So, we were talking about Express Meals…
After that generic ‘Indian’ pulao, let’s get region specific. Tonight it is going to be Punjabi, a cuisine that is second nature to me since I have been surrounded by the sight, smell, and taste of this cuisine since childhood.
Very early on, my mother adopted roti-subzi as the ideal packed lunch for all of us. You can’t beat the convenience of a roti or parantha with a sookhi (dry) subzi, sometimes perked up with a little pickle, for school tiffin. No spills, no mess, and no spoons or forks needed.
Since my mother learnt roti-making from her Punjabi neighbours, her rotis were the thicker north Indian kind. Punjabis prefer the flour much coarser than do Maharashtrians and Gujaratis, who make very fine rotis. Punjabi roti is at least double that of the latter in weight. And that is how I made roti till I got married…
With the rotis came the Punjabi subzies; Kashmiri preparations being best served with rice. Punjabi cuisine continues to be my favoured way with many north-Indian vegetables.
The simplest way to prepare a vegetable in the Punjabi style is to use a tadka of cumin, hing, turmeric, coriander powder, and red chilli powder (cayenne pepper) in peanut or (preferably) mustard oil; just as rai (mustard)-hing-haldi (turmeric) in peanut oil, make the basic Maharashtrian phodni.
Served at home, the meal will usually be accompanied by dal and/or dahi (or lassi), and a pickle. Salad is usually fresh sliced carrots and radishes in winter, and onions in the summer.
Tonight, I’m serving roti with Arbi (taro tubers) and Naniwali dal. And therein lies a tale!
Some of you are familiar with my mother’s secrecy in the kitchen. Here’s another story…
I’ve already mentioned how different Maharashrian food is from Kashmiri. When I got married my mother had a hard time cooking for TH. She couldn’t spread out the traditional fare for a son-in-law who (a) was vegetarian, (b) didn’t understand what the big deal about paneer was, (c) did not care much for rice, and (d) liked his food pretty mild and simple (bland?). Since I had seen him relish sada varan I told her to stop fussing and just give him what he liked.
So, she cooked sada varan – the Maharashtrian everyday- arhar/tuvar dal with hing and haldi. Or so I thought. Sometimes, she would add a cumin-cayenne tadka in ghee to the dal just before serving. She would also add a couple of green chillies during the cooking. And no mashing the dal; we are Kashmiri.
TH loved it. And asked for it at home too. Okay, I thought, so he likes the texture and the subtle difference of the stronger hing. “No problem, I can do that since mum has given me some of her hing…”
TH, for all his disinterest in entering the kitchen, is a bit of a connoisseur. And he said it was not the same. Okay…On investigation I found that my Mum cooks the dal directly in the pressure cooker, where as I cook it in another container that is placed inside the cooker. I made this change. According to him it still didn’t quite make the cut . I asked him to stop being difficult – it had to be the mineral laden hard water of the IITD tube-wells then, because that was exactly how Mom said she makes it.
It was an interesting situation where after having suggested to mom what to cook, I was not able to cook it her way in my own kitchen. So I asked her to again tell me exactly what she did.
Mom: “I add the dal to the pressure cooker with enough water, salt, turmeric, a little hing, and maybe a couple of green chillies. Cook it for 5 minutes, and that’s it.”
I: “Are you sure there is no secret ingredient? Because I know you are capable of that.”
Mom: “No. Really!”
And so we resigned that it was the magic in her hands, and there was nothing that we could do about it. After another few months curiosity got the better of me and I asked again. Well? She finally let it slip that…well, there was this tiny change she had made to sada varan – she’d thrown a handful of masur dal into it! Lo and behold, there it was, the secret ingredient! Not a tiny speck of some spice, a whole handful of a totally different dal! The magic in her hands!
We’ve always called it Naniwali Dal. Another of my mum’s super recipes revealed. And like most of her cooking, jiffy quick! It truly is magical, equally at home with Punjabi or Kashmiri food.
Cooking Time: 25 min.
