Easy Tarka Daal recipe

Photo: www.sailusfood.com

There are just a few things I make well and my ‘masoor ki daal’ is one of them. A friend asked for the recipe, so I thought I’ll share the recipe and the story behind it.

Growing up, I never liked ‘daal chaawal’ (lentils with boiled white rice). But at university, my friend Fatima used to make this yummy daal and it became a staple in our flat. I was amazed at how simple the recipe was and how quickly it was ready. She taught me the recipe and to this day, it is one of my favourite comfort meals.

The other great thing is that it uses store cupboard staples, so it’s also great for days when you have run out of groceries and there are no fresh ingredients on hand. The total cooking time for both daal and rice is under 30 minutes and hardly any prep time! I prefer masoor daal because it is the fastest to cook. You could replace the masoor daal with mung or urid daal, but then your cooking times would be longer.



photo: www.sailusfood.com



(the measurements are just approximations)


2 cups masoor daal (split orange lentils)

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp red chilli powder or paprika (depending on how hot you like it)

1 tsp garam masala (optional)

salt to taste


2 cups rice

2 cups water

2-3 cardamoms

2-3 cloves

2-3 tsp olive oil

salt to taste


3-4 tbsp olive oil (add a bit of butter for extra flavour)

2 tsp garlic paste or 1-2 tsp garlic flakes /OR 2 medium onions finely sliced or 2-3 tbsp  pre fried onions

1-2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp crushed red chilli flakes (optional)

1 tsp chaat masala (optional)

chopped corriandor for garnish (optional)


1. Wash the daal until the water runs clear (use your hands to gently rub the daal while washing and drain 2-3 times for water to run clear). Drain and add about 4 cups water and put on the stove at full heat.

2. While it comes to a boil, add turmeric, salt and red chilli (or parika) powder. Add garam masala if you want. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low-medium.

3. Let it cook for 5-10 minutes until the daal has reduced, stir and check consistency. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the daal has broken down and become creamy, stirring occasionally.

4. Simultaneously, wash the rice until most of the starch is washed away. Place on the cooker in a large pot and add 2 cups water for 2 cups rice.

5. Add salt, cardammons, cloves and a little olive oil to prevent the rice from sticking. Bring to boil.

6. Lower the heat to low-medium, cover and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes until rice is almost cooked. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the rice for another 3-5 minutes. Finally, stir so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove the cloves and cardammom pods before serving.

7. While the daal and rice are boiling, you can prepare your tarka (but fry everything only in the last 2-3 minutes when daal is ready). The best tasting tarka is with freshly cut onions, but if you’re short on time you could use fried onions or garlic paste/ flakes. Most of the flavour of the daal comes from the tarka, so getting the flavours right is the most important thing. Experiment with garlic and onions to see what you like better.

8. Heat up some oil (add a small knob of butter for extra flavour). Fry the onions until light brown and then add cumin seeds, garam masala, chilli flakes and chaat masala. [If using garlic, put everything in at the same time as garlic can burn easily]. Do this on medium heat as the tarka can burn easily. As soon as the onions become a dark golden colour, take tarka off the heat and add to the cooked daal. Cover and let it rest for a minute.

9. Serve the daal over the boiled rice. Add chopped corriander as a garnish if you want.




Sucker for clever packaging


How often are you tempted to buy something just because of its cute, clever or lovely packaging?

I for one am a big sucker for the ‘feel good factor’ when buying products, especially food. So clever packaging combined with labels such as organic, fairtrade, sustainable etc is a sure sell. Brands like Innocent, Yeo Valley, Jamie Oliver are hard to resist for this reason.

One of my recent favourites is Yeo Valley organic yogurts. I love their ‘top notch’ range. I’m really not sure if it’s the taste that I like or merely the packaging. Today I had their ‘sticky fig & honey’ yoghurt. When you open the top, it asks you ‘big spoon or little spoon?’ Good question, I think! Something that is so fun to dig into does somehow taste better!

Eat, Fast and Live Longer

Flicking through different channels last night I was intrigued to watch Michael Moseley’s documentary on BBC 2 called Eat, Fast and Live Longer for two reasons. First, I love any programme on food, whether it’s cooking shows, Come Dine With Me or documentaries about food. But more importantly, having been fasting for Ramadan for the last 20 days or so, I really wanted to know what (if any) were the health benefits of fasting.

