When you wandered over to read this post, bet you didn’t think there would be spreadsheets involved. There are. Relax, there are no numbers involved. But if you just hate spreadsheets at their core, numbers or not, then sadly we must part ways for today. Because I got a little too involved and went pseudo-technical. But as a bonus, I also created a nifty “What-do-you-call-that-spice-in-Hindi/English?” solution. Everything in one nifty little table.
In other news, I think my need to organize absolutely everything has gone all OCD.
One of the things I meant to do last month was compare Parsi Sambhar masala (PSM) to South Indian type sambhar masala (SISM? Let’s go with it). My daily posting schedule, however, kept me too busy for the research. I knew they are different, but since I’m very interested in the nature of spices, I wanted to understand how they were different. I looked into it over the past weekend.
While each southern state of India – heck, probably each province in those states – has their own special and secret recipe for their SISM mix, it is for the most part widely agreed that there are certain ingredients to be included. Curry leaves have to be part of it. So do various split lentils. PSM does not have these. But then, SISM has cumin and mustard seeds, which PSM has too. The similarities don’t end there.
It puzzled me to no end.
My best friend was a good student, good athlete, loved the arts, and was crazy about Neil Patrick Harris in Doogie Howser M.D. In short, she was a completely normal young teenage girl. But the way she ate her lunch was far from ordinary.
My sister and I lived close enough to school to go home at lunch-time. Most days mom would have a hot meal ready for us. There were some days though, when she was going to be out, she would let us take a packed lunch to school. I looked forward to those rare days because it meant I could spend more time with my friends. It also meant we could share lunches if we wanted to.
Some days I’d sit with a friend whose grandma brought her lunch to school for her everyday. I marvelled at the energy of that wonderful lady who was one of the spriest grannies I knew. (God bless her soul) She brought a hot lunch for both her grand-daughters and made me adore her even more when she let me share their little fried papads.
The day I first had dhansak is vividly clear in my mind. I was over at my best friend’s house to work on a project and her mother invited me to stay for lunch. I remember sitting down at the table with her mom deftly filling two plates and putting them in front of us. It looked like rice and dal which made me happy. Varan bhat is pretty much a perennial favourite of mine. But the dal was more the colour of sambar and the rice seemed to be brown rice. I took a bite. I remember my taste buds being going into overload with all sorts of flavour.
I took another bite and just couldn’t stop smiling. My friend’s mom asked me if anything was wrong and I told her this was one of the most wonderful things I had eaten. I remember this thoroughly amused her because dhansak is also considered funeral food. I asked my friend in a low voice that if this was Parsi funeral food, was their celebration food so good that people died in ecstasy eating it. My poor friend laughed so hard she almost choked.
I’ve eaten dhansak many times since then, each time with just as much enthusiasm. I knew the dish well-enough that I was quite surprised when Amey told me he was sure he had eaten it but had no memory of it. It’s one of the big reasons I bought My Bombay Kitchen. I felt as a lover of all things dal, it was essential that Amey taste this gem of its kind.