Arbi ki Subzi
600gm arbi (taro tubers)
3 t peanut or mustard oil
1 t cumin seeds
a tiny pinch of hing (optional)
½ t turmeric
2 t coriander powder (preferably coarsely ground0
1 t kuti lal mirch (coarsely ground red chilli powder)
3/4 C arhar (tuvar) dal
1/3 C masur dal (red lentils)
a tiny speck of pure hing (such as Bandhini brand)
½ t turmeric
2 ½ C water
2 green chillies, broken into two
chopped coriander leaves for garnish
For the tadka (optional): ½ – 1 t ghee, 1 t cumin seeds, 1 t Kashmiri mirch
Pre-soak: Pick over and wash the dals. (Let soak for 20-30 min.)
Clocking 1-4 min:
Wash the arbi. Put it in a steamer and place in the pressure cooker with an inch of water. Once the maximum pressure has been attained, cook under pressure for 2 minutes only.
Take the already kneaded dough out of the fridge. Spread the roti pasara (a nicer word for ‘mess’) – the flour, the rolling pin, the tava, and tongs – whatever you need.
Clocking 5- 10 minutes
Remove arbi from the cooker after the pressure subsides.
To the soaking dal add the rest of the ingredients and cook under full pressure for 7-8 min. [If cooking the soaked dal directly in the cooker, cook only for 5 min.] Let the pressure subside. Soaking reduces the cooking time. (If you were not able to soak the lentils ahead, increase cooking time by 3-5 minutes.)
Peel and slice the arbi into a centimeter thick pieces. Heat oil and add all the ingredients in the order listed. Add the sliced arbi and mix well. Turn the heat down to medium and stir every few minutes. Cook till the arbi pieces have browned a little (about 10-15 minutes). Turn into a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped coriander leaves.
Clocking 11-22 minutes
Put the rice to cook (if you’d like rice with the meal). To get perfectly cooked basmati, pre-soak rice for 20 minutes; cook, coveredtightly, for10 minutes (after the water starts boiling), and rest 10 minutes.
Start rolling and making roties. If you’ve done this many times, as I have, it takes roughly a minute per roti. You should be able to make 10 roties in 12 minutes or so.
Check on the subzi in between. Turnoff the dal when the time’s up. Wait till pressure subsides which it should definitely by the time you’ve finished with the roties.
Clocking 22-25 minutes:
Make the tadka for the dal if you are intending to. Heat ghee in a small pan (or an iron kadhchi that I have specifically for this purpose), add the cumin seeds and then the Kashmiri mirch powder. Give a stir with a spoon and pour over the dal immediately. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve with a wedge of lime.
The dal is nice even without the tadka – in which case it will also be fat free. In which case you still have time to clear the roti pasara. Roti is such a job, I tell you. Eat rice instead 🙂 and you have 12-15 minutes to watch TV, enjoy a drink. Or that cup of tea that you forgot all about!
As always, ask the rest of the family to lay the table (and to clear it later too). You did good – you can serve them at the table.
- Watch the arbi cooking time: it is very easy to overcook it in the pressure cooker. Overcooking taro can result in slimy tubers which few will like! If unsure, boil covered in a pan of water.
- The texture of Nani’s dal is critical to its taste. The red lentils cook faster and provide body to the dal. Arhar takes longer to get mushy and is therefore, able to hold its shape. If you overcook the whole mix will become a paste – not what we are looking for here. This is a fundamental difference between cooking dals in the North and South. In the North we like our dals to hold on to their shape – so no mashing. Also, there needs to be enough water initially so that the dal has a flowing consistency – too little water and you will again end up with mush.
- As always, be sure of the type of hing you are using – a spec of pure hing is more potent than half teaspoon of the diluted hing used in Central and Southern Indian cooking.
Dec 7, 2007: Since Linda is open to receiving already blogged recipes, naniwali dal is a perfect recipe to add to the many possibilities with toor (aldo called tuvar, or arhar in North India) dal for the upcoming JFI: Toor Dal at Out of the Garden!