Food takes centre stage anytime I talk to my children. ‘This has been a very busy semester Ma’, they tell me. I know what it means in terms of food. Pot noodles and coffee, for lunch, supper, snacks, Thursday or Monday. ‘What did you want me to cook, when you are here?’ I would ask next. Mentally I start making notes, consult the cook books that I have. Maybe I should look into the Biriyani recipe that I haven’t tried for sometime, or I should step away from the Indian food and venture out on Pad Thai or even try my hands on baking some macaroons…..
I clearly remember those days myself. The paper notes strewn all over the table, overflowing onto the floor. The new geometric design on the wall, made entirely from different colour Post- its. The coffee mug balanced precariously on the corner of the table on top of the thick note book. Many outside requests of help to “clean” the room was strongly turned down. To dig out the green highlighter from under a few layers of papers used to be a delicate act of balancing. What appeared as the height of anarchy was actually my way of arranging things. There was a method to my madness.
Analog has given way to digital. No Post-its or highlighters these days, just the sleek silhouette of the MacBook Air on the table. The cravings for Dal-Bhat has not changed though.
“…Khali Dal Bhat khete chai Ma.” “I’d only like to have Dalbhat Ma.” This is the answer I get everytime. Just Dal and Rice. Nothing fancy, just simple, is all they ask for.
Lentils are a staple food in India. Dal Bhat or Lentil Rice is common in parts of the country that grows rice. Dal roti or Lentil and bread for the wheat growing areas. The recipe changes, every thirty Kilometers, they say. Almost every family has a way to cook them. The changes may be very subtle, just a few extra spices in the tadka or even omission of a few, could give the final product a new “look” or taste in this case.
Dal was never thought as soup. Lentil soup or dal soup was something I heard only after moving away from India. Now when I think about it, it can very well be a soup. Specially in the prairie winters, I can never say no to a bowl of piping hot goodness. Any thick crusty bread, and a side of salad, supper is served!
My children like the lentil and rice with a side of something crunchy. A few thick cuts of shallot or a couple crispy fried poppadums and they are happy campers.
Mushur Dal ( Split red lentils ) One cup
Ghee One tbsp
Panch Phoron One quarter tsp
Tomato One large, cut in small cubes.
Ginger Half inch long, finely grated.
Green chillies A couple slit length wise.
Cilantro Chopped. Two tsps.
Salt To taste.
Tomato ketchup A couple squirts, optional.
Boil the dal with water and turmeric powder in a saucepan. I usually use a pressure cooker. Wait for only one whistle and let it cool by itself. When cooked the dal changes colour to yellow and becomes mushy. Keep it aside.
In a pan put the ghee, on high heat. When melted add the panch phoron, green chillies and saute. Just when the mustard seeds from the panch phoron pop, add the tomatoes. Cook till they are mushy, add this mixture to the dal. Throw in the grated ginger, salt to taste, bring it to boil one more time so that everything mixes well.
Garnish with the chopped cilantro and a squirt of tomato ketchup if you want. Serve either with rice or Naan or Roti.
Panch phoron is a combination of equal parts of cumin seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and fennel seeds. It is available in Indian grocery stores and also through amazon.com
Tadka is a process of adding some herbs to a bit of hot oill, then adding this to the cooked dish for extra flavor.