Starting the year with a comforting bowl of homemade creamy black lentils. While last year the Bollywood Cooking series focused on many popular street food and restaurant dishes, this year my concentration for the series will be good, down-to-earth, homey food. The type of food I grew up on. My mum is and my grandmother was exceptional in the kitchen. The dishes cooked in their kitchens were beyond scrumptious - they were the solid foundation that gave us footing and reminded us of our roots.
That was important, especially for my grandmother who feared that all her grandchildren, who were born and/or brought up outside of India, would forget where they came from. My grandmother spoke to us only in Hindi.
"How else will you all learn your language!" she would say. We would laugh and in return we teased,
"Nani we will learn from all the Bollywood films!" Knowing very well that although she enjoyed a good Bollywood flick, she did not approve of all that "Western" influence depicted in the films.
The result: we speak Hindi, albeit with an accent (not including the cousins living in India) and some better than others. When we all get together we often speak in Hindi and remember Nani - how she would scold us how she would love us.
I come from a Sikh Punjabi family and grew up with very close ties to my mother's side of the family. We would spend many vacations with my grandparents sometimes in the US but often in India. Life in both countries could not have been more different.
India is colorful, loud and full of life. My grandparents house in Delhi was always alive. Neighbors and friends would go in and out, discussions and gossip would be held on the veranda with anyone who happened to go by and had time, we children would run around shouting and laughing and no one ever told us to be quiet and in the background the radio would always be playing tunes of old Hindi songs from the 60s.
"I am never lonely in India!" My grandmother would say when asked which country she preferred.
When the family was visiting, it was obvious that the kitchen was the hub of the house. It seemed that everything revolved around food and mealtimes. My nani and mum, who was the eldest of four children, were always busy buying or cooking food. Flour would be kneaded to make fresh chapaatis for each meal, vegetables cut and prepared for the various sabzis and lentils or beans picked for stones and cooked into thick creamy bowls of goodness.
My grandfather was a vegetarian and my grandmother was not - so you can imagine how much she enjoyed our visits when she had a good excuse to cook lamb or chicken. But that is for another post.
It was dal however, that enjoyed the most popularity. Everyone had their favorite type and my nani would make it a point to cook one favorite for each meal.
Indeed dal is the answer to every discomfort. Feeling unwell, exhausted, depressed or low, my mother's remedy to all was a bowl of comforting dal and steaming rice - dal chawal, as it is called in Hindi - lentils and rice.
There must be truth in her remedy because today when I miss her, or am exhausted, or feeling down or homesick, I take out a packet of dal, pick it over for stones, cook it in the pressure cooker, while the rice cooker prepares fluffy scented rice and no sooner have I taken the first spoonful, I instantly feel a little better.
My favorite type of dal dish is and always has been Kaali Maa Di Dal - a delicious, rich Punjabi dish with a mix of creamy whole black sabut urad lentils (black gram), channa dal (or split Bengal gram dal) and a handful of black kidney beans.
The name of this dish is in actual fact derived from the main ingredient - sabut urad. In Punjabi this particular type of lentils are called "maah". Contrary to popular belief the maa in the name of this dish does not mean mother - even though the Hindi word for mother is maa. Knowing that, we can now decipher the entire name of the dish:
- Kaali = Black
- Maa = Sabut Urad
- Di = of
- Dal = Lentils
So, basically it means that you are getting a lentil dish made of black sabut urad. Too trivial? On the contrary this dal dish is anything but trivial. The spices and aromas make this a wonderfully complex flavored dish full of texture.
There are certainly several different recipes for preparing this particular type of maa di dal, sometimes disguised under the elegant name of Dal Makhani - buttery dal. Every Indian cook (or mother) has their own recipe for maa di dal. However, this recipe for a traditional Punjabi Kaali Maa Di Dal is my grandmother's and adapted by my mother. I never got a chance to learn how to make this favorite dish of mine from my nani, but as I grew up eating and loving my mother's version I thought it would be nice to start the year by sharing mum's creamy black lentils with you - or as we would say in Punjabi Maa di Kaali Maa di Dal ;-)
- Monthly Mingle theme this month World of Spice Cookies
- Deadline January 5
- Bake delicious cookies sweet or savory highlighted by a spice
- One lucky winner will win the cookbook a Field Guide to Cookies
- Come on over and join us. Details here.
