Man in the kitchen: Dhal L for lentils

A s you will remember from last week’s column we got the new year health drive off to an early start with a saintly meal of chicken poached in its own stock.

You should have lost about half a stone already but there will be no slacking off at this stage. Today we are going to be eating lentils. And before you throw the newspaper away in disgust, bear with me. In this country, lentils have been given a bad name mainly because vegetarians have seized upon these high protein pulses as a substitute for meat and a dry, flavourless lentil bake will be a disappointment.

However, in other parts of the world the lentil is revered. In France, the beautiful slate coloured puy lentil makes for a wonderful stew. And in the Indian sub-continent the lentil or dhal is not only respected but is a staple food.

My favourite lentil dish is tarka dhal. Don’t worry, this does not involve sautéeing any otters — the tarka refers to the fried spice mix you throw into the pan of boiled lentils to bring it to life. I use split red lentils. These are my go-to lentil because they are cheap, require no soaking and mulch down beautifully after a few minutes of cooking. To make enough for four people, take 200g of lentils and throw them into a saucepan with a litre of cold water. Bring to a boil, remove any scum that collects on the surface and leave to simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils have boiled down into a porridgey texture.

While the lentils are cooking, in a different pan, fry a finely chopped onion in two tablespoons of vegetable oil. When browned but not burnt, add a thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped, and three or four garlic cloves, also finely chopped. Add a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and turmeric and two teaspoons of garam masala, a whole chilli, pricked in two or three places and two chopped, peeled tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. When the tomatoes have cooked down into a paste consistency, empty the mix into the lentils, stir well and add a big handful of chopped coriander.

Mix well and serve with a warm flatbread or naan. I guarantee you if you ditch the cholent and replace it with this for a few weeks those jeans which have been too tight since 1998 will be hanging off your waist by February.

Last updated: 12:47pm, January 8 2014