Lilly Higgins: The satisfying ritual of eating dahl

This warming Indian classic brings everyone together at the dinner table

Red lentil dhal: a delicious vegan dish

Red lentil dhal: a delicious vegan dish

 

This hearty dhal is a meal in itself but can be served with a little rice or warm naan bread for mopping up the delicious sauce.

This dish happens to be vegan too. My kids never really notice the lack of meat and are too busy scattering things on top and scooping up the gorgeous lentils.

I love interactive food where you need to squeeze citrus over, unwrap parchment paper or work a little to get the corn off the cob. Some dishes require a little work to get to the good stuff.

A huge pot of mussels are enjoyable for the ritualistic shell stacking as much as for the eating. The same goes for pistachio nuts. My three-year-old sits mesmerised with a bowl of them, eyes wide as he cracks open each shell to reveal the bright green nut hiding inside.

Years ago when I was in the college canteen, a fellow student lined up a row of mandarin oranges, several, then proceeded to peel and eat them one after the other. It was just hypnotic and my first introduction to a mono meal – eating only one thing for the entire meal.

Mindful

I don’t see how it could be good for someone to consume so much fruit in one sitting. I later saw him doing the same with pears and apples. It was pure theatre and he didn’t appear to take any notice of his surroundings except to search for a bin for the mountain of peelings he had amassed.

It’s good to be mindful about what we’re doing and live in the moment at meal times. All too often I find myself absentmindedly popping grapes in my mouth as I pass the fruit bowl or eating the croissant my daughter doesn’t want as we wander around the market.

It would taste so much better if I took the time to sit down and really enjoy it. Often the person who cooks the meal is the only one aware of what it really took to get it on the table.

I’ve started to ask my kids to stir things, crumble the feta, add a cup of peas, chop mushrooms and knead dough so they feel responsible for the supper that arrives to the table come six o’clock and they’re much more likely to eat it too.

Ingredients

380g red lentils

1.2 litres water

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1-1/2 tbsp garam masala or curry spice mix

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin coconut milk

20g coriander, roughly chopped

Salt

To serve: 2 limes, cut into wedges, seeds from 1/2 pomegranate, Nigella seeds.

Method

Rinse the lentils well in a sieve. Place in a pan with the water and cook till done. This will take 15-20 minutes. Set the lentils aside and don’t drain any water out.

Melt the coconut oil in a large heavy based pan.

Sauté the onion until just soft, add the garlic and the spices and cook for a minute or so. Add the mushy lentils in their cooking water and the tin of tomatoes. Stir well to combine. I like to add the water from the tin of coconut milk and reserve the solid white cream on top for serving.

Alternatively you can just stir it all through at this stage. Simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes and season to taste with salt. Stir through half the coriander.

Ladle into wide bowl and scatter with the remaining coriander, pomegranate arils and Nigella seeds. Serve with wedges of lime and a dollop of coconut cream.

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