The crux of the documentary was that by regularly fasting (reducing our calorie intake by significant amounts) we can live a healthier and possibly longer life. Doing so reduces our risk of age related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and possibly even mental illnesses such as memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

If you’re interested in the science behind this, it’s because fasting suppresses a growth hormone in our body (IGF-1) and when that happens, our body’s cells get a chance to heal and strengthen themselves rather than constantly being in ‘go-go’ mode to multiply and increase. (I only took biology till grade 8, and this is my understanding of what was explained, so bear with me). The bad news for those who eat a lot of protein, mainly responsible for this growth hormone, is that their bodies never get the chance to go into this repair and protect mode. An apt analogy given was that of driving your car non-stop without ever taking it to the mechanic’s. It’s bound to break down at some point.

As proof of the benefits of reduced food intake, the show interviewed Fauja Singh, believed to be the world’s oldest marathon runner at 101 years of age (an amazing achievement in and of itself)! The secret to his remarkable health was revealed to be small portions of food, what his trainer referred to as ‘kid portions’.

So where does this leave those of us who are fasting in Ramadan?

A few lessons we need to remind ourselves of, which incidentally are also supported by the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) example:

1. Ramadan is about fasting not feasting.

The benefits of fasting are negated if we gorge at iftaar and make up for any calorie intake we may have reduced during the day (of course, those with health problems etc need to evaluate their individual situations).

There are many Prophetic examples pertaining to this. According to a Hadith, “Eat less you will be healthier.”

And also, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” (Tarmazi, ibn Majah and Hakim)

2. Lay off the pakoras!

Have a healthy balanced meal at iftaar, but try to avoid the heavy fried stuff. At least make it an occasional treat rather than a daily essential. The common feeling in our desi families is that iftaar is not complete without something fried, be it pakoras, samosas, kachoris or jalebis.

I am as guilty of this as the next person. Having resolutely avoided fried stuff for the first 2 weeks or so, Asim and I made pakoras for guests last weekend. And voila, since then we’ve been making them everyday because they’re so addictive. But after watching the programme last night, we’ve vowed off them….perhaps we’ll indulge once or twice ;)

3. Fast regularly

The health benefits of fasting wear off if it is not done regularly. Michael Moseley took up fasting 2 days a week. After 5 weeks of doing so, his blood tests revealed reduction in cholesterol, glucose, IGF-1 etc.

We of course know from the Prophet’s example that he used to fast at least 2 days a week (in traditions this is said to be generally Mondays and Thursdays). We as Muslims seek to follow his example for spiritual reasons, but it is heartening to note that it is supported by scientifically proven health benefits too.

A few of my favourite things…

I know it’s terribly frivolous and self-indulgent, but I’m introducing a new category on the blog called ‘A Few of My Favourite Things’. These are things that have got me excited and I want to rave about them to others.

Here’s a pick of a few that I’m currently gushing over:

Victoria Sandwich Cake

I love love LOVE M&S Victoria Sandwich Cake. It’s a soft buttery sponge cake layered with vanilla buttercream and strawberry conserve, dusted with icing sugar. Need I say more? :)

Lemon Yellow Colour

For someone who refused to wear yellow on her mehndi or mayoun (because I was sick of seeing everyone else wearing it), I have recently fallen in love with yellow. Especially a fresh summery shade of lemon yellow. I love my yellow cardigan and my sweet lemon body butter from the Body Shop.

Oh and I reminisce about my yellow Top Shop sandals that my sister Zunu expropriated on a previous trip to Pakistan!

Mr Muscle Oven

Last but not least I am in awe of Mr Muscle Oven cleaner. No, this is not a joke. I’m serious. It deserves a mention because it absolutely works magic.

This is nothing to be proud of but my microwave oven was absolutely filthy (umm just imagine a few months worth of grease and grime and you’ll get the picture) and I was dreading having to clean it. Previously I’d used dishwashing detergent and a sponge to do the job and what a misery that had been. I decided to give Mr Muscle a try…I sprayed it on, shut the microwave door and left it for about 15-20 minutes as instructed…and voila, all I had to do was WIPE it clean. No scrubbing, huffing or puffing. I was left with a spotless shiny microwave and was laughing like a delirious madwoman for a few minutes afterwards!

Beetroot gives you wings!

Beetroot - Bolthardy.  Image copyright Amazon.co.ukGreat news for Red bull addicts! There is a natural alternative. I came across an article in the Metro this morning about the properties of Beetroot.  Apparently, beetroot is the nature’s answer to the high caffeine, sugar loaded, energy drinks many of us are addicted to.

Beetroot’s high iron content gives instant boost to energy levels in our body and in addition it also cleanses our blood. Scientists believe that high consumption of beetroot juice increases nitrate levels in our blood and reduces the oxygen consumption by our muscles, consequently boosting muscle endurence.

