Chard and Potato Dhal

Dhal is one of the weekly features on our table, it is a wonderful thing to make and even more lovely to  eat. The pungent smells of spices frying with garlic and onion permeate the house with delight. Each ingredient is added, building to become a layered feast of fragrance, taste and texture. It is the simplest of dishes, from humble origins, it can take centre stage or be a delicious accompaniment. It has become the king of choice for me when cooking Indian food. In its basic form it is a preparation of lentils or pulses. I usually make mine with red lentils and sometimes add other ingredients to my basic recipe. This week I decided to use chard and potato.

My recipe has developed over a number of years and is very different from traditional dhal, which is often quite plain in flavour, this is anything but. Spices can be very overpowering and getting the right balance is rather tricky, I like using a combination of whole and ground spices. Below are the quantities for this recipe but you can always increase the quantities and make up a batch for future use. Adjust the spices for your preference. I also love quite a bit of heat so also adjust the chilli element to your taste. Dhal is always better the day after it's made, when the flavours have been allowed to settle and develop. It's rare that we are able to stay away from the pot for too long, but there's usually a bit left over to be enjoyed the next day! Serve piping hot with yoghurt and naan bread.

(serves 4)

1 onion, sliced into quarters
an inch of ginger, thinly sliced into tiny matchsticks
1 hot red chilli, thinly sliced
1 potato, cut fairly chunky
4 or 5 big leaves of chard
2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lemon
small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
half a cup red lentils
2 tsp or a cube of vegetable stock
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 cardamon pods, seeds removed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
olive oil
salt and pepper

Grind up whole spices using a pestel and mortar. Chop stems of the chard into small pieces and cut the leaves up loosely. Put onion, garlic, ginger and chilli with some olive oil into a heavy bottomed pot. Gently saute on a medium heat until soft. Add all the spices (whole and ground), stirring frequently, allow to fry and brown until you can smell their aroma. Reduce heat slightly, add chard stems and potatoes, fry for a few more minutes. Wash lentils and add to the pot. Mix. Cover with water, add stock, juice of half the lemon, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Bring to the boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are just tender and not falling apart. Add tomato paste and chard leaves. Add more lemon if you think it needs a bit more acidity. Simmer until cooked and sauce has thickened. Keep stirring to avoid sticking. Finally add fresh coriander before serving.

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! So Good!!!!

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