The cherished mosur dal of India

This humble lentil meal is transformed by the addition of nigella seeds tempered in mustard oil and a touch of lemon.

For most Indians, dal, a common dish made from simmered lentils, represents more than simply a meal; it’s a source of comfort, nourishment, and, frequently, a nostalgic reminder of the warmth and familiarity of home.

“Dal is a staple in my diet because it brings me comfort. “When I am tired or having a bad day, dal with rice uplifts my mood in a way that nothing else, not even coffee or chocolate, can,” remarked cookbook author Archana Pidathala.

Many people in India feel the same way; for them, dal is more than simply a food they eat every day; it’s a staple, a source of comfort, and a convenient protein source, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Different parts of India use different lentils, spices, and seasonings for making dal. While full black urad dal (black gram) is used to make the rich and creamy dal makhani in Punjab, up north, yellow toor dal (pigeon peas) are added to sambhar (a spicy, acidic stew) in the south.

In contrast, dal is typically made by simmering lentils until they are nearly soft, then adding a tempering of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and slit green chilli, and then topping it all off with fresh coriander. According to Pidathala, “you can use one base ingredient to create many dishes; for example, you can add gongura leaves (red sorrel greens) for a sour flavor or some bottle gourd to make it more hearty.”

To argue that there are as many ways to prepare dal as there are chefs would not be too much of an exaggeration.

Pidathala’s upcoming 2022 cookbook, Why Cook: Timeless recipes and life lessons from remarkable women, collects 90 heirloom recipes from 16 women around the country, while also delving into the women’s personal narratives and the significance of cooking in their lives. This mosur dal (red lentils) recipe is from that cookbook. Acquaintances, friends, and even Pidathala’s mom make an appearance throughout the book. While none of the ladies here are professional chefs, they do have a common appreciation for cooking as a form of self- and social-care.

Arundhati Nag, an actress, once said that she didn’t want to lose her own identity by learning to cook the food of her husband’s culture. However, since his passing, she frequently uses the recipes to honor his memory.

Pidathala defines Shree Mirji as a free-spirited, independent, and single person who enjoys taking care of herself through the process of cooking.

All of them are women who have come to embrace and promote eco-friendly practices. For example, Vishalakshi Padmanabhan, through her organization Buffalo Back Collective, has taken up organic farming and formed a farmers’ cooperative. She has also taught women in the village of Ragihalli (near the South Indian city of Bengaluru) how to bake and sell cookies as part of a mission to help them support their families.

Pidathala traveled over 11,265 kilometers across the country to interview and see these women cook. She believes the book’s title, “Why Cook,” is a compliment to home cooks who, using recipes that are often passed down through generations and shaped by tradition, are able to create the same tastes time and time again.

There is no unifying concept or style to the recipes in this book. Pidathala claims that all she did was ask the women for heartfelt recipes to share. If you had to plate yourself, how would you do it? In what ways would you like to share your unique perspective? She went on to say, “[This] is what I inquired of them.”

The Bengali people have a special fondness for mosur, or masoor dal as it is more widely called. Manisha Kairaly, or “Molly” to her friends, has Bengali ancestry on her father’s side and provided this dish to honor her heritage.

According to Pidathala’s book, “Molly learnt to make this soupy dal from her Bengali grandmother, who taught her that food doesn’t have to be elaborate to be good, or special.” By lightly toasting kalonji (nigella seeds) in mustard oil and adding a squeeze of lemon, this meal acquires a complex flavor profile, with notes of spice and sourness.

You can whip up a batch of this dal in no time and serve it alongside steaming rice, flatbread, or even on its own as a hearty soup.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *