Tag Archives: Fort Cochin

How to make… Tarka Dal

Over the last few weeks I’ve had an incredible craving for lentils. Creamy red, yellow or green lentil recipes always remind me of the hearty broths I used to have growing up: mixtures with the consistency of porridge – largely due to the amount of pearl barley and vegetables – and a great all round flavour.


Combining this craving with my love of India (and Indian food) can result in only one outcome: creating the perfect Tarka Dal recipe.

How to make Tarka dal

Ingredients (from left) – ginger, garlic, coriander leaves; (tea spoons) – chili flakes, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric and yellow split peas.

The recipe below is simple and can be done in two stages: the lentils are cooked in turmeric-infused water and left to rest while preparing the seasoned spice mixture or “tarka” as it is known in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.


  • 250g yellow dried split peas
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2cm/¾in piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 Scottish oatcake (optional)


  • Bring the lentils to the boil in a pan with enough cold water to cover them two inches over the top. Stir in the turmeric and leave to simmer for 40 minutes (whilst skimming off the scum that rises to the surface every so often) until the water has been absorbed.
  • In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds over a medium heat.
  • Remove the seeds from the pan and grind into a powder.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in the same frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped garlic, with the chili flakes and the ginger.
  • Fry for 1 minute.
  • Once the garlic is golden, mix in the ground cumin and coriander. Add some water as necessary to loosen the mixture.
  • Give the lentils a stir.
  • Add more water as necessary before finally mixing in your aromatic fried ‘Tarka’ mixture.
  • Season to taste, then serve topped with coriander and an oatcake on the side.

Touring Fort Cochin (Kochi), Kerala

Towards the end of 2014 my fiancée and I decided to escape the bleak British winter and journey to Fort Cochin (Kochi), South India, to absorb the beauty, the sunshine and the rich foodie experiences of the state of Kerala.

I’m an enormous fan of Indian food. In fact, I would count it as my No.1 favourite of all world cuisines.

Chinese fish nets in Fort Cochin

Chinese fish nets, Fort Cochin (Kochi)

This trip gave us an opportunity to delve into the foodie culture of this old colonial port city whilst also getting a sense of the day to day lives of the people who live there.

Fort Cochin is an incredible place. The Lonely Planet describes it as:

“an intriguing mix of churches, giant fishing nets from China, a 400-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese houses and the crumbling remains of the British Raj.”

On our first day, after stocking up on a vegetarian breakfast from our hotel, we spent the morning sightseeing around the central districts, doing our best to negotiate the narrow lanes and busy thoroughfares, whilst motorbikes whizzed past in both directions blaring their horns.

Ginger production plant

Georgina with a piece of dried ginger

Local produce Fort Cochin

Local produce Fort Cochin

As well as their fishing industry, the city has a rich history of trading spices, dating back to the early 1500s, mainly focusing on pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and sandal wood. We were able to visit a wholesale emporium of spices featuring the most amazing display of ginger production, packaging and distribution, much of which was transported by truck to the rest of Kerala in enormous sacks.

The owners were very approachable and more than willing to talk to us about their spices.

Later on, we stopped off at a sugarcane vendor – with giant sugarcane stems being pressed through a machine to extract the liquid, before being decanted through a filter into a small cup. All for 30 rupees (about 31 pence in Pounds Sterling).

Sugarcane vendor

Sugarcane man, Kochi

Just as coconut juice takes centre stage as the latest craze for hydration in many Western countries – sugarcane juice is the Indian sub-continent’s alternative treatment. It can be consumed fresh from the stalks or as a drink.

I took the first gulp, then passed it over to Georgina. The taste was akin to drinking brown sugar; with a dark, sticky, soothing texture.

Sugarcane bark

Sugarcane bark

In addition to being very tasty the health benefits of sugarcane are also much to be admired; which include low-cholesterol, high calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese. It also contains a low glycemic index (GI) – which controls how quickly blood sugar levels are raised directly after consumption. The reason sugarcane has low GI is because sugars derived naturally from plant sources are processed in your liver, not your small intestine, which means that the sugars from sugarcane — fructose and glucose — are more slowly absorbed than sucrose i.e. refined white sugar, thus ensuring a slow release of blood sugar throughout the day.

Restaurant Dal Rot

Dal Roti is an upscale North Indian restaurant with an affable owner, a wide menu and a very long queue of hungry customers. This comes as no surprise, which such an eclectic the menu offering everything from kati (or ‘Kathi’) rolls, stuffed paratta breads, tandoori fish, delicious thali meals and an enormous range of authentic curry dishes.

Dal Roti

Thali with chapati, dal, chicken curry, raita, steamed rice and pickle

On one of our many visits, I ordered the Thali with chicken curry and chapati. Georgina ordered a vegetable-stuffed Kati roll – a flaky, buttery Indian wrap stuffed with spicy kababs (meat or vegetarian). Both we delicious. The flavour, texture and the immense serving size were absolutely on the mark.

We’d truly arrived in the Indian sub-continent.

Cost-wise, Dal Roti was very reasonably priced and shouldn’t break even the tightest of traveler’s budgets.

The service was great too. Despite the packed restaurant, there seemed to be only one waiter, who was nevertheless doing a cracking job.

I hope this has been an educational insight into this small sliver of South India. Please stay tuned and continue to check back for updates to the blog.