Update: This dish is an entry for the LiveSTRONG With A Taste of Yellow concept. Started by Barbara Harris as a way of supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Most people I know have at least two food items they hate with all their heart (or stomachs) and will only eat them intravenously, if they were unconscious. When friends tell me about their hate-foods, it’s usually goes back to their childhood and involves some form of force-feeding story. For some, it’s been a case of having mothers who were really adventurous in the kitchen… with disastrous results.
One friend hates spinach because her boarding school chef made spinach for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another cannot stand beet root because his grandmother forced him to drink beet root juice – and soup and even eat beet root dessert – each time he visited her (that’s four times a week. Another refuses to eat pumpkin because she finds its Hindi (kaddu) and Bengali (kumdo) names offensive! While I don’t really understand that, I do remember my father scolding us by saying, “You bloody kaddu!”
Partner refuses to eat sultanas/raisins because his mom packed it in his school lunch. “Poor boy hates it because of me,” she now rues. He also cannot stand gherkin but refuses to tell me why. As for me, I cannot stand any form of small fish; whether as anchovies or fried like they do in Bengal. Firstly, it’s the smell and secondly it’s the taste. I also cannot eat Hilsa (ilish) – and this is Bengali blasphemy, most worship the fish – because I don’t like its skin.
Once upon a time, I also hated daal. It was more to do with having to eat the daal before I could eat the meat – and I love my meat – than hating daal per se. Thankfully, as I have grown up, I have also grown to love my daal.
It was only after I started living alone that I truly realised how much I enjoyed the simple dish. In fact daal was the first dish I ever cooked… I used less water, cooked in an open saucepan and the whole thing was burnt. I used to stay in a working women’s hostel that time (2000) and it was the hostel’s warden who took pity on me and told me the basics.
Over the years, I’ve come up with my own style of cooking daal and now that I am so far away from home, it is my favourite comfort food. Here’s how I do it.
Cooked on: low heat, covered (20 minutes) or in a pressure cooker (2 whistles)
Accompaniment: a dash of lemon juice or a teaspoon of pickle oil
Try this with: as soup, with bread or with rice.
Red lentils/ Masoor daal: 1 cup
Green chillies: 2, cut into slivers
Cardamom: 1 big, slightly crushed
Black peppercorns: 3-4
Garlic: 1-2 pods, depending on size
Turmeric ground: 1 TSP
Red chilli ground: 1 TSP
Coriander ground: 1 TSP
Salt: to taste
Water: 2 ½ cups
Ghee/oil/butter: 1 TSP
Cumin whole: 1 TSP
Whole red chilli: 1
Onion: 1 small, finely diced
Tomatoes: 1 medium sized, finely diced
Lemon juice: 1 TSP (optional)
Water: According to desired consistency
Coriander: 1 TBS, finely chopped to garnish
- Making the daal in a pressure cooker is much faster than in a covered pan. If you’re using a pressure cooker, the ratio of lentils to water I use is, 1 cup lentils : 2 ½ cups water. Different lentils cook at different rates; for red lentils, two whistles of your pressure cooker should do it. If you’re cooking the lentils in a pan with lid, use 1 cup lentils : 3 cups water. You’ll need to cook for about 20 minutes, checking and stirring the lentils intermittently so that they don’t form a lump or stick to the bottom of the pan.
- While the daal is essentially done even without the tadka; the latter process imparts more flavour. However, feel free to skip the step and have your daal as is.
- For a really simple daal, you can skip all spices except for garlic, turmeric and salt and it will still taste good.
- For thicker daal, add less water when tempering; for thinner daal, add more.
- A Bengali home favourite – one of mine as well – is to have daal sheddo (thick, plain, cooked daal) with rice. Simply cook the daal with water and salt, reduce the water (on low heat) till most of it evaporates and the daal thickens and mix it with rice and eat.
- Home remedy 1: In fact if you have an upset stomach, red lentils cooked using only salt and a little turmeric (say ½ tsp or less) is really good.
- Home remedy 2: Red lentil soup is also the vegetarian answer to chicken soup! If you have a cold, a sore throat or are simply feeling blue; make the lentils with salt, turmeric and 1 TSP of ground pepper; temper with cumin seeds, add water according to the desired consistency.
- Tasty trick: Leftover daal that you don’t want to eat? Cook it in an open wok till all the water evaporates. What’s left tastes really good when mixed with rice and can also be stuffed into paranthas.
- Wash the lentils thoroughly in water and keep aside.
- In your pressure cooker/ pan, boil two cups of water (high heat) with all the spices. Once the water boils, add the washed lentils, stir well once and cover the pan/ close cooker lid.
If in the pressure cooker, wait till two whistles and turn off the gas. If cooking in a pan, you’ll need to cook the lentils till they are soft; take some out on a spoon and press to check. While the lentils are cooking, remember to stir so that the lentils don’t form a lump and don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Just in case – should not happen but if – you find the water is evaporating from the pan and there’s not enough to cook the lentils, add another half cup water.
- Once the daal is cooked, take the pan/cooker off the stove and place another wok on the stove.
- If you notice that the daal once cooked is too thick, don’t panic; we shall fix it in the next step.
- In a separate wok/pan, heat the ghee/butter/oil on high heat. Once the ghee/butter/oil is really hot, add whole red chilli, cumin seeds, green chilli slivers and chopped onions. Fry the onions for 2-3 minutes till they turn pinkish.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook, mixing well, for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the cooked daal – careful, the oil is hot and it will sizzle and splutter – and mix well.
- Add water depending on how thick you want your daal to be; more water for thinner daal, less for a thicker one.
- Bring it to a boil on high heat then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
 Cucumber type vegetable
 Indian glossary
 Tadka or tempering is a way of releasing essential oils in whole spices
 Clarified butter
 Degree of viscosity of liquid