So here we go again. Our garden looks sad. The clock goes back and grey, cold and wet days are followed by greyer, colder and wetter days. Tissues at the ready, we all have to endure perma-sniffles. Well, I thought I never did – I was wrong, the cold caught up with me this week with a vengeance. This was a result of getting rained on and completely soaked whilst cycling twice in the same day and the less-than-clement temperatures in our flat. Throw boy troubles into the equation and we have a clear case for prescribing a healthy dose of comfort food.
I find it funny how eating food is only a small part of its comforting effect – cooking it is just as therapeutic. And not just cooking, this includes thinking about cooking, planning it and shopping for your ingredients. Not only does it allow you to channel your creativity, it also enables you to concentrate your thoughts elsewhere. This might be the reason behind my homespun activities of late which include pottering about with a bowl of smelly floury concoction in an attempt to cultivate my own sourdough starter, making raspberry infused vodka and Operation Chutney planned for this weekend.
When it comes to eating, my comfort food cravings tend to shift with the seasons. While in the warmer months I tend to reach for punchy, fiery hot dishes such as my tom yum, these grey autumn and winter days call for something reassuringly gentle, thick, soupy and gloopy and also sleep inducing, if possible. Not the culinary equivalent of a hug, this season calls for the culinary equivalent of a down duvet.
The craving for some kind of one pot wonder was definitely there, and then the inspiration to cook daal came from a number of sources: reading this post on 101 Cookbooks earlier this week, the urge to explore the big foreign foods supermarket on Lodge Lane, Felicity Cloake’s excellent study of daal in the Guardian, the half empty container of red split lentils I discovered during my last cupboard inventory, a rather garish coloured pot of leftover spinach daal my housemate brought back from a dinner at a curry house (complete with pink rice) and the sudden need to surround myself with bright colours. I set off to the supermarket with the intention to procure some farro. Turns out farro is harder to get your hands on that I’d originally thought, so peeled wheat had to do. I did discover some rather wonderful Lebanese yogurt, beautifully thick and zingy. At the risk of sounding like a broken record these foreign foods shops are a godsend to me, packed with dried pulses and different kinds of rice, enabling me to live my hippy cooking wet dreams.
Anyway, daal, not unlike pizza or moussaka, is one of those things that lend themselves well as a base for different added ingredients. This is where Heidi’s recipe appealed, I felt the need for vitamins and wanted to flesh my daal out with spinach. I resisted the urge to add a tomato as those sad imports from Spain probably contain no vitamins whatsoever. Heidi does not use tarka – onions and spices fried brown, instead she gently cooks the onion before folding into the daal. This seemed like less of a faff, and allowed me to stick everything into one Tupperware dish, ready to be eaten the following day. Cooking the coriander with the onions instead of just sprinkling over the dish unlocks its fragrance which then combines nicely with the mellow base of lentils.
I proceeded to eat my first bowl of daal over my laptop whilst working, snuggled up in bed with the second whilst watching a DVD and finished it off in an unorthodox manner for breakfast to substitute a bowl of porridge. It just keeps on giving.
Daal (serves 3)
200g split red lentils
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp butter
1/2 large onion, sliced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
a bunch of coriander
1 large bunch of spinach, chopped
Lebanese (or Greek) yogurt
Start by cooking the lentils, half the butter, the turmeric and water. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring every so often so that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, heat the rest of the butter in a pan and fry the onions, mustard seeds and cumin for a few minutes gently, taking care not to burn them. After about 10 minutes stir in the coriander and keep cooking over a low heat, so that the coriander gets a chance to release its flavour.
By now the lentils should have collapsed – this should take about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, fold in the cooked onions and the spinach so that it wilts, but does not go completely mushy.
Like Heidi, I ate this with a big dollop of yogurt (Lebanese is the way forward) and some form of grain – in this instance a spoonful of peeled wheat.