April 3, 2011

Does this ever happen to you?  A food you grew up eating, something you would call “ordinary,” something you like but never found exceptional because it was such a regular part of your diet—is introduced to others (who did not grow up this way) and suddenly pronounced “amazing!”  “delicious!”  “so good!”  They are dazzled.  They are wowed.  They want seconds.  And you’re like, “Umm, that?  Really?”

Really.  Like this daal, for example, made by my mama when she was in town a few weeks ago.  (Side note: we actually shared a kitchen together and didn’t drive each other nuts!  A first).  No doubt the daal was delicious, but I grew up on this shit, so no big deal.  NOT SO for my white people friends, who raved and raved and took containers home.  And demanded that I blog the recipe immediately.

So apparently, things that are obvious to me aren’t always obvious to everyone else.  Which means I’ve taken to making regular declarative statements on the chance they might be revelatory/welcome/surprising for someone else.  Like—hey, I think you’re awesome or thank you for buying me dinner and making me laugh or I will miss you a ton when you move to Oregon, —etc.  Occasionally I feel silly doing this, but mostly I’m getting pretty good at being That Girl Who Likes to State the Obvious, aka kind of a weirdo.

So this weirdo would like to do a little Blog Stating of the Obvious:

1)    I haven’t really been on my blogging a-game this winter/spring.  Which I hate.
2)    But you people have kept reading anyway.  That is crazy!
3)    And by crazy, I mean amazing.  Thank you.
4)    Cancer totally sucks.
5)    Jill is the prettiest bald person I’ve ever seen.

Anyone else want to make some declarations?  It’s kinda liberating.  Consider this an open invitation.


I love this daal because it comes together quickly (mung daal does not have to be soaked ahead, unlike many Indian lentils) and makes for a hearty meal, whether you serve it alone as a soup or atop some basmati rice.  It’s traditional to serve a bowl of cool, plain yogurt on the side as well.

The daal-making process may seem intimidating the first time you do it, but once you have the ingredients on hand, I swear it’s straightforward.  Part 1 = cook the lentils, Part Two = make the vagar, Part Three = combine and serve.  That’s it! You can use this method for many kinds of lentils, just be sure to check cooking times and water: lentil ratios.


1 cup whole mung beans
½ cup “washed” mung (the inner part, rid of its dark green hull)
9 cups water
2 tsp. each, ground cumin, coriander, & salt
1 tsp. turmeric

Combine the above ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and top with a lid, leaving it tilted to the side a bit so that steam can escape. Cook at a gentle boil until the whole mung has split open and the washed mung has “disappeared” into the mixture (meaning you can’t pick out their little yellow bodies anymore).  This should take between 35-40 minutes.

While the daal is cooking, make the vagar (traditional sauté of spices & aromatics in butter and/or oil):

3 T each, butter & vegetable oil (you can also substitute ghee for one or both parts)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
¼ cup finely chopped ginger
½ tsp. Indian red chili powder (lal mirch)—adjust if you’re heat-shy or heat-crazy
pinch of asafetida

Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the cumin seeds; they should hiss and crack open.  Add the asafetida, then the onion and sauté for a few minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, ginger, & red chili.  Cook until the aromatics are caramelized, 15-20 minutes.

When the daal has been cooked completely, add:

1 small can (8 oz.) of tomato sauce
the vagar (above)

Stir together and cook on low heat to combine, no more than 5 minutes.  Check for salt and serve, topping with chopped cilantro if you like.



  1. This happens to me all the time! That’s the joy in sharing familiar foods with those who don’t know them–they help you see them from a fresh perspective. And yes, cancer bites the big one, but Jill is very fortunate to have such a generous, positive force supporting her as she gets well.

    Comment by Lisa — April 3, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

  2. 1. I will miss you a ton when I move to Oregon.
    2. The obvious is underrated as a thing to state. More, please.
    3. It is crazy that you’ve maintained this blog and your teaching load and your sense of humor throughout these months of dealing with the cancer that sucks.
    4. And by crazy, I mean amazing.
    5. You and Jill operate with such integrity and grace that even typing this sentence makes me tear up. I am better for knowing you both.
    6. I love you lots and lots and lots.

    Comment by Courtney — April 3, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

  3. Hi Nishta!

    I laughed out loud when I read this post! I have had the same experience many, many times with my ‘white people’ friends. They are always SHOCKED to learn that I got to eat this stuff all the time growing up (and now still whenever I visit the folks). I guess we take it for granted, and to be honest, yellow daal has always been my least fave! lol.

    Cancer does suck. Hang in there.

    Comment by Roopa — April 4, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  4. Is there a substitute for the washed mung bean? I am in Turkey an can only get the mung bean. Or could you use red lentils as well with this recipe?

    Comment by Annie Ozsarac — April 6, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

  5. Lisa–I imagine this is what being a Homesick Texan is all about! Introducing the folks around you to old favorites that occur like revelations to them. And thank you for your kind words about Jill, they are much appreciated.

    Coco–It’s not often that a blog comment makes me tear up, but yours did. I love you.

    Roopa–Glad to have some solidarity on the brown girl/white girl thing! Yellow daal is kind of my “everyday” daal, since my favorite (mah ki daal) is a bit more high-maintenance. Your favorite?

    Annie–You could make this daal with only whole mung, or you could also use this method with red lentils. Glad to have your comment all the way from Turkey!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — April 7, 2011 @ 9:24 am

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