Pumpkin Tarka Dhal

Pumpkin Tarka DhalOctober: Month of the Dead

If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that I made the decision to fully celebrate the glory that is October, and make it a full month (at least) of Halloween. So it was fortuitous I remembered just in time that I wasn’t alone in this idea, and had been on a fantastic walk around London’s hidden graveyards a couple of years ago; organised under the banner of London Month of the Dead. How brilliant is that?

Pumpkin Tarka Dhal

I spent a long time agonising over which talk to go to, but when it came down to it – is there really any contest to severed heads and maritime legends? Even better, this airing of my city’s frankly horrific gore took place in a dilapidated cemetery chapel on a chilly day, with a steaming hot gin cocktail.

It was a great opportunity to take inspiration from a new setting, get out my notebook and throw up some new ideas. I was also happily stumbled upon (not literally, thank god) the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst, to whom I did, literally, say ‘thank you’.

Pumpkin Tarka DhalDo you have a pumpkin problem?

Keeping with the theme of my weekend; October brings decay. And pumpkins. And pumpkins, like all organic matter (including you and me, one day) also decay. Sorry – did I just cross a line there between narrating my weekend, introducing a nice cosy recipe, and death?

Either way… if you’ve been buying into the pumpkin-as-seasonal-decoration idea (or just buying pumpkins), you know that discarded, decaying pumpkins amount to 18,000 tonnes of edible food waste in the UK, every year. Isn’t that ghoulish?

Pumpkin Tarka Dhal

I know the common response to this notion, when I’ve asked people what they’re doing with their pumpkins (this is definitely not a euphemism), is to look at me like I’m insane, and that there might be the possibility that I don’t know what a bin, or compost heap, is. Why is the obvious thing to do with a pumpkin to throw it away? It’s FOOD. Pretty, pretty, delicious food.

Maybe the giant pumpkin you’ve carved and left sitting outside for a few days isn’t going to make a great meal (although there are still edible parts to be salvaged and cooked!), but you can compost that one. But all the others – especially the smaller ones that fit beautifully onto a bookshelf – can be eaten.

Roasted, pumpkin makes a fantastic ingredient for all manner of lovely recipes: this week alone I’ve made this dhal, and pureed the flesh to make two different cookie recipes. Can you guess the ingredient that I’ll be featuring in the next few weeks…?

If you want to find out more about rescuing pumpkins, Hubbub has a great guide.

Pumpkin Tarka DhalPumpkin Tarka Dhal

Aside from Sunday’s cemetery fun, this past week has been a bit of a non-event with the onset of the season’s first bubonic offerings (never fear – I exaggerate), so this dhal has perfect timing:

  1. it’s a delicious warming bowl for the arrival of colder weather and darker nights;
  2. it’s full of fresh, flu-busting ingredients like ginger and garlic; and
  3. it’s one solution to your potential ‘what do I do with this pumpkin?’ problem.

And it really does brighten up the weekday-dinner rota.

Pumpkin Tarka Dhal

But how about those flavours? For a simple dish, this one’s really satisfying. It’s:

  •  creamy, aromatic, and rich all at the same time;
  • fresh with ginger and lemon;
  • spiced with cumin, chilli, paprika and mustard seeds;
  • sweet with roasted pumpkin; and
  • gloriously garlicky – there are vampires about, after all…

For some reason, it took me a really long time to get into cooking dhals. Curry – no problem. A table-full of Asian-inspired side dishes – easy. But the idea of cooking a dhal – and cooking it well – intimidated me. Which I now realise is ridiculous, because it’s one of the simplest dinner recipes you can make.

Pumpkin Tarka Dhal

The dhal itself is just a matter of cooking yellow split peas (chana dal) in bubbling water with a few flavoursome ingredients for 45 minutes or so. The tarka – fried spices – in this recipe is my own flavour combination, to complement the pumpkin. To the spices, I’ve added onion, garlic and tomato, to give it a really rich and robust sauce quality. You can either stir it into the dhal, or add it as a garnish before serving; which is my favourite way to enjoy it.

It really is that simple: cook split peas in one pot, fry spices in a pan. You can even ignore it all while it bubbles and crackles away; making this is a great recipe for a no-fuss weekday dinner, or as part of a bigger weekend spread. Who fancies a curry night?

Pumpkin Tarka Dhal
Preparation time
Cooking time
Total time
This Pumpkin Tarka Dhal is richly-spiced, creamy and deliciously warming. Simple cooking at its best - you'll want to make this a weekday dinner staple.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: 60 minutes or less, Vegan, Gluten Free
Serves: 2
  • Pumpkin
  • 1 small pumpkin (or any winter squash)
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • Dhal
  • 200g yellow split peas
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
  • 1 fresh chilli (deseeded for less heat), chopped
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 lemon (organic/unwaxed), or 1tbsp lemon juice
  • Pinch of good salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Fresh coriander, to serve
  • Tarka
  • 1 tsp oil (coconut or rapeseed work well)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 fresh tomato, chopped
  • Water, if needed
  1. Heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.
  2. Begin by preparing the pumpkin and wash the skin to remove any mud. Cut down the middle, then scoop the seeds out from each half.* Cut each half into segments, about 1 inch thick. Arrange on a large baking tray, drizzle with the oil and put in the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, turning once. Once cooked, leave to cool a little before removing the skins.
  3. Meanwhile, rinse the yellow split peas really well, until the water is no longer cloudy. Put these into a large saucepan, along with the water, turmeric, garlic, ginger, chilli and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and leave to cook, part-covered with a lid, for 40 minutes.
  4. In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onions and leave to cook slowly on a medium heat (for about 10 minutes). Once the onions are really soft, stir in the garlic and leave for another 5 minutes. Add the spices, stir to release the aromas, then add the chopped tomato. I usually find I need to add a couple of tablespoons of water, just to loosen it up a little. This can now all be left on a low heat, until you're ready to serve.
  5. After 40 minutes of cooking, the dhal should be just about ready. Zest the lemon and add this, along with half of the juice, as well as the salt and pepper. At this point, you can add more water if you want a soup consistency - it's up to you. Either way, cook for another 5 minutes, or longer if the split peas are still too firm.**
  6. Spoon the dhal into warm bowls, sprinkling on the fresh coriander and garam masala. Add the tarka to this (if not stirring it in before serving), then finish with the pumpkin segments.
* Pumpkin seeds can be washed, dried and roasted!
**This will depend on the split peas you have, and your preference. I like mine to have a little bite.

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