For many of us dal-chaval constitutes the ultimate comfort food. It is hard to come up with food that is simpler or more satiating. One such version of dal-chaval is the Maharashrian sada varan-bhat.
Many Sundays during our courting days I would visit V at his home for lunch. Varan-bhat was frequently on the menu – it was a Sunday favorite with the family. Sunday used to be the day of the weekly veggie shopping from the Shahadra mandi in the days before Mother’s Dairy Fruit and Vegetable Shops and Big Apple marts appeared in every neighbourhood. Often I would arrive to find V and his father still not back from the market. With fresh vegetables yet to arrive for re-stocking the fridge, varan-bhat must have been not only the logical meal but also one that would allow time needed for the sorting of the soon-to-arrive green-groceries. I remember my MIL following a regimen of washing and drip-drying all the vegetables before stocking them for the week. Bundles of greens (spinach, coriander, and methi) were untied, picked over to remove damp or rotting stems, and then packed into bags; other vegetables were trimmed and washed and spread on a cloth to dry off for a while. If I got there before it was all done, I too would lend a helping hand. That is when I learnt to do a quick job of picking methi (hold a fistful of the leafy-stems in one hand and pull at the stem-ends with the other!), and that stems could be left in while using green coriander!
In addition to all this Sunday family activity there was the matter of getting Sunday lunch on the table with V at home for the day and I, the future DIL, visiting. Varan-bhat kept it simple yet special. Sada (meaning ‘plain’ or ‘simple’) varan is tuvar/arhar cooked with turmeric, asafoetida, salt and a pinch of sugar, till it is tender enough to be mashed smooth. Served over hot steaming rice with ghee, it is the first course in a traditional Maharashtrian meal. We love it so much that these days we make it the entire meal! While the potato bhaji, is optional (but it pairs rather well), as is the mango pickle, this coconut chutney, the wedge of lime, and the spoonful of ghee are essential. Take a small portion of rice; make a depression on it, pour over the varan, spoon on some ghee, squeeze over some lime. Mix it all together with some chutney and savour. When I want it to be extraordinary, then I fry some cabbage pakoras to accompany the meal.
Sada varan was also the very first dish I was asked to cook in the Maharashtrian kitchen as a new bride. I was aghast that I had over-cooked it! That was before I knew that, south of the Vindhyas, dals are cooked to be mashed smooth!
1 1/2 C arhar (tuvar) dal
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t compounded hing (the milder kind)
salt to taste
1/2 t sugar
Take the dal in a 1l capacity steel vessel and rinse in a couple of changes of water. Soak for at least 45min. Soaking ensures the dal will cook quicker and smoother. Add turmeric and hing to the soaked dal. Top up the dal with more water if needed; there should be about 1/2″ of water covering the dal. Fill a 3l (or larger) pressure cooker to about 1.5″ depth of water. Keep the trivet that came with your pressure cooker at the bottom of the cooker. Place the vessel with the dal in the cooker and cover with a steel plate; this will contain the foaming dal and prevent it from reaching the pressure vent. Place the pressure cooker on the smaller burner at full flame. Turn the flame to medium when full pressure had been attained or when you hear the first whistle. Cook on medium flame for 18 minutes (longer if you haven’t soaked the dal). Turn the heat off and wait till the pressure subsides. Remove the vessel from the cooker. Add salt and sugar and mash the contents till really smooth. Add water as needed to get a thick slurry consistency. Keep it hot till ready to serve with plain steamed rice.
Steamed Basmati rice
(pressure cooker method)
1 C basmati rice
(serves 2-4, depending on appetites!)
Pick over the rice. Put it in a 1l capacity steel bowl and rinse in a few changes of water till the water runs almost clear. Drain. Add 2 (2 1/4 if your rice is old) cups of water. Soak for 20 minutes. Take 1″ of water in the base of the pressure cooker. Put the container with the soaked rice in the pressure cooker. Close the pressure cooker lid remembering to remove the weight. Put the cooker with the rice on the small burner of your stove at full flame. Turn the flame down to medium-low once steam starts to come out of the pressure vent. Cook on medium-low for 10-12min. Turn the flame off and put the weight back on. Let rest for 10 minutes before fluffing the rice with a fork. You will have the fluffiest grains without a fuss! The rice will come to no harm should you forget to turn the heat off precisely after 10minutes – no more burnt rice!
I have two PrestigeTTK pressure cookers that I use on a regular (daily!) basis. The 5.5l one is stainless steel, and the cutesie 3l one is anodised aluminium. On occasion, when I need all burners going, I also use a much older UK-made 5l Prestige aluminium pressure cooker (that doesn’t whistle anymore!) that was gifted to my MIL many decades ago. “I cooked the varan-bhat in my Indian pressure cooker and it didn’t blow up in my face!” Jaya, this is my entry to your pressure-cooking event over at Desi Soccer Mom.
This post is also going to MLLA #56, the monthly event focused on cooking with legumes. Started by Susan (The Well Seasoned Cook) many years ago, this month it is being hosted by Lisa. Check out the archives with a host of recipes on cooking with legumes!