Maybe I’m just noticing it more but the trend for January asceticism seems to have increased. Be it Dryuary, detoxing, or a hardcore diet, it feels like everyone wants balance the excesses of December with an austere start to the year.
I did a crash diet last January and although it helped get rid of a few pounds its main benefit was psychological. Having rampantly consumed everything in sight during the holidays there was a loss of control that sticking to a strict regime for short period recovered. Of course I couldn’t possibly keep it up; come February, along with the majority of the January dieters, I was back on the good stuff.
This year I took a less intense approach and decided to go veggie for a month. Still drinking, still eating carbs and fat but going without meat and fish. Given that the Flintstone-esque hunk of beef eaten on New Year's Eve was just a drop in an ocean of consumed animal product I wanted to redress the balance by laying off flesh. Aside from the health and environmental benefits of cutting down I was becoming a bit of a lazy cook: sticking bacon in most things or only adding veg and salad as an afterthought.
January is monetarily speaking always tight. After the initial excitement at being paid a few days early before Christmas, it’s a long wait till the next paycheck and most of us have spent too much in the name of hedonism. So, with frugality in mind this lentil dal ticks all boxes for January. Its dirt cheap, veggie, healthy, and most importantly for these cold, dark days: comforting.
Dal won’t ever win a beauty contest but the bright orange chunks of roasted carrots and butternut squash add a different texture, a splash of colour and sweetness. Its really easy to make and the leftovers make a brilliant packed lunch. Now that’s thrifty.
Squash and Carrot Dal (sunshine dal) - Serves 4
· 200g dried red lentils
· 1 litre boiled water/stock
· 1 large onion finely diced
· 4 cloves crushed garlic
· 3 tablespoons your favourite curry paste (I used Patak's tikka masala)
· 1 small butternut squash, de-seeded and diced into 2cm cubes with skin on
· 3 large carrots peeled and diced into 2cm cubes.
· Vegetable oil
· Salt and pepper
· Few sprigs of herbs or chili powder (I had some limp rosemary).
1) Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celcius (I have a fan oven so make it 220 if you don’t)
2) Add the diced squash and carrot to a baking tray in a single layer, lightly coat in oil and season will with salt and pepper and herbs or chili powder if you fancy. You may need two baking trays. The veg takes about 35-45 minutes to soften and develop a light char on the edges so get on with the dal while it’s in the oven.
3) Add a good glug of oil to a large saucepan or wok over a medium heat and soften the onion and garlic till clear for about 8 minutes then add the curry paste. Stir well and fry lightly for about 3 minutes.
4) Add the dried lentils and stir to coat evenly. Add the boiled water and stir. It will look a bit crap and watery but be patient.
5) Bring to boil then turn to a light simmer and stir occasionally for 30-40 minutes till the lentils suck up the liquid (you might need to add a splash more) and get beautifully soft and mushy.
6) Season well to taste and add the roasted veg to your bowl.
7) If you want, add hot sauce.