Recipe and photograph – Dr Joan Ransley

Dal is a staple food of the Indian sub-continent. It is made from lentils that do not need pre-soaking. It is one of the fastest, most delicious and economic meals you can prepare. The beauty of this dish is it can be eaten simply or dressed up with a variety of accompaniments, for a special occasion.

This is a nutritious and sustaining dish that promotes gut health. Lentils are the key ingredient and are rich in fibre and contain a type of carbohydrate known as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Both fibre and GOS promote the growth of a range of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract providing a number of benefits including a reduced risk of colorectal and heart disease. Spinach, tomatoes, onion and garlic also contain dietary fibre.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is widely used as a spice and an ingredient in traditional herbal medicine. The rhizome of ginger has been shown in clinical studies to help relieve gastrointestinal discomforts, nausea and vomiting.

Turmeric contains curcumin which has been shown to change the balance in favours the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut over that of pathogenic bacteria.

Method

Sweat the onion and butternut squash with a little oil for 10 minutes in a covered saucepan or large lidded frying pan. They should begin to caramelise. Add the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, cumin and turmeric. Cut the chilli in half lengthways and finely chop half. Add this to the saucepan. Cut the other half of the chilli into thin strips and reserve to finish the dish.

Add the red lentils and 1 litre of water to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes. Add the spinach, which just needs to wilt for 2 minutes. The dal should be thick and the butternut squash tender.

Add a little oil to a frying pan and quickly sauté the strips of chilli. Serve the dal in bowls scattered with coriander and strips of chilli. Serve with brown rice or flatbread and chutney on the side.

Alternative serving suggestion

Peas can be added to the dal instead of spinach

Aubergines can be substituted for the butternut squash

Serve as part of a meal with other side dishes such as aubergine curry or chicken curry

Cooks tips

  1. Double the quantity of this recipe so there are extra portions to put in the freezer. Dal defrosts quickly in a microwave and will provide a quick nutritious ready meal.
  2. A simple dal can be made without butternut squash or spinach if time and ingredients are in short supply.
  3. The classic way to dress up a dal is to pour over a tarka just before serving. Heat 2 tbsps of oil in a pan and add 2 banana shallots finely sliced, a chopped green chilli and a tsp of chopped garlic and cook for 5 minutes; add 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp garum masala and cook for a minute before pouring over the dal.
  4. To add a little richness to the dal, add a swirl of coconut milk, stir through the dal and serve.
 Per Serving (g)Per 100g
Calories (Kcal/KJ) 367 / 1548 77 / 324
Protein (g)173.6
Fat (g) 7.71.6
Saturated fat (g)10.2
Carbohydrate (g)5111
Sugar (g)173.5
Fibre (g) 9.11.9
Sodium (mg)41.68.7
Salt equivalent (g) 0.10.02