Monthly Archives: February 2012

Yellow Pea Dahl

Yellow Pea Dahl

I went through a long phase where I was cooking and eating a lot of Indian food, so much so that I’m pretty sure I was one of those people who perpetually smelled like a curry house. Indian is one of my favourite cuisines and I feel like I’m at a point where I have a good repertoire of techniques and go-to recipes that work every time (red lentil dal with panch phoran, besan cheelas, cucumber and coconut salad to name a few).

But then suddenly the phase stopped. The recipes got old. I got bored. Then, a few weeks ago, my recent weekend with Urvashi Roe rejuvenated my appetite for Indian with a slew of new flavour sensations gained largely at her breakfast table and at the buffet at Sakonis. I’ve been heavily experimenting with new Indian recipes ever since.

Once such recipe is this Yellow Pea Dahl from the Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth. Though not Indian herself, Rachel’s traveled the globe, learned from the best and has been passing on her knowledge of Indian cookery (amongst other cusines) at her Vegetarian Cookery School for years.

This dahl caught my eye for its lack of tomatoes and inclusion of tamarind, a tart, sour fruit. The only substitution I made was to use channa dal rather than yellow split peas. This was such a refreshing change from my usual dal, with the lemony tang of the tamarind giving this a fresh edge. It’s also a cinch to throw together and does really well with a bit of spinach added to the mix. Give me this and with some raita, spicy pickles and warm chapatti, and I’m a happy camper.

I think this may even become my new breakfast “porridge”, but I’ll save my current savoury breakfast phase for another post.

Yellow Pea Dahl
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4

With a bit of tang from the tamarind, this dahl is a total surprise. It’s a fresh, light dahl, that works as well for breakfast as it does for lunch or dinner. Channa dal works a charm in place of the yellow split peas, and I suspect red lentils would be pretty good too. Reprinted with permission from Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth.
  • 150g yellow split peas
  • 6 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 600ml water
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tbsps sunflower oil or ghee
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 6 curry leaves
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch asafoetida
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste, diluted with 2 tsps water
  • 1 tsp jaggery or brown sugar
  • small handful fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Soak the yellow split peas in water for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse.
  2. Simmer the yellow split peas and shallots in the water until cooked, approximately 25 minutes, adding more water if needed.
  3. Add the salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Mix well, take off the heat and set aside.
  4. Heat the sunflower oil or ghee in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the curry leaves, cumin and asafoetida, stir and remove from the heat.
  5. Add the tamarind and jaggery to the seasoned oil, return to the heat and cook until thick and bubbly.
  6. Heat the split pea mixture. Pour the seasoned oil over the split peas and stir in.
  7. Serve hot, garnished with fresh coriander.

Nutrition Information
Calories: 186 Fat: 2.9 Saturated fat: 0.3 Carbohydrates: 31.3 Sugar: 4.5 Fiber: 6.0 Protein: 9.7 Cholesterol: 31.3

Besan Cheela: Indian Chickpea Pancake

Indian chickpea flour pancakes

Today is Pancake Day, and last week I marked the occasion on Great British Chefs with an article about my favourite savoury pancakes. In writing that post I re-discovered one of my old favourites, the Besan Cheela.

Fellow fans of Indian food may know that “Besan” is the Hindi / Northern Indian word for chickpea flour, and a “Besan Cheela” is a very simple savoury chickpea flour pancake that’s the perfect delivery device for chutney, pickles and yogurt.

You can make these pancakes simply with salt, water and chickpea flour, but I like to spice it up: a bit of chilli powder and fresh coriander goes a long way. But you can go even father with Urvashi Roe’s (The Botanical Baker‘s) spice blend of ajowan seed, turmeric, cumin, coriander and fresh ginger and garlic. I’ve also enjoyed these with a bit of sauteed onion and peas in the mix.

Indian chickpea flour pancakes

You can eat a Besan Cheela all proper-like with a knife and fork, but I like to use my hands, ripping off pieces of the pancake to dip in mint chutney, or wrapping it in cabbage salad or lentils and eating it like a taco. I’ve also been known to adapt a Besan Cheela into a vegan omelet. And why not? The Besan Cheela is inherently vegan and gluten-free, so makes a great pancake (or omelet!) option for people who don’t eat wheat or dairy (neither of which I am, but it’s good to be aware of these things for the people who are!).

On that note, I’ve recently been trying to eat more savoury breakfasts lately and the Besan Cheela is a total win. Yes – Indian food for breakfast rocks. Cheela with lime pickle is a great way to start the day. Who’s with me?

