This is the cheapest of cheap meals. So basic, nutritious, filling and tasty, hitting all the great vegetarian food groups – the sort of wholesome stuff that’s keeping whole vegetarian continents thriving – Dhal.
The staple of a good indian take away, this dish is a weekday timesaver – prepared the night before in the slow cooker, left to bubble all day, and served with your choice of rice or bread… Leftovers (which taste even better!) are to be eaten with jacket potatoes the next day.
I came late to the party where split peas are concerned. For many years they were those troublesome hard yellow things that never softened quite enough when I emptied a supermarket packet of broth mix into a soup or a stew. I spent many a year picking them out of either the packet or the meal with a spoon. But then I tried to mimic a simple dhal and I fell in love with these little yellow gems.
This is what I’ve come up with, it’s my slow cooker version after many trials and improvements experimenting with the plethora of different spice suggestions in hundreds of different recipes. Frying the garlic and spices in oil before they go in the cooker makes a big difference to the flavour, the garlic should be almost (but definitely not) burnt to give off a roasted flavour, but it is a perfectly good dish if you choose to ignore this step and just throw it in the stock with the rest of the ingredients.
Serves 6 (generously)
2tbsp virgin coconut oil (59p)
8 cloves of garlic (35p)
1 tsp fenugreek (7p)
1tsp cumin (6p)
1tbsp turmeric (20p)
300g split peas (41p)
50g red lentils (14p)
One large onion (20p)
10 curry leaves (38p)
1 stock cube (20p)
1 fresh red chilli or 1/2 tsp of chilli flakes. (8p)
1l of water
150g of spinach fresh (£1.50)
2tbsp vegan butter (6p)
This must be prepared the night before, the spilt peas will soak in the stock overnight, then cook slowly during the day. Split peas do not generally need soaking, but I’ve found that this overnight head start makes all the difference to the finished dhal.
Slice the garlic and add to a frying pan with 1 tbsp of virgin coconut oil, the turmeric and the ground cumin and fenugreek. Fry on a medium heat for up to 5 minutes until the garlic is lightly browned.
Add this to the stoneware in your slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients except the ‘butter’ and the spinach, use some of the 1l of water to rinse out the frying pan to make sure all of the oil, spices and flavour from the garlic are going into the dhal. Place the stoneware in the fridge overnight, or if your kitchen is as freezing as mine this time of year, just leave it out with a lid on in.
I recommend that this cooks on high for 6 hours or low for 8+ hours. If you have the opportunity to be around the slow cooker during the day, it is best to cook the dhal on high for 4 hours or so and then turn it to low to finish cooking ready for tea time.
Half an hour before you intend to serve it pick out the curry leaves and then wash and chop your spinach into fine ribbons and add it to the pot to wilt, while you prepare some accompaniments. In the last few minutes stir through the ‘butter’ to finish the dish.
My children lap this up, with rice or bread or quinoa, or dolloped on a jacket potato, and at just 73p per generous portion – they can have as much as they like!