Dal, depression, and some rambly, half-arsed thoughts about food and food writing

I’ve been sick.  Six weeks of coughing, hacking, exhausted snottery doom encompassing a virus that is basically the same thing as glandular fever rammed straight into a face-throbbing, teeth-aching sinus infection.  And now I seem to have just acquired myself a bog-standard, run-of-the-mill cold, combined with a (very rare these days) hang over.  My kid is napping and I’ve spent most of that time sitting on the couch crying because I’m just fucking knackered.  My immune system is depressed and consequently I am too.  The news isn’t helping either.  At home it’s awful that they won’t just hold a conscience vote on marriage equality and instead are going for a non-binding postal vote.  See also – everything that is going on with off-shore detention.  And of course in world news everything is coming up Trump.  At least we’re getting a little light relief from the revelation that Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen.

All this has made the idea of writing a cooking blog feel a bit pointless and stupid lately, not to mention self-indulgently middle-class.  Why write about food when you could be writing about injustice?  Or finishing that novel you started.
Putting it out there that you have a particular interest in something, particularly if that interest has a well-worn writing tradition attached to it, can make you seem a bit one-dimensional – or maybe it just makes me feel one-dimensional to myself?  I started out doing this because Andy wanted me to write up some recipes properly and put them somewhere so that he could refer to them, other people seemed to want them too, so why not blog them?  Everybody has to eat and sometimes you need a bit of inspiration, or a recipe for something specific.  You might flip through your cookbooks or, if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, hunt around online.  I do this all the time and there’s never a time when I’m reading someone else’ work that I think it’s pointless or self indulgent.  Food is a fundamental part of life and personally I subscribe to the belief that meals should be joyful and delicious, and if possible, shared.  There’s usually almost nothing I enjoy more than cooking for a big group of people, and to share the ritual of eating with them.  It’s a bit judgemental of me, but I distrust people who just see food as fuel and don’t enjoy eating.

Someone who definitely does enjoy eating is my pal Jonathan (and of course the wonderful Dan) for whom I made this dal for a walking adventure.  Jonathan did some lovely reviews of my camping food, including the dal I’m writing up for you today –  watch!

Dal 4-6 serves

This is adapted from the dal recipe in Cooking With Kurma by Kurma Dasa.  His recipe has roasted vegetables stirred into it, which I left out in this version because I was dehydrating it for Jonathan and Dan to take walking and the vegetables rehydrate at a different rate to split peas and end up a funny texture.  I’ve also added onion and garlic to the recipe which is not at all Hare Krishna.


2 cups (500 ml) yellow split peas
4-6 cups (1-1 ½ litres) water
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander powder
1 can of tomatoes, or 3 or 4 fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 TBS (60 ml) oil or ghee
2 tsp green chilies, finely chopped – about 1 chilli
1 onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1½ tsp ginger powder
3 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp salt (or less, I’d start with one and see)
2 tsp sugar
juice of half a lemon
fresh coriander, chopped


Wash the split peas thoroughly and soak in 2½-3 litres water for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

Over a high heat bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Drain the split peas, add them to the boiling water along with the turmeric and coriander powder.  Turn the heat down and simmer without a lid, stirring now and then, until the split peas are completely broken down – about an hour and a half or two hours. You’ll need to add a little more water now and again to stop the split peas from catching and burning on the bottom of the pot.  As it gets more broken down and thick it gets a bit splattery, if you have a splatter guard this is the time to employ it.

When the dal has broken down into a thick mush add the tomatoes and stir well.

Warm the oil/ghee in a frying pan, fry the onion until translucent, then add the garlic, fresh ginger, and green chilli and fry for a couple of minutes – until fragrant.  turn the heat off and allow to cool a little.  Sprinkle the spices into the warm oil and mix.

Add the onion/oil/spice mixture into the dal and mix well.  Stir in the salt, sugar and lemon juice – taste and adjust seasoning to your taste.  Add the coriander and stir through.

If you want to dehydrate this for camping you can do it in an electric dehydrator (it takes a long time for something this wet) or at a very low temperature in the oven, spread out on oven trays, which I found to be a more reliable method for this.  It takes a long time, maybe 12 hours?  When it’s properly dehydrated it’s crispy and will crumble pretty readily.  It’s a pretty tasty crunchy snack too.  To rehydrate add about 2 cups of water per 200g of dried dal – this is about 2 servings worth.  Boil it up until the water is all incorporated and there are no dried bits of dal in the mix.

If you’re not planning on dehydrating the dal and want to put the vegetable in just roast 2-3 cups of mixed vegetables – cauliflower, carrots, potato, pumpkin, zucchini etc – and add them to the dal when you put the tomatoes in.