An ode to daal
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.