Dal. Rice. Achar. Papad. Eat. Sleep. Sigh! That is comfort food, Indian style. What is it about thin, smooth, slightly sour dal that makes me feel happy? I think it is the reminder of being home and being a child. It is a reminder of simpler times when things were always alright. Most importantly, eating dal brings a sense of routine to life, as though everything is proceeding as it should.
Every home has their own favorite dal recipe. Some people boil it on the stove, some in a pressure cooker. Some moms pour the tempering on top, some pour the dal into the tempering. Some use ginger and some garlic. Some people add curry leaves and some cilantro. As a child my favorite dal was arhar/toor which my mom would boil in a pressure cooker with chopped onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, salt, turmeric powder and coriander powder and then pour over a tempering of oil, asafoetida, cumin seeds and red chili powder. A handful of fresh chopped cilantro and the most heady aroma filled the household. I would pour the dal over the hot rice and let it flow down the sides of the mound and fill the plate before dipping my fingers in. What fun it was. That’s why I am so disappointed that since getting married I haven’t made that dal because the husband cannot eat garlic in a dal. It’s a Bong thing. He can smell the garlic a mile away – quite literally. The first day I did that, he walked into the apartment from work and said. “Oh, you’ve added garlic to dal?” He just couldn’t eat. He tried quite bravely to, but didn’t succeed. I felt sorry for him. This was the guy who taught me how to eat sushi and sashimi. He can eat anything under the sun but not garlic dal. So I wait for visits home when I get to eat childhood dal, instead of adulthood adapated dal which has only ginger.
I have several interesting dal recipes in my folder, but two stand out. The first is a dal dhokli. I ate it for the first time at a Mountain View restaurant called Chaat Paradise. I was there with friends and just decided to order it on the basis of the description. The dal is smooth (no grains visible), sweet and sour with dumplings floating in it. What a wonderful idea. The thin dumplings are cooked in the boiling dal. They become silky on cooking and absorb the flavor of the dal so that their slightly bland flavor is beautifully complemented by the complex flavours of the dal. It was great by itself as a soup but served with rice to make a complete meal. I was completely kicked and tried making it at home again. It was scrumptious, even though my dumplings were a little thick. I was reminded of this suddenly today and am craving it as I write.
The other interesting dal recipe I have is matar dal sorshe diye which are green split peas cooked with mustard paste. It was one of those times when I wondered what would happen if I made dal with sorshe (recall the sorshe obsession from previous posts) and searched out this recipe. I tried it and the result was that I can not think of cooking or eating that dal ever again. But that’s just the short story. The reality is that my taste buds were completely untrustworthy at the time – I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy, the nausea was just starting and I didn’t know it. So I decided to cook the dal in an open pan. But I could not stand the smell of boiling dal. I mean all I wanted was thin, sour dal but the smell of boiling dal made me want to puke. By the time I finished making the dal, I was so sick that I couldn’t think of eating it. I did taste it – it was bland and the thought of eating that dal made me so nauseous that I just threw it all. On principle, I never waste food. If the food is edible – not tasty doesn’t count – I will eat it. But that day the whole pot of dal went down the drain. The rest of my first trimester I made dal in a cooker with lots of tomatoes so I never had to smell boiling dal. I am still curious about sorshe dal though. I don’t trust my taste buds from that time and when I have more time and courage, I will delve into sorshe dal again.