I did not eat a Bombay sandwich when I was in Bombay years ago. Is it just called a sandwich there? (laughs at own “joke”). I am not surprised though – I have not eaten a lot of *obviously-you-should-have-tried-that-when-you-were-at-X* dishes. I took my time appreciating regional cuisines and food in general. Now, it is the top web search I run when we travel. Travel? Okay, I hear you laugh – it has been a while since we travelled, but you know what I mean.
Having eaten this first time last year, I have often asked myself “How could I have not made a Bombay sandwich before?” I think it is my general disdain towards potatoes on most days (except in fries, of course). Now I have a deep love for bread in all its variety and it forms part of at least one meal almost everyday. Use white or brown, wholemeal or seeded, but do make this. Add beets if you fancy, or don’t, but make this. Make it yours.
This is K’s recipe and my execution and even though I assume you don’t need another recipe for a sandwich, I will go ahead and tell you anyway because I really liked it.
All you need to do:
Take a slice of bread with the crust/ borders removed (keep them aside to make crumbs or fry them and use in soups)
Make a chutney of corriander- mint – green chillies- tamarind – black salt
Slather a nice layer of that coriander mint chutney on one side of each bread slice.
Delicately layer some boiled and sliced potatoes, slices of tomato, onion + sprinkle a bit of black salt + a slice of cheese if you like and cover with another slice of bread with chutney on the inside.
Now slather (there is a lot of slathering, I know) the top of the bread slice with butter and heat some butter on a pan and toast this to a nice golden with butter on both sides.
I can understand if you feel an uncontrollable urge to eat this right off the pan, hot, gooey and fragrant. In fact, I would highly recommend you to. Unbeknownst to you, it may be just what you need.
For a long time now, I have tried to grasp the meaning of simple food. You see this plate here ? Rice, tomato rasam, a roast pappad, some palya which by the way is what I made of some of those gorgeous runner beans that our neighbours gave us – this meal is my meal, it is the kind of meal I grew up eating and it was a full meal. I don’t ever remember thinking of this as a simple meal as much as I thought of it as a staple. On the other hand, simple has a sort of a happy connotation to it too bringing up associations with what we now deem to be simpler times. Is today a simpler time of tomorrow? Which kind of leaves me in a dilemna – all the subjectivity around simple apart, what is a simple meal to me, today? Is it my everyday meal? Or a meal that comes together simply? Perhaps a meal with few easily available ingredients? Or is it a meal one can make sustainably, consistently?
But here is what I chose to do as this plate stared at me – dive into my rasam rice with gusto. It did not answer my question. But when the smell of the ghee tempering invades your kitchen, it is best to keep matters simple and enjoy the meal. Simply put, it is as simple as that. But I’d love to know – what is a simple meal to you? Can you define it?
If you are curious, here is how I made this meal.
Runner beans Palya
Our lovely neighbours Da and Ce gave us some of the best runner beans we have had – tender, crisp and absolutely delicious with all the added happiness of having been grown with tonnes of love. Have you even seen the smile that lights up Da’s face as he talks about his love for runner beans?
You need: Runner beans – about 300-400 gm Fresh/ desiccate coconut (fresh is amazing, I used desiccate as that is what I had) – 2 table spoons (or to your liking) Tempering ingredients: 1 tablespoon oil (sunflower or coconut), 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, half a tsp of methi/ fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp urad dal/ channa dal or a mix of both, curry leaves. Turmeric – a pinch. Salt to taste
Method: 1. Chop the runner beans small. 2. Take a wok/ kaDai and bring to heat. Meanwhile keep the tempering ingredients ready. 3. Once hot, add a tablespoon of oil (I used sunflower but coconut oil works great too!) add the mustard, cumin, fenugreek and let them splutter, add the chillies, asafoetida and the curry leaves and sauce for 5-10 seconds. You don’t want to burn them 🙂 4. Add the chopped runner beans, turmeric and give it a good toss, add a bit of salt (to hasten cooking and for the beans to get some of it in) and sprinkle some water, give it a mix and cook on medium heat. You can cook this covered too but just keep checking in between. 5. Once the beans has cooked to a bite (we definitely don’t need them to become mushy!), adjust salt to taste, add the coconut and mix well. Turn off the heat. Your palya is ready!
