Fakeaway lunch: Tarka dal

I AM GUILTY of indulging in the odd curry at lunchtime, with The Mosque Kitchen, Punjabi Junction and Desi Pakwan being my regular haunts. I was recently told by the team at BBC Kitchen Cafe that my file has me down as a 'huge meat eater', so I thought I better make a vegetarian contribution to slightly alter that perception. Tarka dal is my usual choice so here is my take on it.

A huge meat eater I am, but I am also heavy with my spice usage.  I have mentioned on here before sitting at my Nan's as a child grinding spices with a pestle and mortar, and although I have graduated to an electric spice grinder (that once masqueraded as a coffee grinder), I still get a tremendous amount of pleasure from the old-fashioned methods.  Spice grinding is a bit of an art form and it's very easy to over blend your spices when using an electric grinder, resulting in a bitter taste to your mix.  You have far more control with a pestle and mortar, so it's worth making room for one in your kitchen.  If you do use a machine, the key is to blend in short pulses and to use your sense of smell as a guide.

Ingredients (serves two):

250g dried yellow split peas or red lentils
1x small red onion, finely diced
3 cloves, garlic, sliced
Thumb-sized piece, ginger, finely chopped or grated
3 green chillis, pricked with a fork
1 red bullet chilli, chopped (optional if you want more heat)
Tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
1tsp organic tomato puree
1tbsp cumin seeds
1tbsp coriander seeds
1tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
Few sprigs of coriander, chopped
Few sprigs of Parsley chopped
Vegetable stock to cover
Sea salt


1) Cook the yellow split peas in the stock for 45-50 mins until tender. Drain in a sieve, keeping some of the stock for later and allow to cool.

2) Place a frying pan on a medium heat.  Add the whole spices for 10-12 seconds. When the aroma hits your nose, place them into your pestle and mortar or grinder and crush to a fine powder.  Add the remaining spices and set aside.

3) Sweat the onion for 5-6 mins then add the ginger, garlic, green chillis and red chilli (if using) for a further minute.  Add the tomato puree and stir for another minute.  Now add the spice mix and the tinned tomatoes.

4) Add the split peas or lentils to this mix with a pinch of salt and add a couple of ladles of the stock set aside earlier. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for around 15 mins. Be careful not to overcook or you will make it mushy and lose the texture of the peas.

5) This dish is ready to eat, but for best results, leave in the fridge overnight to develop those flavours.  Simply pop it into a takeaway dish and take it for your lunch, reheat in a microwave or a pot. Serve with some delicious bread or a microwaveable packet of rice. Tasty, healthy and simple to make!


  1. Replies
    1. Probably the only dish that could make me not order meat!


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