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. The Dal Cookbook offers delicious alternatives.
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 Don’t display spices in sunlight, and don’t use out-of-date spices as they lose their kick.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 European kitchen.
One doesn’t need a professional kitchen
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
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018