The humble meal


Growing up, we’ve always sat on the floor to eat our meals. After coming home from school, my mom sat us kids down and fed us hot rotis with dal and sabzis. For me, a hearty meal is dal chawal. Place an aasan (a small mat) on the floor, your thali and eat with your hands till your tummy is full!

But at my in-laws’ place, nobody sits on the floor, forget eating there. Here, all eat at the dining table. It becomes awkward for me to sit on the floor and eat, in front of them. I and my husband live alone in the city where he works, and it’s completely all right to sit anywhere and eat! Not that any of my in-laws will have a problem with any of my doing. But it sure becomes comfortable for me, when they’re not watching me.

Also, for me, eating on the bed is something I find weird. Growing up, my parents never allowed me to sit on the bed and eat. “You’ll become sick if you eat on the bed,” my mum says. So, even if it’s winter and you don’t want to come out of your blanket, I make sure to get up and eat my meals near the kitchen.

Talking about my in-laws, they eat their rice with spoon. Which is why, it always becomes a comic scene (at least for me), to keep the spoon aside and mix the dal chawal with hands and hog! So, here’s what I generally do when I’m with my in-laws. I serve them the food, and once they’re done eating, I find a corner or wait for them to move elsewhere. It’s only then that I mix everything that’s there in my thali and eat with my hand.

Of late, I have started making chana dal once a week. My mum prepared it on special occasions. I absolutely love this dal. Give it to me, and I will let the world’s best pastas and pesto sauces go away. A basic dal chawal after a long day makes me a happy person.

You can use this recipe with any other dal as well. It’s just that, generally, dals like arhar, require two whistles in the pressure cooker, and chana dal requires more.

Also, whenever you are done boiling the dal, make sure you whisk it well. Once, my father’s elder brother (whom I call Bade Papa) was home. I served him a dal that was not at all whisked. He could make it at the first glance, and softly uttered, “Dal ghoti nahi hai,” (you didn’t whisk it). I was in the kitchen, and my arms were up with embarrassment. It was a lesson I’ll never forget. Each technique shows.

Recipe: Chana dal

1/2 cup chana dal or Bengal gram dal (I usually consider one full fist for a person)
1 medium tomato – chopped
1 medium onion – chopped
2 green chillies – chopped
1 tsp grated ginger
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 pinch garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1 pinch asafoetida
ghee for tempering
coriander leaves (chopped)
curry leaves, for tempering (optional)
1 tsp crushed garlic (optional)


  1. Soak the dal for at least half an hour or overnight. Boil it in the pressure cooker, and give it 4-5 whistles. Once it’s done, whisk it for a couple of seconds with a wooden whisker. Keep aside.
    2. Heat two tsp of ghee in a kadai. I use my iron kadai, which gives it a dark shade as well. Add all the spices (except garam masala and salt) and give it a quick stir. Add the chopped green chillies and ginger as well. Ginger is the hero of this dish.
    3. Add in the chopped onions, followed by the tomatoes and salt. You might want to bring the flame to medium from low. Sauté it well, or else the masala will stick on the kadai. Just in case if it already has, scrap it off and sauté again.
    4. Mix in the boiled dal that you have whisked once.
    5. Add 1 cup of boiled water, if the consistency is not thin.
    6. Let the dal boil for a few minutes. Add the garam masal before switching off the flame.
    7. Garnish with coriander leaves. In the picture, you can make out that I was out of it.

Recipe: Rice

Soak basmati rice for at least half an hour. I take one and a half cup of rice for the two of us. Take the soaked rice in a pan and add clean water to it. I usually keep adding water until the level of it is about half a finger from the rice, and then I start the boiling process. The flame is usually slow. When a rice granule breaks easily with my finger tip, I know it’s done. I also put a wooden spoon on the pan so that when it boils, the water won’t flow out. Then, I strain the rice to remove the excess water and place it in a vessel or casserole with a dollop of ghee shining on it.

Because, when it comes to dal chawal, the more the ghee, the happier I am.

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