Food From 4th: Giving dal a kick from Nigel Slater

Dear dal, how I love thee. Aromatic, ochre-hued, velvet-textured slush that you are. I love the sound of you. The gentle tattle-tattle of the lid as you putter away on the hob. Your scent, the
way you make the kitchen smell of home.

I love the way you are neither soup nor stew, sauce nor purée. Indeed you hold a texture all to yourself, soft, soothing, silken. A little nubbly sometimes.

You heal more rapidly than arnica. You put the world to rights even before you reach the table. Earthy and aromatic, as you simmer; the air steamy with cumin, garlic, black pepper. I don’t need to dilute you with rice as others do. To me you are enough, just as you are.

There is little that could be more nourishing, satisfying or frugal than a bowl of yellow split peas, boiled till soft enough to crush between the fingers, then stirred into slow-cooked onions
and garlic and spiked with paprika and turmeric. Of all the dried beans and lentils from which it can be made, the yellow split pea is the one that works best for me, breaking down just enough to give a texture poised between soup and mash. Others work too.

Good as the pure, classic method is, today I fire things up, adding both freshness and a teasing punch. This time, I give the earthy note of the spiced split peas a dash of homemade coriander and basil paste. The result is spoon after spoon of warming, golden dal and the occasional flash of  brilliant green herb paste. Food to comfort and hug, yes, but also to dazzle. Love indeed.

Split peas and coriander

Recipe taken from Nigel Slater’s A Year of Good Eating: The Kitchen Diaries III.

yellow split peas – 250g
a medium-sized onion
garlic – 4 cloves
groundnut or vegetable oil – 2 tablespoons
ground turmeric – 1 teaspoon
paprika – 1 teaspoon
ripe tomatoes – 500g

coriander – a handful

For the herb paste:
cashews – 80g
coriander – 50g
basil – 50g
lime juice – 5 tablespoons (2 limes)

Rinse the split peas, then cook them in deep, unsalted boiling water for about thirty minutes, till soft and tender.

Make the herb paste. Put the cashews into a dry, shallow pan and toast till golden. Tip them into the bowl of a food processor, add the coriander leaves and stalks, the basil and the lime juice and
process to a rough paste, then set aside.

While the split peas cook, peel and roughly chop the onion and peel and finely slice the garlic. Warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in a medium-sized saucepan, then add the onion and garlic and
cook over a moderate heat till deep gold and translucent.

Stir the ground turmeric and paprika into the onions, then roughly chop the tomatoes and stir them in. Let the mixture cook, over a low to moderate heat, for about fifteen minutes, then stir in the
cooked split peas and five heaped tablespoons of the herb paste. Stir in the coriander leaves. Serves 4 generously. The spare paste will keep in the fridge, covered, for three or four days.

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