Monthly Archives: May 2015

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal – Vegetarian Curry

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal

Of all my least favourite questions, ‘So, when are you planning on… (insert big life decision here)?’,  is only just surpassed by; ‘What’s your favourite kind of food?’ This is a question I cannot rightfully answer. How is it possible to choose just one cuisine when there is literally an entire world of rich and exciting possibilities? On saying this, I have once or twice played the ‘if you had to choose…’ game, and come to the conclusion that if I really, really HAD to, I would choose to eat curry for the rest of my life.

I just cannot get enough of it. It’s everything I love about food: bursting with flavour, hot and spicy, varied. It’s also been my go-to cuisine of choice on many occasions, as above all else; it’s a cuisine that’s brilliant for vegetarians as well as meat eaters. They take vegetarian cooking seriously in India, which means there’s a wealth of choice when it comes to making a vegetarian curry – it’s not all about paneer and peas.

A lot of vegetarian curry dishes are designed as sides or starters, which I’ve found can mean they become a bit tiresome as a main. This isn’t necessarily the case for all dishes – this paneer and spinach recipe is as interesting as any meat curry I’ve ever had – and I’ve found a great way to vary the ones that are designed as small plates, is to serve them with different sides . The first time I cooked tarka dhaal I found it incredibly tasty, but given the smooth consistency the experience of eating it became a bit boring about halfway through. To counteract this I tried serving it with a half-portion of brown rice and some spiced sweet potato wedges – the result was a dish of varying textures, and a beautiful mix of sweet and spicy. Delicious.

This is another dish that’s great to cook when you’re running low on fresh ingredients. Red lentils are the perfect staple for the store cupboard. You can buy them cheaply in big bags and they add texture and substance to a number of dishes, namely soup, stews, and curries. They’re also quick and easy to cook, and a great source of fibre, protein, and iron. There’s a number of different spices involved with this recipe: garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander; all of which cost about £1 (depending on which supermarket you go to), and keep in the cupboard indefinitely. If you do a lot of Indian cooking, or even just cook curry once a month, I think they’re well worth buying in as staple components of the cuisine.

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal

Serves Two

Preparation time: 10 mins        Cooking time: approx. 30 mins


For the tarka dhal: 

300g red lentils

1 tsp turmeric and garam masala

1/2 tsp dried coriander and cumin seeds

Handful of cherry tomatoes

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 or 2 chillies, chopped

Thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated

1 tsp butter

To serve:

1 large sweet potato

1 tsp chili powder

Brown rice

Fresh coriander


1. Warm the oven to around 200 degrees and prepare the sweet potato wedges – I like to make them skin-on and chunky – place the wedges on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and chili powder, and rub in so that each wedge is coated.

TOP TIP: placing the wedges skin down on the tray makes them a lot easier to remove when cooked.


2. When the wedges are in the oven, place the lentils in a deep pan and pour over boiling water to about a finger’s width above. Bring the lentils to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top with a large spoon, and stir in the turmeric and butter.

3. Turn down the heat and leave the lentils gently cooking away. Start cooking the brown rice (takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes).

4. In a separate pan fry the cumin seeds in a drop of oil, when they’re sizzling to satisfaction throw the onion, garlic, chilli, and ginger into the pan.

5. When the onion has softened add in the chopped tomatoes, garam masala, and coriander, cook until the tomatoes have softened and stir the mixture into the lentils.

6. Serve up the sweet potato wedges and brown rice, top the rice with the lentil curry, and sprinkle over some fresh coriander.

Sushi Samba Review


It was recently my 25th birthday (two weeks ago, I’ve been banging on about it for far too long now), and for said birthday my boyfriend organised a meal at a surprise location. Despite attempting to book a simple table for two on a Wednesday evening over a month in advance, there were none available. Not until two weeks later. On a Monday.  At 9 p.m.

