Jenna was an East African Asian, of Indian descent, who moved to the UK from Uganda, fleeing the bloody dictatorship of the violent dictator Idi Amin. ‘Tender and feisty’ she was, says her daughter, lovingly. I wish I had known Jenna. I hadn’t, but I got to know her through her daughter’s book, her memoir in food. In Settlers’ Cookbook, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown tells so wonderfully her mother’s story, intertwined with her own, and which forms a part of her people’s history.
“Our family tree is puny, barren in large part. The roots don’t go down deep enough to produce a plenteous crop of ancestral stories or fruity relatives. The few memories hanging on are losing colour and juice, soon will wither and fall away.
The human urge to trace long, biological bloodlines is strong. But our far past was swept away by careless fate impetuously carrying off my folk across the seas, away, away to new beginnings. They took little and left behind even less. Like many other East African Asians whose forbears left India in the nineteenth century, I search endlessly for (and sometimes find) the remains of those days. Few maps mark routes of journeys undertaken by these migrants; hardly any books capture their spirit or tell the story. Then Africa disgorged us too, and here we are, people in motion, now in the West, the next stopover. There is no place on earth we can historically and unequivocally claim to be ours, and so we have become adept wayfarers who settle but cautiously, ready to move on if the winds change.”
Every recipe in the book is interwoven in the fabric of Yasmin’s Jenna’s life, or the life of their people.
Jenna’s coconut dhal has become a favourite in my home.
This post has been long in making, I’m sorry to say. Hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.
This is one recipe where mise en place is not necessarily essential.
Jenna’s Coconut Dhal
SOURCE: Adapted from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s ‘Settlers’ Cookbook’, her mother’s recipe
PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min
COOKING TIME: 1 h 5 min
CUISINE: Indian (Ugandan Asian)
SERVES: A crowd!
2/3 mug channa dhal
2/3 mug red lentils (masoor dhal)
2/3 mug moong dhal (split and hulled)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
8 green chillies, sliced (deseed if you wish, or reduce number of chillies)
1 1/2 tin tomatoes
1 tsp turmeric
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 handfuls of coriander leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
A pinch of jaggery (or brown sugar)
3/4 tin of good-quality coconut milk
1. Wash the channa dhal until the water runs clear. Then wash the mung and masoor dhals together.
2. Boil channa dhal for about 10 minutes, then add the mung and massor dhals, turmeric and more water, and continue cooking until the munch and masoor dhals are soft and mushy, and the channa dhal is soft. This will take about an hour in total.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan, then add the cumin seeds, garlic and green chillies and cook until the garlic turns golden. Then add the tomatoes, the remaining 1 tsp of turmeric salt, and sugar. Cook until the oil separates, and then add chopped coriander, and cook for another 5 – 10 min.
4. When the dhal is cooked, add coconut milk to it, cook for about 5 min, and then add the tomato mixture. Cook for another 5 min to combine, and then finish off with lime juice, a pinch more of sugar, and some more salt to taste. I like my dhal rather thick, but do add some water if you’d like it soupier.
Serve with rice, or bread, as a part of an Indian meal or for a simple lunch or dinner. It’s delicious either way.