Recipe: Mum's Creamy Black Lentils - Kaali Maa Di Dal
Printable version of recipe here.
200g whole black lentils - black sabut urad, washed several times in cold water and soaked overnight
80g split Bengal gram - channa dal, washed several times in cold water and soaked overnight
50 - 80g red kidney beans, I used canned kidney beans, washed several times
15g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into two pieces
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 green chillies
4 green cardamom pods
2-3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
Pinch asafetida powder
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
3 tablespoons ghee, use clarified butter or unsalted butter as a substitute
160g red onions, finely chopped
400g can crushed tomatoes
50ml heavy cream
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
- In a large saucepan add the sabut urad and channa dal and fill with about 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil uncovered on medium heat. On the surface you will notice a foamy substance, skim off as much of this substance as possible.
- In a food processor add the ginger, garlic and chillies, pulsing until minced.
- Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the minced ginger-garlic mixture and stir. Throw in the cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and covered, simmer gently until the legumes have softened and are cooked - about 1 hour.
- While the legumes are cooking, heat a skillet on medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons ghee. Once the ghee is hot add the cumin seeds and allow them to cook until they sizzle and sputter - about 5-8 seconds. Add the asafetida and Kashmiri chili powder, stir well. Finally add the chopped onions and stir-fry until golden brown - about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the canned tomatoes, reducing the heat to low. Simmer the sauce until the ghee (or butter) begins to separate - about 6 to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Sprinkle some salt to taste.
- Once the legumes are ready - they should be soft and tender - stir in the tomato sauce. Mix until incorporated. Add about a cup of water to the skillet and scrape off any bits of the sauce, then pour it into the legumes.
- Add the kidney beans and simmer, covered until they are soft and tender - about 8 minutes.
- Pour in the cream and heat through. Stir in the remaining ghee and serve, sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves.
- This dal is just delicious with plain Basmati rice, scented with cloves and cardamom pods. It's the way my mum and I enjoy the dish best.
- My father enjoys this with Arabic or Lebanese bread, breaking pieces off and dunking it into the creamy mixture.
- Tom loves this in a similar way but likes using crispy rustic French baguette instead and a drizzle of fresh lime juice.
- Soeren simply enjoys this as a soup, spooning the goodness with a huge spoon.
Food Guide Tip: Learn everything about legumes, including how to cook them, select and store them.
Now that I am so far away from home and my family, dishes like these keep me grounded and soothes any homesickness I might be feeling - at least for a while. The gorgeous aromas of the spices envelop me and bring me close to my parents and brother. It reminds me how my brother would grump about "always eating dal!" but deep down inside he knew that it was more than dal - it was home!
Mum's creamy maa di dal was full of flavor and delicious richness. She sometimes mashed the kidney beans to make the sauce thicker and velvety. The lovely nuttiness of the three legumes is wonderfully highlighted by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the spices completes the entire dish adding a piquant flavor. It's just comfort in a bowl!
I am kind of late - it's far beyond the deadline - but I wanted to enter this to Suganya's session of My Legume Love Affair, Sixth Helping. Suganya, I hope I can bribe you with a bowl of this creamy comforting Kaali Maa di Dal.
More legume love affair from WFLH:
|Creamy Coconut Red Lentils||Black Bean Chili with Saffron Rice||Channa Masala|
From around the blogs:
- Oberoi Style Dal Makhani - A Life (Time) of Cooking
- Dal Makhani - Buttered Black Gram Beans - Apple Pie, Patis, & Paté
- Dal Maharani - Foodie's Hope
Daily Tiffin Reading Tip:
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