Some people don’t like the taste but I think it’s definitely refreshing.

Utterly Butterly

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but lately all I’ve watched are cooking shows. I come home from work and if I don’t feel like doing anything, I put on the Food Network and drool.

Butter anyone?

So has all that amazing cooking inspired me to whip up great recipes of my own or at least to cook a decent meal every once in a while? Of course not.

I’ve picked up just one thing from watching these shows: the use of butter…lots and lots of butter.  I never used butter before in cooking. In fact I would never even buy butter (I only ever bought margarine) and now I’ve started adding healthy dollops to everything: from sauces to boiled rice. Asim was horrified the other day watching me put one tablespoon in the boiled rice and then adding another to the tarka for my daal.

That’s when I realized that watching all these shows had totally changed my perception of what is an acceptable level of fat in cooking. All the chefs, whether it’s Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten or Jamie Oliver or Tyler, use lots of butter… and cream and oil and sugar and chocolate. In amounts that are frankly horrifying. But watching them day in and day out has sort of desensitized me to this onslaught of fattening food. Lurpak’s amazing advertising campaign stating “Good food deserves Lurpak” doesn’t help much either.

Nigella Lawson

Honestly, I wish Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson would stop ooh-ing and aah-ing over their fattening desserts. In one recent show, I watched Nigella eating a big tablespoon of leftover toffee sauce for a cake she made (with tons of butter, cream and sugar) and saying something to the effect that it was the perfect heavenly midnight treat. Ughh. For us hapless souls, that really does give out wrong messages about comfort food and healthy eating.

Nigella is curvaceous but not fat, so in some ways it’s believable that she does eat all the food she makes. And perhaps even gives out positive messages about body image and weight. But I honestly believe if we were to start eating everything she cooks, we would be ten times her size.

Ina Garten poor woman is actually really fat herself so while she’s dousing her food in olive oil or putting in two sticks of butter for a dessert, I’m thinking “If I cook like her, I’ll start looking like her too”. But to be really honest, these aren’t the most annoying chefs. The ones who really piss me off are those who are stick thin and still cooking amazingly rich dishes. Then you know they don’t themselves eat anything they cook.

Ina Garten

I was also thinking, while butter in such excess amounts is not good, have we all gone to the other extreme of becoming too prissy about butter? One of my flatmates at Oxford used butter for cooking and was one of the fittest and healthiest people I knew. She did regular sports and ate healthy. Seeing my horror at her use of butter, she pointed out that there is nothing wrong with butter as long as we don’t overdo it. An article in the Independent also noted that in recent years saturated fats have become the villain that we’re all cutting out from our diets, but actually a diet that’s low in saturated fats but high in carbohydrates is worse for things like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Now this does not mean that I’m telling everyone to start having loads of saturated fats or saying that sugar and cream etc are good. Moderation is the name of the game. A dollop of butter every once in a while is fine.

I just have to remind myself that I’m not a TV chef.

Springgg :)

It’s amazing what a difference the weather makes to one’s spirits. The past couple of days, the weather in London has been gorgeous. The sun has been shining (thanks to daylight saving, there’s sun till almost 8pm), there are flowers every where, in the daytime you don’t have to wear your coat any more (finally!), kids are playing in the street and people are having BBQs! Spring is here!

I caught up with friends for lunch a few days ago and later we decided to walk down to Hyde Park. We lazed around in the sun and then Aisha suggested we try Lola’s cupcakes in the Selfridges food court– the cupcakes were yummy. While Aisha and Madiha settled for the minis, Leena and I couldn’t resist the regular sized fat ones (later I wish I’d chosen the mini too; Leena couldn’t finish hers. And that’s saying a lot).

Its a shame that I didn’t take Fatima (my cupcake obsessed friend) to this place when she was visiting me. Fati, I’m sure you would’ve loved it :)

Dior had a beautiful flower display– nothing says spring better than PINK FLOWERS (even if they are fake)! The new fragrance was a bit too sugary sweet for my taste but who cares I loved the display.

On my way to work every morning, I cross the Wembley park and its landscaped sprawling lawns always look so beautiful and inviting, I think on my way back from work I’ll stop in the park for a bit. But by then, either its raining or I’m hungry or its no longer sunny. Something I really want to do one of these days though is to take my book to the park and read sitting on the grass (we’re reading White Mughals for a book club and I’m not even half way through the 500 pages).

So finally this Sunday, I dragged Asim and Leena to the park and we had a great time. It was lovely just to sit outdoors without freezing our bums off! We ended up going to Wembley High Road for some samosas, kebabs and paratha afterwards (quite a healthy finish to a walk in the park!). You see the trend here, don’t you? A trip to the park is always followed by stuffing our faces with food! :P

Talking of food, we also had our first BBQ of the year!

Ps. I’m going to try and take my camera around with me, coz these phone uploads really don’t do justice.

Lazy Foods

“Sales of lazy foods such as peeled potatoes, chopped carrots and diced onions are on the rise. But is there anything wrong with us taking a culinary shortcut?”

I read this article just as I came back from the supermarket with my ‘quick’ grocery list– refills in between bigger grocery trips. Below is my shopping list. Overall it wasn’t too high on lazy foods, but there were a few I could’ve done without (the ones in orange):

  • Ready-made pasta sauces
  • Uncle Ben’s ‘Express’ cooked rice
  • Salt and chives
  • Coffee
  • Oranges and raspberries
  • Cereal

“In the UK, there are people who really can’t be bothered with the most basic of culinary chores. Figures out this week from the price comparison website mysupermarket.co.uk suggest there has been an increase over the past two years in the amount of money spent on a basket of “lazy food” products like grated cheese, sliced fruit and ready chopped vegetables.”

I feel a bit guilty, as I do fall into the category of people who go for these ‘lazy’ options. I will mostly opt for grated cheese, ginger and garlic paste (as opposed to fresh ginger or garlic), canned tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, cooking sauces etc. But in my defense I would say that I buy these convenience foods to avoid unnecessary take-aways or order-ins. When I’m feeling incredibly lazy or if someone visits unexpectedly, it’s economically better to use a readymade cooking sauce or lazy food than going out or ordering in. In the bigger picture it helps you to save money and as the article points out, it is still healthier than a pre-cooked meal or a restaurant meal. On the flip side, I get so used to the convenience it doesn’t remain just a convenience thing for when time is short, it becomes a habit and I never bother buying the fresher healthier options.

Also I hadn’t thought about other aspects of this that the article raises: such as having a distorted perception of food (children not knowing where milk comes from!) ; the environmental costs (more packaging, production, shipping etc) and the loss of nutrients or vitamins that takes place when fruits and veggies are sliced and packaged. For these reasons at least, I will try my best to opt for fresher ingredients. But I will still stock a few lazy foods for those times when I just can’t be bothered to cook from scratch. If overall that helps me to cook more at home and eat less ‘outside’ food (read: unhealthy junk) and save money at the same time, then I’m opting to be lazy.

Courtesy: BBC


The summer is here and what better way to celebrate than have a BBQ, right?

But who would have thought it takes so much planning and preparation to host a BBQ? It may also have to do with the fact that we haven’t done one before and that we have invited 27 people (not to mention a handful of kids and a pinch of babies)! So I’ve been looking at websites online (see www.bbq.co.uk) and making my shopping list, menu list, guest list, ideas list and checklist! Yes, I can be organized when I want to be. This of course does not mean that on the last day, we would not be running around like crazy with me hyperventilating and Asim being as cool as a cucumber. What the hell, why is he always so calm? I never thought I was too much of a worrywart, but next to him I look like a nervous wreck. But ok let’s admit it: I would hate to have a husband who was constantly freaking out and looking at me for constant reassurance.

So coming to the BBQ: I’m quite excited in general, but what I’m particularly excited about is getting colourful plates, napkins and cutlery! What can I say, I appreciate the little things in life…especially when they are brightly coloured. Fati once called me a ‘butterfly’ (because of my tendency to get attracted and distracted by bright things). Even Asim says that he has started looking out for bright stuff…whether it is a salt shaker, shirt or a cushion, it’s better if its bright!

FruitKebabsOn the menu front, I just got some great ideas from Fati. Who would have thought there was a thing called fruit kababs until I googled it. But she is a MUCH better cook than me and I don’t think I feel confident enough to implement even half of her suggestions. 

In England the weather of course is always a huge concern for anything outdoors. So far the weather forecast seems to be in our favour. Sunday is predicted to be sunny, 16C! yay! Let’s hope the forces above remain cooperative and benevolent.

My last concern is how to entertain kids. The babies of course can be tended to by the parents, but what does one do with kids aged 2-8? Hmm…the online tips say have games for them. We’ll have to think of games that can be played in our small backyard and do not require a lot of running. We could also perhaps get videos etc to play indoors as a backup.

Ok the last advice to myself is to take a deep breath, relax….. and buy a new outfit of course! :D