Thursday, 8 May 2014

Dal-Roti Spirituality

Masoor Dal with Panch Phoran

One of my favourite food memories involves sitting at the breakfast table in Aai’s kitchen, watching her back intently, waiting for her hot-hot polis (don’t we love to use double words for emphasis?)

Between Dada and I, we used to scramble to finish / linger on finishing our poli, before the next one was ready.  There would be no stopovers for the poli in the “policha cha daba” – the flat round stainless steel bread bin, for we couldn’t bear to let it lose its crispness enroute.

Consequently, the poli would make an express landing like a Frisbee, from the hot tava onto our plates. 

There it met its fate together with a bhaji, usually one of the bhindi, tendli, doodhi, beans, padwal, dilpasand types… potato would come in as one of the last preferences.

The other staple was usal.  Aai would diligently plan a day or two ahead and soak and sprout legumes like mataki, moong, masoor, chavali, kuleeth (horsegram). Shop-bought sprouts were not for her, nor were they available so readily in Hyderabad unlike in cities like Pune or Mumbai.

The real reason, of course, was that she didn’t trust the source of the water in which such sprouts were soaked and the sacking in which they were germinated.

On days when there was no bhaji or usal, our morning meal comprised poli and “keli cha shikran” (roughly mashed banana, milk and sugar).

Hot and crisp yet soft pieces of poli crushed into a bowlful of cold shikran, any remaining crunch then munched away with slurps of the sweet ambrosial liquid - is an absolutely delightful sensory experience – where cold meets hot, crisp yet soft meets wet and creamy and sweet meets the savoury.

Savoury? yes, in order to taste the best with sweet shikran- the poli needs an earthing of a pinch of salt…

After watching a Hindi movie in which the protagonists pranced around extolling the virtues of “dal roti”, another option was added to the poli-and-something brekkie-brigade.

The lovely lady and the dashing gent sang a message of simplicity and thrift to the greedy and evil motely crowd they were entertaining on celluloid.

Like most Hindi film songs, the song and dance scene sequence “Dal roti khao prabhu ke gun gao” propelled the story ahead and slapped a moral onto it.
As a foodie kid, however, I had eyes and ears only for the rows of thalis laid down on the low wooden “paats” for an Indian style sit-down lunch affair – I waited eagerly to see what delicious food was served on those large plates.

Don’t laugh - I must have been hungry! As I often say, children can be quite single-mindedly greedy …

So the varan and poli or “Daal –Roti” was introduced on our menu, after meeting Aai’s nutritional approval. With protein, carbs and some ghee fat, she was satisfied we would get most of the essential foods to start the day. 

Aai boasts to this day, that she didn’t have to run behind us with a plateful of food coaxing, pleading with us to eat just one more bite. Nor did she worry herself sick like the Complan mother about her kids’ nutritional intake.

But she also can’t resist telling everyone that she did crease her brow at my burgeoning interest in food and my growing girth, and worry about a skinny but naughty Dada polishing off spoonfuls of Horlicks or Bournvita/Boost.

Even as kids we were such gluttons…

Going back to the dal-roti- much to Aai’s convenience, the meal didn’t really need any preparations like buying bananas, prepping vegetables or sprouting legumes.

Aai’s “kothi” (pantry) stocked the choicest, plump and golden yellow tuvar, moong and chana dals along with the brightest pink masoor dal.  These had been carefully selected and purchased from Begum Bazar in bulk sometime in February each year, cleaned and sieved and sun-dried for days in early summer and stored away with neem leaves or parad tablets for the whole year.

“Churi”, the broken bits sifted down was never discarded, but picked and cleaned and stored away. It went into the making of delicious dhoklas, dhirdis, bharda or vadas . The churi was also used to make ‘sandge’ which are similar to the dried lentil ‘badis’ of the North.

A prudent housewife wasted nothing and wanted nothing. That was the best way to know and be in one’s designated place and role in this world and God’s scheme of things.

Getting back to earth, err – to the dal-roti, this simple, humble meal makes your insides go “Govind-Govind” (a Marathi idiom)

Heaven knows fewer pleasures than dunking a crisp yet silken roti into a warm and savoury tuvar dal, enhanced with hing, haldi, gur and the tup (ghee).

So sublime, yet so grounded.

Masoor dal with panch phoran

This daal was inspired by Pritha Sen’s East Bengali masoor dal with panch phoran. I have made some changes while trying to retain its uniqueness brought about by the panch-phoran.


½ cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 -2 green chillies
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp phoran- nigella seeds, cumin seeds
A pinch of methi powder
A pinch of hing
A pinch of haldi
Salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander – I didn’t have any


Heat oil in a pan and add kalonji, cumin and mustard seeds to splutter. Next add the chillies and chopped onions and sauté them. Then add the methi powder, hing and haldi. Finally, add the washed masoor dal and about two cups of water. Cook on medium heat and when the dal is half done, add the chopped tomatoes and cook until soft. Add salt to taste. Add the ghee and remove from heat.

Garnished with coriander (as I said, I didn’t have any on the day)

Serve hot, – with – what else but roti!

1 comment:

  1. great blog i love daal roti in indian food and here a great information about it


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