Life boils over
like daal. It is eventually, inevitable. You can put a wooden spoon across the
top of the pot, add salt (risking chewy lentil soup) and do other tricks,
regardless assume you will have to clean the stove after cooking a pot of
lentils. Sometimes like a pot of boiling daal our lives spill over despite our
The world of
lentils is a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes. The health benefit of
plant-based diets that includes lentils is well documented. Lentils (along with
beans) can also cause uncomfortable gas. To reduce the magic of lentils to what
it can do for us flattens the story. Instead I like to consider how we interact
with lentils from growing, collecting, distributing, cooking and eating.
with my pot of daal is always mixed, full of suspicion and familiarity. Daal is
like family, always comforting and nourishing yet sometimes boiling over, chewy
and messy. The first tastes of both my daughters included mushy rice with light
daal or kitchuri. Their taste palate expanded each time I added a tiny bit of
vegetable or meat to the neutral rice and lentil base.
when they meet water and fire. The rush of expansion makes them explode beyond
their confinement. It can be both liberating and traumatic. The softening and
rise of cooking lentils have a lot to teach us. Transformative events break us
down, fuel our growth, make us softer, sometimes spill over, and sometimes
create a mess. There is risk, and reward.
As a location
in existence my pot of lentils encounter water, heat and me to become daal.
Lentils are more than mere vegetable protein, nourishment for humans, in ways
that our human centric mind may not fathom. Lentil transform into daal by
virtue of all the things that are not lentils, not it. Lentils left alone would
remain in its grain state. Everything around it not lentils in a specific
combination help alter its state into a soup. A good source of fiber, lentils
and legumes absorb flavors. In this way, lentils are similar to flavor
absorbing eggplant with the added benefit of fiber.
with the right hand is an art form. Learning how to eat soupy rice takes
practice. The angle and speed of delivery from plate to mouth requires careful
modulation. Culturally, thicker daals are served during winter months, while
light lemony daals are enjoyed during the summer months. Khichuri (a dish of
rice and lentils) would be served mostly during Monsoon months with fried eggplant.
This was one of
my first dishes I learned to make after learning how to cook rice and fry an
egg. Thank you Bhabi for teaching me to make daal and bhaji.
Rice, daal and
fried eggplant. This is a good start for a Bengali meal.
Ingredients (You’ll find the proportions
that suit your preference)
Medium Onion or 3 small shallots
clove of Garlic
teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1. Boil the rinsed
lentils over a medium flame (red, split pea, yellow, azuki, kidney, urad etc.)
until soft. Add at least double amount of water. Add more water, the bigger the
bean. You want the water to cover the beans by at least an inch.
2. Once the lentils
are soft, add tumeric and salt. A teaspoon of each for every cup of lentils is
3. This where you can
get as fancy or keep as simple as you like. Saute in ghee or the oil of
your choice: onion slices for a basic dal.
At this point you can
also include: garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cumin seeds, garam masala, coriander leaves, dry chili peppers, bay leaves,
depending on what you have and like.
You can also add
coconut milk or cream for the heavier beans like kidney or adzuki to give the daal,
heartiness. On the other end of the spectrum for a light summer daal you can
boil and strain red or yellow lentil fibers add lemon juice, cilantro and mint
for a bright broth.
Pour the flavored oil
with the spices and fried onions over the soup. Mix in or leave the
flavored oil and toasted spices floating above the rich soup. Enjoy with steaming
rice or hot flaky bread.