Life’s little pleasures are in the minutest of things, ones that are most trivial and most basic. They mean nothing at all, yet are everything to you. It has always been my way of life, to be close to “this existence”, as much as I can. However, sometimes down the line, and amidst the situations and chaos you’re offered, you tend to lose your pace a bit and end up prioritizing what had not been a priority before. Then there comes a beautiful time when you get to re-discover the wonderful things that were a little lost, a little forgotten – things that once you’ve loved the most – that time is when a thousand memories glue together! Life takes you back full circle…
My little girl J, helped me re-live several of those moments. I am thankful to her for these and more. I don’t remember the last occasion, when I had the time or had cared to stop to look at an insect. One day like any other, I had J’s company during my walk – she wanted to ride her bike. I love how she can reveal most amazing things, sometimes out of nothing. She had quite a few delightful encounters on her way – bugs, worms, creepy crawlers, ants and little birdies. She would stop, admire and smile at each of them. “Mommy, isn’t that a little too lovely?” She asked. “Yes Honey, these are life’s greatest little lovelies!” I had said.
Don’t you agree? Many of these best things are memories from our yesteryears……
Looking at the clouds and outlining an imaginary figure. Baggy sweaters. Eating cream pastries during thunderstorms. The smell of earth after rains. Racing to open the door for Dad. Smell of fresh baked bakery. Looking at the dried and perfectly pressed flower in your thickest heaviest book. Climbing on a tree to pluck a fruit. Sitting carefree on a little bench, dangling feet and giggling. Playing cards in a park and eating sandwiches. Humming songs that relate to you the most. Picking shells from a beach. Star gazing. Singing in the bathroom. Waking up to realize you still got an hour more to sleep. Wearing Mommy’s big dark sunglasses as a child and waddling in her flip-flops. There are so many precious nothings…
These are some of the most pleasant and comforting. No matter how highest you go and what greatest you achieve, life’s teeny-weeny things provide the maximum solace and utmost joy.
You were a child once and parents would pamper with scrumptious food, goodies and best little things. You grow up to be an achiever and no matter how much you succeed you still hold on to those fond memories and wish you were that child again and could re-live those beautiful times. Yes, the circle of life!
Wherever you go, no matter how many finest or best-in class restaurants, nothing ever compares to the most basic comfort food your Mom made for you. Yes, I have missed my comfort food, Ma’s Dal-Chawal (Dal means cooked lentils and Chawal means steamed rice) in this far away land, like never before. Especially the one extraordinary Dal Fry she makes. If I had my ways, I’d have Ma make this for me a hundred times more. Dal-Chawal to India is what Mac and Cheese is to America – one of Nation’s comfort food. Ma’s is a yummy, super easy, and really the world’s simplest and quickest lentil fry recipe I’ve known. And it’s a deceiving recipe that uses only a couple wonder ingredients to essentially season the Red Lentils — precisely, Nigella seeds and Onions is all you would use for flavor. So interestingly, the idea is not to over-burden the dish with too many spices and empower the seasonings to drive the main flavors, but to have the main ingredient take the center stage and ride on high with it’s delightfully distinct natural taste. The dish is ready in just about 20 minutes!! And to me, it is very comforting, soothing, calming, reassuring and cheering. I’ve been missing it so much of late. Not that I cannot make it. I cook it quite often, but as I taste it, I can feel less of something…and I know what. Mine isn’t laced with the warmth of my Ma’s love and her affection for me. However, my household and friends like it when I cook this for them, because I make it with my own kind of tenderness and love…a love that ties me to my fond childhood memories, and wrapped in a beautiful nostalgia. I am sharing Ma’s original Dal Fry recipe, and how she makes it…Hope you and your family like it too! Unlike most Indian lentil recipe, this one is not soupy — it is moist and and yet dry, so you could enjoy this with any side of your choice or nothing at all — be it boiled rice, Indian breads, buttered toast or as is with a dollop of butter — it is utterly delicious!!
- 1 cup Red Lentils or Masoor Dal (the hulled and split variety)
- 1/2 tsp Nigella seeds or Black-Caraway (Kalonji)
- 2-3 tbsp chopped Onions
- 1/3 tsp Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 tbsp Butter or Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil
- 1 Indian hot green chili - slit lengthwise (optional)
- 2 tbsp washed and chopped fresh Cilantro/coriander leaves (optional)
- About 1.5 cups warm water (to cook the lentils)
- Wash the red lentils about 3-4 times and drain off excess water
- In a frying pan on low-medium heat, carefully melt the butter (to avoid burning) or heat oil
- Throw in the Nigella seeds (Kalonji) and let them splutter
- Add chopped onions and saute for a minute or two
- Add turmeric powder and slit green chilly
- Add the washed red lentils and mix and fry for about 1 minute
- Pour 1.5 cups water, add salt and cook open or covered with a lid. If cooking uncovered, simmer and stir once in a while to avoid burning. If cooking covered, place a lid on the pan (on low-medium heat), and keep checking in between to see if the lentils are done. The lentils should ideally be tender and cooked by about 15 minutes.Cook just until the lentils are tender, soft, and yet retain their shapes (the lentils shouldn't blend together.)
- This Dal fry is not soupy. If you see more water, turn on the stove to high heat and evaporate excess water with constant stirring to avoid burning. (over cooking causes the lentils to become sticky). Once done and the lentils are nicely cooked, garnish with chopped cilantro/coriander leaves and serve warm with a generous dollop of butter if you like!
- Butter is ideally used to temper Kalonji and is used as a topping while serving the Dal Fry. It renders an amazing smooth taste. However, you may use a neutral oil (olive or vegetable oils) if you’d like to cut down on the calories.
- Cover cooking makes the lentils just a little more moist compared to cooking without using a lid.
- Depending on the quality of lentils you use, you may need to pour a little more water for them to cook properly.
- Carefully add water. Extra water may cause Dal fry to be too runny and the cooked lentils to mishmash and loose their texture.
- The lentils cook easily and quickly. Once done, the lentils should be soft/cooked, moist, yet retain their shape.