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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Go mental for the lentil

I should have been a poet – or failing that someone who gets paid a ton of cash for writing about food and eating and being greedy. What’s that you say? That job doesn’t exist? Ah, well.

I’ve reached a crossroads, dear gastronauts and the route I choose next will determine whether I can continue wearing my current jeans or whether I need to visit a shop called, ‘Big Man.’

I woke up last Monday morning and with guts a-rumble, I staggered into the bathroom feeling as though my waters were about to break and I could give birth at any moment. Instead, I answered the call of nature, washed my hands and then set about brushing the gnashers, humming the theme tune to Strictly Come Dancing as I worked. In a pique of curiosity, I decided I’d weigh myself; it was a Monday morning in 2020, sure what could go wrong?

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Clambering abroad the glass-topped device like a geriatric sloth, I brushed away at the teeth as the dial shot up, like a digital odometer. The figures were flying past so fast I half expected an alarm to go off. Or maybe the scales would burst into flames.

Instead though, the total settled onto a figure I hadn’t seen since the noughties. If it had been a talking scale it might have suggested, “One at a time, please,” or, “This ain’t your first rodeo, fatty.’

In the end and as you can’t imagine, the scales didn’t say either of these things but that didn’t mean I couldn’t speak.

“Holy, F…intona!” I blurted out, sending a spray of Colgate all over my feet. “So that’s the way it’s going to be then, eh?” I said to the scales. My own devices turning against me.

“That’s it!” I announced to the darts player looking back at me from the mirror above the sink. “No more of the good stuff for you until your BMI isn’t that of a humpback whale. No more chocolate in the afternoon and definitely no more homebrew – until the weekend at the earliest.”

In short, dear gastronauts it was time to take the ‘right’ turn at the crossroads, that road infrequently travelled by yours truly and whose destination is waiting in the form of loose clothes.

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Thereupon, I set myself a target of fashioning a dinner that evening which ticked all the necessary boxes. It must be healthy. Check.

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It must be nutritious. Check. It must be low in fat. Check. And above all, it must be supertasty – otherwise I’d be hankering for bold snacks before the evening is out.

The result/decision, as you will already have sussed from the picture above, was red lentil dhal and with spinach for good measure seeing as how it was such a boon for Mr Popeye.

I’ve made dhals of various descriptions heaps of times over the years and some of them have been more appealing than others. Some have been overly bland. Some have been insipid and some have been totally fantastic, like this little recipe right here.

It had taken a while to perfect this dhal (I found a vegan recipe online a while ago and gave it a kick up the backside with added chicken stock and garam massala) but it is now at a stage where it needs nothing in terms of embellishment other than a simple flatbread, seeing as how flatbreads make everything better.

It’s warming and comforting and packed with flavour and best of all, it’s honest to goodness, one of the most nutritious curries you could be eating.

I daresay if the time ever comes when international travel becomes commonplace again and I eventually have the pleasure of visiting India, I predict there will be curries to blow my socks off. In the meantime though, this is as good a dhal as I’ve ever had and yes, it’s deceptively easy to make.

INGREDIENTS

• 300g of red lentils
• 1 heaped tbsp of cumin seeds
• 1 tsp of turmeric
• 1 tsp of garam massala
• 1 tsp of mustard seeds
• half tsp of chilli powder (I used hot)
• 1 tbsp of sunflower oil
• 1 red onion, finely sliced or diced
• 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
thumb-sized piece of ginger, super finely diced
• 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
• 1 tsp of sugar
• 1 chicken stock pot or cube
• seasoning
• two handfuls of baby spinach leaves
• flatbread or naans and/or rice and mango chutney and natural yoghurt to serve

THE PLAN

Start by assembling all your ingredients and measuring out all the spices etc.

Rinse and rinse and rinse the red lentils, drain and then dump into a small saucepan, cover with fresh water and bring to a simmer.
Let them bubble for five minutes and then drain and set aside.

That done, add the cumin seeds, turmeric, chilli powder, garam massala and mustard seeds to a large, dry frying pan and turn up the heat to dry fry. Stir the spices around until they start to smell magnificent (less than a minute should do it) and then add the oil.

Worry not, if the mustard seeds start popping all over the place. This is normal.

Add the onions and garlic, turn the heat down and stir fry for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. Take care not to burn the garlic.

Add the tomatoes to the pan with the sugar and stir everything about. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add this to the pan along with the stock pot and the lentils and stir everything around mercilessly until well combined. Bring to a simmer and let it bubble away for about 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. You’ll also need to give it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch and burn.

Check the seasoning and adjust. It probably won’t need a great deal of salt.

Stir through the baby spinach and it’s time to serve. My top tip is to use plenty of natural yoghurt and lots of flatbreads for dipping and mopping.

You could also add some chopped coriander but it has a bad rep in our house and so it usually doesn’t go in.

ADENDUM

Since making this red lentil dhal recently I have also discovered that it doesn’t matter how healthy a meal is, if you over-eat, you’re still going to feel like a pregnant hippo.

Still and all, this is a great start if you’re thinking of making a small, healthy adjustment to your dinner arrangements. The absense of meat sacrifices nothing in terms of taste and you may begin to wonder, “where has this stuff been my whole life.”

The end.

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