Poppadoms, mango chutney, and cold beers are also a good shoutRhea Gupta

As week four draws to a close, we often find that the dust thrown up in the boozy, fluey haze of freshers has settled down, and that the friends we thought we had already made a whole 20 days ago at matriculation have disappeared. Some are in the library, cowered crying behind a tower of books that they neither want, nor ultimately ever need to read; others lie mummified in their own snot, sneezing out the remnants of the soporific, gluey lurgy that will hover over the entire population of Cambridge for most of the winter. Others still, who perhaps didn’t read my last column on how you might cure a hangover, may spend their days hibernating in a den made of old tinnies, empty gin bottles, and self-loathing.

Never fear. They’re still alive. You still have friends. It’s just week 4. And although no one wants to admit it, week 4 is the new week 5.

For me, the best way to regroup and have a proper conversation with friends is to make and eat dinner together. It isn’t like hall/buttery, where the entire experience takes on a high-speed, low-cost, and frankly, low-enjoyment approach to food. Instead, eating becomes about you and your friends- you have the freedom to choose what to eat, how and when you eat it, and who you eat it with.

One approach would be to have some friends over for a homemade curry night and make some dal, which is an absolute wonder food when cooking for a group of people. Not only is it really cheap and easy to make, but it is also vegan, making it suitable for people with a range of dietary requirements, and far less impactful on our poor, dying Mother Earth. Also, it keeps really well as leftovers.

Tarka Dal (adapted from Anjum Anand)

Even the humble gyp can produce a masterpieceRhea Gupta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • ½ of a 500g packet of red lentils
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1-2 chillies (I use the red birds-eye ones from Sainsburys, but I am a spice fiend)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped into small square dice
  • ¾ tsp garam masala
  • 1½ tsp ground coriander
  • Salt & pepper
  • (Optional): butter, fresh coriander, spinach (or other vegetables of choice, maybe sweet potato or carrot, cut up into small dice)

Method:

1. Put the red lentils in a saucepan with about 3 mugfuls (900 mls) of water and the ground turmeric, as well as a good pinch of salt, and bring to the boil. You want them to boil for at least 20 minutes (probably closer to half an hour) or until it looks less like individual lentils in water, and more like yellow sludge. If you are using other vegetables, especially hard ones like sweet potato or carrots, add them in with the lentils 5 minutes before the end.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, and once it’s as hot as you can get it, add the cumin seeds. In about 20-30 seconds they should start popping slightly and will become fragrant. At this point, add your chopped-up garlic, ginger, chillies, and onions, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions start to get translucent. Add the remaining spices, and continue cooking for a further few minutes. Someone will probably tell you at this point that something smells really good, and ask you what you’re cooking. Use this as an excuse to tell them about your gap year travels to Rajasthan/work as an English teacher in Kerala/spice tolerance. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

3. Add the tomatoes last to the frying pan along with a splash of water, and keep cooking it down until you can see the oil again, which will take about 10-15 minutes. It’s this technique that creates the characteristic layer of oil that you find on a good quality Indian curry, and it is really important for giving your curry an authentic taste.

4. Once all of the water from the mixture has and you can see the mixture sizzling again, add it into the pan with the lentils and mix. If you are not vegan and you want to take things up a notch, add a knob of butter, then finally add in any fresh coriander or spinach.


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5. To serve, I usually microwave a bag of Tilda Basmati Rice and toast either some pitta breads or the ‘folded flatbreads’ that can be found in the bread section in Sainsburys. You could make the rice yourself, or travel to India, harvest and mill some wheat and make your own rotis to serve with it, but to be honest if you have an essay due the next day you might not have the time. Poppadoms, mango chutney, and cold beers are also a good shout, especially if you’re eating with friends.

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