A miracle happened today that brought me out of my blogging hiatus. My eternally picky husband who only likes his mother’s cooking complimented my masoor daal! His exact words: “Wow, this tastes just like back home, maybe even better.” I just stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds. After the initial shock wore off, I ran to the computer to instantly document this moment so it would be immortalized forever. My husband has always been my biggest food critic, particularly for desi food, so this was a huge personal achievement.
Indian food had always been a culinary obstacle for me. I guess I never learned how to make it since my mom was an amazing cook and it was always perfect and readily available. Also I somehow wasn’t interested to learn about turmeric and cardamom with the same zest I wanted to learn about oregano and rosemary which seemed so much more exotic. So I ended up learning to make many international cuisines, but not my own Indian one. But then I met my biggest food critic who only enjoyed eating the one cuisine I couldn’t make! He was not impressed with my existing culinary arsenal, and I resolved to one day win him over.
After many foodie battles and take-out dinners, I somehow ended up marrying my food adversary. Strangely enough, some well meaning Auntie gave me an Indian cookbook for a wedding present, and it was from that book that I tried making Indian food for the first time. I just followed the recipes blindly and they kept coming out flat. And my personal food critic was always there to point out the flaws.
Looking back, I now realize my weakness was my inability to understand the common Indian spices and how each spice enhanced or affected the taste of the dish. If I wanted to fix the flavor of my dish, whether I needed to add coriander powder, or cut down on the cumin were a mystery to me. I also realized my ignorance was partly due to my lack of any previous guidance making any desi dishes. In many Indian kitchens (including my home), there is a round metal container, with smaller round containers inside for each individual spice. Whenever a meal is to be made, the matriarch of the family will take out this container and to the untrained eye, just haphazardly throw all the necessary spices into the dish, and before you know it, the dish is done and seasoned beautifully. No matter how many times you observe this phenomenon, you will never learn to cook Indian food this way! Trust me I have tried.
But then I practiced. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned quite a bit, and on my way to becoming the lady with my own round metal spice container. But the best measure of my success with Indian food is that my food critic finally gave a glowing review.
INGREDIENTS for Daal:
1 cup Masoor Daal , soaked in water for a couple hours.
*If you do not soak daal first, cooking time will be significantly longer, unless you use a pressure cooker to cook daal. My method is for stovetop only.
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic, grated
1 teaspoon tamarind (imlee) paste – Can be found in most supermarkets or Indian grocers. I used Priya brand
INGREDIENTS For Tadka to add in daal:
1-2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1-2 green chilis
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1. Add soaked daal and turmeric, chili, salt, and garlic in a pot with 5 cups water and bring to boil.
2. After boils, partly cover and lower heat and cook until soft. Add additional water as necessary.
3. When done, mash or blend to desired consistency, (My hubby likes it quite blended) and add tamarind paste until fully incorporated. Set pot aside.
4. Heat oil in separate pan. Add onion and lightly brown. Add cumin seeds, ginger, green chilis and coriander.
5. Fry all together and add to hot daal. Mix.
Serves 2 generously. Serve with basmati rice.