Cookbook would
be a gift welcomed by anyone with limited access to a fully-equipped
kitchen. The basics are, well, basically, cook lentils till done with
spices; add veggies. Sounds simple, and it is, but the results of your
minimal exertions will be flavourful and memorable.
I have several favourites from The Dal Cookbook including Lentil Kutu
with Green Beans, which makes a marvellous side dish served with just a
bowl of rice, and perhaps some chicken roasted with Indian spices.
Tadka Dal is an indispensible part of many traditional Indian meals –
it’s delightfully rich with a finish of cream. But my pick-of-the-book
is Matar Peas Paneer. It’s green peas with Indian cheese, and it’s a
hearty one-pot meal that could always be served with some Indian bread
or rice. It’s colourful and satisfying.
Grub Street always publishes thoughtfully selected books that are great
value for money, and this one costs less than £17.00. The Dal
Cookbook is a winner.
The Dal Cookbook
Author: Krishna Dutta
Published by: Grub Street