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 enjoyed 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.

Tarka Daal recipe by Jack Monroe

Tarka Daal recipe by Jack Monroe

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.

‘Cooking On A Bootstrap’ is available 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.

You can also check out my artwork here.