My first important boyfriend came into my life during high school. He was important for all the reasons that matter when you’re 16 years old. “A” was beautiful, sweet, drove a cool vintage car, liked the same music, and sported a fabulously hip wardrobe. He also owned a Vespa, which was one of the most direct paths to my heart during those brutal years of black mini-skirts and fishnet stockings.
A was also Indian. He moved to the U.S. when he was 8 years old with his parents and multiple siblings. Although he adopted an American name and did his best to assimilate, his parents worked tirelessly to keep their native traditions alive in their modest South Bay home. Such efforts included building an indoor shrine, wearing traditional clothing, and, of course, cooking Indian cuisine. I loved walking into their home, which was always awash in the deep earthy scents of allspice and curry. It was so comforting and warm.
Not everyone was so enamored with the warm and distinctively Indian smell of their home, however. A’s sister developed a strict routine that was nearly pathological in order to avoid revealing her obvious Indian heritage to the rest of the world. So worried was she that she would carry the odor of curry with her wherever she went that she dry-cleaned her entire closet every week and kept her clothing sealed in a special curry-free location.
I marveled at her unwavering commitment to this routine, but also at the her disregard and barely contained hatred of her heritage. I didn’t understand this. I loved her world and wanted to immerse myself in it every minute. Looking back, there was a lot we didn’t understand about each other and admittedly, I was viewing the situation with rose-colored lenses. After I left for college and developed some distance from the situation, I wasn’t very surprised to hear she ran off with a boy that was a dead-ringer for Tom Petty. He was, to everyone’s great displeasure, a front-man in a heavy metal band. A’s sister broke a lot of hearts in this manner, but she also succeeded in avoiding an arranged marriage.
I think about her and A often. I have only limited knowledge of what happened to them and, because I’m no fan of cyberstalking nor particularly adept at spelling Indian names, I may never know.
I am thankful, however, for all the family brought into my world. I love Indian food and Indian culture. I find myself transported into their loving home whenever I open up one of my favorite and most cherished cookbooks, Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. If you don’t have this cookbook, it is a must-have whether or not you desire to be transported to an Indian state of mind. I think you will like it a great deal. Don’t be threatened, however, when you open the pages and see long lists of ingredients. You will find the spices and ingredients are finite. There are multitudes of methods to use them and many recipes are similar but for a change in technique in the cooking process.
Once you make one of the recipes, you’ll be hooked. I see no way around it.
You can start with this simple soup today or, if you are feeling up to something a bit more daring (but still breathtakingly simple), sample this dish. Let me know what you think or if you know the whereabouts of A and his wayward sister from San Bruno. I love hearing from you.
2/3 cup split moong dal, without skins
6 and 1/2 cups water
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 and 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1 tsp fresh minced green chili (such as jalepeno)
1 and 1/4 tsp salt
2 tblsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tblsp chopped fresh coriander or parsley
Sort, wash, and drain the split mung dal beans.
Combine the mung beans, water, turmeric, coriander, ginger, and green chili in a heavy 3 quart non-stick saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderately low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and boil gently for 1 hour or until the dal is soft and fully cooked. Remove from the heat.
Once off the heat, uncover the soup and blend in salt to taste. Whisk with a wire whisk until the dal is creamy and smooth.
Heat the ghee or oil in a small saucepan over moderate to high heat. When hot, toss in the cumin seeds and fry until the seeds turn brown. Pour this mixture into the dal. Immediately cover and allow the seasoning to soak into the hot dal for 1-2 minutes. Add the minced herb, stir, and serve.
Note: This is a broth-based soup. In other words, it’s a thin soup. If you are looking to make it heartier or thicker, try adding 1/2 cup of rice when you begin the cooking process.