Quick Tomato Rasam
This has to be one of the easiest ways to make a quick rasam. Ofcourse, this calls for having rasam powder or sambhar powder at hand but it comes together so quickly, so I highly urge you to have some in your pantry. I use the one that ma makes and gives me every time I visit her but you can always use good quality commercially available ones from MTR or GRB or a brand you like. Ofcourse one can go on about the joy of using a powder that is handmade but some of the commercial mixes are not that bad and while it may make a difference in the taste, I still believe that a rasam made with a good quality store-bought rasam mix can still be comforting 🙂 I will never forget the copious amounts of rasam we had during the brief but heavy snowfall that 2020 brought with it here in Surrey. See for yourself.
You need: Tomatoes (preferably sour): 300-400 gms chopped into small chunks Tamarind paste or tamarind water from pulp (skip if your tomatoes are super sour, mine were not so I used tamarind for tanginess): to your preference. I used 2-3 tsp of paste, we do like it quite tangy. Tempering ingredients: 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, curry leaves torn. Corriander leaves torn to small bits – to your preference but highly recommend keeping the stalks. Rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi – 2 tablespoons (this depends on how spicy you want it to be and the powder you are using ofcourse, use your discretion :)) Salt to taste Water – 2 cups
Method: 1. Heat a deep bottomed vessel. 2. We start with the tempering so add ghee, let it melt and heat up. Then, add mustard, cumin and once they have spluttered, add the torn red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds. 3. Now add the tomatoes and sauce for 3-4 minutes. Let us become slightly soft but not too mushy. 4. Now, add water, tamarind paste and mix well. Bring this to a rolling boil. Once the tomatoes get cooked and the raw smell of the tamarind paste is no longer present, then add the rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi and keep on boil for 3-4 minutes. 5. Now, add salt to taste and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. 6. Finally, add the torn coriander leaves and stalk, mix well and bring off heat. Your rasam is ready!
As if there are not enough reminders of how long it has been since my last meal in Mysore home, ma’s puLiyogre gojju/puLikaachal is now teetering between dangerously low and tearful levels. I am very good at making things last until my next trip back home usually but who am I kidding? The pandemic has thrown any semblance of such pride in the air. And am not over reacting. I can learn to make this myself and try to recreate ma’s presence like I do with a lot of my cooking but I refuse to. Not this time. Those dabbas of poDi and uppinkai and thokku and gojjus that I carry from home after my father carefully double and triple packs them and meticulously weighs them so I never have to suffer at the airport are my way of having ma in the kitchen, in those jars with their lids tightly shut only to be embraced every now and then, preciously, deliberately and very very conscientiously. There is a lot of love that goes into them, there is a lot of excitement in making them and a lot of satisfaction in them being being used to make a meal. Objectively speaking, making a great gojju or pickle is not something only mothers can do and yet to me, they are unparalleled. Colour me sentimental and overcome by an extreme longing for home, but what is my food without it?
Brown butter banana bread – has quite the zing to it, does it not?
I totally think banana bread deserves a day to be celebrated – in a pandemic, it brought together a nation and people from different corners and there was a camaraderie as people baked and shared and liked each others’ banana bread on the gram and perhaps elsewhere. There are very very few people I know who dislike or don’t care much for it but there is otherwise an ubiquitous love for this extremely endearing bread that doubles as cake and is inviting as a breakfast (when toasted) or as a dessert (perhaps with ice cream?). It is also the most hospitable bread – welcoming chocolate chips with as much gusto as walnuts and dates and well, your pantry is your limit, really! This time, I went for a decadent brown butter banana bread. Having baked a batch of brown butter cookies, I had this sudden brainwave to make banana bread with browned butter and sour cream. If you are looking to make this, here is what you need:
All purpose flour – 170 gm Baking soda – 1 tsp Salt – 1 tsp Sour cream – 150 ml Browned butter – 100 gm Caster sugar – 60 gm Ripe medium bananas – 4 (reduce a banana if you add 2 eggs) Honey – 30 gm (replace with maple syrup if you want to skip/ don’t have honey) Maple syrup – 30 gm (replace with honey if you don’t have maple syrup)
A word on sweetness – adjust this to taste. We like it just sweet and nothing too cloying. Also, the bananas were quite sweet themselves, so play with sweetness according to your preference.
