Bristol and Me: Nick Saltmarsh


This week in Bristol and Me, we speak to Nick Saltmarsh, chair of British Dal Festival

Dal is very familiar – generally, a side dish when we have an Indian meal – but there’s a lot more to it. The British Dal Festival celebrates the magic of dal and pulses more generally: their flavour, nutritional benefits, sustainability, the way they’re used around the world. It’s fitting that the festival is based in Bristol – it mirrors pulses’ diversity, with such a breadth of cultures cooking and eating in different ways.

It seems there’s a new report almost every week saying that, globally, we need to move our protein consumption from animal to vegetable; of all plants, pulses are our richest source of protein, and very sustaining and satisfying. Compared to animals, they offer that protein with less impact on soil, less use of resources – such as water – and far fewer carbon emissions. There’s such variety: in Britain alone we produce more than a dozen varieties of pea, each with a distinct flavour.

Pulses are dependable for a good harvest, so they’re also good for food security. They’re used all over the world, adapt to almost every type of growing condition – some are very drought tolerant, others fare well in the British climate. 

Classic dal is very much a dish of the Indian subcontinent, but every culture has its own equivalent of using pulses to make a soup- or stew-like dish: in Britain we have mushy peas and pease pudding; in Mexico, refried beans; around Europe, the fava dip of Greece; and ful medames in North Africa.

91 Ways (food-sharing social enterprise named after the 91 languages spoken in Bristol) is a natural partner for our opening night, because they’re very much about celebrating that diversity, how sharing food and ways of cooking can bring different cultures together. Other events include the Dal Trail, where restaurants put a pulse dish at the centre of their offering during festival week. We hope it will highlight how pulses are not just a side dish – around the world, more than a billion people a day rely on them as their main source of nutrition.

The British Dal Festival takes place from Feb 10–17.

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