Sunday, September 02, 2012

Vaal Khichdi

"How many lentils do you have in your pantry anyway?", asked my friend. She's originally from South America, from a culture which has great love and respect for beans, but the sheer variety of lentils and beans in Indian cuisine still confounds her. I showed her my collection of dozen or so legumes, grouped together in the pantry in their recycled-yogurt-container homes. "Do they really taste different from each other" is her next question. 

The short answer is- yes, yes they do. In some cases, the taste and texture is unmistakeable and they each have their culinary uses. The slippery, sticky texture of urad dal paste cannot be replicated with anything else. Kidney beans taste dark and earthy; chickpeas are rich and creamy; moong dal has a light and mild taste. My vocabulary is not adequate to really come up with the words, but even cooked dals that end up looking quite similar in a palette of yellows and browns can taste so different from each other. All I can say is that if you keep a variety of these legumes on hand and learn to use them in different ways that have been perfected in Indian cuisines, then you can feast for a lifetime on what others would simply call a humble meal of rice and beans. 

The really fun part is when I discover a new legume or a new avatar of an old favorite. Vaal or dalimbay (I think these are called hyacinth beans in English) are treasured in Maharashtrian cuisine and I can tell you for sure that these beans have a very unique flavor- a pleasant bitterness that can be contrasted with some tamarind for tang and jaggery for sweetness and all at once you have a dish with a wonderfully complex taste. I grew up eating sprouted vaal in dalimbay bhaat and vaalache bhirde. But peeling sprouted vaal is very labor intensive so it has been ages since I bought these particular beans. 

Then I saw Vaishali's post on sweet potato and vaal dal and went, "There's vaal dal??" and promptly bought some. All the taste of my beloved vaal without the peeling- what a lucky discovery for me. Vaishali's recipe is wonderful, by the way; the sweet potatoes are the perfect foil for the mildly bitter vaal. 

So following closely on the heels of the eggplant dal in my last post, here's another simple everyday Maharashtrian dish- vaalachi khichdi. I made it in a pressure cooker for a mashed-up khichdi that screams comfort food. If you're too posh for pasty khichdi that you eat with your hands, make a stove-top version and turn off the heat before the rice and vaal dal melt together.

Vaalachi Khichdi
(Rice with Vaal Dal; serves about 3)

1. Soak together 1 cup vaal dal and 1/2 cup rice for 30 minutes.
2. In a pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp. ghee
3. Make the tempering: 1 tsp. mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, a sprig of fresh curry leaves
4. Add 1 small sliced onion and saute it until translucent.
5. Add the drained vaal and rice, salt to taste, 1/2 tsp. each turmeric and red chili powder, 1 tbsp. coriander-cumin powder, 1/2 tsp. goda masala. Saute for a few minutes.
6. Add 3 to 4 cups water, 1 tsp. tamarind paste and 1 tsp. jaggery powder
7. Close the pressure cooker lid, cook, then eat as soon as possible. It does reheat beautifully. 

Vaal khichdi with a dollop of homemade ghee and some red pepper pickle on the side

Dale's Tales

A couple of you have been asking how Dale is doing, so here's an update. Dale is now about 13 years old and he is doing well, although his age is starting to show. When the ones you love (whether humans or canine or feline) start to age and become frail, you have to take on the role of caregiver.

V is very meticulous about taking Dalu to the vet for regular shots and a nose-to-tail check up. Overall, he is in good shape but his back legs are getting weaker. He sometimes slips and struggles to get back on his feet. We're told that aging leads to loss of muscle mass and hence the weakness. For the last few visits, the vet has been saying that Dale is overweight- tipping the scales at 84 lbs- and that he could stand to lose 10 lbs. To which my response is a shrug and a "Couldn't we all stand to lose 10 lbs"?

I'm not trying to be blase or anything. But Dale has a chronic condition called Addison's Disease  that was diagnosed 5 years ago and he needs regular steroid pills to keep him alive. Steroids cause weight gain, which is a side effect of steroids in humans too. And even as Dale's interest in other things is dwindling, he still loves food! He has access to dry food all day, plus we feed him dinner (porridge) at 4 PM and biscuits (Milkbone- far and away his favorite brand) after his last walk. Every afternoon, Dale perks up and comes to me at 2 PM and seems to ask, "Is it time yet? How about now? How about now?" Tell me how I am going to explain to this dog that he needs to go on a diet.

There are some other things. Dale's often reluctant to go on walks. He's losing confidence with climbing up and down steps. We moved 2 years ago into this first floor (ground level) apartment, just so it would be easier for Dale. There are a short 4 steps to get into our door but sometimes he struggles with those too. He's having more "accidents" at home, which is very hard with a crawling baby. I just wish he could talk and tell me if something hurts because this is a very stoic dog and we can only guess at what he's feeling.

This all probably sounds more bleak than it really is. Dale has more good days than bad days and we're grateful for that. Despite everything, he seems content and happy in his usual gruff way. Lila adores him to bits. Thanks to him, she adores all dogs in general. When we're out for a walk, every dog we pass on the street is greeted with a whoop of joy. Yesterday, she found a kibble of dog food on the floor, and just as I was rushing over to snatch it away from her, she turned around and offered it to Dale!