A 4 PM affair.

Vegetable puffs fresh from a local bakery. A 4 PM affair.

A trip down memory lane. A sense of timelessness. A happy ritual. A silent moment punctuated by the sound of crispy flakes. A yearning for more such moments. A feeling of contentment for the now.

A lack of words. An acknowledging silence.

A child-like glee.

Humbled by dal – India through dal from my kitchen

Comfort food has always been a source of fascination to me. How do people associate food with comfort? Is it something that evokes a pleasant memory from childhood or later years? Is it something that soothes the tummy? Is it food made by a loved one? Is it something that smells and feels like home? Is it a cure for homesickness?  Is it something you can whip up in a minute and feel happy as you dive into it? Does it stay constant or or, is it just something that changes with time? Is it a family heirloom?

My comfort food, I have come to realise, is a mix of all of the above. Perhaps, that is also why I cannot think of other reasons though am sure there must be (please do share). I cannot tell you how unbearably happy these comfort meals make me. I get pangs of homesickness (yes, even after 6 years of being away from home with yearly or bi-yearly visits) and just the process of making this and the smells that wrap my kitchen and home and ultimately my senses – is so beautiful. I sometimes mostly make a dish to evoke a memory, to feel someone’s presence. There are so many dishes and so many memories I have but my ultimate comfort food is and will always be khichDi (in all its zillion varieties but mostly the one my ma makes), upma and curd rice (with lime or maavDu – story for another day).

But, I cannot neglect a close contender – the dal. I like dal in a lot of forms – sambhar, the dal fry that K makes with some magic powder (I now know that it is the pav bhaji masala sprinkled towards the end) and the very humble paruppu that is made on most festivals and served on piping hot rice and ghee. But this dal is a ubiquitous favourite. I say that because, it seems to be a comfort food for so many of my friends – ask anyone and phat comes the reply, “dal chaawal”, “paruppu saadam”, “dal, rice and potato roast” and it is amazing how dal has pervaded our homes and tummies. So much that, it is an ingredient and a dish! And yet, when I probe, everyone has their own way of making it and savouring it.  Much like chai/tea. Now, imagine the length and breadth of India, the varieties of dal and try to estimate the hundreds of ways dal must be made! So, I decided to embark on a journey. To read and discover India through dal.

Now, what does dal mean? To me and for the purpose of this series – I want to cover the different types of lentils in India and the methods of preparation. Dal/lentil is a broad term and refers to all legumes (lentils, peas, and beans) that are cooked and perfected in several ways. And that is exactly how the series will define dal thereby including it in all its variety. Whole, split, soaked, dried – every lentil will included. Initially, I wanted to make this all about dal as a gravy. But that may make this way too focussed – so I am going to open this up to dal in all forms, as an accompaniment to rice/rotis/chappatis/ flatbreads (if you do not know what rotis and chapatis are)/ paranthas (stuffed flatbread), a gravy, soup, powder, snacks, everything I can lay my hands on and feast on, eventually. You get the gist. I may have changed my mind because I want to definitely include the amboDe/ paruppu vaDa because I cannot imagine life without it. I want to visit every state and understand how they make dal – this means, I will watch as many varieties of food documentaries, read books, ask friends, talk to family and you. I will then recreate them in my kitchen and bring them to you. I am no food blogger so I will not have beautifully laid out photos but what I bring to you is a reflection of my journey, a favourite episode from a show, a memory that I created, a relationship forged, a little hack and a meal that lasted and took me across my most favourite place in this universe – India. I want to do this weekly but I know there will be times I may fall back – but I will persist and endeavour to give this a part of my time every week.

All I ask of you is this – stories and recipes of dal that you love, moments that you cherish and your own love for dal. I want to listen to you and read all of your stories. I don’t know where this will take me but it is a journey I wish to make. And one that I want to take you along.