Now I’m no stranger to dining out, but my exploits in London thus far haven’t expanded much further than Nandos and wherever is cheapest on Tastecard – what can I say, living in London is damn expensive. Anyway,  I was excited to visit somewhere so in demand, and expecting the ultimate height of culinary sophistication.

I arrived at our meeting point of Liverpool Street station and was told that the allusive restaurant was none other than Sushi Samba – a place I’d actually heard of after listening to many a colleague rave about it. At first I was apprehensive. I know it’s not very fashionable, but I have to admit I’m generally a bit ‘take it or leave it’ when it comes to sushi. I just don’t quite get what all the fuss is about – it’s only raw fish and vegetables wrapped in rice after all. To me a sushi restaurant being fully booked up six weeks in advance was just so London it bordered on comic.

However, as anyone who has had the Sushi Samba experience will agree – this is no standard sushi restaurant, and it’s well worth the wait.

Sushi Samba sits on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower – a standard glass sky scraper building that in itself is nothing great to look at, but offers some of the most stunning views of London’s skyline. Your experience starts in the all-glass lift, that whizzes you up at such a pace it makes your ears pop. You can see everything as you go; below you, in front of you, to the side of you. This makes you feel two things: terrified (if, like me, you have a fear of heights that gets only progressively worse) and like you’re in some futuristic world, like the Matrix or any given Will Smith film.

On surviving the lift you arrive into a bar, artfully decked out with slick surfaces, graffiti-style splashes of paint on the walls, and short tables that offer a perfect view of the chefs cooking up bar snacks. The bar has a sophisticated yet casual feel to it, but when you step inside the restaurant the atmosphere changes completely. Between the dimmed lighting, waiters bustling round in suits, and flowing bubbly – I’ve never felt fancier.

Fellow sushi sceptics will be pleased to know that the menu doesn’t just feature straight-up sushi, but fuses the cuisines of Japan, Brazil, and Peru. We ordered a range of dishes from the different sections of the menu. All the plates are designed for sharing amongst the table, but as I didn’t want to limit myself to veggie food, we each picked our own. Worried about not having enough food we ordered an appetiser and two small plates each. This was a LOT of food.  Contrary to what the staff would have your believe, the portions are more than ample, and boast such a range of flavours that to over indulge in any one of them feels wasteful.

To start with I ordered the Brazilian style grilled peppers, which came with a slightly charred lemon for squeezing and looked pretty as a picture. The dish was tasty, if a little tiresome once I’d worked my way through the whole portion, and made me slightly jealous of my boyfriend’s delicately flavoured miso soup.


The small plates arrived all at once, and were a real feast for the eyes. Not since binge-watching Masterchef have I seen such artistry. The sushi, or ‘maki’, dishes come served with various sauces and condiments, all either dotted or spread across the plate – each taking the maki on a different flavour journey. Be warned – just the tiniest bit of their wasabi can be overpowering, and the strips of pickled ginger, while they balance the maki well with their sharp sweetness, should be applied sparingly. The real winner in the condiments department though was their soy dipping sauce. I have no idea how they make it, but lets just say it wipes the floor with Tesco’s own.

To get my meat fix I ordered their kuromitsu glazed pork belly, which despite being on their small plates section, was a fairly sizeable amount of pork for one person. Still, I didn’t want to waste a single bite of it – it was beautiful. Beautifully cooked – soft and melt in your mouth but with a slight crisp on the outside – beautifully flavoured – with a sweet orange glaze – and beautifully presented – topped with pickled onion, palmito, and a leafy garnish (don’t quite know the name of that one).

Pork Dish

I had initial doubts about the suitability of this restaurant for vegetarians – there’s only so much veg wrapped in rice a person can eat, surely? However I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of dishes, including the corn-coated tofu from the large plates section, which was served with a refreshing quinoa salad topped with an egg yolk, and crispy Peruvian potato chips. In all of this there was one clear stand out dish for me: the coconut rice we ordered to share. It may sound like a fairly standard meal accompaniment, but it was like no rice I have ever tasted. It was creamy, it was sweet, it was coconut-y. It was perfect. I have no idea how they make it, but I have made it my mission to find out.