1. Mix 170gm flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt in one bowl. 2. In another bowl, mix 150 ml sour cream, 100 gm browned butter, 60 gm of caster sugar, 4 mashed ripe medium bananas (reduce by 1 if you add 2 eggs), 30 gm honey, 30 ml maple syrup. Taste the sweetness as you add the sweeteners (t must be pretty sweet at this point as you will add this to the flour). 3. Now fold the dry flour mix into this without over mixing it. Bake until the insides are cooked and a toothpick comes out clean. 4.Let it cool while walk around frantically waiting to dig in and then waste absolutely no time !
Do not worry if it appears a bit dense the next day, just toast it or warm it for 20 seconds in the microwave and it will be delish. Add anything you fancy but just bear in mind the sweetness and it is simple because in the eggless version, you can taste the batter as you go. I would love to try it with jaggery and coconut and make it a rasayana-bread.
You know how they bake cookies during house shows to make it smell warm and inviting? I would totally bake a banana bread 🙂
One evening, K and I got talking about jim-jam cookies – the cream sandwiched biscuits with the most alluring jujube on top? And then we had a hankering for jam cookies. That is it – that is the story behind how these happened in my kitchen. Jam thumbprint cookies that have the crumbliness of a nankhatai (or beNNe (butter) biscuit as we call them in Kannada), rolled in walnutty goodness and a good dollop of strawberry jam. As we waited quite impatiently for the cookies to cool a bit, I remember how it started getting dark outside and then we took the tray up to the living room and enjoyed them in that fading daylight with all the silence in the world. I remember our hurried steps and followed by that complete silence as these cookies melted in our mouth. It may seem like such a random and eventless recollection but this scene and how it made us feel is etched in my happy memories so much like the thumb print cookies themselves.
180g butter, softened at room temperature
80-90g caster sugar – go up to 110 g if you like them sweeter.
1 large egg/ 2 small eggs with yolks and white separated.
1 tsp of vanilla extract
220g plain flour
Jam of any flavour of your choice.
(Optional) Crushed nuts of your choice to roll your cookie in – I used walnuts
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
In a bowl, beat the 180 g butter (high speed if you have speed settings) until creamy – I used a hand held mixer with a paddle attachment but you can do this in a stand mixer too.
Now add sugar (80-90 g), egg yolk(1 large/ 2 small) and vanilla extract (1 tsp) and beat together until it has all combined well.
Now add the flour (220 g), a little at a time and mix in. You can used a hand mixer/ stand mixer (use a really slow speed setting if you do) but I just used a spatula and gently combined it together – do not overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough by mixing it too much or kneading it a lot, the biscuits become hard. So really, just bringing it all together into one mass should be good.
At this stage, if your dough is slightly on the wetter side, then do refrigerate it for 30 mins to 1 hour. Mine was alright but I chose to refrigerate it for 30 minutes. I like to refrigerate my cookie dough – they reduce the spread of the cookie. You don’t need to do it for all cookies and you can omit it for this cookie as well. It is just a comforting step for me, I guess.
Line a baking sheet/tray with parchment paper and slightly grease it with any neutral oil.
Make small lemon sized balls of the cookie dough with your hand (gently rolling).
If you are using the nuts, beat the egg white until foamy. Slightly dip these cookie dough balls in the egg white and roll them in the crushed nuts and place them at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. The egg white acts as a binding agent to keep the nuts on. So if you skip the nuts, then just make lemon-sized balls fo the cookie dough and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
Now for the fun part – gently press the cookie so that you have a dent in the centre – make it as big or as small as you’d like depending on how much jam you would like in it.
Fill the dent with a jam of your choice and voila! They are ready to go into your pre-heated oven.
Bake for 8-11 minutes or until the nuts start browning slightly.
Notes for notes:
You could probably substitute with other flours/ almond meal, I haven’t tried that yet.
I have tried these with another filling that I will share soon as well – but really just go wild with what you would like.
Please watch the oven as these bake – they do turn around in a very short time so unless you are really sure of your oven and how it works, I’d recommend watching over them.
I always like to use the middle rack as that works best for me – but I understand that may not always be the case with different ovens. Just a tip.
