Dal hai to jahaan hai

Dals are dear to any Indian heart. To talk about the different dals and their variations would be...

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Dal hai to jahaan hai

Ingredients make the recipe, don’t they? We take them for granted on most occasions. But the correct handling will make the recipes otherwise mar it. In this column I will recount my experiences with different ingredients…

Dal hai to jahaan hai

What is life without tadka? Simply bland…and so is dal. I mean dal too is bland without tadka! I love to create new types of tadkas for various dals so that the repertoire gets further enhanced.

Dals are dear to any Indian heart. To talk about the different dals and their variations would be justified but there are so many of them! Ask any ‘non-kitchen’ type of person to recognize and name the different dals and they will be flummoxed. But give them a smooth, mildly flavoured moong ki dal and they will ask for rotis, or give them a spicy sambhar and they will ask for idli! No wonder then it is said dal roti khao aur Prabhu ke gun gayo!

The phenomenon of dals and pulses is unique to Indian cooking. We can have them as main course, side dish, grind them, sprout them, fry them (perfect with drinks), add them to pulaos and khichdis, make idlis, dosas, dhoklas, cheeley, salads, wadas, dal paranthas, kachori, samosa, shorbas, farsan, sweet sheera and puran poli, make a dal palak or dal gosht…never ending wonders…and what about the lesser known osaman, dal pakwan, dal baati churma…

Getting down to a quick boil then. Beans need to be soaked properly before making them. There is a science in this and it goes like this. What we call soaking is actually rehydrating and softening, adding one eight teaspoon of soda bicarbonate is optional. Beans need either an overnight soaking or a two-minute boiling followed by an hour of soaking in the same water. These two techniques can shorten the simmering time needed to tenderize the beans. But all this is not needed if we are making dals and split peas. 

In many households the water in which the pulse/dal//beans have been soaked is drained off and kept to simmer in fresh water. I would suggest that the same soaking water be used for simmering as the water soluble B vitamins leached into the soaking water will be retained with the cooked product. The process of cooking of the dals etc. provides a comparatively inexpensive source of protein that can be utilized fairly well by the body especially when rice is served with them. Another handy hint: use tomatoes only after the dal has been softened and cooked properly because tomatoes are acidic and retard the softening of the cellulose in the beans and dals. One hitch I have faced is cooking dal in the microwave…takes far too long. 

So what else do the dals give besides comfort? Loads of nutrition like carbohydrates, protein, fibre and calcium. As calcium winners number one would be rajma, with soya beans as second and moth as third. Moth is one pulse I find is not too popular…though I enjoy eating it just like moong…

Leftover dal especially maa ki dal or dal makhni is super straight out of the fridge with no other accompaniment but a spoon! Or take the dal, re-tadka it and combine with rice and make dal khichdi…leftover sookhi moong dal is a good stuffing for samosas (samosa pattis will make the task easier!) and leftover chole make toppings for canapés or samosas to make chaat or combine with rice and make a biryani…big time recycling! 

Dals are a saviour when we have unexpected guests and they are a savour when we are stuck at home if the roads are rained in. They can be sneaked into rotis and paranthas and fed to fussy kids and they can be real boon even for the protein needy, iron pumping six pack brigade… 

Recommended recipesChilka Moongdal Khichdi,  Masoor Dal Keema,  Dal Kababi,  Dal Amritsari,  Teen Dal Ke Dahi Bhalle,  Chana Dal Halwa,  Andhra Pepper Rasam