Tuesday 6 June 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Not quite Mr Julian's Dhal

There are a thousand recipes for dhal.  I like dhal.  For me, it's an ideal comfort food: tasty, filling, healthy/nutritious, cheap and kind to my irritable-bowel-syndrome-gallbladder-free-long-suffering gut.  

To me, the smell of yellow dhal cooking is the smell of the Middle East.   In 2012, when we were visiting Oman, we dropped in on my brother-in-law for lunch and "Mr Julian", the chef in the officers' mess fed us yellow dhal and roti for lunch.  It's what BIL and his colleagues ate every day.  I begged "Mr Julian" for his recipe, which he kindly and bemusedly wrote down for me.    He seemed quite taken aback that I would want something that simple but we explained that it was something most Brits didn't know how to cook.  (Incidentally, I am using parentheses because I'm fairly certain that "Mr Julian" isn't his real name, but instead is an anglicanisation.  I think he was Bangladeshi.)

When I got back to the UK, I attempted to make Mr Julian's Dhal.  The first stumbling block was that he'd written "curry powder" on the spice list, which left me mystified until BIL explained it was Garam Marsala.  (I don't use commercial curry powder and didn't have a clue what blends are available in Oman.) Once that mystery was solved, I made a couple of batches then added the recipe to that precious pile of paper and plastic where all loose recipes ended up, on the corner of the bookcase in the old, pre-renovated kitchen. 

 A few months ago, I thought I'd have another go.  I really fancied eating dhal for lunch.  Sadly, I hunted high and low and couldn't find the precious slip of paper with the recipe.  I went through the cookbooks; it wasn't tucked inside.  I tried a couple of recipes from the Curry Club cookbooks but they weren't the same (one required so many whole peppercorns that even my spice tolerant stomach complained).  In the end, I resorted to the recipe that was on the back of the Natco Chana Dal packet, adding garam marsala and veg at salient points and hoping for an approximation of Mr Julian's Dhal.  I remember his boiled the dhal with turmeric and a tablespoon of garam marsala, but I can't remember what other spices he used, if any.  This, though, was nearly as good and I made a pot of it for my lunches for work this week:-

(Almost) Mr Julian's Dhal

Makes 7 portions.  Total cost £1.97, assuming 5p for the cost of the bulk-bought spices



300g yellow split peas/Chana dhal. (67.5p)

1tsp turmeric

1tblsp garam marsala

1/2 tsp salt

Boiling water


The Tarka

1 tbsp. oil (3p)

1 onion sliced (12p)

100-150g mushrooms, sliced (25p)

1 large clove garlic, crushed (5p)

1 tsp ground chilli 

2 cups frozen mixed veg (30p)

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes (25p)

Optional:  A handful of fresh spinach leaves or leftover rocket from a bag of salad leaves. (25p)

Optional:  a tblsp or so of fresh coriander leaves, chopped 


The Rice

1.5 cups basmati rice (12p)

3 cups boiling water




1.       Pour the dhal into a sieve and rinse well in fresh water.  It doesn't need soaking..

2.       Boil the kettle.  Meanwhile, measure the dhal in a jug, make a note of the volume measurement and pour into a saucepan.  Add twice as much boiling water.  (The packet said to use 1 litre of water for 300g of dhal but that took considerable simmering to be absorbed..)

3.       Stir in the turmeric, salt and the garam marsala, bring back to the boil and simmer until the dhal is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Stir regularly.   The dhal will be cooked after 20-25 minutes but it takes a while until the liquid is almost gone.  (Note:  when it reaches the point where it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, that’s when it’s ready.)

4.       Meanwhile, make your Tarka:

a.       Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until soft. 

b.      Add the mushrooms and continue frying until most of the water they make has evaporated.  Then stir in the crushed garlic.

c.       Have your frozen mixed veg ready on the side.    Sprinkle the chilli over the contents of your frying pan and stir fry until the aroma rises.  Stir in the frozen veg and fry until all their water has evaporated.

d.      Add the tomatoes and fry until most of their liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the spinach and coriander if using and cook until wilted.  Switch off until the dhal is ready.

5.       To make the rice using the absorption method:-

a.       Boil the kettle again.

b.      Measure out your rice and put in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

c.       Cover with twice as much boiling water.

d.      Bring back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes.  (Use a timer.)

e.      Switch off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with its lid and leave to sit for at least 12 minutes.

f.        It is now ready to serve.

6.       When your dhal is ready, stir in the tarka.  Taste and season as necessary.  Serve over rice.



  • As you can see from the photo, this is great for lunch boxes for work.  It freezes well.  Defrost and then zap for 2 minutes in the microwave or until piping hot.
  • Instead of using frozen mixed veg, you can use any leftover cooked vegetables you have to hand.  This works well with grilled peppers or roasted mix veg (e.g. Sliced onions, mushrooms, peppers, courgettes tossed in oil and herbs and roasted for half an hour or so in a hot oven).