You ask the woman on the street about Gujarati food, and chances are she’ll tell you its all sweet. Not entirely wrong, in that Gujju food does blend the sour, spice and sweet rather effortlessly. The grandam of Indian cooking, Tarla Dalal, who is Gujarati herself, calls this being balanced. And the quintessential example of ‘balance’ that comes to my mind is the sweet dal. Predictably enough, it was the first thing I learnt to make from my MIL in the kitchen.
The sweet dal is almost soupy – thin and intensely flavoured. And very different from its rich Punjabi, sweet Bengali, or spicy Tamil kozhambu cousins*. It truly has a bit of everything – chilli, sweet stuff, lemons and such sour stuff – but I must admit that initially, the idea of ‘sweet’ dal took a bit of getting used to. And now that I am used to it, word goes round that Gauri has three bowls-ful of sweet dal everyday!
1 cup Tuar dal (also known as arhar dal or yellow pigeon peas, suffices for 6 people), cooked in 3 cups of water (pressure cook for 4 whistles or boil till soft/ can be mashed)
Blend the cooked dal, put it to boil in a large pot.
Add ½ tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp coriander and cumin powders mixed, ½ tsp turmeric and 2 large green chillies.
Add a table-tennis ball sized piece of jaggery or 2 tsps of sugar (but jaggery/molasses is better).
Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon. Or dried mango pieces or anything equally sour.
Add some curry leaves if you want.
And all this to be added to the dal that’s boiling in the pot.
Then we temper the dal. In a separate container (a small one usually or any pan), add two spoons of ghee/ oil. Add ½ tsp mustard, and once it sputters, add ¼ tsp hing/ asafoetida, 15-20 methi/ fenugreek seeds, ¼ tsp whole cumin and 1 clove (if you like).
Let the whole concoction boil for 10 mins. Taste and adjust sweet, sour and chilli according to your preference. And let it boil another 5-10 minutes till the flavours are well blended.
Things to remember:
The spice quantities are very approximate. Do keep checking at every stage to adjust the flavours to your own tastes.
Dont hurry through with the boiling, the dal must boil for 15-20 mins for the many flavours to meld. For me, the mark of a good dal is when I cant quite distinguish the different flavours from one another.
* Someday when this blog has grown, exhausted Gujju recipes, and I’m still writing, I will add the recipes for these other dals that I am also very fond of.