Dahl – it takes skill – Monisha Bharadwaj

It’s important to value skills in school cooking so I’ve repeated an interview I did in 2016 about Indian cooking with Monisha Bharadwaj.

Monisha Bharadwaj
Monisha Bharadwaj

I met Monisha Bharadwaj on a Guild of Food Writer’s Food Trip to Hampshire with Hampshire Fare and it was the perfect time to ask about dahl. I’ve struggled to make dahl that tastes and looks delicious, yet exam boards seem to think is is a low level skill. Wrong! But why not ask the expert?

Monisha is an Indian Chef, TV chef, food writer, author and cookery teacher and she knows a lot about cooking dahl, rice and raita.

Jenny – Do you think dahl is simple dish to make?
Monisha – ‘You’ve got to have a lot of skills to make dahl.  You need to know about sequence, proportion, balance and cooking time. How to cook the lentils properly to get the consistency right – getting the balance of spices and seasoning. There are many kinds of lentils and you need to know which type and colour to choose. Do you soak the lentils beforehand?

How long will you cook them to get the consistency you need – how thick or soupy should it be?

You need to get the spices and seasoning right to get the 6 tastes at the heart of Indian cooking – sweet, sour, salty, hot, bitter and astringent. For hot we use chilli, mustard and ginger. For bitter turmeric and cumin and for astringent turmeric and coriander.

Jenny – So how is dhal made?

Monisha – You need a high temperature frying oil to cook seeds, then onions, ginger and garlic.

Then add tomatoes, spice powder and lentils and cook with water until the lentils are soft. Taste and season with salt. Cook further if the lentils need to be softer.

Serve topped with coriander leaves.

Jenny – ‘When serving with rice – is that easy to cook?’

Monisha – ‘Cooking rice takes skill – knowing what rice to buy, what proportion of water to rice to use, the cooking time, draining and how to get it fluffy.’

Jenny – ‘So how do you cook rice?’

Monisha – ‘I wash the rice, fry spice seeds, add the rice and add 2 times the water by volume. Boil then reduce the heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Then leave for 5 minutes to fluff.

Jenny – ‘ Then serve with raita?’

Monisha – ‘Yes you can make it with grated cucumber, salt and pepper and plain yogurt.’

Jenny – ‘So Dahl, boiled rice and raita need high skills all round! Thanks’

Interview with Chloe Edwards

In this interview I want to find out what cooking skills Chloe thinks are important for teenage students to learn and what dishes she’d like them to discover. Chloe runs Seven Sisters’ Spices in Lewes where she teaches cookery classes, creates recipes and supplies exciting takeaway dishes to lucky local people. She’s passionate about raising food awareness and tells me her food ‘recaptures the flavours of her multicultural London upbringing.’ I’m keen to find out more.

Me – What important cooking skills do you think a 15-16 year old should learn?
Chloe – There are so many possibilities – learning how to cook rice is a great start. There are many sorts of rice to use. They can make Pilaffs, Biryanis, Risottos – make a delicious meal in one pot. They could learn to cook by focussing on commodities like breads and dips.
Me – What other ingredients are important?
Chloe – Spices! Learn how to temper mustard, cumin and coriander where you heat them in oil to extract flavour – known as tadka, tarka or sometimes tarkha. It’s a transferable skill for so many dishes and you must discover how to prepare them without burning and then design your own spice mix.

Dishes in a thali

Me – Other ideas?
Chloe – Make bread. Simple unleavened bread that you can serve with dhal, or try parathas that can be stuffed with a mix of vegetables. And other breads too.
Me – What is essential for them to learn?
Chloe – to get good flavours, aromas and textures on a plate.
Me – for GCSE students choose a dish to show skill. How would you test them?
Chloe – Meals can be made up of so many things that could be served together, not just one dish – ideas like thalis and the list below.
Baked pakoras or samosas served with home made pickle and spinach dhal.
Dhal, which shows use of spices, served with home made chutney, flatbread and raita.
Food from the Middle East – Hummus with bread, quickly made pickles and a baked savoury filo pastry dish.
Rice – think of all the sushi dishes you can make.
Me – How would you sum up these skills?
Chloe – These ideas show a diverse way of challenging their skills and making something purposeful – it is the foundation for their future home cooking. If they make a meal composed of different dishes, it tests their timings and shows many skills in each part. 

Thankyou Chloe, much appreciated.

This video shows her work

Guild of Food Writers Awards

My blog I taught them to cook is one of the 3 finalists in The Guild Awards Online Food Awards 2021 so I’m very pleased as it’s the first year in my 20 years of membership that I’ve entered for anything.

Food textbooks are the secret world of food writing. Each one takes a year to write and must match curriculum requirements and be up to date and accurate. Then we need to source all the charts, photos and drawings. The good news is that publishers sell loads.
So Thankyou Guild for seeing the value of school food education. After 50 years I am a piece of its history! And thankyou Satellite PR for sponsoring this award. Hope you don’t mind my tatty old site!