Before I adjourn to the Besan Cheela recipe, here are a few other pancake (or pancake-ish) recipes for Pancake Day that you might enjoy:

Indian chickpea flour pancakes

Besan Cheela

Inspired by‘s basic Besan Cheela recipe and Urvashi Roe’s spice blend. I also really like these with sauteed onion and peas added to the mix. Serve with fresh yogurt and


  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp each salt and chilli
  • 1 tsp each ground cumin and coriander (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp each ajowan seed and turmeric (optional)
  • ~1tsp each grated fresh ginger and garlic (optional)
  • Fresh coriander leaves


  1. Whisk all of the ingredients together into a batter, adding a bit more water to get a consistency that will spread out in the pan (it might take a few pancakes to get this right).
  2. Heat a nonstick pan on medium and smear it with a little ghee or oil. Ladle some batter into the pan (I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup for this) and swirl it swiftly to get a pancake (if it doesn’t swirl easily, you you need to add a bit more water to the batter).
  3. Cook the pancake on one side until it’s almost completely dry on top and golden on the bottom (you may have to adjust the heat to keep it from burning). Flip the pancake and cook until the other side is golden, too.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: About 8 pancakes

Per pancake: 94 Calories | 1.6 grams Fat | 15.6 grams Carbohydrates | 4.9 grams Protein | 4.4 grams Fiber

Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

If you know me at all then you I’m a bit of a kale addict.

Raw kale salad features prominently on my lunch menus. My usual approach is simple: finely chopped raw curly kale tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes I add orange wedges, red chilli and sunflower seeds. Other times I add red onion and carrots. Sometimes I add boiled eggs, beans, tofu, tempeh, or bulgar wheat.

This weekend I discovered that Tuscan Kale, aka ‘Cavolo Nero’, is also great in raw salads. A family friend sent this recipe, which sounds like a weird melange of ingredients: Tuscan kale, brussels sprouts, pecorino and almonds in a lemon vinaigrette. Does this really go together?

It does. You’ll just have to trust me and try it. The key is to shred the kale and sprouts very finely. I use my hands to really rub the dressing into the leaves and then give it a half hour to soak in. You could skip the cheese and make it vegan, but I don’t think it would be as good (sometimes those are the breaks!).

Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

If you’ve never had raw kale salad before, this is a pretty good place to start. I suspect it would work well with curly kale, too, or cabbage in place of the brussels sprouts. Ah but that is the beauty of salads, isn’t it? Endless adaptation. Anyone who thinks salad is just a big pile of leaves is just wrong!

Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Adapted from a recipe from a family friend. Made with Tuscan “cavolo nero” kale.


  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan kale / cavolo nero (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely sliced or shredded
  • 1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino, Parmesan, Grano Padano or other hard Italian cheese


  1. Make the dressing: Combine olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to blend then set aside to let the flavours meld.
  2. Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown.
  3. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Toss with the salad dressing (add as much dressing to suit your tastes – you may not need it all). Use your hands if you like to really rub the dressing into the leaves. Toss in the cheese and, if you’re patient, put the salad in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to marinade a bit. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Serve garnished with toasted almonds.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Per serving: 195 Calories | 15.3 grams Fat | 8.7 grams Carbohydrates | 8.1 grams Protein | 3.3 grams Fiber

Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Celeriac Soup with Parsley Walnut Pesto

Celeriac Soup with Parsley Walnut Pesto

I would probably have nothing to do with celeriac if it weren’t for the organic box. But last week, it arrived, and I kept it right at the very front of my fridge so I’d be forced to remember its existence and actually do something with it.

I made this soup because it was dead simple and cream-free (nothing against cream, but I just don’t like to eat a bowl full of cream for lunch because it makes me feel like, well, a bowl full of cream). And having made this soup, I can now safely confirm that I am a mega huge celeriac fan – this soup was freakishly good.

Leek, celeriac, celery, onion and potato get sauteed in a bit of butter (or oil for vegans), then boiled in stock, then blitzed – pretty basic, but so beyond special. I do think the Vitamix had a role to play in its amazingness – the super-power blender pureed the boiled vegetables into the silkiest soup ever – it definitely didn’t need cream.

Celeriac Soup with Parsley Walnut Pesto

The parsley pesto is also a win – delicious, vegan and quite useful beyond the soup. Today I mixed it with some cooked pearl barley to use in some stuffed portobello mushrooms – dinner was ready in 20 minutes. And with a stash of celeriac soup in the freezer, I’m totally all set for quick meals of amazement, particularly lunch, which doesn’t usually lend itself to full-scale cookathons.

Celeriac Soup with Parsley Walnut Pesto

Adapted from River Cottage’s recipes for celeriac soup and parsley walnut pesto. The soup is pretty darn good on its own, but the pesto certainly makes it extra special.


