I’ve always loved the kitchen; it’s where I feel most at peace – and it’s where I decided that the man in the apron before me would become my husband.
It was evening and he was showing off his cooking skills – there was a splash of oil, the spluttering of cumin, the crisping up of dried red chilies and the blackening of the garlic cloves as the dal on the cooker burbled forth a delicious tangy aroma. When the tempering met the dal (lentils) there was a sizzling splatter he expertly caught with the lid of the deep bottomed pan he was using. Finally, an hour-and-something after he’d begun the exercise, it was done. (So was some fried up beef, kept on the side.) Our plates piled high with hot rice and dal and beef, we ate. And with the first bite I knew I couldn’t let this man get away. Now, I’m not saying that’s the only reason I married him – he is a kind, loving and altogether lovely person – but it really was a bonus, that dal.
The khatti dal is ubiquitous to the Hyderabadi household and usually made with either Toor or Masoor (split pigeon peas) lentils. It’s a soupy concoction that uses tamarind pulp – in my husband’s case, a few cups of water used to soak tamarind are used as the base for the gravy.
It was surprising to see you love it so much because your meals until then hadn't had many sour dishes in it.
We always joke that he won me over with this spicy, tangy lentil dish and so when we were headed to see his cousins we were in for a treat. Among the biryani and kebabs that were served to the new bride and groom after the customary ‘mooh dikhai’ (face showing) - during which we were garlanded and blessed by all the elders in the room - and the welcome customs that included rice tossing, we sat down to a meal that had a beautiful marigold hue; khatti dal. (I say this with a lot of love to my new in-laws, ‘no one cooks like my husband’.)
Recalling my expression when I ate my first bite, he says he found my fascination with the dish endearing, if a bit surprising. "It was surprising to see you love it so much because your meals until then hadn't had many sour dishes in it," he recalls.
For him, the food comes with nostalgic memories of childhood; times when he’d come home after a day at school – and later college – to find it simmering on the stove. His mum would crisp up parathas (flat bread) and he’d eat standing nearby – hot, fresh steaming dal with crisped bread.
For this article, I asked him to make a small bowl – being on keto meant I could not eat my beloved dish, but I did need a photo. I got home to the scent of spluttering cumin and the snap-snap-snap of crisping curry leaves. And then came that sizzle of the tempering on the pulse.
Finally, he took a hot paratha and tore it into bits, pouring onto it a hot ladle full with charred red chillies and darkened garlic cloves that had by this time soaked up the dal’s flavour.
He smiled an imp’s mischievous smile, showing me a glimpse of the young boy he had been on his way to becoming the person I met and fell in love with.
The person for whom winning me over will always be easy – just a bowlful of delicious dal.
For the dal
300 gms masoor dal
3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
Chilli powder, to taste
1 bunch coriander leaves
Green chili, to taste
½ tsp Turmeric
Raw tamarind, about three one dirham coins big soaked in hot water.
Curry leaves, a big bunch
For the tempering
Oil, enough for tempering, about 5tbsp
¼ tsp mustard seeds
6-8 whole cloves of garlic
4 dried red chilies
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1. Put the dal, ginger-garlic paste, green chili and coriander leaves in a pressure cooker along with about one and half cups of water. Pressure cook until three whistles.
2. When the steam has settled in the cooker, open and using a masher or blender mix the dal till it’s of a soupy consistency.
3. Add tamarind water and curry leaves. Cover and cook until the smell of raw tamarind has left.
4. In a shallow pan, add oil for tempering, followed by garlic cloves. When the cloves start turning brown, add cumin seeds, red chilies and mustard seeds. You’ll know it’s ready when the garlic has turned black.
5. Add tempering to dal. Serve with hot rice and fried beef.
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