Dahl, dal, daal, dail

It’s well into autumn now, soon be winter, and it’s just the time for comfort food… and what better than dahl, dal, daal, dail etc.? Dahl is an Indian word for pulses such as lentils, beans, split peas etc, and the dishes made from the various different sorts of  lentils, beans, split peas etc, are many and varied.

I somehow came across a variety of dahl called toor dal; it’s an orangey yellow colour, and slightly oily (I thought it was a characteristic of the dahl, but apparently it’s added when it’s being processed… or so I’ve heard!) … and from that to a delicious recipe… just right for the middle of November:

  • 1 cup toor dahl (or  yellow split peas – toor dahl is best because it’s slightly oily)
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 pinch kalonji (nigella)
  • 1 tablespoon oil or ghee or butter (not traditional I know, but I like the flavour)
  • 2 red chillies, or one dried red chilli (or less if you don’t want it too hot)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds ( or more to taste)
  • 3 garlic cloves (more or less!)
  1. cook the dahl with the turmeric, until it’s soft – about 40 mins – strain but  keep the cooking water
  2. mash the dahl
  3. fry the garlic, kalonji, chilli and cumin very carefully until they are aromatic (if you accidentally burn them, throw them away, wipe the pan and start again
  4. add the dahl and a little cooking water, cooking very gently so it doesn’t stick to the pan
  5. add the sugar, and salt to taste
  6.  it’s ready when everything is mixed in and at the  consistency you like – it should be lovely and smooth, soft and definitely not too wet
  7. add the lemon juice before you eat it (it’s traditionally eaten cold, but it’s nice when it’s still warm)
  8. serve as a side dish to curry, or as a light meal with crusty bread or chappatis

Apparently toor dahl is also called  – and maybe more commonly called, pigeon peas… and also known as tropical green peas, gungo peas, arhar, red gram, and gandule beans.




The prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias

I have no zinnias, and I confess I can’t quite remember what they look like, although they were often in our garden at home. I have a memory of brilliant shocking pinks and deep purples and pastel mauves… but maybe I am thinking of a different flower. The reason I am even thinking about zinnias is that I’m looking at my Modern Practical Cookery – my edition was published in 1936 but I feel it may have been written earlier.

Towards the end, in a section entitled ‘Little Dinners’ are monthly suggestions for dinner parties for six guests. I think it is rather a nice idea – and as well as the menu of soup or starter, main course, dessert, then a savoury, there are also suggestions for table decorations and settings.

What can equal the prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias in mixed colours? Their bright hues are enhanced by the soft delicacy of a Chinese bowl.

That actually does sound lovely, I can just imagine it!

Here is a delightful menu for the betwixt-and-between season when the days of fresh fruit are behind us, and the time for heat-giving foods of winter is not yet come.

I wonder who wrote this? This is another reason I like old cookery books, they are so charming and often elegantly written. I don’t think I’ll ever find out, lost in the annals of Amalgamated Press who published it… but here is the ‘delightful menu‘:


cauliflower cream soup
roast chicken, bread sauce
potatoes, beans
plum jelly creams
mushroom toast

The soup is seasoned with celery seeds and paprika, there are a pair of roast chickens stuffed with breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, butter, chicken livers, seasoning and bound with an egg; the bread sauce is flavoured with onion and cloves; the plums are set in a lemon jelly, with almonds, and served with cream; the mushrooms are cooked in butter and served on rounds of toast.

PS I know my featured image isn’t a zinnia… the flowers I was thinking of aren’t even zinnias! This maybe a geranium… it is very pretty and pink and would make a lovely table decoration – in the absence of zinnias!


Baked beans and boilersmiths

I love beans, fresh and dried, and I love pulses, and most things made with them, but I am not that fond of commercially made baked beans. If I had to eat them I would, but I would never choose them, they are usually just to sweet and the sauce always seems slimy.

I came across a recipe for boilermaker baked beans which sounded interesting. I came across it among some American recipes and because I didn’t know, I thought it must be a recipe made for people working as boiler makers which I guess is very hard physical labour and anyone making boilers would be very pleased to have a hearty, tasty meal of beans…

According to Wikipedia:

A boilermaker is a trained craftsman who produces steel fabrications from plates and tubes. The name originated from craftsmen who would fabricate boilers, but they may work on projects as diverse as bridges to blast furnaces to the construction of mining equipment.[1] The trade of Boilermaker evolved from the industrial blacksmith and was known in the early 19th century as a “boilersmith”

However, when I came to investigate the recipe, looking for its origins, I discovered that a boilermaker is also – beer with a whisky chaser, or beer with a whisky in it, sometimes dropped in actually in a shot glass (which always seems silly to me even though I know it’s popular at the moment – I was once given a Jägerbomb… but that’s another story…) The shot glass of whisky dropped into a beer is called a Depth Charge, apparently. Boilermakers as a named drink dates back to the 1890’s in America (I wonder if it has a differ name and a different history in the UK? – another investigation!) miners finishing their shifts in the coal mines of Butte Montana knocked back boilermakers… which they called Sean O’Farrell’s… I am very confused by all this now…

Back to baked beans… boilermaker baked beans are made with whisky and beer – hence the name!

