Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Eat Pulish'er Daal to Grow Up Fast!

I was around seven or eight years old, on yet another summer vacation trip to Kolkata. On a warm afternoon I was at Khukhun Didin's house discussing the menu for the special feast she would cook for us, my brother and I, her very honoured guests. The shiny kansa dinner ware had been approved (at Lokhi Didin's house we ate off banana leaves with terracotta bowls and water glasses) and now we had to fix the dishes we wanted to eat. We'd also go across to Ranu Didin's for another feast or she'd feel left out, wouldn't she?! This was the advantage of having three of my Didin's sisters living just a few houses away from her. 

Mutton would have to be on the menu of course, with mishti bhaat, machher kalia, and yes chingri maach would be good too, cooked in any way Khukun Didin fancied. Now that we'd finished discussing the main parts of the menu I condescended to approve the less attractive bits like daal, torkari, shukto (eewww we don't like it so it can't be on the menu, no way!) and the bhajas.  

Oh yes, bhajas were expected in large quantities, and only aloo please because though I was happy to eat begun bhaja the brother hated begun (brinjal) in any form. With bhaja was always daal - actually it's the other way around but our primary interest was the bhaja so that's how we looked at it. Once the bhajas were sorted we moved on to discuss daal. 

"Ki daal khabe?" Khukun Didin asked. What daal will you have? And I promptly answered "Pulish'er daal! Ami pulish'er daal khai, pulish'er daal khele taratari boro hoa jay!" Police Daal! I eat Police Daal because Police Daal makes you grow up quickly. She stared at me in fascination and then went into complete peals of laughter! After drying her tears of pure delight she asked me which daal was 'pulish'er daal' and I looked at her in amazement - such ignorance! She didn't know what pulish'er daal was! Of course I couldn't enlighten her and she eventually asked my Didin what pulish'er daal was.

Years later, when I was in my early teens and learning to cook, pulish'er daal was a faint memory when one day I suddenly remembered it and asked Moni which daal it was. She looked at me in amusement, tinged with her own memories of her efforts at making the two of us brats eat our food without fuss, and revealed - arhar daal or tuvar/toor daal. 

Even today when I cook arhar daal there's a part of me that still calls it Pulihs'er daal and smiles. 

Pulish'er Daal

1/2 cup arhar or toor daal
a couple of green chillies
1 onion sliced
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
fresh coriander, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp jeera
mustard oil

Wash the daal and let it soak for 10-15 minutes if you like. You can cook it without soaking too. Pressure cook the washed daal with enough water and around half a teaspoon of turmeric. The daal shouldn't become a mush, the grains should be cooked but remain whole. 

In a kadai heat mustard oil and once hot chuck in the jeera and the whole green chillies. Add the sliced onion and fry till the onion just starts going brown. Add half a teaspoon of sugar while frying the onions. 

Pour in the cooked daal and bring it all to a boil. Add salt at this stage. My mom would add chopped tomatoes with the daal, I don't. I prefer the daal without tomatoes. 

Once the daal has come to a good boil stir in a generous dollop of ghee and switch off the heat. If you're vegan don't add the ghee.

Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve hot with plain rice. 

Accompaniments with the daal are ideally a bhaja or two - this could be fried fish, fried potatoes, brinjals, pointed gourd, lady's fingers, bitter gourd, etc. 

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