Since getting married, I have really upped my cooking game. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts when I was a bachelorette, dinner would consist of cereal, toast, eggs – simple things that were quick and easy. Why did I need to make an elaborate meal when it was just me? I didn’t like cooking anyway and cleaning up even less! I worked late often too, so I would usually be home at around 9pm. Who wants to eat a full meal at that time? I would have a good lunch at work or just ended up having dinner there (yes, our cafeteria served dinner until 10pm..anything to keep us working late!), so I never felt the need to cook big meals for myself.
Once I got married things changed. My husband got home from work once and asked, “what are you having for dinner?” and I (having had a big lunch) said, “I’m not going to have dinner, I’m not hungry. I’ll probably have some toast.” Then he replied, “well, what about me?”. The question took me by surprise, well what about you?! You can organise your own dinner! I of course didn’t say this to him and just looked at him blankly.
That conversation made me take a hard look at myself and my relationship. No one really told me how to live with someone else. Yes, I was told the beginning of marriage is “difficult” and you have to “compromise”. But what did that mean practically? I had no idea. I realised suddenly I had to change my whole way of living and thinking.
It’s not a case of putting two lives together under one roof; marriage is a matter of creating a new joint life together. You have to check in with each other: when are you going to be home? Are you going to have dinner? What do we have in the fridge? Now I understood why my mom would get so annoyed when my dad wouldn’t tell her when he was working late.
I also changed the food that I did cook. Before I got married, when I did cook I made mostly the Middle Eastern food my mom would make for us at home or it would something simple like pasta. My husband is South Asian and all he would eat at home was South Asian food. I had made curry only once or twice in my life before we got married, so I had to start learning! It’s a more simple choice for us because we both like South Asian food, curries usually keep well and there are a lot of different options.
I’m always on the look out for simple, quick and authentic (as much as possible) South Asian recipes. Over time, I’ve found some good ones and they have become my staples. It took a lot of trial and error, but I have a good “go to” selection now. I keep my recipes saved in a binder so my husband can make them as well and we don’t have to think about what to cook.
Since starting to eat clean last year though, I have been making chicken/meat dishes a lot more. We would have chicken 5-6 times a week. Middle Eastern cuisine is heavily meat-based and it didn’t feel like too much meat for me. I’ll always remember when someone told me there isn’t a real Arabic word for “vegetarian”, it’s just not really a concept! For example, one of my family friends had gone vegan and her mom had made her soup but did not tell her it was made from chicken stock. When she asked her why she did that, her mom said, “It’s vegetarian! What, the stock has to be vegetarian too?”. I have to always remind my mom that vegetarians don’t eat fish.
So we talked about it in lockdown and he said he wants us to make more vegetarian food. Most vegetarian curries are made with some sort of bean or lentil. I dislike beans, lentils, chickpeas and most pulses to be honest. Yes, I know it’s bad! But I did think we consumed too much meat and I have been trying to make myself like these foods (hasn’t worked so far, but I’ve been eating them anyway!).
Now, we try to make a big batch of a vegetarian curry so we can have it several times a week. My husband will eat it with roti and I usually with rice (he thinks I have too much rice, again another culture thing!). We used to get homemade rotis from my mother in law, but since COVID we have run out and have not been able to get anymore from her. I have kind of learned how to make them but that is another story for another day!
The first time I ever attempted making dal (lentils) it was an inedible disaster. I had no idea you had to wash the dal before cooking, like rice! It’s embarrassing, but I didn’t know. The whole thing started foaming and it just went downhill from there. I didn’t really attempt it again until a few years later. I still have the vision of the foaming pot in my head!
I finally found a dal recipe that worked and has become an almost weekly staple. The dal recipe is from my favourite cookbook: Melissa Helmsley’s Eat Happy. Every recipe I have made from that book has been quick, easy and tasty. The book covers a wide variety of cuisines which also suits our palettes incredibly well. Her cookbook is the most useful one I have bought so far. She has incorporated her mother’s “waste-free” approach in cooking and focuses on sustainability in food. I really like the way the book is written and how practical and straightforward it is. I feel like she does remove the cultural context and history of most (if not all) her dishes, and I feel like there is a lot of food appropriation going on, but she is half-Filipino which makes me feel like the Asian recipes have a little authenticity. I can’t say any of my recipes are authentic because I haven’t grown up with these foods (and I often put my own, sometimes ignorant, twists on them), but when my husband approves I can assume it is decent!
I’ve adapted this recipe to add a bit more heat because, as you know, I have to make everything spicy! The original recipe uses spinach, but I don’t often buy it so I usually make do without (surprise surprise: I also don’t really like spinach). I never have fresh coriander so that’s why you won’t see it in my recipes, but it’s always nice to use it as a garnish. This is a one-pot recipe too, which is my favourite type of recipe (less washing up!).
I ran out of brown onions, so I’ve used red onions in this video. I didn’t notice a big difference so they are ok to use too. You can see I also use pre-chopped ginger, I don’t usually buy fresh ginger and I am always running late so I either will use ginger paste or pre-cut ginger matchsticks.
Quick & Easy One Pot Dhal
PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOK TIME: 20 minutes
- 250g dry red split lentils
- White onion (finely chopped)
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 200ml coconut milk (half a can)
- 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- Fresh coriander to garnish (optional)
- Wash the lentils thoroughly and prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Dry roast the spices until fragrant (around 30 seconds to a minute), be careful not to let them burn.
- Add the lentils, ginger, garlic, onion and mix well. Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a medium simmer. Keep stirring to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Cover and leave to cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes (stir halfway through). If halfway through the lentils look like they are too dry or you like your curry more saucy (we like it thicker and less saucy), you can add 50ml-100ml of water or stock. The lentils are done when they have cooked down and are soft.
- Taste and add a pinch of salt and the lemon/lime juice. Serve with rice or naan.
This recipe can be doubled up if you want to batch cook, but the above quantities should easily serve 4 people.
There you have it! Pretty straight forward right? Let me know what you think in the comments!