Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Karen Martini's dal

Karen Martini's divine go-to dal.

Having said that I had found my perfect breakfast dal with Sarah Wilson's recipe for lentils, I saw this one from Karen Martini in SundayLife magazine and thought I'd give it a whirl. Bit more work - onion chopping - and I adjusted the quantities freely, even though the recipe serves 4, which is the number of breakfasts I'm hoping to get out of it, if not 5.

1 tbsp olive oil (I used unrefined sesame oil)
2 brown onions, finely diced (I only bothered with 1; don't know about 'finely' diced)
3 cloves garlic (I used 2)
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped (mine was probably smaller than that)
1 green chilli, split
3 tsp cumin (2 tsp)
3 tsp coriander (2 tsp)
2 tsp turmeric (1 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (don't have any)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used paprika as, again, don't have any)
2 L vegetable stock (I used 750 ml)
350 g red lentils (I used 1 cup)
350 g can kidney beans (don't like kidney beans; used black beans)
2 tsp salt (didn't measure, just sprinkled)
3 tbsp tomato paste (I used a sachet, which yields 2 tbsp)
2 handfuls fresh coriander, chopped

In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and ginger, stirring often, for about 6 mins. Add chilli and spices and cook for 1-2 mins or until fragrant. Add stock, lentils, beans and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer soup for about 20 mins, or until lentils are tender. Stir in tomato paste.

Note Karen refers to the 'soup'. I like my dal fairly thick, and I find that most recipes I try call for more water than I like. That is why I now start with less than stipulated, and add more as the mixture cooks if needed. That's one of the reasons I like Sarah's lentils: no measurements.

The result was really pleasing. I paid attention while I was cooking and applied all my hard-won lentil skills. I added some spinach, and will probably add some peas when I cook it up for breakfast in the morning. I think the cumin slightly dominates the overall flavour, but that might be my sloppy, careless, relaxed measuring. But the tomato paste certainly contributes a sweet richness, and is a lovely addition.

Beans and lentils, rinsed and ready to go. The beans add protein and will make the dish more filling.

Weights and measures
One of the problems with presenting recipes is making a creative, intuitive process intelligible and capable of being reproduced again and again. Recipe writers, testers, copy editors and proofreaders go to great lengths to make sure each instruction works and the recipe can be proudly described as 'fail-safe'. I've written lots of blurbs and sales materials for cookbooks in which I've said things like 'guaranteed to thrill your friends and family'. Note that term: 'guaranteed'. Lots of diligent effort underpins it.

But in the act of creating a dish, many cooks don't bother with the measurements. They just know. The measurements are imposed later to create order. They don't have to be obeyed. Because - you might not have all the ingredients to hand, you might not like particular ingredients, you might have a moral objection to something, etc ad infinitum. But you can't put any of that in a cookbook or magazine or website. Imagine: olive oil (or whatever you prefer); 1 tsp cumin (unless you loathe it); 2 onions (or as many as you want to dice today). Not workable.

Spices all measured up carefully roughly and ready to go, sitting on top of Karen's recipe. She had a better stylist (Caroline Velik) than me.

Jamie Oliver started with fairly loose instructions in his early books: 1 glug of olive oil. I'm sure there would have been editorial discussions about it. His style is still very conversational and intimate, as much as possible like he's in the kitchen with you. Which is annoying or delightful, depending on your view of Jamie Oliver.

But some cooks hate looseness: they want direction and instruction. When I told my husband I was making this recipe he said, 'But you don't have any cardamom.' I felt like such a free spirit saying, 'I don't care.'

So, what do you all think about weighing and measuring and following recipes to the letter? Do you have dusty packets of bonito flakes, porcini mushrooms, star anise, saffron, cream of tartare and other exotics bought to supply the demands of a single recipe and never touched again? I do. Confess!


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