The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

yellow split pea and wild garlic tarka dhal

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The recent announcement by the makers of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s, advising consumers that their sauces should only be consumed once a week, struck me on two levels.

Firstly, as the manufacturer was not required to make this declaration, I wondered what could have motivated it to take such a unilateral step.

Ever the cynic, I believe this move was less about serving the interests of consumers and more about protecting the long-term interests of the company itself.

The introduction of sugar taxes in a growing number of countries is a sign of governments starting to take action over the content of unhealthy processed foods, which have undoubtedly contributed to recent huge increases in chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. This gradual shift in governmental attitudes is reminiscent of similar moves in the 1980s and 1990s against harmful tobacco products. In due course, many tobacco companies found themselves on the wrong end of a number of expensive lawsuits from individuals with inoperable lung cancer, relatives of those who had died from smoking-related illnesses, and even some US states who sued the tobacco companies under consumer protection legislation.

I don’t think it too fanciful to imagine, in years to come, the same happening with the manufacturers of unhealthy, energy-dense, sugar and salt-laden processed foods. Could the move by the manufacturer of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s be part of a cynical long-term strategy to avoid exposure to similar lawsuits in years to come?

The second interesting aspect of last week’s announcement was that it revealed, to those who did not already know, that Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s are owned by the giant multinational Mars.

In fact quite a number of ostensibly independent and heathy food brands that we buy are, in reality, in the hands of just a few multinational giants.

Take, for example, Seeds of Change, a company which produces a range of organic cooking sauces. It is also part of the vast Mars empire.

Here in the UK, Able & Cole, an upmarket company specialising in the delivery of boxes of organic produce to customers doors, is in fact owned by the multinational William Jackson Food Group, which also owns the Aunt Bessie’s label (producing ready-made Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, amongst other products).

Dorset Cereals, which produces muesli, granola and porridge, is owned by Associated British Foods, which also owns the brands Silver Spoon sugar, Allied Bakeries, Kingsmill and Ovaltine.

Innocent Smoothies, which sells “100% pure fruit smoothies”, was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2013.

In the USA, Boca veggie burgers is owned by Modelez (formerly Kraft). Kashi, which makes snack foods with “simple wholesome ingredients, and everything we believe” is in fact owned by the multinational Kellogg’s.

These are just a few of many, many examples of company ownership not always being what it seems.

What does all this tell us? Well, firstly don’t always judge the food you put in your shopping basket by appearance and claims on the label. Secondly, no sector of the food industry is safe from the rapacious appetite of the food multinationals, so if you care about whose pockets your money ends up in it’s worth being aware of who owns what.

Of course, the safest and soundest food any of us can eat is fresh food we have cooked from scratch ourselves, using ingredients we have either grown or which have come from a trusted supplier.

wild garlic and bluebellschopped wild garlicyellow split peasshallots

When Suma contacted me back in 2014, suggesting a collaboration, theirs was one offer I felt comfortable accepting (I have turned down similar approaches from other companies, on ethical grounds).

Suma is a workers cooperative which specialises in ethically sourced, wholesome, vegetarian ingredients. Under our agreement, I receive a box of ingredients from Suma every two months, from which I create an original recipe.

Here, as well as Suma products, I am using a seasonal treat to create the latest such recipe. Wild garlic (“ramps”) is now – briefly but gloriously – in season. You will find it growing in damp and shady woodland areas. It is prolific but its season only lasts a few weeks.

If you do go foraging for wild garlic, please only collect what you need and pick the leaves only, don’t uproot the plants.

This protein-packed vegan recipe is a version of the popular Indian subcontinent dish tarka dhal in which I have used split peas. Unlike lentils, split peas hold their shape. The wild garlic is added at the final stage of the cooking process so that its unique garlicky flavour remains a prominent element of the lovely combination of flavours at the heart of this rich, spicy comfort food dish.

yellow split pea and wild garlic tarka dhal


200 g yellow split peas
60 g wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tin organic chopped tomatoes
1 tsp turmeric
1 green chilli, seeds in (de-seed for a milder heat), finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp fresh coriander
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 litre water

For the tarka (spiced oil)

2 tbsp peanut oil
1 banana shallot, very thinly sliced
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida


1. Place the yellow split peas in a sieve and wash under cold running water until the water runs clear.

2. Place the oil in a large pan over a high heat. Once hot, add the chopped onion. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the split peas, the ginger, chopped chilli, turmeric, and sea salt and stir to combine, then add the tomatoes and the water.

3. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low so that it bubbles and simmers gently, stirring occasionally. When the split peas are tender, but still holding their shape (this will take about an hour), add the wild garlic and most of the coriander. Stir to combine.

4. Now make the tarka. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over a high heat. When it is hot add the sliced shallot and stir constantly until it begins to brown. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and chilli flakes. Stir and cook for thirty seconds before adding the asafoetida. Cook for a further thirty seconds, stirring as you do. Remove from the heat.

5. Carefully pour the tarka mixture onto the dhal. Stir to combine. Serve the dhal piping hot, sprinkled with the reserved coriander and accompanied by rice and/or Indian flatbreads.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. I love dhal and this recipe looks great. Also relieved, and rather smug, that virtually everything served in this house is made from scratch, including the sugar-free bread and mayonnaise.

    • Wow, I’m impressed! 🙂

    • Yes please, I’m always interested in new recipes! I also bake all of our bread, including the occasional sourdough, using just four ingredients – fresh yeast (or sourdough), flour, salt and water, and would never go back to supermarket bread. I’ve heard shocking tales of what is permitted to go into bread under the labels “flour improver”, “emulsifier” and “treatment agent”.

  2. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the cheap commercial and industrial food sources, no one could plead ignorance. Clearly a big enough number of consumers are making alternative choices and forcing food processors are reaching new levels of deception to increase their profit margins. This knowledge serves to increase my committment to buying fresh ingredients from local ethical sources and preparing ALL my own food.

  3. I too found the announcement staggering. It begs the question,if the product is so unhealthy why produce it in the first place. But I suppose I already know the answer! It all comes down to market forces and money … and like you Steve, I tend to be a little cynical and think the announcement was probably more about protecting themselves than the consumer. Thank you again for another lovely recipe.

  4. And thank you Ann Jenny for your great comments 🙂

  5. Oh yes the food industry. It drives me insane when I think about it.

  6. Nowadays trusting anything is costing heavily,especially the food industry where there is no transparency at all.God knows what to and what not to…

  7. Lovely images as ever, and I am with you all the way on the motivation for the unprecedented sauce consumption announcement!

  8. Garlic leaves are hard to find. I must plant them this year. Looks great! Your soup looks very tantalizing!

  9. As consumers, we really can make a difference using our spending power and I agree, processed ‘manufactured’ food is not a patch on home-made, especially home-made from home-grown or foraged ingredients. We’re lucky to have oodles of wild garlic growing in the woodlands near where we live.

  10. Definitely trying this tonight. I’ve been looking for a dhal recipe and this sounds delicious! 🙂

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