Watch this space…

‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chilli Recipe

Vegetarian Chili

Hello and welcome to my new food blog! My name is Jess – or ‘The Hungry Northener’ – as no one has called me, ever. I am however, a Northener living in London, and am generally in a permanent state of hunger. Except of course when I’m eating lots of delicious food – whether that’s prepared by me, bought from one of London’s many amazing street food markets, or served at a restaurant. The point is, I LOVE food; all of it, all the time. I also love writing, so to write about food seemed a natural life choice.

I’m also an accidental part-time vegetarian, due to recently moving in with my full-time vegetarian boyfriend, who no matter how much my mum badgers, simply will not just give in and eat a bit of steak. My food journey over the past several months has been finding and developing recipes that work for both of us; that are veggie but don’t leave me feeling like something was lacking. My ‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chili is a prime example – and it also happens to be one of my all-time favourite meals.

I come from a big family and grew up on dishes like chili con carne, spag bol, and chicken curry – anything that you can easily make large quantities of in a big pan. Catering to four kids’ fussy requirements is no mean feat, and chili con carne was the dish that had it all: meaty enough for my protein-mad brother, spicy enough for me (did I mention I have a penchant for food, like, off-the-chart level spicy?), and yet not too spicy for my two korma-loving sisters. Since moving out of my family home I have continued to love chili just as much. It’s a great meal for when you’re nearing the end of available fresh food, but don’t quite want to buy any more, as most of the ingredients are from the cupboard. It’s an easy dish to throw together at the end of a long day, and most crucially; it’s undoubtedly delicious.

When I first ate vegetarian chili it was of the ‘five bean’ variety – substituting mince for an extra tin of mixed beans. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but as someone used to getting a meat fix from my meals, I found it slightly samey. After substituting those extra beans for quorn mince, I fell in love with the dish once more, and as an incidental bonus – quorn is a less fatty source of protein than regular mince.

Everyone has their own way of cooking this delicious dish made for sharing, and the best thing about it is that you can add stuff in as you go along, depending on what strikes your fancy. Traditionally I’d eaten mine with white or brown rice, but recently discovered it works well with cous cous or bulgar wheat, as the grains don’t dilute the flavour as much as rice. I’d generally cook the dish with a beef stock cube, as it gives that depth of meaty flavour that you miss without the meat, but if you want to steer clear of any meat products a good splash of Lea and Perrins will do the trick.

‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Serves four


2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red and 1 green pepper, cut into small chunks

1 chili – if you like it spicy

1 small pack of quorn mince

1 can of kidney beans (or mixed beans)

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper

1  beef stock cube or 1 tbsp Lea and Perrins

A good glug of red wine (optional)

To serve

Small pot of low-fat natural yoghurt

1 tsp dry chives

Cous cous, bulgar wheat, or rice

Lime wedge (optional)


1. Heat some olive oil in a large deep pan and fry the onion until slightly softened, then add in the garlic, chili, and peppers.

2. When all the veg has softened, add in the quorn mince, cooked until it is mostly defrosted (it will cook completely during the simmering process) and then add the kidney beans, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine, and Lea and Perrins if using.

3. Add all the spices – and crumble in the beef stock cube if using – do a taste check and add in more if it needs it, season with salt and pepper, and leave to simmer for 15 to 20 mins.

4. While your chili is gently cooking away, pour the natural yoghurt into a small bowl, add a teaspoon of dried chives, and mix well.

5. Prepare the cous cous, bulgar wheat, or rice according to the packet instructions, and serve with a generous dollop of the yoghurt and chive garnish, and a quarter slice of lime each.

If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers,  the chili makes a great lunch to take to work and eat with toasted pitta bread.