This is a split post: it’s split between India and Manchester, has split and unsplit peas, and argues the case for the split infinitive. There are rules about writing that I’m strict about: the incorrect use of apostrophes, pairing a plural subject with a singular verb (and vice versa), using too many adverbs, and reaching for a cliché just because it happens to be nearest. But there’s one grammatical convention I’ve never worried about breaking and that’s the split infinitive. Where would Star Trek be if we’d never been allowed ‘to boldly go’? And, in any case, just try removing the split infinitive from this: ‘The dough needs to more than double in size before it’s ready for the oven.’ Reconstructing the sentence simply makes it, like the dough, more than double in size.
I’ve just returned from India, where I tried endless variations on dhal, one of my favourite foods. The word itself means ‘split’ and can refer to any kind of lentil, bean or pea, so long as it’s been divided into two halves. So, to use a split infinitive, to eagerly cook a dhal produces an infinite number of splits. A chef I talked to in Udaipur gave me his recipe for tarka dhal, which goes like this:
FOR THE DHAL
- 200g split yellow mung beans, soaked in cold water for half an hour
- I finely chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 5cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoons chopped green chilli
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- Chopped coriander
The word ‘pulses’ doesn’t have much poetry to it. But I’ve just been given some with a name designed to beguile. They’re called Red Foxes and they come from a small producer in Suffolk called Hodmedod’s. (Their other pulses are called Black Badgers and Gog Magogs, names which I like even more.) None of these pulses are split, so they can’t be used for dhal. But they’re perfect for a masala – a dhal with spheres instead of hemispheres.
- 250g dried peas or chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used organic rapeseed oil from Hillfarm Oils)
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 6 cloves garlic, grated finely
- 5cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated finely
- 1 green chilli, seeds removed
- 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 250g tomatoes, chopped
- Salt to taste
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- Coriander leaves
We lived happily on fish, chips and mushy peas with mugs of malt-vinegar coloured tea. Grandpa left school at fourteen and worked down the pits himself, before becoming an apprentice painter and decorator. He was always much happier on days when I was reporting the strike from the point of view of the strikers than he was when I interviewed miners who were continuing to work. I never eat mushy peas, dhal, or chickpea masala without thinking of him and his joie de vivre. The irony is that he would have detested any recipe with spices – he was a man so timid about food that he peeled his tomatoes before eating them – but he would have loved the generosity of spirit that goes with spiced dhal. He always wanted to be an engineer and inventor, but never got the chance. Yet he always retained the ability to keep his eyes on the horizon and to embrace all points of view.