You can drizzle sugar/ glaze these as well – we love them as is 🙂
One of the evenings not too long ago, I made a chilli with chauLi (black eyes peas). I have made chilli with different beans before and I feel like this is one of the most versatile dishes that cannot go wrong for that very reason because all you need to do is add everything you like and enjoy, in desired amounts. And it comes together in one pot if you have boiled/prepped your beans/lentil before. I used black eyed peas, onions, red bell pepper, peeled plum tomatoes from a can, soya chunks, green beans, spring onion and garlic. I used some Italian herb seasoning but you can play with veggies, lentils and seasoning of your choice. A quick simple that is healthy and very easy to put together.
Before I go on to share how I made it, can I just tell you how it blows me away when the ingredients, everyday, common, unassuming ingredients, come together to form a magical dish? Sometimes, I have no memory associated with it, it is not anything I have eaten before and yet it feels so comfortingly familiar. I love that about food, its ability to take you to a warm comforting spot. While I really want to share the method, I must warn you. My cooking is largely (largely but not completely) driven by mood, instinct and sensorial experience that the moment offers as I temper, sauté, fry, roast, grill, bake.. While I do follow some techniques and measurements while needed, curry is probably the last place where I am exact. So, please treat this as an idea and make it yours.
I used: Soya chunks (soaked in hot water and softened) Vegetables: Spring onion (separate the white bulb from the green part), minced garlic, chopped – onions, green chillies, tomatoes (I used canned but feel free to replace with free ones), fresh corriander Spices: Turmeric and chilli powder Herbs: Dried parsley, dried basil and dried oregano Any neutral oil for tempering Salt to taste
Here is how I made it: In a deep bottomed pan, I heated a couple tsp of oil. Once the oil was hot, I sautéed white tips of spring onion and chopped onions until translucent and garlic until the raw smell was gone. I added chopped green beans and red bell peppers and sautéed for a couple of minutes. I then added peeled plum tomatoes from a can (I like canned tomatoes and that soupy goodness in this though I have used fresh tomatoes too). I also added a pinch of turmeric, chilli powder and let it simmer for 10 mins in its own sauce. After this, I added a tsp of dried oregano, dried basil, parsley, salt and some soya chunks and some water let it simmer for a further 15-20 minutes finishing off with chopped corriander, the green bits of the spring onion and a squeeze of lemon.
We enjoyed it with toasted slices of baguette, but this would taste on its own too or possibly as a pasta sauce. The possibilities can be endless and as your heart fancies!
I love how seasons speak to my soul through my taste buds and of course gut. I never knew growing up, that I would remember food and associate it with a lot of happy memories years on. But turns out, I very very happily do. For someone coming from a place that boasted of moderate weather through the year (well, the summers have gotten hotter now) seasons trigger a lot of special and specific memories. And of course, the availability of seasonal produce had a big role to play and I fondly remember how seasons primed cravings and continue to do so, as I write this.
Having moved to UK, I have fallen in love with autumn and winter. It is every bit as beautiful and picturesque as I had imagined. What compounds this love is my love for the food that winters are made of – warm, comforting to the point that a dish regarded as an indulgence or sometimes even not the healthiest for your diet, becomes comfort food. I am talking about the pakodas, samosas and their clan, ofcourse. The last couple of months have seen a fair share of snacks and chaats and we had the perfect excuse for it – the weather. Growing up, we did not eat a lot of fried food at home. The amboDes, bajjis and pakoDas were occasional and immensely appreciated when they did happen. But we always had easy access to fresh puffs and aloo buns from the local bakery and our evergreen and ever favourite Ragavendra bakery in the city that makes puffs and rusks like no other.
But I always remember tamaashi bajji. Literally translates to “fun bajji” but when pa says it, he probably means “special bajji”. I have never asked. When ma made onion and potato bajjis (fritters for lack of a better word), some bajjis would have potato slice and some onions in them instead of being exclusively either. So we’d happily start eating one of them thinking it is an onion bajji but a potato would surprise us! And these were far and few but they were there surely in each of our bowls and would have us squeal in excitement when we found one. I make these tamaashi bajjis for K and myself sometimes. I realize now that they are as tamaashi making and sneaking into a loved one’s bowl as much as finding in mine. Pa has nailed it as usual, of course. Crispy along the edges and soft inside, these disappear by bowl-fuls. The perfect accompaniment to all this has to be the ginger-cardamom chai that K makes so so well. We make a big pot of tea and help ourselves every now and then. The bajjis moved us to a state of calm and snuggly and only whetted our appetite and souls for more.
