Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity. -Louise Fresco
My last post featured a Westernized version of the classic Gujarati toor dal soup. Today, I’m posting my family recipe for the traditional version. Toor dal (or split pigeon pea) has been cultivated in India for at least 3500 years and is a staple in Indian cuisine. However, in a Gujarati home, toor dal (which refers to both the uncooked legume as well as the soup) is a daily affair and is eaten during every meal. Although classified as a soup by us here in the West, it’s not eaten as you would a soup: it’s ladled over rice and eaten alongside rotis and a curry, at the very least. (Google ‘Gujarati thali’ to see what a typical Gujarati meal looks like).
When we moved to Canada, my parents continued the tradition of including toor dal in every meal. But they both worked outside of the home, so this was limited to weekends and holidays when everyone was home. It was made, without fail, fresh each of those days.
Every now and then, when I had friends over, I would ask my mum to make “normal” food, like hamburgers, pizza or pasta. Although it made her uneasy (obviously this wasn’t her forté), she would always oblige and make a separate meal for my friends and I. Funny enough though, with time, as we grew older, my friends started to steer towards the dal simmering on the stove top or the vegetable curry sizzling in a karahi. This was before Indian cuisine became mainstream here in North American or before anything Indian was anything but obscure. And although I was a teenager trying to distant myself from all things Indian and fumbling uncomfortably in my brown skin, my parents were proud of their Indian heritage. With the slightest indication of interest revealed by my friends, my mother would adorn the table with bowls of rice and dal, plates of rotis and curries, jars of pickles and chutneys. And my friends would devour her food! My mum would go on, much to my embarrassment, to show them how to eat Indian food the way it was meant to be eaten, the way it had been eaten since the beginning of the Indus Valley civilization. With your hands. And this too, they adapted with ease.
Of course, now that I am all grown up, I have come to be equally proud of both my Indian heritage as well as my Canadian identity and balance both with ease. Strangely enough though, my Canadian-born “beige” children seem to be in the same predicament as I had been. These days, when they have their friends over, they ask that I serve “normal” food.
“Order a pizza, Mom” they say. “I don’t think they’ll like all that wholesome, healthy stuff you make.”
“Oh really?” I reply. Sarcastically, of course.
Interestingly enough, I think I’ve got myself a little following as well of the next generation of conscientious eaters. And I couldn’t be happier!
Gujarati Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Pea Soup)
- 1/2 cup dried toor dal (yellow split pigeon peas)
- 175 g (about 2 roma) tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp red chili powder
- 1 small fresh green chili, minced (or use 1/2 or less depending on your tolerance for spicy!)
- 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
- pinch of asafoetida (hing)
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1/8 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
- 5-10 curry leaves (dried if fresh is unavailable)
Add-ins and garnishing
- 1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tsp jaggery (optional)
- 1 tbsp fresh shredded coconut (optional)
- 2 tbsp crushed peanuts (optional)
- Wash toor dal and soak in water for about 1-2 hours.
- Strain and rinse and place in a saucepan (I use a 3.1 L). Add 750 mL (about 3 cups) fresh water.
- Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer (covered) for 15 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and continue to simmer (covered) for another 15 minutes.
- The dal should be soft and cooked by now. If not, add 1/2 cup of water and continue to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes.
- Let cool slightly and using an immersion blender or manual hand blender, purée until homogeneous. Using an immersion blender, the consistency will be smooth, using a manual blender, it will be coarse. Either way is fine. Of course, the coarser consistency is more traditional as that was the way it was done.
- Stir in salt, cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, red chili powder, fresh chili and ginger and asafoetida.
- Return to stove on lowest heat setting while you prepare for the tempering.
- Heat oil in a smaller saucepan (I use a 1.6 L). Add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds and allow them to crackle. Reduce heat and add curry leaves. Wait 2 seconds before adding the dal. Note that when adding the dal, the oil may spatter and burn your hands. Be very careful! My scaredy-cat method is as follows: with one hand ladle out some dal and gently add to the oil while with the other hand place the cover of the saucepan. Wait a few seconds for the oil to calm down. Then add the rest of the dal.
- Add jaggery, coconut and/or peanuts (if using).
- Allow to simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes. Stir in chopped coriander when ready to serve.