Tarka Daal (V), 36p

There comes a time in most of our lives when we receive a small wake-up call about the kind of person we really are, and my deliverance came in the form of a tarka daal.

I had been whisked away by friends to a cabin in the woods by the sea for my birthday back in March (and half wrote this blog post, as with many others…) as a treat, a surprise, a delight, and had asked another friend to look in on my Piggy while I was gone. I gave him a set of keys, some instructions about Piggy-management, prided myself on being relaxed about the whole thing, and enjopyed my holiday.

As I was coming home, I got a message asking if he could possibly make himself some dinner, as I was running late home and he was quite enjoying the Piggy-love (he is a rather loving Piggy. I do understand.) I wracked my brains and sent him the following text:

and then a few more, with some seriously detailed instructions about what sieve to use, where each pot was, and what to enjoy it with. I sat back, delighted both with my memory, the organisational skills in the midst of what looks like a chaotic living environment, and then it dawned on me.


And this is why I don’t have an assistant, I thought to myself.

This is why I do my own social media, I thought to myself.

This is why I take weeks to reply to emails, I thought to myself.

This is why my mind is scrambled.

And this is possibly why I *need* an assistant.

This particular revelation was brought about by tarka daal, and around three years of nagging from my patient but weary friends.

Anyway, that particular rude awakening to one side, I came home to a soft sweet soupy spicy creamy comforting daal that tasted exactly like I’d made it myself. So here’s the recipe, tried and tested by someone who claims to not be able to cook. Make of that what you will.

Serves 2-4 depending on appetite and accompaniments. Prices correct at time of publication and based on Sainsburys, basics range where available, or stores own brand. Other supermarkets offer comparable ranges at competitive prices.

200g red lentils, 44p  (£1.10/500g)

6 fat cloves of garlic, 7p (30p/2 bulbs Basics)

2 onions, 18p (90p/1.5kg Basics)

a small piece of fresh ginger, 4p

2 tbsp cooking oil, 4p (£3/3l)

1 tbsp turmeric, 3p  (£1/40g  Fairtrade)

1 tbsp cumin (seeds or ground), 3p (£1/42g)

1 tbsp bottled lemon juice, 3p (50p/250ml)

200g canned tomatoes, 18p (35p/400g)

80ml coconut cream, 30p (90p/250ml)

a handful of frozen spinach, around 100g, 13p  (£1.25/1kg)

a pinch of chilli flakes to taste
First rinse your lentils thoroughly under cold running water. Pop into a saucepan and cover with water, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a vigorous simmer for 20 minutes, carefully skimming away any scum that rises to the top with a spoon.

Meanwhile, as your lentils cook, peel and finely chop your garlic, and peel and slice your onion, and grate or chop your ginger. Toss all of these into a pan with the oil and a pinch of salt, and cook on a medium heat to start to soften. Add the spices and stir well to toast them and release the flavour.

When the lentils have started to soften and swell, drain them and rinse thoroughly to kick out any remaining scum (just not pleasant) and tip into the pan with the spiced garlic and onion. Add a cup of water, the chopped tomatoes and coconut milk and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around an hour, until the lentils have completely broken down to a soft, soupy texture. Add a cup of water at intervals to loosen it so it does not dry out. Add the greens towards the end to gently soften without overcooking.

To serve, add a dash of lemon juice to sharpen and brighten it, and a pinch of chilli flakes to taste. And enjoy.


Jack Monroe.
  My new book, Cooking on a Bootstrap, is now available to order HERE.

This blog is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.


  1. Got the news that you have an assistant before the revelation of needing one was disclosed. It’s good to “hear” your voice again, and I hope the resident micro-manager can relinquish control so that assistant can help both of you thrive

  2. Good to see you blogging again and many thanks for a delicious and inexpensive recipe. I really hope you start feeling better soon and can complete your book which I’m really looking forward to. Try to rest and de stress when you can as there is a definite link between rheumatoid arthritis and stress.

  3. Lovely surprise to see a blog post in my inbox! Happy New Year to you, SB and all your piggys and all your patient friends :o)

  4. Today I have been mostly eating lentil soup-very similar recipe but with a carrot instead of the chopped tomatoes 🍅 and no coconut cream as I’m on a diet! Thanks for posting this I’m going to make it tomorrow…I never tire of spiced lentils they are very soothing to the soul xx

  5. Read this post before work and cheered me up after stressful day yesterday, lovely to hear from you again sending love & hugs xxx

  6. So good to see you back… Missed you. I am doing veganuary this year – omnivorous other half not pleased but it gives him something new to moan about! Take care and all the best for 2017. Xxx

  7. Dear Jack, what a lovely surprise to get a post from you! Sorry to hear you are not feeling well. Have you checked out Dr Michael Greger’s nutritionfacts.org/ ? He wrote the book called How Not to Die. There are some cool videos about RA and other things. I consult his website daily.