In the recipe I came across the instructions were the ‘throw everything in a pot and cook till done’ sort of method, the ingredients being as much of the following as you had, liked, thought you needed…

  • cooked beans
  • chopped onion
  • crispy cooked bacon broken into bits
  • chilli sauce (the recipe recommended a bottle – guess it depends on the sauce – a bottle of the one I have in my cupboard would blow the lid of the pan!)
  • dark beer
  • tomato salsa/sauce
  • whisky
  • molasses
  • made mustard
  • dark brown sugar
  • hot pepper sauce (as well as the chilli sauce? Really?)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • salt – I would definitely leave salt out – with all those sauces, bacon and mustard I think it will be more than salty enough!

It sounds very sweet to me – I think if I do make it (and i really do fancy giving it a go!) I would leave out the brown sugar and use actual chillies rather than both the chilli and hot pepper sauces. I would also just use chopped tomatoes, not salsa – but add garlic and red/green peppers for flavour…

I might make this tomorrow! I feel inspired! … if I had a Nottingham jar I could make it in that!



Barley is wonderful stuff!

The word barley is a very very old word, going back to the earliest known languages, maybe 9,000 years old, and barley itself is a grain of the grass family and it was one of the first domesticated grains of the ancient fertile crescent in western Asia and north-east Africa. Using barley has been linked with human development going back so far it is almost impossible to give a date, but certainly for more than 14,000 years!!

It would have been cooked in stews and potages, ground and made into breads and baked foods, and it was probably what gave neolithic people beer, yes, beer has been around for a very long time too. Barley was also used as feed for animals, and was turned into malt, which has so many uses! As children we were given malt extract for whatever nutrients it contains!

I love baking with barley flour, it gives such a soft, sweet bread with a wonderful almost nutty flavour. I love using pearl barley in soups and stews, particularly lamb or mutton stews,although we weren’t quite so successful with barley porridge… maybe we should have cooked it longer!


Oats and beans and barley grow,
Oats peas beans and barley grow,
Can you or I or anyone know
How oats and beans and barley grow?

First the farmer sows his seed,
Then he stands and takes his ease,
He stamps his foot and claps his hands,
And turns around to view his lands.

How does my garden grow?

We were so thrilled with how well our garden did last year; our raised beds were full of lovely vegetables, our apple trees were laden with almost too much fruit, and the japonica was equally full of lovely quinces.

We were full of optimism and anticipation for this year’s harvest… there was a very warm spell in February, we even ate our lunch in the garden. Then a bitterly cold snap; blossom withered and died, seedlings shivered, took fright and wilted. My chillis which were growing confidently inside just stopped, arrested development, and the tomato plants followed suit.

Cool spring, cool summer then torrential and unending rain, for day after day… and today, guess what, the sun shone so out into the garden we went.

The onions are going to seed so we had to pull them up… these are supposed to be Stuttgarter Giants… and the red onions have done the same.

The spinach has gone mad and bolted… but at least the beetroots are coming along

Brave little beetroot plants… these came from a seed packet which was dropped in the garden; they sprouted when the packet was soaked with rain and I rescued them, potted them up and then planted them out… well, my gardener did (ie my husband!)

The lone runner bean out of nine that were planted

The single borlotti survivor out of six… and a naughty snail

At least the nettles are doing well… lovely nettle soup!

The weeds of course are flourishing; here is the carrot… yes, out of the three rows of carrots that were sown, here is the carrot… and its companion marigold. There were two dozen marigolds planted to keep away carrot fly…

Stunted chillis… one flower

You wouldn’t know but this is a gooseberry… lots of leaves, no fruit

Japonica… but no quinces this year… which means my plans to make quince wine will come to naught

Slugs and snails ate the rhubarb leaves… and most of the stems are green… no doubt they will taste alright but not very sweet.

Tim the Christmas tree is flourishing

The herbs are going mad… this is a curry plant at the front, and flowering parsley behind. I’m not sure parsley is supposed to flower so early

Red onions… more like spring onions!

But we do have an abundance of raspberries… I picked 1 1/4pounds yesterday!