I must admit that the vaDa pav is not a winter comfort alone, at ours. We eat them almost every fortnight. We have a favourite little restaurant in Hounslow called Shree Krishna VaDa Pav that makes them so well that we drive all the way there because it is just so incredibly worth it. With storm Dennis and incessant rains, our plans to head out for vaDa pav went kaput. So I decided to make them from scratch at home, the vaDas and the chutneys I mean. The pavs came from Morrisons. The chutneys are the heart of the vaDa pav, to me. I need all of them to have a full-fledged experience. Haha I am serious. The sweet and tangy imli (tamarind) chutney, the green corriander chutney, the chilli- garlic powder that is bomb-diggidy and of course the butter. As I blend the coriander chutney in the blender, with the tamarind chutney simmering away on the stove-top and the potatoes cooling down in the pressure cooker, K makes a vaDa pav playlist (extremely soulful Bengali music) as his tea masala in the mortar and pestle makes the environment heady. This is how I remember the makings of vaDa pav from that day. Ofcourse, it helps that K called them “so fantastic” in between a big bite because who doesn’t enjoy making loved ones happy?
When you have pavs at home, the only logical next step after you have had your share of vaDa pav is pav bhaji. This is so simple and versatile to make with vegetables at hand though potato is a must. So ofcourse, it happened. I started making pav bhaji a few years ago but I can see I have come quite far with this one which is funny because like I said, it is not that hard to make. I admit I make small changes that my heart fancies but I wonder if those little changes have helped or if I have grown to like what I make. All questions don’t need to be answered so I shall let it be.
Somewhere along an extremely easy peasy chole chaat with onion-corriander leaves- cumin seeds-tamarind paste masala topped with Greek yoghurt, chopped onion, tomatoes and nylon sev happened. This is sort of my go-to for a chaat craving. It comes together in a jiffy and the minute I garnish it with finely chopped onions, fresh corriander and yoghurt, I know I want it.
You have to forgive me for grainy, badly lit pictures as I click hurriedly under the exhaust light trying to stand as far as I can to avoid a shadow. I do have a quiver of excuses about short daylight, extreme hunger, impatience, a phone that had absolutely zero storage (a dropbox activity that I have procrastinated for long and hence this day has creeped up on me again) that makes me take shots on instagram and do poorly edits before posting and yada yada but underneath them all has been my laziness to change some of that. So even though the picture of the ghughni (dried peas cooked in a gravy) is grainy, the experience is crystal clear in my mind – piping hot spicy ghughni with buttered and toasted sourdough (feel free to butter them again) in a dimly lit conservatory as we ate in silence with little nods and sighs of satisfaction – bliss.
It was on one of the drizzly evenings we decided to bring a dhaba home. We often think of these roadside restaurants often along highways in India serving some fantastic local fare both meals and snacks that sometimes make journeys that much more enjoyable. Even now, every time we go on long drives, I look forward to the pit stops. So I made these pakoras with marinated baby corn and fried some poblano peppers and they were so perfect for the time and place we were in.
The comfort and joy of making dishes from scratch is unparalleled especially when you are in the mood for it. These samosas stand testimony to that. These take a bit of time but it is quite something when you make samosas and chai in your kitchen. Now that we have reminders to stay safe, slow down, rethink our actions and use the opportunity to bring the best out in ourselves, what better way than to create some of those moments in the kitchen? If you are someone after my heart, you will know what I mean.
To create is to find a voice and communicate – ideas and emotions. This winter, I did a lot of it. And, I cannot be more grateful.
