Comfort food does not have to be a bowl of carbohydrates quivering under an equal weight of grated cheese. Granted, sometimes that is the most obvious salve, yet if you have the patience to explore further, I might be able to help. If what you need is a freezer-friendly, feed anyone, thrifty to make, easy to transform new staple, then this sweet potato, carrot, yellow split pea and mandarin (yes, mandarin) dhal may prove golden (in more ways than one). It’s something that is often stored in plastic ziplock bags in the third drawer of my freezer, gently hibernating until it gets corralled into duty. It’s something that is very often delivered to new parents in my circle (slow release carbs/bowl food being a helping hand to exhausted folk and fenugreek being a boon for feeding supply). And it’s something that usually makes me feel that everything is going to be ok. If you’re keen on the recipe, stat, skip straight to the image at the bottom.
This dhal first came into my life a few months ago out of desperation. The Hungry One was overseas, there was a terrible storm, Will was a whirling dervish/ I was newly pregnant/bilious/ so hormonal I could have set fire to furniture with a glance and the cupboard was nearly bare. Except it wasn’t. There were onions and carrots and a bulbous sweet potato on hand. There were spices in the drawer, some forlorn kale in the crisper and one reclusive mandarin in the fruit bowl.
Hence this dhal was born. The beauty of yellow split peas is not just about aesthetics. They’re cheap. They’re nubbly and forgiving and they don’t require pre soaking. I spent that afternoon quietly pottering over the stove while Will helped me grate carrot and lob pieces of sweet potato into a pot and later sat I down to a soul soothing bowl. The true wonder of it all is how the grated carrot dissolves into the spices and sauce throughout the cook and how the cheeky acidity of the mandarin zest adds a necessary jolt of sunshine. This dhal often finds its way into the ‘new parent’ survival packs I make for friends. It can be eaten on its own, or easily stretched with rice, quinoa, greens or some additional pieces of protein, like diced chicken, fish or tofu – and if reduced further, it makes a wonderful filling for dosas (try the chickpea flour crepe recipe from Week 14 of this edition of #poppyseedtopumpkin as an easy stand in – though if you have the energy and wherewithal to ferment dosa batter, I salute you).
This week I returned to the scratched notes I had for this dhal when I needed a bit of edible comfort. It was also particularly fitting as this week our stowaway has stretched to the length of one of the carrots that gift it such earthy sweetness and substance.
Confession; this last week of parenting has tested my mettle. These days I know what the bottom of my bucket feels like. I remember it well. And that’s part of the problem. It’s when the creases of your eyes burn. It’s when the sentence you’ve uttered most throughout the day is ‘Don’t yell at Mummy’. It’s when you see too many hours on the face of the clock. It’s when you do finally pitch into sleep, and your dream revolves around lamenting to someone about how tired you are. It’s when you stop remembering the good things and only tabulate the grim. It’s when the future appears as a a dark, smaller tunnel. It’s when you start to answer questions from friends with a trilling laugh and a maniacal grin. It’s when you stop picking up the phone.
In those instances, you need easy food that comes in bowls. It should be mildly spiced and meekly sweet. It should be cheap. And it should be flexible. And hence, it should probably be this. Feel free to swap the sweet potato for parsnip, swede or other potatoes. You could also switch the yellow split peas for red lentils and omit the fenugreek if you don’t have it on hand- though it does contribute a curious maple flavouring to it all. I have plenty still in the house, from those months when Will when smaller and I would drink litres and litres of fenugreek tisane in an effort to convince my body to produce enough nourishment to feed him, until my skin took on the faint smell of syrup from over consumption. This is a better use for the spice. The resulting dhal will keep happily in the fridge for 4 days or so, but as it’s dairy and coconut milk free is also perfectly content to bed itself down in the freezer until it needs to be called into service.
Add it to the rotation and remember that there are plenty of golden moments in the everyday- even when they’re not immediately obvious.
Here are a few other things that are going on
Watching: Old seasons of Top Chef on my phone on the stationary bike at the gym. I’ve remembered in the past week that exercise is pretty vital for my mental health. Also, Will is obsessed with the ladies who run the creche (phew). Top Chef and The Great British Bake Off are my two food tv competitions of choice. They’re not too silly (most of the time), and the hosts are affable without being pompous or patronising. And 30 minutes on a bike goes a lot faster when you’re thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner that night.
Reading: I spent many hours in the last week sitting outside Will’s bedroom door, being interrupted every 4 minutes by a ‘Jack in the Box’ sleep averse child and having to usher him ‘back to bed’, in a monotone. Re reading Esther Walker’s hilarious ‘The Bad Mother‘ was an excellent pillar of solidarity and comfort, providing much needed jolts of manifesto brio.
Listening to: A lot of Simon and Garfunkel. Some weeks a just like that. Also Will has become obsessed with a song we found on Youtube; ‘The Elephant Lullaby‘ and insists on doing three back to back interpretive dances to it in front of his mirror after his bath every night. It has a way of getting stuck in your head.
Eating: The switchable Banana, Oat, Choc Nut Cookies from Poppyseed to Pumpkin 1. They’ve returned to high rotation as Will and my shared 10 am, with a coffee/babycino snack. Some times we use flax instead of almond meal, raisins instead of chocolate, coconut oil instead of butter. They’re virtually indestructible/ freeze well when made in bulk and perfect for hungry hands (big and small).
Wearing: Far too many nautical stripes. When you and your toddler look like missing cast members from Avalon Now every day, it might be time to shake up the wardrobe a little. (It’s a running joke in this way-too-close-to-the-bone web series on what life is like on Sydney’s Northern Beaches that every cast member is always wearing some variation of nautical stripes).
Carrot, Sweet Potato and Mandarin Dhal
Serves 6, and freezes very well.
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fenugreek
2 tbsp coconut oil/ olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 brown onion, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled, trimmed and grated/ food processed (approx 350 g)
1 1/2 cups/ 350 g yellow split peas
1 large sweet potato (approx 600 g), peeled and cut into pieces the size of playing dice
5 cups of water/ vegetable stock
zest of 1 mandarin/ clementine, grated
salt and apple cider vinegar to taste
Chopped kale/ yoghurt/ seeds/ chilli etc – all optional
Here’s how we roll
1.Add the spices to a heavy bottom casserole dish/ saucepan and toast over a medium heat for 1 minute, until fragrant.
3. Add the grated carrot and stir to combine, cooking for another 3-4 minutes to begin to soften.
5. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes – an hour, until the sweet potato and the lentils have both softened, stirring occasionally to make sure it hasn’t caught on the bottom. Add the mandarin zest at the end, stir and taste. Adjust the seasoning with a little salt and a splash of apple cider vinegar if it is too timid. Serve with kale or baby spinach folded through, over quinoa, in dosas, as part of a curry banquet, or simply out of bowls with a dollop of yoghurt over the top.
Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin
Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)