Trying to recreate something from the past
It all started when a friend and I were talking and sharing our memories of hiking in the Sahyadris. Anyone who has ever hiked there knows of the joys - of walking through the hills in the rains, through the lush green grass, and the chipik chipik mud, of the smell of the pure air, the cool monsoon breezes, and of the rush of reaching the end of a trail or the top of a peak, or fort. Even though we did not know each other during our hiking days it turned out that we had been to many of the same trails and forts. So on we talked, of the people, the camaraderie, and of course the food, or lack thereof. I usually took food from home, as did most other people, and we usually shared it with our co-hikers, sometimes stopping whenever we were hungry, and sometimes waiting for everyone to get to the top to share our dabbas.
My friend spoke with great nostalgia about a spicy methi with dal and lots of green chilies that she had eaten with bhakris on one such trip. Even though it had been several years since then, she called it one of the best methichi bhaaji she had ever had. The person who had brought it happened to be a peon at her workplace, so there was not a chance of getting the recipe. It wasn't something I could relate to immediately, but started to have faint recollections of having eaten something similar somewhere too. Couldn't place it, and yet it seemed familiar.
Sometime after that conversation, I went to Bangalore during a visit to India, and friends of mine who live there took us out to eat a bhakri meal, or jolada roti as they called it, which is common in the northern parts of Karnataka close to the border with Maharashtra. The traditional meal came served on a banana leaf, and one of the things on it was what I thought could have been the dal-methi my friend had talked about! Here it is in the picture below, in the top right corner.
After I came back here, I had more clues as to what to expect in terms of the taste, with the experience still fresh in my mind. I looked through some of my cookbooks to see if they had anything and Ruchira, the marathi cookbook had a recipe for something similar that used moong dal, but what I recalled was toor. So I decided to give it a try with toor dal and see if it tastes like it, and it pretty much did! I send the recipe to my friend to see what she thought, and when she gave it the thumbs up, I knew it was a success.
This dish is somewhere between a dal and a bhaji and is a very basic, rustic dish. It is neither runny nor dry and tastes great with bhakris. My guess is that it tastes best when made on a slow coal fire, and is probably cooked when methi is plentiful and in season, but cannot go far enough, which is why the dal is used to make it more substantial and economical.
Methi and toor dal bhaaji
Serves 2 as a side, but can be scaled easily.
1/2 cup toor dal
1 big bunch of methi
2-4 green chilies (depending on size of chili and desired spiciness)
2 tablespoons of oil
salt to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)
Rinse the dal a few times and soak it in warm water for 5-6 hours.
Split the chilies into 2 along the length.
Just before cooking, drain the dal. In a large pan or wok, heat the oil, and add the chilies to it. Add the dal, stir it around in the oil, add 1 cup of water, and bring it to a boil. Place a lid on the pan and lower the heat. Let the dal cook until it is tender, adding more water as required. This could take somewhere between 30-40 minutes.
In the meanwhile, clean the methi, plucking the leaves and throwing away the stalks. Wash, spin, and chop the leaves fine.
When the dal is cooked, and has absorbed all the water, add the chopped methi, salt to taste, and sugar. Let it cook for another 10-15 minutes on moderate heat, without the lid.
The dal could be cooked in a pressure cooker too, but that would make it very soft like varan, which is not the desired consistency here.
One could also add mustard seeds and turmeric in the tadka, but I like the simplicity of the few strong ingredients.
Now 'this' humble methi dal goes to Linda, who is hosting Jihva: Toor Dal.
If any of you know what my friend could have been talking about, or have a different recipe for this, I would definitely love to hear about it.