dal with crispy sweet potatoes and coconut

this is a fabulous recipe, from anna jones’ a modern way to eat. i bought this book in the autumn, at the same time as diana henry’s a change of appetite - whilst i was in the bookshop i couldn’t choose between the two, but once i got home it was diana henry’s recipes that pulled me in and which i have been enjoying in recent months (i am still particularly smitten with her citrus fruit with ginger snow).

however, i am branching out and have started to try some of anna jones’ recipes.  they are all vegetarian and while both books share a similar desire to eat lighter healthy food, i think anna often goes a step further with replacing ingredients in traditional dishes – the (now) ubiquitous cauliflower base for a pizza, for example. i do want to try some of these dishes but have started with ones that are closer to my comfort zone, not least so i can see what i think of the book and the quality of the recipes.

this is a definite hit (there have been some misses) and one that i’ve already made a couple of times. the dal is enriched with coconut milk and also has spinach and coriander for freshness (which gives it quite a green tinge!) but the spicing is mild and warming, including quite a lot of cinnamon, which works surprisingly well.

i really like the addition of the crispy sweet potato topping flavoured with fennel and cumin seeds, which means that you don’t need to serve this with rice (i’ve had it with flatbreads each time), but which is delicious in its own right so worth making extra of it. i’m keen to try the coconut and ginger chutney with fresh coconut, but the version using desiccated is definitely good enough to be worth the effort in its own right.

anna jones’ dhal with crispy sweet potatoes and quick coconut chutney (serves 4)

for the sweet potatoes:

2 sweet potatoes, skins on, washed and roughly chopped into 1.5cm cubes (abby note: i peeled mine as i prefer this)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

olive oil

for the dhal:

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

a thumb size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 green chili, chopped (abby note: i’ve used red each time, just because that was what i had in)

1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon groun cinnamon

200g red lentils

400ml coconut milk

400 ml vegetable stock (abby note: i use 500-600ml, you can add extra as it cooks if it thickens too much)

2 large handfuls of spinach

a bunch of cilantro, with stalks, roughly chopped

juice of 1 lemon

for the coconut chutney:

50g grated coconut (fresh or unsweetened desiccated coconut)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

10 curry leaves

a little vegetable or coconut oil

a 20g piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 red chili, finely chopped

preheat the oven to 220 c. pour 150ml of boiling water over the coconut and set aside to soak (abby note: you don’t need to do this if you are using fresh coconut).

put the sweet potatoes into a roasting tray add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the cumin and fennel seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes in the oven, until soft and sweet on the inside and crispy brown on the outside (abby note: if you peel your potatoes you will probably need to turn the heat up to max for the final 5 minutes of cooking to get them crispy).

in a large saucepan, sizzle the garlic, ginger, chilli and red onion in a little oil for about ten minutes, until soft and sweet.

grind the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar then add o the pan with the other spices and cook for a few minutes to toast and release the oils. add the lentils, coconut milk and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer then turn the heat down and bubble away for about 25-30 minutes.

while that is cooking, make your chutney. drain the coconut and put it into a bowl. fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a bit of oil until they begin to crackle then pour the mixture over the coconut, season with salt and pepper then stir in the ginger and chilli and give it a good mix.

to finish your dhal, take it off the heat then stir in the spinach and allow it to wilt a little, stirring in half the chopped coriander and the lemon juice. pile into bowls and top with the crispy sweet potatoes, spoonfuls of the coconut chutney and the remaining coriander. you can serve with chapattis, roti or brown basmati rice.