This vegan curry has a lot going on but isn’t hard to make. The flavours compliment each other beautifully and who isn’t going to be impressed by the fact that you have knocked up a home-made chutney? (They don’t have to know that it only took 5 minutes.)
Dhal is an Indian word for any dish cooked with lentils. I am always looking for new dhals as Russell tires of each successive recipe from over-exposure (call me sad but I am slightly obsessed with pulses.) This one got the seal of approval from all the Purchons, who agreed I should share it with you.
The garnishes make this dish more interesting than your average lentil curry. A well-made dhal has a lovely silky texture but it can be a bit one-note. The addition of crispy sweet potatoes and a sweet and crunchy coconut relish make it more attractive looking and fun to eat. We could all jazz our own dhal up to our own tastes and everyone was happy.
The long ingredients list here makes the recipe seem harder than it really is, don't be put off. I used to think Russell had superpowers when he made curries from scratch. Then I tried cooking with spices and realised there's no mystery to it, and it only gets hassly if you don't have your ingredients ready and waiting. I measure my spices into a little bowl and throw them all in the pot together.
Most of us eat insufficient fibre, and lentils and spinach make this a high fibre meal. You don’t digest dietary fibre yourself – it is digested by the bacteria in your gut. Helpful and harmful bacteria co-exist in there, and you can encourage the good ones to proliferate by your choice of food. All dietary fibre feeds your bacteria, but some foods are only edible by the good bacteria and not the bad. They are known as ‘prebiotic’ foods and they include the sweet potato, onion and garlic in this dish. You can read more here.
FOR THE SWEET POTATOES
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1.5cm cubes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- olive oil
FOR THE DHAL
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 200g red lentils, washed or soaked (soaking them makes them even healthier) and drained
- 1 × 400ml tin of coconut milk
- 400ml vegetable stock
- 2 large handfuls of spinach
- a bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, stalks and all
- juice of 1 lemon
FOR THE COCONUT CHUTNEY
- 50g unsweetened desiccated coconut, soaked in boiling water.
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 10 curry leaves
- a little olive oil
- a 20g piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7. Pour boiling water over the coconut and leave it to soak. Put your sweet potatoes on a roasting tray and add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the cumin and fennel seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until soft and sweet in the middle and crispy brown on the outside.
In a large saucepan, sizzle the garlic, ginger and red onion in a little oil for about 10 minutes, until soft and sweet. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add to the pan with the other spices and cook for a couple of minutes to toast and release the oils. Add the lentils, coconut milk and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and bubble away for 25–30 minutes.
While that is cooking make your chutney. Drain the coconut and put it into a bowl. Fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a little oil until they begin to crackle, then pour the mixture over the coconut. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the ginger (and chilli).
To finish your dhal, turn off the heat and blend it with a stick blender (optional but it improves the texture.) Then stir in the spinach and allow it to wilt a little, stirring in half the chopped coriander and the lemon juice too.
Serve the remaining coriander, crispy sweet potatoes and coconut chutney separately and let everyone help themselves.
It serves 4, although you might want to accompany it with rice or chapatis if you are very hungry.