An ode to daal

Sunday Herald Life - - Food & Drink - By Su­mayya Us­mani Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Ta­marind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­mani.com Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

ICOULD go on for­ever about my daily sta­ple – a sim­ple home-cooked daal. It’s the ul­ti­mate non stodgy com­fort food that I reach out to each time I feel blue or homesick. I look back at mo­ments in my life where I sought out this hum­ble bowl full of lov­ing care and I don’t quite re­call why I needed it, just that I felt bet­ter with the first mouth­ful. Pos­si­bly be­cause noth­ing com­pares to the places this sim­ple flavour and tex­ture takes me. It is rem­i­nis­cent of home, safety and the smiles of loved ones.

My clear­est most re­vis­ited mem­ory would be the one of en­ter­ing my Dadi’s (pa­ter­nal grand­mother) home on Sun­days. The edi­ble ex­pe­ri­ence be­gan long be­fore I walked into her kitchen.

It was a sen­sory and sen­sual one from the mo­ment I stepped through her main gate; the night burst­ing with the in­tox­i­cat­ing pun­gent scent of fresh curry patta (curry leaves), abun­dant on the sole tree grow­ing be­side her gar­den path, waft­ing the green spici­ness of chillis and freshly cut lemony co­rian­der.

In­side the house the air would be heavy with the earthy smok­i­ness of freshly cooked cha­p­at­tis from the kitchen. Through the door of the kitchen I would be greeted by five aunts and a grand­mother all ef­fort­lessly cre­at­ing a whole­some meal for the fam­ily table. There was bhindi (okra), mut­ton ko­rma, cha­p­at­tis, bas­mati rice and daal – al­ways daal.

I was in­vari­ably drawn to the plainly sim­ple yel­low daal, sit­ting there in a patili (stain­less steel cook­ing pot), mak­ing no apolo­gies for its sloppy de­meanour. Its plain, com­fort­ing, earthy essence was wait­ing to be brought alive with a hot hit of bha­gar (tem­per­ing/ tarka) with gar­lic, cumin and red chillis in ghee, trans­form­ing its shy yel­low­ness to glis­ten­ing pride. It was a dish full of flavour, grace, com­fort, nur­tur­ing – a blank can­vas of home­li­ness.

The meal was ready to be served when the daal was ready – ev­ery­one was at the table wait­ing to re­lish this fam­ily meal con­sist­ing of the most sim­ple of dishes. It was the love and ded­i­ca­tion in­volved in the prepa­ra­tion that made it rich. No table at my Dadi’s was with­out dozens of fresh long green un­for­giv­ing hot chillis. These were con­sumed with each bite of food – and no-one was ever ex­cused from try­ing them.

Each mouth­ful of green chilli with daal and cha­p­at­tis was taken with a dot of yo­ghurt to kill the heat. An ac­quired taste to say the least, but one sim­ple plea­sure that pleases more than any other.

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