I was driving to a yoga class the other day when I heard on the radio the Britain had major flood alerts all over the country and I had the idle thought: Gee some floods would be nice. While I’m not really yearning to be flooded out of my home, if I had to pick a natural disaster I’d probably choose floods over fire. Last year, the floods gave our desperately depleted Murray–Darling river system a last minute reprieve from almost certain death. It seems unbelievable now that in March 2012, vast areas of inland Australia were in full flood and my brother and his family were evacuated from their home in central Wagga Wagga. This year it’s fires and it is also shaping up to be a massive cicacada season (apparently Australian cicadas are the noisiest in the world – their din in rural areas at the moment is almost deafening) so we are going to have bit of a locust plague of sorts when they all take flight. What to do when you are facing down plagues of biblical proportions? You make dahl for dinner of course! Seriously, the world would be a better place if we ate more dahl: it’s a cheap sustainable source of protein and if the entire first world population ate dahl for dinner once or twice a week, it might have a serious impact on our carbon footprint.
But regardless of your views on a dahl eating, carbon reducing future, if you are a vegetarian or just want to include more vegetarian food in your diet, a good dahl is an essential part of your repertoire. This dahl from Trinidad uses the yellow split peas, which are not used in mainland India but are quite commonly used in the cooking of the Indian diaspora on islands like Trinidad and Fiji. In the days before a variety of dahls were available in our shops, these yellow split peas and red lentils (masoor dahl) were the only option if you wanted to make dahl and these mellow, sweet tasting yellow split peas remind me of those old fashioned hippy dahls of the Moosewood era. It has such a short, easily accessible ingredient list that you can be in a wild, wild west, back-of-Bourke town and still rustle up the ingredients for this dahl from a tiny one-horse town supermarket.
The use of parsley, thyme and chives as aromatics give this dahl an unusual flavour profile, so while it can be eaten Indian style with rice, chapatis, relish and yoghurt, it can also be matched with more Middle Eastern, Mediterranean or South American style meals and accompaniments. The hot sauce is similarly versatile, quick and easy to make it keeps in the refrigerator for months and is great with falafel, refried beans or pretty much anything that you need a bit of hot sauce for. When I made the pepper sauce this time, I also threw in a lump of palm sugar as I was cooking it and the slight sweetness turned it into something positively addictive. How can you go wrong with a hot sauce that is so quick and easy to make – you know everything that goes into it and keeps in the refrigerator for months, so you keep it on hand as a staple accompaniment, just as they do in Trinidad where they eat pepper sauce with everything.
Trinidadian dahl – Yellow split peas with thyme and cumin
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
Serves 4–6 people
- 285 grams (10 oz) yellow split peas, picked over
- ½ teaspoon tumeric
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1–2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh chives
- 1–2 tablespoons very finely chopped parsely
- 1–3 teaspoons of very finely chopped fresh green or red chillies
- 1 teaspoon of finely chopped thyme or 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1¼ teaspoon of salt
- 3 tablespoons of light olive oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp
- Place split peas and 1.2 litres (2 pints) water in a medium size heavy base saucepan, bring to a boil, skim off froth and add tumeric. Lower heat, partially cover pan and simmer gently for 35 minutes.
- Add onion, chives, parsley, thyme, chillies and salt and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary until split peas are tender.
- Remove saucepan from heat then heat oil in a small frypan over medium heat. Throw cumin seeds into oil, let sizzle for a few seconds then add garlic. Stir through for a few seconds until garlic just begins to colour. Pour oil and seasoning over spit peas, stir through.
- This dahl will thicken quickly so if you are reheating it later you will need to add some more water to thin it. You can also serve it with flat breads as a kind of dip, place in shallow bowl when it has cooled slightly, drizzle with olive oil (so a skin does not form) and serve as an accompaniment to cheese and salads and bread.
Trinidadian Pepper Sauce
- 115 grams (40 oz) fresh, hot red chillies
- 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped coriander (cilantro)
- 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or any white vinegar)
- ½ – 1 teaspoon of dried mustard powder
- 1 lump (about a rounded teaspoon) of palm sugar (optional)
- Cut the ends of the chillies, slice down the middle and remove seeds and roughly chop.
- Place chillies, garlic, salt, coriander, vinegar and mustard powder in blender and process to a fine puree.
- Place puree into a small saucepan, bring to a boil then turn down and simmer very gently, stirring for 3–4 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool before place in clean container. Stored in fridge this sauce will last for months.
Makes about 250 mls (8 fluid oz)