Bowls of comfort: Tamal Ray’s squash and lentil dhansak recipe

The excesses of December are a fading memory, but the wind and the cold and the dark remain. Without the twinkle of fairy lights to assuage winter’s grimness, I turn to comfort foods, and few things nourish like a bowl of fragrant lentils inspired by dhansak, one of my favourite Indian curry dishes that’s defined by its gentle spicing and a sauce thickened with red lentils. My favourite squash varieties are crown prince and kabocha, but you could use butternut instead.

Squash and lentil dhansak

Save on prep and time by using ready-fried crispy onions from the supermarket: their flavour is quite different from those you make at home, but they’re still delicious.

Prep 15 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4

1 squash (about 1kg)
150ml vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing the pumpkin and for the ginger and garlic
550g brown onions
, peeled, halved and thinly sliced (500g)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped (15g)
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (15g)
2½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
250g red lentils
1½ tsp garam masala
Natural yoghurt
, to serve

Heat the oven to 230C (210C fan)/450F/gas 8. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, then cut it into crescent-shaped wedges of about 2½cm at their widest point. Brush with oil, season with a generous pinch of salt, then lay on a large baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, until nicely browned.

Meanwhile, warm the oil in a large saute or frying pan on a low-medium heat, add the onions and fry, stirring regularly so they cook evenly, for 25-30 minutes, until the onions are a rich, caramelised brown. Using a slotted spoon, lift them out of the oil and leave to cool and crisp up on a plate lined with a couple of sheets of kitchen roll.

While the squash and onions are cooking, put a tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and fry the garlic and ginger on a low heat for a couple of minutes, until they are aromatic and starting to brown. Add the cumin, coriander, fennel and turmeric, fry, stirring, for another minute, then add the lentils and 800ml just-boiled water. Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, then stir in a half-teaspoon of salt and the garam masala.

Cut the slices of roast squash into 2½cm chunks, then stir into the lentil pan and leave to simmer for another five minutes. Serve in bowls with a little yoghurt stirred through, a sprinkling of the fried onions on top and perhaps with flatbread or rice on the side.