I can hardly believe it’s been over eight months since India. The most bizarre, beautiful, magical experience of my entire life. Every day an overwhelming culture shock, a terrifying question: what the hell have I got myself into? But if I had the chance to do it again, I would. No doubt about it.
When I came back from India, I was relieved beyond belief: every minute that the plane got closer to Heathrow, all I could think was, My kingdom for a cup of tea and a biscuit. I think that’s when I realised how British I have become in the last (nearly) three years I have lived here. That I’m such a home bird, and a creature of habit. That I’m very easily scared, and worry too much, and doubt myself too much. Every day I was in India, I wondered if I’d taken on too much. It turns out I could (even the flooding Ganges, I could handle that).
But I was mighty glad to be home, and not at all convinced I wanted to repeat the experience. Ever.
And yet lately, I find myself dreaming of tropical forests, sandy beaches kissed by listless waves, and mountain tops brushing the heavens. I’ve made a travel bucketlist: all the places I want to travel before I die. It’s a long one. Just in case you were wondering:
• Australia/New Zealand
• USA (roadtrip!)
• France (all over–I’ve been many times, but I want to go back to Normandy, Brittany, and I’ve never seen the Provence, the Châteaux de la Loire, la Côte d’Azur, etc.)
• Germany (back again, I’ve been to Berlin and Munich before)
Some days I’m afraid I’ll never get to see all these places. And then I remind myself I’m only twenty, and no one said I had to do it all at once. It will take a long time to save enough money to see everything–but I’ve all the time in the world.
Going back to India — if there is one thing I will go back for, it’s the food. Dal is a staple of vegetarian Indian cuisine, and by far my favourite. A simple bowl of dal is all you need to set the world right again, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can personalise it as you wish. Either way, it’s so satisfying to sit down with a steaming bowl of dal, the aromas rising to your nose and transporting you to rice fields and limitless skies. I miss getting up in the morning to wash my face in the outdoor sink, where the Himalayas were the first thing I would see.
A few friends I made in the Ashram were English, so of course they were familiar with the delicious Miss Sophie Dahl. Who apparently spent some time in India, as I learnt from her book Season to Season, in which she shares a few Indian recipes. One day in this tiny local restaurant in this tiny little mountain village, Netala, we were eating thali and someone mentioned Sophie Dahl, which led someone else to ask if she was at all connected to the dish, dal, and some confusion ensued and the English had to explain who she was.
So no, Sophie and the Indian dish are not exactly related — but in my mind, they are now. And I told myself that day I would make a Sophie Dal, in remembrance of my friends and our time in India. Wherever you all are at this moment in time, I still think of you all very often, and I hope I will get to see you again some day.
Serves two as a main meal, four with side dishes
Prep time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 35 minutes
750ml vegetable stock
1/2 head broccoli, finely chopped
1/2 bag spinach
1 can green lentils
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 white onion, very finely chopped*
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala paste (powder might work, too)
1/2 tsp coriander powder
*I know in the pictures my onion and broccoli do not look finely chopped. That was just me being lazy, but I usually chop ’em very finely, which creates a beautiful texture that I much, much prefer.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Toast the cumin seeds for a minute or two. Add the onion and lightly fry for 5 mins, until translucid.
Add the remaining vegetables and stock and cook for 25-30 mins until all vegetables are tender. A few minutes before you take the pan off the heat, throw in the spices, too.
This dish is beautiful on its own, but you could also serve 4 people with this if you added some steamed vegetables and naan bread on the side; or you could serve the dal over some brown or wild rice.