Home Curry


Daal with flatbread

I learned my Indian cookery skills straight out of my Punjabi friend’s kitchen. She explained that daal is such a mainstay of her home cooking, so it was one of the first dishes she taught me.

Daal is akin to soup for Indian families and is a regular lunchtime dish served with roti. Its combination of fragrant spices and hearty lentils makes for a very comforting dish. Add some rice and it can be a nutritious and filling main meal too.

One of the secrets is to use two different types of lentils. This gives better flavour and texture. Yellow lentils (channa) have a creamy taste. Green or brown lentils add a nice texture. The great thing is that if you vary the types of lentils, you will get different daal every time you make it.

It’s odd but I never seem to get exactly the same taste even though I use the same recipe.  Friends who I’ve passed the recipe on to have commented likewise.

Lots of daal recipes I’ve seen fry off the onions and garlic and then add all the spices, water and lentils to the pan and simmer until the lentils are cooked, but I was taught to cook the lentils and the masala separately. Doing it that way enables you to skim the foam from the boiling lentil pan before adding the masala sauce.

Here is my recipe. Give it a try. It freezes really well, so feel free to make a larger quantity so you have some on hand for later.




Servings 4
Author Julie Philpot


  • 200 g brown or green lentils (1 cup)
  • 100 g yellow lentils (1/2 cup)
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger peeled and finely chopped, or 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 green chilli finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 300 g tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tspn ground cumin
  • 1 tspn ground coriander
  • 1 tspn ground turmeric
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tspn ground black pepper
  • fresh coriander to garnish


  1. Cook lentils in boiling water for about 45 minutes until soft, water should be about 1 inch higher than lentils. Top up frequently if lentils start to get dry and skim the foam that develops during cooking.

  2. Meanwhile make masala sauce by heating a tablespoon of rapeseed oil and frying cumin seeds until they ‘fizz’. Then add onion and cook until translucent. 

  3. Add ginger, garlic and green chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes. If using dry garlic, ginger and chilli you only need to cook for 1 minute.

  4. Add all of the spices except garam masala and cook for a minute. 

  5. Add tomatoes. Cover and simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes until it thickens and has a glazed look. 

  6. Add sauce to the cooked lentils along with garam masala and cook for further 5 - 10 minutes.

    Check seasoning, and serve with fresh chopped coriander.

August 13, 2017 0 comment
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Making samosas

Kids are surrounded by fast food, and even the most diligent parents can struggle to get them interested in eating and enjoying good food.

Something I have always thought about is this – can you teach children to have a love of food and to inspire them to cook whatever their experience has been to date? With so many cookery shows on TV now it does seem that children want to learn to cook.

This isn’t just a theoretical question. For the past two years I have been asked to go to a local school and, in their activity week, teach a group of 12 -13 year olds to cook Indian food.

And it was just last week therefore that I needed to grapple with the question again and do my best to bring cooking to life for an energetic and, possibly sceptical, young audience!

When I got there, I found that the class was a mixed group – two lads and twelve girls. There were certainly some that were keen and excited, but others were noticeably lacking in confidence and suffering from nerves.

The class at work

The dishes we were cooking were vegetable samosas, lamb keema and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes).

I explained that the recipes they would be using were taught to me by an Indian family from the Punjab and that they wouldn’t find these exact same recipes in any cook book. That helped make the session seem more exciting – the thought that they might be learning something others didn’t know. And none of them had cooked Indian food before.

But that alone doesn’t solve the nerves.

The challenge was probably most obvious when it came to the area of getting the youngsters to taste their food as they worked. There were several who were unwilling to do this at all. When I asked them why, they said that they didn’t think they would like it!

It’s hard to have fun and be creative if you have that mindset from the beginning. My own experience with my three children at least gave me some insight into this. I always tried to get them to taste as I cooked. Sometimes I’d be asked whether or not they would like it. All they got from me was the challenge to ‘try it and see’.

But they at least were a lot easier to raise than one of their school friends, who would only eat Ready Brek. And by that, I mean Ready Brek for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That would have driven me to distraction!

But there are limits to what you can do with a group like this in one day. If you get too focused on that sort of detail, then it stops being fun – and the key to success is getting a session where they feel treated like adults, and where the process of cooking is inherently a pleasurable thing rather than a chore.

That said, I did get through to some of them by letting them know that, whereas I’d tasted their food and told them when they needed more seasoning for the earliest dishes, for the last dish of the day they would need to do this for themselves – since I wouldn’t be there when they did it at home! There were certainly a couple of the kids for whom the lightbulb went on when they tasted the difference between under-seasoned and properly-seasoned food.

We started the morning with a demonstration on how to make the filling for the samosas and how to chop the vegetables and ‘cook out’ each ingredient to ensure layers of flavour.

