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Daar, Dal, Daal?!

It's come to my attention that I've shared over 80 bowls of daar so far this year, whether with rice or as daar dhokli. So for today's Khao Stories post, I want to share a little bit more about this underrated dish.

A staple in Southeast Asian households all over the world, daal or dal is made of a lentil that is boiled and cooked with a temper or tadka of spices. The type of lentil can range from red lentils, black urad, green mung, yellow split lentils and many more! They are best enjoyed with rice and chapati and enjoyed as part of a larger meal consisting of curry/shaak and savoury snacks and salads.

At home, the staple daal served was tuvar daar. It's a yellow split lentil, usually skinned and split, often preserved with an oil coating. Slightly larger than red lentils, tuvar daar requires soaking due to its hard outer shell and is best cooked in a pressure cooker.

Making Gujarati daar is pretty 'easy' but the process, I find, can be quite dramatic! It is a matter of layering flavours during the initial temper process. Tempering spices is a traditional method to extract the full flavour from spices, called a tadka in Hindi and vaghar in Gujarati. This process is sometimes done separately and added to the daar, other times the daar is added to this tempered mixture. For the full flavours to come through, the oil should be at just the right temperature and not overheated or under. Timing plays a big role in the ultimate flavour of your dish and being prepared and organised helps.

I have always been taught that before you begin cooking, you want to prepare all your ingredients. The masala dabba should be open and ready, making sure you've got enough mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida. A plate full of curry leaves, dried red chillies and cinnamon sticks are prepared and ready. And then a pan of chopped or pureed tomatoes, with all the spices is also ready in waiting. Oh, and you have to make sure the lid is close by...!

My heart still races when I do the temper for daar, although not as much as it did when I first learnt to make it! The dramatics of adding spices that fizz, pop and dance around the pot, and then adding wet ingredients with mum over your shoulder saying "Hurry, add the tomatoes or the spices will burn!!" and fearing if you did it all okay or not, knowing only once everything settles and the aromas of your daar fill the kitchen! It's an emotional rollercoaster if I'm honest. I don't know if anyone else felt like that when they first made daar but it's probably linked to not wanting to 'ruin' it in any way.

When teaching me, Mum would recall how when she was learning to cook, it was always through watching. Growing up in a working-class family in Mumbai's Kurla area, nothing was wasted and fresh ingredients were bought the day they were going to be cooked. Lentils were particularly precious so Nani (maternal grandmother) wouldn't let Mum or her siblings do the key parts of cooking in case anything burnt or was ruined.

Hearing Mum's stories of being told to be confident with her cooking and careful not to burn anything has subconsciously been passed down to me. It's probably why I am so careful during the cooking process, learning to be prepared and on time, hoping for minimal mistakes! As my confidence has grown over the years with each temper, I thoroughly enjoy cooking Gujarati daar, learning more about this dish and most importantly, myself.


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