Moong dahl soup

When we were in Leiden recently, I ordered the lentil soup at Voorafentoe, expecting the worst. Actually, it was a pleasant surprise. Good consistency, not a ‘kitchen sink’ experience. The curry flavour was rounded. In particular it was interesting to see that toasted pine nuts through it worked really well. I never would have thought to do this. As the soup had coconut milk in it, even less so – I guess I restrict my use of pinenuts to Italian food, and that’s for no good reason, I would seem.

Anyway. It made me come home with thoughts of making it. I decided to on something which could be a sort of master soup base, with variations to be added from meal to meal.


  • Moong dahl
  • ginger peeled and chopped
  • garlic peeled and chopped
  • onions peeled and chopped
  • ghee
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • coconut milk
  • water
  • chili
  • Julie Sahni’s Master Curry powder, which is my steady companion. Recipe here.


Fry the onions in ghee to soften, add the ginger, garlic and fresh chilli if using and then on gentle heat, the curry powder. Fry for a minute or so and then the tomato, dhal and water go in. Bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour – that is to say, until the moong dahl is soft. Cool a little and puree.

That creates the base – refrigerate for a day to let it all develop a coordinated flavour. From then on, it’s a question of how you want to have it. Last night I added coconut milk, and served with salt and pepper on top. I didn’t want to salt the original soup as I thought it may depend on what one wanted to do with it next. But certainly salt and pepper transformed the flavour at the table.

Other thoughts: coriander leaves on top, as served in Voorafentoe. Yoghurt instead of coconut milk. I’m planning on adding swiss chard leaves, finely chopped to the next batch….And at some point I’ll try the pine nut idea too. Moong dahl is quick to cook and has a relatively mild flavour, which may favour the addition of other ingredients, letting them play a leading role, not be submerged by the lentil taste. Having said this, I don’t know what sort of lentils were used in my cafe experience, but I suspect it was the standard red lentil.


Chana dal and ras el hanout

I’ve been trying to stop being lazy about dal and try different bases from my over-used red split lentils. All the books say that you must soak these first, preferably overnight. I just cooked them straight from the packet, I think long cooking times of these sorts of dishes have the best outcomes, so I don’t want to skim on that anyway.


  • 1 cup/half a packet of chana dal, washed and picked over for foreign bits
  • perhaps 2 dessertspoons of ras el hanout, which I discuss here.
  • a couple of onions, fairly finely chopped
  • garlic, chopped
  • ginger, chopped finely
  • some chopped vegetables: I used two zucchinis, two med-large potatoes and two carrots


  • Fry the onion in the ghee until softened, add the garlic and ginger and a minute or so later, the spice mix for another minute. Keep stirring throughout.
  • Add the washed dal and four cups of water. Bring to the boil.
  • Cover and simmer vigorously for an hour or two. Check to make sure you don’t need to add more water, and to see how the softening process is going.
  • Once the dal is fairly soft, add the chopped vegetables, bring to the boil again and then lower to a simmer, covered, until vegetables are cooked to your liking.

You may wish to do as I did, which was to partially mash the dal with a potato masher before adding the vegetables. I don’t really know if that was a good idea.

Best served day two, but we enjoyed it tonight with a hot mango chutney, plain yoghurt and a simple basmati rice dish.

Meat and three veg Indian style

Begin with a pork vindaloo. Add potatoes, carrots in the form of Aloo Gajjar and green beans thus:

Green beans in Garlic Butter


  • 30g unsalted butter (I used ghee)
  • 1 teasp cumin seeds
  • about 4 cloves of garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • a little chili powder and salt to taste
  • approximately half a kg green beans, topped, tailed and chopped into about thirds


Melt the butter over low heat and gently fry the cumin seeds (as opposed to the other vegetables where the cumin is popped on high heat). Add the garlic and a minute later the beans, chili and salt. Stir and mix for a couple of minutes. Cover the pan and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Serve.

A subtle dish with the cumin being a connector to the Aloo Gajjar.

We had ‘everyday’ rice with it and a hit mango chutney. It all seemed to come together and hit the mark.



Chicken with tomatoes and garam masala

Chicken with tomatoes and garam masala

Another everyday chicken dish from Madhur Jaffrey. Love it.


  • 5 tablespoons ghee
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon
  • 6 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 2 medium onions peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 inch cube ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 medium tomatoes peeled and finely chopped (or one can)
  • 1.5 kg chicken pieces skinned (NOT breast)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • cayenne or chilli powder to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala


Heat oil in a large, wide pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Stir once and then put in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir this mixture around until the onion picks up brown specks. Now put in the tomatoes, chicken, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to mix and bring to a boil.

Cover tightly, turn heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes or until chicken is tender. Stir a few times during this cooking period. Remove cover and turn up heat to medium. Sprinkle in the garam masala and cook, stirring gently for about 5 minutes in order to reduce the liquid somewhat.

I often add diced grean beans towards the end.

I make my own chilli powder from dried chillies: much hotter than the already ground stuff you get in packets. At my local spice store in Geneva they have a range of strengths of dried chillies. The strongest are called ‘enraged’. I just haven’t been brave enough to try them yet!

Palak Paneer – Indian cheese and spinach

Palak Paneer – Indian cheese and spinach

Find the Paneer recipe here.

I just adore this dish…restaurants often use commercial cottage cheese because they can’t be bothered. Shame on them. Properly done, it is dishes like that that make one not even notice that meat isn’t about.


