Quick and Easy

Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

My goal with sharing recipes on this blog has always been to focus on simple dishes. I’m happiest making and eating fresh, simple, and (mostly) healthy meals and I like sharing how easy that can be to achieve. There are beautiful blogs out there which will guide you through making complex recipes and which challenge and push boundaries. I don’t think I’m pushing any boundaries here, except to offer a (currently) meat and dairy-free approach to cooking that focuses on whole food, plant-based recipes.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that cooking from scratch has to mean time spent frantically dashing around the kitchen trying to whip up something chef-fy and impressive. I think there’s a chance that rather than encouraging people to cook, the current glut of competitive cooking shows on TV only alienates us normal folk and makes cooking delicious food at home seem impossibly complicated and unachievable.

Dal with fried onions

We don’t spend a huge amount of money on food – we’re on a budget and I like the challenge of making delicious meals without spending a lot. We do buy mostly organic produce although the fact that I don’t eat meat or dairy has shrunk our food spending massively. Organic fruit and vegetables certainly come at a price, but it’s nothing compared to meat and dairy, organic or not.

I also don’t have a huge amount of time to spend cooking most days. If I’m lucky, after work there’s an hour available to make something before it’s so late that only toast is practical. At the weekends, more often than not we prefer to be out in the world, exploring this new city rather than hunkered down.

Homemade Chapati

So, inexpensive, simple, quick, and nutritious are my priorities these days and this dal and homemade chapati fall squarely into those categories. Many people assume you need a full cabinet of spices to make good Indian food but this dish is here to prove that theory wrong.

Dal is an excellent dish to make on a budget, requiring only red lentils, water, turmeric, an onion, and cumin seeds. You can’t really get more thrifty or simple than that and yet it packs an almighty flavour punch. Chapati also requires minimal ingredients to create soft, chewy, earthy-tasting, and perfectly charred breads that are lovely alone but perfect with a little chutney spread on them to scoop up dal. Since they require no rise, they are completely practical for a weeknight dinner too. Being lighter than their cousin, naan bread, I find that I can also eat more of them, which is one distinct bonus in my book.

Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

Simple Dal
from River Cottage Veg


  • 250g / 1 ⅓ cups red lentils
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • a small bunch of parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), coarsely chopped


  1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 800ml (3.5 cups) water and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum, then stir in the turmeric and salt. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes, whisking vigorously occasionally. The lentils should break down and have the consistency of thick puréed soup. Keep warm in the pan.
  2. When the dal is just about done, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry for a couple of minutes, until browned and fragrant. Add the onion and fry quite briskly for 5-10 minutes until golden brown, with some crispy edges.
  3. Tip the onion mixture into the hot lentils in the pan, cover and leave for 5 minutes, then stir them into the dal. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve with fresh parsley or cilantro on top and homemade chapati on the side.

Homemade Chapati (Indian Flatbread)
adapted from Saveur

If you can find chapati flour, by all means, use that. It’s a finely milled whole durum wheat flour called atta in Hindi. I used an organic wholemeal flour which turned out really well.


  • 240g / 2 cups organic plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp organic canola oil
  • 250ml / 1 cup water


  1. Whisk together the flour, salt, oil, and water in a bowl until dough forms. Transfer to a work surface and knead until smooth, for about 4 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough sit for about an hour.
  2. Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 12cm / 5″ round. Try to maintain a circular shape, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  3. Heat a dry cast-iron skillet or frying pan over high heat. Add a dough round and cook for about a minute before turning once, until cooked through and charred in spots, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining rounds. Serve hot. Makes 10 flatbreads.

Kung Pao Tofu

January 20, 2014

Kung Pao Tofu Bowl

This recipe is a Dan special. Dan is my husband, for those of you new to this corner of the internet. He grew up eating kung pao chicken at Big Bowl in the States and after his friend started working there and making it, he taught Dan the recipe.

I’ve wanted to share it here for a long time and now that we’ve been reunited, after four months of living apart, this seemed like a really fitting time.

Dan cooks a lot of the food in our house – I think he’s quite brilliant in the kitchen: unafraid, experimental, bold, with a real sense of how to keep things simple but make flavours work. I am quite in awe of his cooking skills. Living alone, one of the things I’ve loved most is getting to know our new kitchen and starting to cook again after two months of living out of a suitcase, but I’ve desperately missed evenings at home with Dan trying a new recipe or making one of our classics.

Kung Pao Tofu Recipe

Quick, fiery and deeply satisfying to eat, kung pao tofu (or kung pao tizzy, as it’s known around here) is a huge favourite of ours, especially on a weeknight when we crave something salty-sweet, hot and filling. It’s one of the dishes that I’ve always let Dan just cook solo since it comes together in the wok in a flash and there’s not much room or time for an extra body to get in the way. Being apart for four months changed that.