There was a gobi stall right across my university campus that sold gobi with fried rice. I tasted it after 3 years at Uni and maybe once after that. That is how sad I was with street food. I had an incredibly poor immunity especially to unfiltered water matched by an equally poor zest for street food. I started enjoying street food with my cousins in Blore eventually and then the joy of international street food with K happened. Anyway back to this gobi stall across campus – it was so splendid and I sometimes think of it and wish I had access to something like that here in Surrey. A couple of days back, we decided to quit wishing and decided to act on it. K was my sous chef. We did a mish mash of recipes and followed our heart. It was incredible fun cooking and listening to endless Coke Studio as we excitedly churned up some gobi Manchurian for lunch as Mili wondered what possessed us. Some times, I remember how it felt making the dish more than how I felt eating it. One of the several joys of cooking, I suppose.
If you’d like to know, here is how we made it. 1. Make small cauliflower florets from 1 medium cauliflower. We want a size that allows for it to be coated well in all that saucey goodness and have a bit of crunch around without being raw inside, without using copious amounts of oil. 2. Create a thin batter of cornflour (2 tbsp), plain flour (1 heaped tbsp), chilli powder (1-2 tsp), turmeric (1 tsp), salt, ginger garlic paste (1 tsp) and vinegar (1 tsp). 3. Add the cauliflower florets to this and set aside for 30 mins. 4. Meanwhile, dice 1 onion and 1 bell pepper. Also, chop garlic (we did about 8 cloves) and ginger (1/2 inch) and green chillies and spring onions. 5. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok, add some of chopped garlic and ginger from step 4 and saute for 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower to the wok, taking care they are spread out and not a heap. This ensures uniform cooking – if your wok is small, do it in 2 batches. The cauliflower will turn turn golden and crispy in some parts and the batter becomes crunchy like the outside of fritters. Set all this fried goodness aside. 6. Now heat a couple tbsp of oil in the same wok, add the remaining ginger garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add bell pepper, onions, chillies and sauté for 2 mins so the veggies retain some crunch. 7. Add 2 tbsp sriracha sauce/chilli sauce, 3-4 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and mix. Add 1 cup water and bring to boil. 8. Mix 2 tsp cornstarch and 2 tbsp water and make a thin paste. Add this to boiling sauce and let it thicken. Mix the cauli and garnish with spring onions.
That’s it really. The gobi had a slight crunch and the sauce was perfect. I loved that there were crispy bits to it and some chunks of cooked crispy cornflour with garlicky goodness. It feels like a lot of steps but I think when you make something for the first time, chances are it may feel that way. Also, this does have a few steps. But it is so worth it. I would still go back and eat gobi from that stall across campus anyway but I know that there is something that gives me as much joy, although a different kind, when I make it in my kitchen with my K as Mili hopefully waits for a piece to land in her bowl.
Instead of making sweet pongal for Sankranthi today, I decided to make Ragi huri hittu unDe/ pori maav unDe or ragi laddoo though we never really called them laddoos growing up. Also, I have a bit of a mental block against laddoos. Making them, I mean. I am more than comfortable with eating one or half a dozen. Therefore, very conveniently I decided to make my entry into the world of laddoo (that I have come to realise is endless) – making with ragi huri hittu/pori maav unDe with a fair bit of confidence but also a bit of nervousness because am still learning to not see every attempt as an achievement because I tend to do that a lot.
Anyway back to these unDes. It was one of my favourite evening snacks and ma would roast ragi and get it ground at the local mill (Gosh, those were the days). The roasting was key – it imparted a beautiful smell and also made it easy for digestion. She’d roast the ground flour again, carefully but generously adding ghee, shaving a ball of jaggery with a knife right over the pan as some powdered bits and little pieces fell into that aromatic bliss while my brother and I waited rather impatiently with a hope that we’d get a bulk of those jaggery pieces to bite into. She’d wrap this all up by adding some warm milk, quickly rolling them within her palm alternating between the ghee in the little cup and the ragi mixture. She’s make them a really good size and yet we wanted more. Always. I never liked the nosy nuts in them much so sometimes she’d roast and grind some nuts into this mixture as well.
Today I did all of what she does with the ragi huri hiTTu I got from home. I also went a bit wild and added some slivered almonds tossed in with the huri hittu when toasting it. It felt wonderful making this but it also made me really emotional to know I’d be eating them without my brother. I’ll get all the jaggery pieces for myself and that is no fun at all. Ah, I guess I’ll send a picture to him and make him jealous. Sisters will be sisters
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.