My Mums Recipe
As a child and well into the years after I got married, I absorbed as much as I could from my maternal grandmother regarding her cooking and recipes. I would gaze at her for hours, mesmerized by the effortless way she made ingredients come together. She would make barfee – a sweet Indian confection similar to fudge, with a balanced sweetness complimented by the creaminess of the ghee – that held it together. It was never overly sweet. Her rotis were the best I’ve had and, as a matter of fact, many folk lucky enough to be in her realm would vouch for that too. A hot ghee smeared roti, perfectly toasted on top to reveal a crispy layer against the pillowy softness of the bottom layer, begged to be eaten with her homemade mango jam.
For my grandmother it was simply an act of love. She made edibles purely for the excitement and the pleasure that it embalmed the end user. I have no regret regarding her recipes as I spent endless hours learning from her and carefully writing them down. However, her ways ‘haunt’ me. I am right in my choice of words – I crave to have that magic touch she had to totally entrance her audience with her food.
This dish invokes such profound memories of my grandmother. I fondly remember her sitting for dinner with her left elbow resting on the edge of the table, her hand bent at the wrist and her fingers curling towards her cheek, almost touching. Her right finger-tips worked in a magical rhythm to smoosh together her rice and dhaar. She would stop, just for a moment and delicately snap up a smudge of sweet mango pickle with her forefinger and dab it onto her rice before placing the bite size portion into her mouth. Next she would suck on a ripe mango allowing the sweet pulp to mingle with the concoction she had created. We, as little ones, would look at here with pure bewilderment and wonder, thinking her absolutely insane. That is … until I tried it for myself several summers back. It was a marvelous mouthful, the saltiness from the dhaar, with the sweet tangy bite of the pickle melding with the warm pulp of the ripe mango – it was simply irresistible. All these wasted years not knowing what I missed… I guess I’ll just have to make up for it the next mango season…
1 cup moong dhal (split skinless mungh beans)
¼ cup grape seed oil
¼ tsp black or brown mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
8 – 10 fenugreeks seeds
1 whole red chili pepper, dried
15 curry leaves, fresh
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup crushed tomatoes
½ tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp chopped garlic
salt to taste
1 – 2 cups warm water
1 medium tomato, cut into quarters
1 Italian eggplant, cut into 1 inch slices
Boil the moongh dhal in 4 cups water till mushy and set aside (about 20 minutes).
Heat the grapeseed oil on medium high heat.
Toss the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, the whole chili pepper and the curry leaves into the oil. Be careful as they will splutter and pop a bit. Make sure they don’t blacken, if they do – toss it out and restart with heating the oil.
Add the onion and continue frying the spices until the onion begins to brown around the edges.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes, cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin powder, garlic and salt.
Sauté till the curry thickens and the oil separates. Test this by drawing the spoon through the curry across the base of the pot. The oil should pool towards the center.
Now add the pre-boiled moong dhal mixture. Stir to evenly distribute the spices.
Turn down the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
Add the warm water and bring the curry to a boil.
Tenderly place the tomatoes and eggplant slices into the pot.
Simmer gently till the vegetables are cooked but still hold their shape.
Serve hot with a bowl full of fluffy rice. Or serve the dhaar in a bowl and dip pieces of warm pieces of bread or naan into it.
The curry leaf is the key ingredient in this recipe, it would be a shame to leave it out but if you simply can’t find fresh curry leaves by all means go ahead and use the dried variety. I would suggest using about 1/2 teaspoon for the above recipe.
The dried red chili pepper can be substituted with a fresh red or green chili. If neither are on hand, don’t fret, simply leave it out.
Swap out the vegetables as you see fit, go ahead throw in some carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, or string beans (like I have in the above photo) but please keep in mind that the cooking times will vary.
Another helpful note about this recipe is that you may substitute the mungh beans with almost any other lentil (red lentils, split pigeon peas, split bengal gram, to name a few). Again, the cooking time will vary here too.
I love, love, love cutting a thick slab of bread and pouring over a hot ladleful of dhaar, squeezing on some fresh lemon juice and adorning it with a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro. So comforting, I cannot tell …