With that dish simmering away, there was no time to rest. We had to get on with preparing onions, garlic, chilli and ginger for the next dish which was lamb keema. Since they had started to get the hang of what we were doing, it was time to up the pace. Rather than me doing a demonstration and then them following suit, now they had to cook along with me from the start. That helped to give them a sense of responsibility for keeping pace, and probably helped avoid the attention wandering as well!

After they’d been propelled through the task at hand to the lunch break, they could relax for a while. But once they came back, the biggest challenge was still waiting for them. A challenge that plenty of adults have struggled with. In my own early days, it was something I had problems with myself.

Namely making the samosa pastry and assembling the finished samosas.

I did a demonstration first and we used a mixture of egg yolk, cornflour and water to make a paste to seal the samosas. This was a tip I’d learned in sealing spring rolls in Thailand – an approach that would help stop the parcels from bursting open during the frying process.

Assembling a samosa

As none of them had done this before we did get some funny shaped samosas all different sizes. Of course, they weren’t allowed to actually do the deep frying themselves – for obvious reasons. But their creations had to stand up to the cooking that we subjected them to.

Out of the 14 children, the number that were actually successful in creating at least one samosa that was a complete success was …

14. That’s got to count as a result. All the samosas tasted good, even if the look of some of them was a little unconventional. And nothing encourages enthusiasm quite like success.

14 happy children all keen to make the dishes again for their parents during the summer break. They all got to take home the food and the recipe sheets too.

There are limits to what you can do it one day. But I think we made real progress. Teaching them was exhausting but a joy to see them getting pleasure from preparing food from scratch. Hopefully, it will become a habit that follows them into adult life, and never again will any of them feel the need to avoid tasting something because “I might not like it”.

July 23, 2017 0 comment
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I grew up in the 70’s and back then my knowledge of making a curry was that you used ready-to-use curry powder that would be either mild or hot on the label and then you threw all the ingredients in the pan at once.

Obviously in the modern age, with rather more cookbooks to choose from, most of us will know that’s not the best way to make a curry.

But it’s also well known that the best curries are made by Indian families, following the recipes and methods handed down to them by their grandmothers.

I was lucky. During the years when I had an Indian partner, I had the opportunity to learn to cook authentic Indian-style curries as taught by the superb and knowledgeable women of his family.

The family were Sikh, from the Punjab in Northern India. Punjabi cuisine is known for its rich, buttery flavours and a wide range of vegetarian and meat dishes.

So what was the essential difference?

The older Indian families would use ghee (clarified butter), which is high in saturated fat and can be a large factor in heart disease. Younger generations now tend to use rapeseed or grapeseed oil to reduce risks.

But the main difference was how the spices were cooked out at the beginning. This is key to developing the levels of flavour from the spices that is the biggest difference between really great Indian food and the rest.

This is now what I do when I’m cooking a curry.

I begin with just the cumin seeds in medium hot oil. Let the seeds cook until they begin to fizz. Only then do you add the onions.

The onions have to be cooked out until they’re translucent, then you add finely chopped fresh ginger, garlic and chillies. You cook these for a good five to ten minutes before adding the dry spices.

Once you add the remaining spices and cook them for a further minute, the mixture will look really dry. You might be tempted at this point to add oil, but this would be a big mistake! If oil’s added at that point, the finished dish could end up being greasy, since the spices have their own oils which get released during cooking.

Only at this point do you add your tomatoes and a tiny quantity of water, to cook on for another ten to fifteen minutes with the lid on the pan, until thick and glossy. That gives you the masala sauce that you can then add whatever meats or vegetables you want in your curry.

Give it a try, and let me know how you get on. I’ve copied below a chicken curry recipe using this process, but you can adapt it to your own choice of meat if you wish.


Chicken curry

Servings 2


  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 2 chicken breasts can be substituted by quorn for vegetarian
  • 2 onions
  • 1 potato large
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds heaped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch root ginger
  • 1 green chilli
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric heaped
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder heaped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder heaped
  • half teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons tomato puree
  • 400g tomatoes chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala heaped


  1. Peel and dice potato, finely chop onion, garlic, ginger and chilli.

  2. Heat a little oil in a pan and add cumin seeds cook until they ’fizz’. Add the onions and cook for further 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

  3. Add ginger and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add all spices except Garam Masala and cook out for another minute, Mixture will become dry but don’t add more oil. Then add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes with a little water. Stir and cover, cook for 10 minutes till thick and glossy, if mixture starts to stick add a little hot water.

  4. When cooked (oil starts to rise to top and looks glossy) add chicken and sear on high heat. Add potato and 150 mls hot water and cover and simmer for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

  5. 5 minutes before end of cooking add Garam Masala. When ready, garnish with fresh coriander and serve with basmati rice.

May 2, 2017 0 comment
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