460g fresh spinach or 225g frozen and defrosted. Chop.
6 tbsp ghee
225g paneer sliced/cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
1” piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
can of tomatoes, chopped
1 teasp chilli powder
1 teasp coriander
half teasp turmeric
salt to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
30g butter


Blanch the spinach if fresh and then drain, reserving the water. Chop or puree, set aside. Save the liquid if frozen spinach is used and set aside.

Heat the ghee in a large pan and fry the paneer pieces until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same ghee, fry the onion and ginger for a few minutes; add the tomatoes and the spices/salt. Cover and cook for a few minutes. Add the paneer, pureed spinach and lemon juice. If the mixture is too dry add some of the spinach water. Remove from heat, mix in the butter and serve.

From Classic Indian Cuisine Rosemary Moon

Vindaloo one

One of the first Indian dishes I ever cooked was a Madhur Jaffrey vindaloo in her Indian Cookery. Some years later I discovered, in her Flavours of India, an entirely different approach to the same dish. Both are divine.

Flavours of India is a book that visits the kitchens of ‘ordinary’ household cooks in India. This vindaloo is attributed to Jude Sequeira.

Note: preparations for this dish start 48 hours before it’s to be eaten.


  • 1kg boneless pork cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1.5 teasp salt
  • 6 tblsps red wine vinegar
  • 4-10 dried hot red chillies
  • 1 tblsp bright red paprika
  • 1/2 teasp cumin seeds
  • 3″ cinnamon stick broken up into smaller pieces
  • 10-15 cloves
  • 1/2 teasp black peppercorns
  • 5-6 cardamom pods
  • 10-12 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1″ piece of ginger peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teasp tumeric
  • 3 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 3 medium sized onions (250g) peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 fresh hot green chillies sliced lengthways in half
  • 1 teasp sugar


The day before cooking, sprinkle the pork with 1 teasp of the salt. Add 3 tblsp vinegar, rub in well and set aside for 2-3 hours.

Make the spice paste: combine the whole spices and grind in a spice grinder. Add the ground spices. Put the garlic and ginger in a blender with 2 tblsp of the vinegar. Blend, add the dry spices and blend to mix.

Rub half of the paste into the pork, cover and refrigerate the pork overnight. Also cover and refrigerate the remaining paste.

Next day.

  • Heat the oil in a wide, preferably non-stick pan over medium-high heat.
  • When hot, put in the 3-4 garlic cloves. Stir and fry until they begin to pick up a little colour.
  • Put in the onions and continue to fry until browned.
  • Now add the tomatoes and 3 of the green chillies. Stir for a minute.
  • Add the remaining spice paste, the sugar and the remaining 1 tblsp vinegar. Stir and fry until the paste begins to brown a little.
  • Now add the marinated meat and all the spice paste clinging to it. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the pork begins to exude its own liquid.
  • Add 300 ml/1 1/4 cups water and the remaining salt and bring to a boil.
  • Cover, turn heat to low and simmer gently until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 40 minutes.
  • If necessary, raise the heat to reduce the sauce to a medium consistency towards the end. Add the remaining 3 green chillies and stir once.

Serve with rice. I cook this the day before eating, as it is so much better left to sit.

Comments: I use pork neck for this, it’s a wonderful cut for long cooking times. I suspect that I’ve most recently bought red wine vinegar that isn’t acidic enough for this dish – I’m inclined to favour rough as guts for vindaloo. We shall see. I will be using fresh red chillies, not green, as that’s what’s in the fridge. I will use tinned tomatoes. I imagine a standard tin would equal two large tomatoes. I ignore the 40 minute cooking suggestion, you’ll know when it’s done to your taste.

This is for Saturday night. Counting down, 46 hours to go.


Carrot soup

I’m not going to give this the hard sell. Frankly, the only reason I eat cooked carrots at all is so that I can tick the ‘adult’ box on the internet. Don’t try that at home, children under the age of fifty.

But let’s say you are trying for a more orange coloured skin and you’re sick of all the ways you’ve been eating too much carrot. You could try this.

Ingredients for 4 serves or so as a meal

  • 6 carrots peeled and diced
  • 1 potato peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion peeled and chopped
  • one inch cube fresh ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • one clove garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • butter or, even better ghee if you have it to hand
  • 1 tblesp cumin seeds
  • 2 teasp ground dhanna jeera mix* coriander-cumin mix, 60% coriander 40% cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • tabasco
  • water

plain yoghurt for serving
toast for serving and table butter

*theoretically, mixing these and leaving to sit changes the taste compared with simply grinding and mixing on the day. I have some sitting in the cupboard, so in it went.


  • In a pot fry the onions in the butter, gently, until softened somewhat.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and keep stirring for a minute or so. DON’T burn!
  • Add dry spices and be on high alert for signs of burning activity.
  • Add the diced vegetables, mix, add perhaps a litre of water. Bring to boil and simmer until vegetables are soft.
  • Take off the heat and puree.
  • Back on the heat season with the salt and pepper and tabasco.
  • Add water to make it the preferred thickness. I like these soups to be thinner than most people. I don’t want them to be sludge.

Needless to say, you could change this many ways. For a start, if you love carrot more than I do you might leave out the potato. Fresh chili instead of tabasco, though I thought that the tabasco added a little depth. I was wondering about adding a dash of soy or worcestershire, but didn’t. Maybe with the leftovers. A lot of Indian spices would have done. Mustard seeds at the end? Perhaps with fried onions? Fresh coriander and lemon. Coconut milk?

Having tried it with and without yoghurt, we voted for the latter. Expectation: that the leftovers are bound to be better when they are wheeled out for lunch tomorrow.

Verdict? Definitely worth a guernsey in the ‘how are we going to cook the damn things today?’ list.