Happy Valentine’s Dal

In my husband’s family there are many cooks. My MIL is one of them. My aunt-in-law is another. She lives in suburban Columbus and if you ever are lucky enough to be invited there for a meal, please clear your calendar. Over the course of four to five hours so much food will be presented to you — from frothy hand-whipped coffees and gently fried, spiced chicken to vegetarian nachos and omelets. If you’re from Senegal, there might be lamb. If you’re my husband, you love her rotli dal bhath shaak. If your child is a picky eater, there will be fresh steamed green beans prepared instantly, instead of making that poor child eat shaak. Tins of cookies are in the house somewhere. Ice cream is in the freezer. Everything is made in real time, while you are there. Please clear your calendar.

I can’t even remember what Indian delicacies kaki makes because I always am overwhelmed by the multinational feasts she prepares. And usually I am so worn out by the 8-10 hour drive from Milwaukee to Columbus that I do not pay a damn bit of attention to how the food is made. Sorry. I said damn. It’ll happen again.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Meet My Cousin

Thank goodness for her daughter,  beloved cousin and blogger Foodie Brooklyn Mom. She is slowly going through her mom’s mental archive of recipes and translating them into written form for those of us who lack a certain ability to read minds and memorize forty years of cooking at this point in our brain’s slow deterioration toward middle age. You may recall an earlier conversation about chutney, how I was feeling unimpressed by the cilantro-dominant blends I was putting together in my kitchen. I wanted to add mint and see what this could do for the green. My cousin had posted a recipe that features a simple 2:1 cilantro to mint ratio and a few other ingredients. I have modified it slightly, and it’s working out great. Allergic friends reading this recipe, I don’t always use the tree nuts. Like when you come over.

Tonight I dashed out to the Best Foods with my daughter in crime to buy some lentils and try another of my cousin’s recipes: dal and rice. It’s a staple. In South Asia its popularity permeates borders. Sri Lanka, north and south India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal: everywhere they eat dal. “Dal” is the basic word for lentil, of which there are many kinds. What you eat with the lentil (vegetables, rice or roti?) is influenced by where in South Asia you’re eating. We’re Gujarati, so it’s rice and dal.

Lentils Red Football

I panicked for a moment in the aisle of lentils. The recipe said “red lentils,” but did that mean split or whole? After a few missteps with mustard seed, I now think that unless the recipe says “crushed,” you buy crushable ingredients in their whole form. Delightfully, this meant walking out of the store with a bag of masoor dal, discreetly parenthesized on the package as “LENTILS RED FOOTBALL.” From now on it’s Football Dal to me. Despite a lapse in planning that left me without any coriander seeds, the recipe turned out okay. Good, even, although I may bump up the spice from two chilies to three and amplify the ginger/garlic blend. But Valentine’s Dal was a bust for the rest of the family.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Mansoor is the lentil's proper name.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Masoor is the lentil’s proper name.

“Not all kids like Indian food,” said the Indian kid who had helped me pick out chilies just 90 minutes earlier.

“I don’t like dal, but it definitely smells like Indian food in here,” said my husband.

I expect little in the way of responsiveness-to-new-foods from my sons, and they delivered. They said: nothing.

I’m the best mom ever

We ended the evening with some marathon Valentine making. Glue, cue tips, posterboard, fiber paper, sharpies, regular and textured scissors. It was ON. Twenty-five valentines later my daughter said: “You’re the best mom ever.” I know she meant this barely and briefly. Tomorrow I will be the  ______ who won’t let her wear a striped rugby shirt on top of a striped polo shirt with Packer sweat pants. But at 8:41 p.m. I was the best mom ever. And I made Football Dal and rice.

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?


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