Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cooking on the Trail

সবজি ডাল  
Daal with Vegetables

Spiced daal with vegetables

I spent a weekend in Glen Affric earlier this summer, staying at an off-the-grid hostel while attempting to climb some local munros. The hostel itself was quite unique - 13 kilometres from the nearest road and powered solely by a wind turbine and solar panels. This is enough for lights and some heating, but not much else. Cooking is done on gas stoves - supplied by cylinders that are transported in using off-road vehicles. The remote location also makes it difficult to carry supplies onto site regularly, and guests are encouraged to bring food for their own trips. I was travelling with a group of friends, and we all pitched in to carry enough for 3 days. But this was 3 days without access to refrigeration, and we had to make sure everything we brought was non-perishable. 

Did I mention Glen Affric was beautiful?! 

I was in charge of dinner on day 2, and I had to think of ingredients that would cope well without a fridge. Hence I opted for daal with vegetables - but spiced up a little to make it work as a main event. I was a little worried about feeding a group of hungry hikers something like this, especially as at my family table daal would never be more than a side dish. So I decided this iteration needed to be richer, and I immediately knew I'd be using meat spices as a base. I've also always loved tart daals with jolpai and green mango - so I replicated that tartness here with tinned tomato. For the veg, I opted for carrots and courgettes because they were tough enough to survive the journey in our backpacks. The result was a spicy, tangy and thick daal: something I know I'll be cooking for years to come. The recipe below serves 6 generously. 


  • 500.00 g mushur daal or red split lentils
  • 1.00 large onion
  • 1.50 tablespoons of garlic paste
  • 1.50 tablespoons of ginger paste
  • 1.00 teaspoon powdered coriander
  • 1.00 teaspoon powdered cumin
  • 1.00 teaspoon powdered turmeric
  • 1.00 teaspoon powdered chilli, or to taste
  • 400.00 g tinned tomato
  • 3.00 large carrots
  • 2.00 large courgettes
  • Black pepper, to taste 
  • Salt, to taste


  • Rinse the daal in a large bowl, and leave to soak
  • Place a large saucepan on medium heat, add a generous glug of vegetable oil and leave to heat up
  • Peel and finely chop the onion. Transfer to the saucepan, and cook in the hot oil until soft
  • Add the garlic and ginger pastes, along with the dry spices and a little salt. Mix everything thoroughly, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and sticking to the bottom of the saucepan
  • Add the tinned tomatoes along with their juice to the sauce. Mix thoroughly again, and cook for a further 6 to 8 minutes. 
  • Stir occasionally to prevent burning and sticking. The tomato juice from the tinned tomatoes should stop this from happening - but if the tin didn't come with much liquid then add a little water as necessary to stop the dish from drying out
  • Drain the water from the soaking daal, then add to the saucepan. Mix thoroughly and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Again, add a little water and stir to prevent the dish from drying out and burning
  • As the spice base and lentils cook, prep the vegetables. Thoroughly wash the carrots and courgettes, then dice into bite size pieces. Peel the carrots if required
  • Boil 1 litre water in a kettle
  • Pour into the saucepan, and add the chopped vegetables. Season the daal with salt and pepper 
  • Turn the heat down to medium-low, partially cover the saucepan and leave to cook until the vegetables are soft - around 25 minutes. Taste for salt, and adjust if required
  • The end of this process will leave a thick, moreish daal with soft, mushy vegetables. Cook for less time for crunchier vegetables, and serve warm with boiled rice

Additional Info:

Glen Affric Youth Hostel with solar panels
Wind turbine just out of shot

During my childhood, our family's view of travelling meant zero responsibilities and a lot of eating out. However, as I've gotten older and discovered my love of cooking, I've veered a lot more towards tourist accommodation with cooking facilities. Cooking special meals as a group, whether with friends or family, has proved a lot of fun - especially if you need a laid back day in during the holiday. Of course, ingredients can sometimes be hard to shop for in new/unknown locations. That's why if I know we'll be cooking I always pack away some pre-mixed spices. For example on this trip, travelled with a small pot of the dry spices from this recipe all mixed together. I also brought along garlic and ginger paste tubes - the kind preserved in vinegar and not needing refrigeration. The principle can be applied to other dishes as well, such as dry-rub marinades for fish or meat. It saves on having to buy expensive spices while on holiday and leaving them behind at the end of the trip! 

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