Casting a critical eye over my blog I find that it severely lacks one of the most basic everyday fare that I make on a regular basis regardless of season, and one that has endless combinations. I even knew the reason for that, and have known it for a long time now.
The food I am talking about is 'dal', and the reason is that dals have been the most challenging to photograph for me. No matter what I do, they all end up looking almost the same after they are cooked - just a big yellow something in a bowl, which makes it rather difficult to convey some of the amazing nuances of flavor that each dal has, despite all of them looking alike.
The beautiful colors of the five dals, very photogenic before cooking.
I am not a fan of styling food just for the purpose of taking photographs, even though I admire those who can do it well. I prefer to take pictures of food as it is meant to be served or eaten. The drawback is that this isn't the best way to showcase the food, and after all, exhibiting food in all its glory is one of the objectives of a food blog. One of the lessons here is that looks are not the best judge of taste.
Undaunted, I am going to post about dals anyway, because I know I have waited too long to post some things just because I did not have a good picture to accompany. They might all look similar, but each one will have a strong character, a distinctive taste, and a lot more than what meets the eye.
This particular dal is one of my favorites, and yet I make it only once in a while, when I want a change from the usual dals. Panch means five, and hence the name, which approximately means 'five together'. The added flavors to this dal are simple, but its unique taste comes from the combination of dals, which is different from either of them cooked individually. There is also a barely noticeable variation in textures of each dal, which is interesting. Along with a good drizzle of fresh ghee at the end, and white rice to accompany, this is excellent comfort food that doesn't need anything else alongside.
Minor styling with wedges of lime, which are not usually tucked into the dal, but served alongside to be squeezed over the dal. The sprig of cilantro is chopped fine and scattered into the dal, optionally.
Number of servings can vary a lot, from 4-8 depending on whether the dal is eaten as a main dish with rice or whether it is a part of a meal with other dishes.
1/4th cup each of toor dal, masoor dal, moong dal, chana dal, and split urad dal
1/4th teaspoon turmeric
2 Tablespoons oil
big pinch of mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 Tablespoons jaggery
2-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4th lime, plus extra wedges
Rinse and drain the dals together a few times until the water runs clear. Cook all the dals together with 1/4th teaspoon turmeric in 5 cups of water. I use a pressure cooker with my usual 3-whistle regulation. Let the pressure drop.
Stir the dals together with a whisk, and add salt to taste. Add more water if needed to make sure it is of a pouring consistency.
Heat the oil a large and wide saucepan, and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, cumin seeds and the rest of the spices. Stir quickly, add the dal, and bring it to a gentle boil. Stir in jaggery until it dissolves. Add chopped cilantro and squeeze the lime on top just before serving.
Some of the variations I have tried are adding curry leaves, or a little bit of finely chopped onion, and using tamarind or lemon instead of lime. Somehow, I like the tartness of lime better in this case.