    • I second that! Nutritionfacts.org is fantastic! And the book is great too. Dr Greger’s advice/info has made a world of difference to my mental and physical health. So nice to hear from you, Jack. Wishing you all the very best x

  8. Yay! Good to hear you’re back. Hope you’re feeling a bit better, looking forward to seeing more of your emails popping up in my in box & to receiving your book. Happy new year to you & your small boy. Xx

  9. Lovely surprise and reassuring to see your email in my inbox today…we do benefit from a Girl calledJack blogs most especially in the financially tight time after Christmas, with your healthy budgeted recipes.May I ditto a previous comment…welcome back!

  10. This might be one of the best Christmas gifts this year (along with the email introducing Victoria a day or so ago!). Hopefully 2017 will be a happy, healthy, productive and food-filled year for us all! X

  11. Mmm. That sounds good I’ll give it a try.
    I’m glad you’re thinking of getting an assistant you can’t do it all, everyone needs some down time, some time.
    Love the blog, love the recipes, love you. Have a very happy new year.
    Loraine. xxx

  12. Made it this evening for tea it was great. Thanks for another delicious recipe, with your help and wise shopping I’m just finishing my second year of £1 for food a day each for myself and my daughter!

  13. mmm looking forward to trying this version ..welcome back jack ,,great to see ya back on line ..and welcome to your helper too xx

  14. Oh Jack Monroe What a delicious joy to find this in My in box…. Thank You.

    Have a great New Year… From someone who at 55. Is at last learning to cook. X Spicer.xxxx

    Sent from my iPad

  15. Being an old fat guy and never having cooked lentils before I tried this recipe but put the whole can of tomatoes in and probably extra garlic and coconut crème. I also had a couple of quorn chicken fillets to get rid of before Veganuary so I stuck them in towards the end of cooking, plus pepper. Absolutely delicious| Thank you Jack and all my best wishes for the New Year.

  16. Fantastic to see you back! Wishing you a wonderful, loving & successful 2017!

    And thank you for the cheap recipes with lots of vegan options (:

  17. i needed a lentil recipe.
    So good to get a post, thank you
    please send more to help with inevitable new year resolution !

  18. OMG I cannot WAIT to make this-thanks Jack you star!! Soooo lovely to receive in our inboxes..( if I may speak for everyone??🙃).. Here’s to a fantastic New Year for you & yours😘💓

  19. Thanks jack, I’m new to your site but have spotted loads of stuff I want to try. I’ve cooked this for dinner tonight, just waiting for the hour to be up so me and my family can chow down! Happy and peaceful new year to you x

  20. That right there would be my Death Row meal. I could eat this stuff every day for every meal – delish! 🙂

  21. Just made this for my family and it was really tasty. Added some red peppers as they were going a bit soft then forgot to add the spinach but got leftovers so will add spinach next time!

  22. This is really delicious, but it makes much more food than I thought! Wanted to have leftovers for sure, so I doubled it, and with some rice I’m going to get about ten bowls of it. 🙂 It is wonderful, warming food for the icy weather here, so I don’t mind in the slightest.

  23. So good to see you back, getting a copy of your book was the most exciting thing coming up; but my family bought me tickets to see Metallica so you have slipped to 2nd place! Sorry! So pleased that things seem to be coming together again for you, long may it continue because you deserve it xxx

  24. Another thing I do with lentils is stick a raw egg in the mix, add a tablespoon of tom purée, pour it into a pastry case, top with cheese and bake. Not remotely vegan though!!! My children loved it.

  25. So glad you are back you are such a strong young woman who will always bounce back very glad that you are back with your delicious extremely inexpensive and nutricious recipes thanks for sharing and happy new to you and yours x

  26. 2nd time I’ve made this. The first time was good but this time (made with a couple of old carrots, a spoonful of medium curry powder and some floppy celery as additional ingredients) and it is to die for!!!! Nom nom nom

  27. I was going to ask if there was a substitute for cocinut milk. Otherwise I would have all the ingredients on hand. I guess I can expand my storecupboard to include cans of coconut milk.

  28. Ahh,Jack! Another hit! I have your book, & have been trying out various ingenious frugal recipes from your blog for a good few months now, but felt compelled to comment after making this tonight. Absolutely delicious, restaurant quality taste whilst being very healthy. Served it with naan bread, & substituted the coconut cream with a sachet of Pataks creamed coconut (a pack of 4 x 50g is just over £1, so very economical – just stir into 40ml boiled water). I think we’ll be incorporating this into an ‘Indian night’ at least once a month now, if not more. Thank you for making frugal cookery joyful & delicious, rather than a weary chore. You’re the best! 🙂

  29. I finally made this and it tasted anazing. I did throw in the whole can of coconut milk, and only needed 1 cup of water. It made enough for 3 meals for me, but was actually eaten up in 2 meals because it was so good! I also felt healthy and virtuous cooking it.

  30. Oh wow! Had to make a few tweaks simply because of what I had in – ground ginger instead of fresh ginger, fresh spinach instead of frozen. Added roasted chilli flakes to taste and a little fresh coriander at the end. It was amazing! Much better than our local indian restaurant. Served with a garlic naan 😋

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