For the soup:

  • 25g Butter (or oil for vegans!)
  • 1 Celeriac, peeled and cubed
  • 1 Potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 Leek, trimmed, washed and roughly sliced
  • 1 Onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 Garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 litre vegetable stock

For the parsley pesto:

  • 100g walnuts, toasted
  • 1 fat garlic clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 50g flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • About 150ml good olive oil (or extra-virgin rapeseed oil)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the pesto:

Put the walnuts and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped – but still with some granular texture. Add the cheese and process again briefly. Add the parsley and blitz again to chop the leaves, then begin trickling in the oil, while the processor runs. Stop when you have a sloppy purée. Taste, season as necessary with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Store in the fridge – if you completely cover the surface of the pesto with oil so all air is excluded, it should keep for a couple of weeks.

For the soup:

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based pot over a medium-low heat. Add the celeriac, leek, potato, garlic and onion, season generously, and gently sweat the vegetables until they’re all starting to soften (this will take about 10 minutes).

Add the stock, bring the soup up to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the celeriac is completely tender. Liquidise until smooth, return to the pan and reheat over a medium flame. Just before serving, check the soup for seasoning and serve with a drizzle of pesto.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving of soup (not including pesto: 198 Calories | 6 grams Fat | 33.1 grams Carbohydrates | 5.5 grams Protein | 6.6 grams Fiber

My Weekend with the Botanical Baker


Last weekend reminded me what being a foodie is all about.

I spent Saturday and Sunday with Urvashi Roe, who some of you might know from the Great British Bake Off. Urvashi also has a blog, The Botanical Baker, where she writes about all things food, including baking, restaurants and dishes from her Gujerati heritage.

On Saturday, Urvashi hosted a pop-up “Afternoon Tea” with Pipe Dream UK at Maze Inn in North London. When Urvashi invited me to come along to photograph and partake of the food, I jumped at the chance.

Orange polenta cake with warm cardamom drizzle. @botanicalbaker style.

The theme was citrus and all of the dishes – both sweet and savoury – included some element of lemon, lime or orange. I knew Urvashi was a good cook, but the inventive menu revealed that Urvashi’s skills go way beyond “Great British Baking”:

  • Lemon Rolls with Grilled Halloumi and Rocket in Womersley Dressing
  • Rye and Caraway Bruschetta with Lime Guacamole
  • Orange Polenta Cake with Warm Cardamom Drizzle
  • Lime Fizz Cupcake, Lemon Meringue Tart, Citrus Macaroons

The lemon rolls were a total surprise – I don’t think I’ve ever had bread infused with citrus, and I was surprised by how well it went with the halloumi. But I absolutely adored the rye and caraway bread with guacamole.

Rye and Caraway Bruschetta with Lime Guacamole

I’m definitely going to try making the caraway rye bread at home. And I can do that because Urvashi is awesome: included with the tea were little booklets containing recipes for all of the dishes. I love chefs who actually share the whole process of how food comes together – to me, half the joy of eating is knowing where the food comes from and how it was made.

Recipe Booklet

As this was “afternoon tea”, each course was paired with tea from Comins Tea House – a recent discovery of mine after receiving some of their tea and china as a Christmas present. I never liked Darjeeling tea until I tried theirs. (It also helps that they have fantastic customer service and a very friendly Twitter presence.)

White tea and macaroons

The Last Course

The pop-up was epic, but Sunday brought this foodie weekend to a whole new level. When I first met Urvashi at the Foodie Bugle lunch last year, we spoke at length of her Gujarati heritage and our mutual love of Indian food. So on Sunday, Urvashi introduced me to the cuisine of Gujarat and, as I kept repeating to her throughout the day, I was totally in my bliss.

It began with breakfast. Urvashi made patra, a Gujarati snack made with chickpea flour rolled in taro leaf with spices, then sliced and fried. We also had puri, an Indian flatbread, with a sweet lemon pickle. The combination was like having a love affair in breakfast form. I will take any excuse I can to eat that pickle again.

Yum: Gor Lemon Pickle

Later, Urvashi took me to Sakonis in Wembley for their lunch buffet, which is basically the Indian buffet to end all Indian buffets as far as I’m concerned. Not only is it fantastically EPIC, but the dishes are fresh and entirely vegetarian. Better still, I discovered a few new dishes to add my forever-growing list of Indian favourites.

Lunching with @botanicalbaker. Spectacular Indian buffet.

First was Dahi Wada, spiced lentil balls in a yogurt sauce, and Bhel Puri, a puffed rice dish with chickpeas, both popular North Indian street foods (aka chaat).

