A Simple Vegetarian Dish to Cook at Home From Chef’s Table Star

A Simple Vegetarian Dish to Cook at Home From Chef’s Table Star

Asma Khan’s focus is on family and community rather than fine dining and she has garnered an international reputation for her London restaurant, Darjeeling Express, where the kitchen is filled with immigrant housewives rather than professional chefs.

The food, inspired by Asma’s memories of growing up in Kolkata, is bigger on flavor than finesse. And yet Asma is the only U.K.-based chef to have been featured on the Netflix show Chef’s Table, which has highlighted some of the giants of the culinary world.

If you want to try Asma’s cooking, you are out of luck at the moment. Darjeeling Express closed for the coronavirus lockdown and she has no plans to reopen it, even when that lockdown is eased on July 4. She is looking for a new site.

A Simple Vegetarian Dish to Cook at Home From Chef’s Table Star

“I am not opening because I need to protect my staff and that is my priority,” she says in an interview. “I can’t morally ask my staff to come and work. If someone asked my child to come into work I would just be so anxious. I can’t do that to someone else.”

The good news is that here’s a chance to try one of Asma’s dishes. She is sharing with Bloomberg a recipe for dal, a vegetarian Indian stew made with lentils and spices. Most of the ingredients are available in stores, though I did have to order the split yellow mung dal online. The recipe serves four.

Ingredients  for the dal:

225 grams (8 ounces) of mung dal lentils

2 tbsp ghee or oil

1 tsp chili powder

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

 100g fresh spinach leaves (or kale)

For the tempering:

2 tbsp ghee or oil

2 dried red chilis

½ tsp black mustard seeds

1 small onion sliced into half moons


  1.  Wash the lentils in cold running water, then place in a bowl and soak for a minimum of four hours in fresh cold water. Drain before cooking.
  2. Place the lentils in a heavy-based pan that has a lid. Add cold water to about 5 centimeters (2 inches) above the lentils. Add the chili powder, garlic, onion, turmeric and boil over a medium–high heat. When the dal starts to boil, lower the heat. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for 30-35 minutes.
  3. Check periodically, removing any foam from the top. The way to check that the dal is cooked (apart from eating it!) is to put the dal on a flat surface and “break” it with the back of a wooden spoon. If it breaks easily, it is ready. Do not mash the dal. You want it to be like thick textured soup.
  4. Add the spinach once you feel the dal is cooked. (Just leave it in for a minute or two to wilt.) Taste and adjust the seasoning before you move to the final tempering stage. You can make this in advance and chill it for later. When ready to eat, reheat the dal in a pan. 
  5. In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of ghee or oil over a high heat. Add the mustard seeds followed quickly by the dried red chilis and finally the sliced onions. You need to keep stirring to ensure the onions are cooked evenly. When the onions look caramelized (a dark orangish brown) pour the tempering oil, onions and spices over the warm dal in the pan. Next, take a spoonful of the dal and place it in the frying pan to absorb any remaining oil. Take care as the oil may splutter. This step ensures that all the flavored oil is used and not wasted. 

This dal goes well with rice or any kind of Indian bread. It freezes well. 

Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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