I spent close to seven years in a hostel and that makes me a really non-fussy eater. In the first hostel( I spent a good four years there, made some friends for life) we were given only two meals each day(you had to fend for yourself for the other two). And like Oliver Twist you could not ask for more. We did not want to as the food was terrible but then it was the case of " Khana hai to yehi khana hai, nahin khana hai to bhi yehi khana hai"( Sunny Deol, Betaab).
Our indulgent Moms would pack us tuck boxes which lasted for just over two days. Mine would also send Chowmein with loads of prawns every time my Dad was passing through the city. And we kinda survived. Food notwithstanding some of the happiest years of my life.
Though all dishes at the hostel without exception were bad( we learnt to quietly eat them all- hope Gen Next is reading this post) the dish that was most discussed amongst us was the Daal. It made an appearance at all meal times. To the uninitiated it took a while to figure out that the dish was actually Daal. It was so watery in terms of consistency that it settled into two clear layers( remember your Chemistry lesson on Sedimentation; we got our demonstration each day), a ten inch watery layer followed by a two inch daal layer. If you were the canteen didi's favorite she mixed up the daal and water layers swiftly before ladling it out onto your rice but if you had managed to rub her the wrong way all you ended with was a watery mess.
When I would get back home for the holidays home cooked food took on a new meaning and has remained so all through these years. At meal times I would look at my Dad and say " Papa ab ghar ki daal murgi barabar". He was quite amused by the line and often repeated it to guests, much to my embarrassment.
Cooking a basic daal well does require some skill. Very few ingredients are used and the flavoring is very subtle. Here I am talking about the dhuli/yellow daals and not about their tari wali cousins, rajma/chole.
My help( who is originally from Bangladesh) had made some delicious Bengal gram daal. I have some guests coming for dinner. She let me sample a spoonful before whisking it away. Yumm!
Cholar Daal( Bengal gram daal): 1 cup( should serve about 6/8 adults)
Turmeric powder: 1/2 tsp
Jeera: 1 tsp
Dry Red Chillies: 4/5
Freshly ground Jeera powder: 1 tsp
Bay Leaves: 1/2
Ginger: One inch, grated fine.
Coconut: Cut into very small pieces( 1 inch slice)
Boil the cholar daal with salt and turmeric in a pressure cooker( you could also do this in a Kadai but would take ages to cook).
Once the daal is cooked open the lid of the cooker and half of the grated ginger, 1/2 tsp of Jeera powder and the bay leaves. Let it simmer for a while.
In a tadka pan heat the oil, add jeera, red chillies, jeera powder and the remaining grated ginger. Fry for a couple of minutes and then mix with the daal. Serve hot
Traditionally this Daal is served with Luchi/Puri but I am going to be serving it with a Pulao
There is lots cooking for tomorrow's dinner. Keep watching this space for more recipes and food trivia.
Till then Bon Apetit and Happy Cooking!