There’s something so deeply comforting about tucking in to a bowl of lentil dahl. It might not be one of the prettiest of dishes but it is one of the most delicious and nourishing meals that features regularly at our family table. It’s been a staple in our house for years – as I try to limit our red meat consumption to three times per week – it’s simple, hearty and satisfying and one that I always cook in bulk, so I wanted to share it here with you.
I remember how famished I was in the early days of breastfeeding Otis, and how a bowl of lentil dahl was something I would find myself craving to replenish my deeply-depleted energy – a breastfeed can leave you feeling like you’ve just finished a gym class without ever leaving the lounge – and nutrient stores, and aid my body’s healing and recovery after the birth. It often got bonus points for being a freezer meal that meant I didn’t have to cook dinner either.
This lentil dahl would also be one of the very first meals we would share with our little guy – Oh the lentil dahl mess… Otis would completely cover himself in it, and we’d take him (still full clothed and in his highchair) straight in to the shower after dinner.
We chose to do baby led weaning with Otis – this meant letting him feed himself and jumping straight in to healthy solid foods, bypassing the purees. I’ll do a separate post on our baby led weaning experience because it’s honestly one of the best things we’ve done, and there are so many long-term health benefits associated with it, plus it makes mealtimes so much easier when everyone eats the same.
So when Otis was 6-months old and we felt he (and we) were ready – by ready, I mean he was showing interest in our meals and trying to grab at food, could sit upright without support, had lost his tongue-thrust reflex and was well on his way to developing his pincer grip – we started to introduce solid wholefoods. Playing with his food, exploring flavours and textures with his hands and mouth, eating some of it and covering himself and the floor with rest, was all part of his sensory development through baby led weaning, so we got an easy-to-clean highchair and floor mat and embraced the mess.
Red lentils are mild in taste, full of fibre and protein, easy to prepare and are dirt cheap to buy, making this dish a really hearty and economical one-pot-wonder… that I’m pretty sure I made with one hand, nursing Otis in the other at some point. Lentils also count towards your kid’s daily intake of veggies.
This lentil dahl is full of lovely warming and grounding spices like fennel, ginger, cumin and turmeric that are also antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Bone broth too, which is packed with nutrients in easy to digest forms – this stuff is so great for supporting overall health and wellbeing but especially for healing the gut, boosting the immune system and keeping skin and joints healthy… so good for promoting healing after a vaginal or caesarean birth. Coconut milk adds creaminess and brings all-important healthy fats.
Grains and legumes are called complementary proteins because when you combine them, you get all of the essential amino acids your body needs, so I serve this with basmati rice (which has the lowest GI of all white rice) cooked in bone broth and a little butter stirred through at the end.
I’ve popped two versions of this family favourite below, because over the years it’s morphed from one in to the other. The first (pictured above) is the original recipe, designed with feeding very little people in mind – I use frozen chopped spinach cubes here in place of baby spinach, so there’s no risk of anything getting caught in the back of little throats. The second, is a more recent incarnation that includes baby spinach leaves, potatoes and peas. Both equally as delicious, just choose whichever suits your taste and stage of feeding. There’s no salt in either recipe on purpose, so you’ll need to season your servings accordingly.
Alongside the rice, I’ll also serve some steamed broccoli or green beans, yogurt and mango chutney. A flatbread would be so lovely here too.
Serves: 6 – Prep time: 30 mins (+ 2hrs) – Cook time: 30 mins
2 cups red lentils, soaked for 2-4 hours in filtered water
1 brown onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger, or 1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbsp coconut oil or ghee
1L bone broth
1 can (400ml) coconut milk *BPA free
1 can (400ml) diced tomatoes *organic & BPA free
4 frozen chopped spinach cubes (approx 100g) *organic
Juice of 1 lemon
+ POTATOES & PEAS
1 cup frozen peas
3 medium potatoes, peeled & diced
1 bag baby spinach leaves *organic – this replaces the frozen spinach
- In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil or ghee.
- Add the cumin, fennel and turmeric and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant (approx. 1 minute)
- Add onions and cook until softened (approx 5-6 minutes)
- Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally
- Add bone broth, tomatoes, coconut milk and lentils (+ peas & potatoes for this version) and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom.
- Cook over medium to low heat for about 20-minutes, until the lentils are tender.
- Add chopped spinach cubes (or baby spinach leaves) and continue to cook until they’ve thawed completely.
- Turn the heat off and stir in the lemon juice.
- Serve with rice, greens, and a dollop of yoghurt..