I got a mad craving for kung pao a month or two ago while we were still an ocean apart and had Dan text me the recipe immediately. My first attempt didn’t taste as good as I remembered his tasting, but since he’s joined me in London we’ve made it together and now I’m pretty sure I’ve got it down. Or maybe it just tastes better when he’s with me? Either way, consider this a celebratory kung pao tizzy/my husband is finally here blog post. Feels good to be back.

Kung Pao Tofu

Kung Pao Tofu

Make sure you have black bean paste and hoisin sauce for this dish. You can make a delicious stir fry without those two ingredients, but it won’t be kung pao. Also, don’t be shy when frying the tofu. You are essentially deep frying, not sautéing it, and you need a lot of hot oil for this job. The result is lovely crispy tofu. Finally, this dish comes together quickly so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and laid out ready to go before you begin cooking.


  • 400g (14oz) package tofu, drained and pressed to remove as much moisture as possible
  • 175 – 200ml (3/4 – 1 cup) organic rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil that takes high heat well)
  • 1 small onion, chopped to a large dice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 or 2 dried arbol chilli peppers, minced
  • 1.5 tbsp black bean paste
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • small handful peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced, to serve
  • Cooked rice (we use jasmine or basmati), to serve


  1. Cut the tofu into into half-inch cubes and set aside.
  2. Heat a wok over high heat for a minute. Once very hot, add the oil and let it heat up. It should be sizzling hot. Add half the tofu and fry until golden brown and crispy, turning over to ensure all sides are equally crisp and coloured. Remove from the wok with a spider strainer or slotted spatula and put aside on a plate covered with paper kitchen towels to soak up some of the oil. Repeat with the rest of the tofu.
  3. Carefully remove most of the hot oil from the wok, reserving about 2 tablespoons. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Add the fresh ginger, garlic, and dried chilli pepper to the wok and cook for a further minute, keeping everything moving and coated in oil. Add the fried tofu and peanuts to the wok and toss to coat with the other ingredients.
  4. Add the black bean paste, hoisin sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar to the wok, stirring and tossing the other ingredients in it. Finally, add the sesame oil, give everything a final stir and remove from the heat.
  5. Add rice to a bowl and top with kung pao. Scatter green onions on top and serve, piping hot. Serves two with some leftovers (if you don’t go back for more, which you will).


River Cottage Veg is my new favourite cookbook. I’ve found myself completely taken with it in the last couple of months and feeling very inspired to cook fresh, lovely vegetable dishes. I really like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s philosophy on food and that his writing isn’t fussy or overly stylised. The dishes are simple, not convoluted or too complex, which is right up my alley and very much my own way of cooking.

One of my biggest pet peeves with vegetarian cookbooks is that many seem to focus on meat replacements or finding substitutes that mimic the texture or flavour of meat. I don’t think that does vegetables justice! There’s definitely a place for veggie “meat” balls and vegetarian versions of classic meat-centric dishes, but what I love about this book is that the vegetables sing. As a meat eater perhaps Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall doesn’t feel the need to replace and instead he celebrates vegetables for themselves.

It’s become a bit of a Sunday evening habit for me in the last few weeks to make some socca to snack on (who am I kidding, to attack some socca like a starved person) and then open up River Cottage Veg to make something for supper.

Lentils with Greens, Parsley, and a Mustardy-Lemon Dressing

There are a couple of lovely green lentil recipes in the book and I’ve taken to combining my favourite elements from each to create the dish below. It’s quick, which I obviously like, and has a zingy mustard dressing that I ADORE. I wolf this stuff down and I suspect you will too.

All you have to do is cook the lentils and then swirl in some fresh arugula, parsley, and that mustardy dressing for zing. It makes for a really lovely and quick weeknight dinner when you want something healthy and bright tasting, which for me seems to be most nights during the summer.


Lentils with Greens, Parsley, and Mustard Dressing
adapted from River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


  • 1 1/3 cups (330 mL) French green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • A few parsley stems (optional)
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) cider vinegar
  • A small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • A little lemon zest
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
  • Pinch each salt and sugar
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 to 3 green onions, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Large handful of arugula (rocket)
  • Leaves from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley


  1. Put the lentils in a saucepan and add plenty of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute only, then drain.
  2. Return the lentils to the pan and pour in just enough water to cover them. Add the bay leaf, garlic and parsley stems, if using. Bring back to a very gentle simmer, and cook slowly for about half an hour, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain the lentils and discard the herbs and garlic.
  3. For the dressing, add the following to a jar with a screw-top lid: olive oil, cider vinegar, lemon juice and zest, mustard, salt, sugar and a few twists of black pepper. Cap and shake vigorously to emulsify.
  4. Toss the warm or cooled lentils with the arugula, parsley leaves, green onions, and the vinaigrette.