Dahi Wada and Bhel Puri

I also loved the simple Khadi, a spicy soup made with chickpea flour and sour yogurt which I wouldn’t my trying at home. Same goes for the Sambharo, a very simple Gujarati-style cabbage salad with carrot and chilli – a cabbage lover’s wet dream. The urid dal also grabbed me – a nice, hearty change from the red lentil and toor dals I’m used to:

Urid Dal

The day culminated with a trip to VB & Sons Indian supermarket, where I went a little crazy. I stocked up on spices and urid dal, then hit the help-your-self pickle station hardcore.


Add to that some fresh curry leaves and a big bag of almonds for almond butter, I took home an impressive amount of goodies for only £13.91. And now I’m well-poised to try recreating some of these delicious dishes at home.

We finished the afternoon with a drive-by Neasdon Temple on the way to Paddington, where my weekend with Urvashi came to an end. But there are plenty of reasons to go back. I’d love to introduce my family – Indian buffet aficionados – to Sakonis. (Says my dad: “Indian food is the closest I’ve ever been to heaven”, and that’s saying a lot given he used to be a Catholic priest.) Also, a proper visit to Neasdon Temple has been on my hit-list for years.

Temples and food extravaganzas aside, Urvashi and her family are some of the most generous, well-natured people I’ve ever met – a joy to be around and really fun to hang out with.


Thanks is in order to Urvashi for showing me a fabulous weekend. Like I said, this is what being a foodie is all about: meeting like-minded people, learning new things, enjoying delicious food and most importantly, sharing it with others over good conversation (and maybe a bit of Prosecco and Sloe gin).

I’m really loving my foodie life at the moment.

Check out Urvashi’s The Botanical Baker to see some of her wonderful stories and recipes, including this dhal which I can’t wait to try with my urid.

Flickr Photoset: My Weekend with the Botanical Baker

Sprouted Mung Beans

Mung Bean Sprouts

I recently heard about a web meme called the 52 Week Salad Challenge. The basic idea is that everyone who participates must grow or forage some salad stuff to eat every week of the year.

Well, anyone who reads SmarterFitter Daily knows that I love salads. Furthermore, I could use some encouragement in the gardening department. Last year’s garden wasn’t my best effort – I bit off more than I could chew. This year, I’m taking it one step at a time. That is, I’m not going to let myself grow anything until I’ve proved that I can keep my current set of plants alive.

I know I’m a couple weeks late with this salad challenge, but better late than never. I begin the challenge with something easy: mung bean sprouts. I’ve had a hankering for these ever since the start of Chinese New Year (I want to make egg fu yung) but these sprouts, especially when young, are delicious raw in salads. And they’re pretty brainless to grow:

  1. Take a container (a jar or a bowl works) and put in some mung beans, leaving at least enough space for the beans to quadruple in size (which they will di as they sprout)
  2. Fill the container with water and let the beans soak overnight
  3. Drain the soaked beans and rinse them
  4. Repeat the rinsing and draining process every 8-12 overs
  5. In a few days you will have sprouts!

(For more comprehensive instructions, read this: How to Sprout Mung Beans.)

Mung bean sprouts - they live!

But what of the salad? Sprouted mung beans have a very earthy flavour and take well to something with a bit of sweetness. So I put my honey mustard dressing to use and took some inspiration from this recipe for carrot and fennel salad.

Mung Beans Sprout Salad with Carrots and Fennel

My salad today was essentially:

  • 1 juilenned carrots
  • 1/2 fennel bulb finely sliced
  • 1 cup mung beans
  • a small handful each of coriander, chives, and basil, finely chopped (also from my “kitchen garden”)
  • ~1 Tbsp currants, soaked in boiling water for about 10 minutes
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey mustard dressing
  • salt & pepper

Toss it all up together and that was lunch (with a bit of mackerel on the side – a nice partner for this salad).

This salad was pretty good but I’m looking forward to toying with some other variations. I want to try a raw version of Ottolenghi’s Carrot and Mung Bean Salad. And this carrot and mung bean salad with coconut and indian spices also appeals.

Misk Cooks is also sprouting mung beans and made a beautiful salad of cubed mango, dried diced Bing cherries, parsley, basil, jalapeño, and sprouted mung beans, all tossed in a light dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and… whoa… fizzy lemonade!

Misk may say I inspired her to sprout mung beans, but SHE’S inspired ME to start growing herbs again in my kitchen. So perhaps that will be my next post for the 52 Week Salad Challenge. That is, if they’re still alive by then.

Mung Bean Sprouts