Dhal and string hoppers

Stevie Parle

Roasted spice mix
3 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin sees
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fenugreek
3 cm cinnamon
10 green cardamom pods (seeds only)
1 long mild dried red chilli
1 big tsp black peppercorns

For the dhal
500 g toor dhal
1 diced red onion
4 cloves garlic, peeled, green sprout removed
2 sprigs curry leale
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons roasted spice mix
salt to taste

For the string hoppers
Red rice flour
Hot water

For the tempering
100ml Olive or vegetable oil
1 tbsp Black mustard seeds
4 sprigs curry leaves (30-40 leaves), picked
8 Dried red (kashmiri) chillies


For the roasted spice mix
Toast the coriander, cumin, fennel and fenugreek separately in a dry pan. The coriander and cumin should be quite dark but the fennel and fenugreek should be only lightly toasted. Grind in a pestle and mortar until very fine.

For the dahl
Wash the dhal in cold water. Put them in a big pot, cover (and 4cm more) with cold water, and add the onion, garlic, curry leaves and turmeric. Bring to the boil then simmer for about half an hour to forty minutes, or until the dhal is completely soft. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. You may find you need to add extra water as the dhal cook, and that you need to stir occasionally so the lentils do not catch on the bottom of the pan. When the dhal are cooked, add the spice mixture and salt to taste, then cook for 10-15 minutes more to let the spices infuse.

For the string hoppers
String hoppers are like little steamed pancakes made of rice flour noodles. You will need a string hopper press and 'baskets' to sit your hoppers on whilst they steam, as well as some kind of steamer (but we improvise our own).
Add the water to the rice flour with a good pinch of salt. Stir at first, then bring together with your hands to form a thick 'dough'. Let sit for a while in the fridge.
Next, set up your steamer. At the restaurant we usually make lots of string hoppers at once, so we use a deep roasting tray or metal container, but if you have chinese wicker steaming baskets this would work well. Place a wire rack (for cooling cakes etc) on top of a couple of inverted bowls in the bottom of your container. Pour in water and place on the heat. You are aiming to create a steaming platform above the water on which to place your little baskets. Cover the container with a lid (another tray works best).
When your steamer is steaming, lightly oil your baskets. Fill the string hopper maker with the rice flour mixture, and turn the handle to make your noodles. Let the noodles drop onto the baskets to form a sort of noodle pancake.
Place your hoppers inside the steamer for about 7-8 minutes until they are cooked - they will firm up slightly when ready. Turn out the string hoppers onto a tray lined with clingfilm while you make the rest. Cover the hoppers with clingfilm to stop them drying out until you are finished.

For the tempering
Heat the oil in a frying pan. When medium hot add the mustard seeds. Fry until they start to pop, then add the curry leaves and stir until the curry leaves are cooked. Add the chillies and fry for a few more seconds, then pour everything into a bowl for later use.

To serve, heat your dhal, pour into a bowl, and spoon some of the tempering (including the oil) on top. Eat with string hoppers.