This was one of the earliest vegetarian recipes I can remember cooking, and it’s stuck around for a while. I found it on Susan Voisin’s Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen, the first food blog I had ever encountered, and was in awe of the encyclopaedia of knowledge I had at my fingertips. That was about five or so years ago now, and this recipe is always a fallback.
A ‘what-to-cook-when-you-don’t-know-what-to-cook’ kind of thing.
Dhal is an Indian recipe made with lentils. It can be as simple or as complex as you like, but either way it’s quick, nutritious and cheap. Lentils are classified as a legume, and there are a number of varieties to choose from. Dhal usually uses red lentils, which are a type that breaks down when cooking, giving a soup-y consistency. Other varieties include black, puy and green. These varieties hold their shape much better, and are more useful in salad based recipes. Lentils are a nutritionist’s dream: they are high in dietary fibre and also vitamins and minerals such as folate and potassium – and because they are so nutrient dense, the dietary guidelines consider a serve of legumes to be interchangeable with a serve of vegetables also. Pretty sweet!
For those of us who don’t eat meat, lentils also provide an important protein source. In general, plant sources of protein are incomplete (with the exception of quinoa and soy), which means that they do not contain a complete amino acid profile. To get the full benefit of legumes, make sure you eat a variety of plant-based foods. For example, eat your dhal with rice or your beans with bread. This ensures that you are getting all the amino acids your body requires.
Back to the food. This particular dhal recipe is a stand out because of one ingredient in particular: Panch Poran (also known as Bengali Five-Spice). It really does make it spectacular. You won’t find it in any old supermarket though, I got mine from a speciality Indian grocer. If you happen to have the individuals spices on hand though, make it yourself! Panch Poran is made up of fenugreek, mustard, cumin, nigella and fennel seeds, in an equal ratio. I believe that I have made this recipe once before without the Panch Poran, and it was still good, just not as good. If you are feeling really lazy then I guess you can skip it, but hey- your loss. At the very least you want your garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin seeds for flavour.
Cauliflower Dhal with Panch Poran
Recipe courtesy of Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen.
1 x TBS olive oil
1 x large brown onion, finely chopped
3 x cloves garlic finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 x small red chilli, finely chopped
1 x TBS Panch Poran
1 x tsp turmeric
1 x cup red lentils
1 x tin crushed tomatoes
4 x cups water
1/2 x head cauliflower florets
1 x tsp salt
lemon juice and coriander
- Heat oil in a large saucepan
- Add onions and cook for five minutes until softened, then add garlic, chilli and ginger and cook for a further minute
- Add the Panch Poran and cook until you hear the seeds start to pop, about a minute
- Then add turmeric, lentils, tomatoes and water and give it a good stir.
- Leave to simmer for 20 minutes
- Then add cauliflower florets and cook for a further 20 minutes.
- By this stage the cauliflower should be tender and the lentils should be broken down, add salt to taste.
- Serve with brown rice, fresh coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice.