Workaholics: Use Up All Your Leftovers with This Easy Lentil Dhal


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Workaholics: Use Up All Your Leftovers with This Easy Lentil Dhal

Chef Bruno Loubet of veg-centric London restaurant Grain Store shares his 30-minute dhal recipe. Customise with whatever’s in the fridge.

In our new cooking series Workaholics, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Workaholics takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.


"My wife and I were talking the other day about what we'd choose if we could only eat one thing for the rest of our life. We both instantly chose this."


The ingredients for chef Bruno Loubet's lentil dhal. All photos by the author.

You might expect Bordeaux-born and French culinary school-trained chef Bruno Loubet's favourite dish to be heavy on the meat (and the stomach). Perhaps a hearty coq au vin or steak frites. But those who know his London restaurant, Grain Store, a place where veg is king, won't be surprised to hear that all he wants to eat after a long service is a soul-soothing, veggie dhal that cooks in 20 minutes flat.

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I've come to meet Loubet at Grain Store, which he opened in King's Cross three and a half years ago with one forward-thinking ethos: more veg, less meat. Nowadays, as the impact of excessive meat consumption on our health and the planet becomes worryingly clear, meat-free Mondays and "flexitarian" diets are commonplace. But Loubet tells me that back then, opening a veg-centric restaurant felt like a risk.


Bruno Loubet, chef-patron of London's Grain Store.

Placing the tray of lentils and chopped celery, carrot, onions, and green chili on the table ready for his dhal, he explains: "At the time, it was pretty bold to open a restaurant in King's Cross based on vegetables. It's easy to fall into making the classic vegetarian dishes like risotto and quiche—things that everyone has seen before. So I had to have variation and make dishes tasty, colourful, interesting, and exciting."


I can already tell this isn't going to be your run-of-the-mill dhal.

So, why is it his go-to dish?


Spices for the dhal.

"When you get home from work, especially with the long and unsociable hours that come with being a chef, you need something to eat because this is the time when you're winding down and reflecting on the day," says Loubet. "Lentil dhal is great because it's quick and you can add anything you want to it."

Therein lies the secret to the deceptively humble-sounding recipe.

Loubet softens the veg in a saucepan with melted butter before spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, Nigella seeds, cardamom, and cinnamon) are added. After a couple of minutes, in goes ginger, tomato paste, bay leaves, and chili.


"I'll make a batch so when I get home, I'll take a portion of dhal, look in the fridge, and decide what to add," he says. "Sometimes you think a little bit of crunchy, diced apple would be nice, another day you prefer some mushrooms. You can add as many or as little ingredients as you want, which is why I think it's great. It's your recipe."

After adding the red lentils, today's freestyle moves include swapping the vegetable stock for coconut milk and adding in a bit of honey ("It just brings a touch of sweetness and more balance to the dish.")


While everything simmers for 20 minutes, Loubet tells me that dhal isn't just for dinner.

"It could be Sunday and you could have it for brunch. I like putting a couple of poached eggs in," he says, seasoning and stirring the bubbling, aromatic mixture. "Or I'll add some prawns and a soft boiled egg. It's a bit like an unconventional kedgeree."


He quickly adds: "Don't think I'm boring and only eat lentil dhal! But I do have it three or four times a week."

Judging from the smell rising out of the saucepan, I don't blame him.


When the dhal is ready, Loubet adds ingredients to pimp up today's dish. Chopped cucumber, spinach, spring onion, mushrooms, and apple are stirred through for a couple of minutes before serving, and coconut is used to garnish.


Ladling it into a bowl, Loubet says: "It's the perfect dish for after work, if you're tired, or feeling lazy."

RECIPE: Bruno Loubet's Dhal

Even though it's the middle of the morning and I feel relatively bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a bowl of the comforting dhal with warming spices, soft lentils, and fresh apple does feel pretty perfect.