Dal darl

I was nervous about cooking with spices, and as a result, tended to avoid cooking curries, except maybe with the assistance of a curry paste. After spending time living in the UK however, and watching a multitude of cooking shows, I grew confident enough to make curries and dishes using the base spices and mixing my own blends.

Indian cuisine is hugely popular in Britain and elsewhere around the globe, although one of the UK’s most popular dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala is not Indian in origin, and was created specifically for the milder British palate, and the majority of Indian Restaurants in the UK are run by Bangladeshis & Pakistanis and are influenced by those regions.

It is recommended when using spices, you buy whole spices, dry roast the spices [ie cook them without any oil over a low to medium heat – be careful to keep the spices moving so they roast evenly and only cook until lightly toasted and the aroma is released, don’t let the spices burn], then grind to get maximum flavour into your dish. Spices can be ground in a coffee grinder or a with a pestle and mortar.

Dal (also spelled Dahl or Daal, or Dhal) is one of my favourite vegetarian recipes. You can serve this alongside other Indian inspired dishes, and / or with rice. I tend to eat a bowl of Dal with a warm naan bread and skip the rice. This is the kind of dish that is even better reheated the next day after all of the flavours have had extra time to infuse.

Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients in this recipe, once you have everything assembled, it is quite straight forward.

Spinach Dal

Serves 6 [or 4 with leftovers for lunch the next day if you are lucky, also freezes well]

* This recipe was inspired by one by Alf McMillan that appeared on www.bbc.co.uk/food. I have modified and adapted it over the years to come up with the below reincarnation.


  • 100g ghee
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 birds eye chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala
  • 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1 litre of tomato based vegetable juice [I use V8 juice]
  • 2 cups of red lentils
  • 250g frozen chopped spinach [or feel free to add fresh spinach instead]


  1. Take frozen spinach out of freezer to defrost.
  2. Dry roast in a large saucepan the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds until fragrant. Transfer to mortar and pestle and grind seeds.
  3. Heat ghee in a large saucepan, add the onion, garlic, chilli, ginger, celery, turmeric, garam masala, ground seeds, star anise, cinnamon stick. Cook until the onion is soft.
  4. Add lentils and coat in the ghee mixture.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, vegetable juice and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour [stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks and burns on the bottom of the saucepan]. If the dal starts to dry out too much add some water.
  6. Add spinach and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Remove kaffir lime leaves, cinnamon stick and star anise. Your dal is ready to serve. Enjoy.

How do you like to use spices? Has this post inspired any new ideas?



Filed under Lentils, Recipes, Savoury, Spices, Vegetarian

3 responses to “Dal darl

  1. Samgraybeard

    I like your introduction to the dish, when I was in Bermingham and stayed with a work mate, he took me to the main street, where every second restaurant served Indian curry. I loved the spices, but till I read your instructions on how they should be roasted was afraid to add them to any dish I prepared, thanks and keep them comming.

  2. Samgraybeard

    Yum yum looking forward to trying this. You make inspiring and easy. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Autumn Apples | The Passionfruit Project

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