Over the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of meat my family and I eat. While I could never contemplate being vegetarian, it’s very important to me that I don’t bring up my children to consider meat as a basic, ‘everyday’ kind of ingredient, but much rather a luxury ‘treat’ food. This is for a variety of reasons: to avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals through intensive farming methods; to reduce our impact on our environment; and to improve our overall health.
It hasn’t always been easy. At first it was my husband who showed the most resistance – his attitude was that a meal wasn’t a proper meal unless there was a meat component. Then there were complaints from the children when I refused to take them to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. “It’s not fair,” they’d whine. “Our friends at school get to go with their parents!”
But recently I think we may have turned a corner with both our girls. Our oldest,who started secondary school in September, has started talking about wanting to be pescatarian – inspired by her new (vegetarian) school friends – and is keen to learn to cook her own meals. And our youngest, now eight, who has always been a somewhat stubborn carnivore, actually asked for a second helping of tarka dal. Yes, you read that right. My daughter asked for more lentils. Lentils! Admittedly, she asked for “more of that meaty thing” but once I explained all the dishes on the table were vegetarian it then became clear that by ‘meaty’ she meant ‘tasty’.
My work here, people, is done.
In case you’d like to try it with your family, here’s how I make my meaty-not-meaty tarka dal. It’s a mish-mash of a couple of other recipes – one from the good folk at Riverford and another from Anjum Anand on the BBC Food website.
I like to cook up a big pot, serve half and freeze the other half for another week. Serve with chapatis or rice, and maybe one or two other curries – another favourite is a simple aubergine, spinach and paneer curry. I’ll be sure to add that recipe to the blog soon.
Tarka dal with curly kale
250g chana dal or red or yellow lentils, rinsed well
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 onion, chopped
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g curly kale, rib stalks cut out and roughly chopped
handful chopped fresh coriander leaves
lemon juice to taste
Boil the lentils in 900ml of water in a pan, skimming off any froth on the surface with a slotted spoon. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender.
Once the lentils have cooked, remove from the heat and use a whisk or fork to mash them slightly. Leave to thicken and cool.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds (and mustard seeds and chilli flakes if using) and fry for 20 seconds or so until fragrant.
Add the chopped onion and ginger and fry for 5 minutes until soft and golden.
Whizz up the tomatoes and garlic in a food processor to a rough puree. Add to the pan and stir in well.
Add the turmeric, garam masala and dried coriander and stir well to combine. Simmer over a gentle heat for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile steam or boil the curly kale for a few minutes until just it has just lost its rawness. Drain and refresh in very cold water. Drain again and squeeze out any excess liquid.
Add the cooked lentils and kale to the tarka sauce and stir it all together well, adding more water to loosen the mixture if it seems a little dry. Heat through and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Stir in the chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice and serve with rice or flat breads.