A simple, yet flavourful meal featuring my current favourite herb
Do you often go through phases where you’re so impossibly in love with a certain vegetable or fruit? And you’re obsessively buying and making it over and over? Does it happen with spices too? When you discover an intoxicating fragrance, or a subtle unexpected flavour and you want to find ways to add it into everything you make?
No? Really? I was so sure this happened to everybody. Because it does happen to me a lot. It helps that I live in a place where I get seasonal fruits and vegetables, because it allows me to really indulge in something I love when it is in season. You might remember my strawberry phase. Then I had a mango phase. And of course I have a coconut obsession which cannot be called a phase, I suppose, because it is more enduring. Sort of a perennial love. But I also OD on herbs and spices, finding new ways to mix and match them to make yummy flavours that make my cooking burst forth with life. Of course this works with varying degrees of success. I remember the time I was in love with the Bengali 5-spice combination and it was fabulous. But when I had a fennel-loving time a few months ago, it was brutally cut short by the husband who felt that everything smelt like an old woman using a spice packet to mask her body odour. That was the end of that. But I quickly moved on to the next thing, merrily chucking fresh mint into everything I possibly could.
Which brings me to where I am now. My current favourite is Kasuri Methi — a spice that I find to be deceptively flavoursome. It looks like dried leaves that you would normally be tempted to thrown away, if you didn’t know what it was. But hidden within their crispy sun-dried, tendril-like appearance is a powerhouse of flavour. Enough to turn any dish around, without having to add anything else.
The husband has been travelling on work for the last few days, and as is always the case I quickly turn to extremely homely, simple meals when he is not around. The kind he doesn’t care too much for. I’m talking about a pot of humble dal, steaming rice and a side of the simplest sabji and I’m good to go. Sometimes I feel nothing hits the spot better than a simple, satisfying meal like this. Where the flavours are balanced, subtle and so comforting. Ad a dab of your favourite pickle, a bowl of curd, maybe an extra squeeze of lime, or a few slices of onion to crunch on and that same simple meal is transformed. Quite simply.I think heart of hearts, I am a lover of simplicity. And as I try and inculcate it in every facet of my life, I find myself returning over and over to the basics. As much as I love to experiment and challenge myself with more fancy cooking, this is the kind of food that makes me happiest. The kind of food that doesn’t even need a recipe. The kind that lets you go with your instinct, knowing fully well that you can never go wrong.
I made a simple Kasuri Methi Dal and a side of Crispy Kasuri Methi Potatoes to go with it. Both adaptations of my basic dal and aloo recipes, now with the punch of a generous sprinkling of kasuri methi love.
Kasuri Methi Dal
What I used
1/2 cup toor dal (pressure cooked till soft)
1 medium tomato, chopped into small chunks
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic pods, minced
2 red chillies
2 teaspoons kasuri methi
Juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon jeera seeds
A dash each of turmeric, red chilli powder and asafetida
Salt to taste
How I made it
I washed out the dal first, and set it to pressure cook. While that got done, I chopped up the onion and tomato.And I got the spices out.Then, in a pan I warmed 2 teaspoons of ghee and added in the jeera. When it began to sizzle, I added in the onions and garlic and a dash of asafetida. I tossed them around on a low flame till they turned golden and smelled wonderful.Next, I added in the chopped tomato and a dash of salt, turmeric and red chilli powder, all the while tossing them around till they were nearly mushy.I have learned that when using kasuri methi, adding it at just the right time makes a big difference. Add it too soon and it turns too crisp, getting a bit of a burnt after taste. Add it too late and not enough flavour permeates the dish. In this case, adding it right between the tomatoes and the dal ensures that it is wonderfully singed, and that it mingles perfectly with everything else. So I added int he kasuri methi and tossed it around just for a minute.I quickly tipped in the dal, just as soon as the kasuri methi began to smell lovely and gave it a nice good mix. I topped it with some water, enough to bring the dal to the consistency I like, adjusted the salt and let it bubble away for a couple of minutes.Then I shut off the flame, added in the lime juice and mixed it all up. Done!Crispy Kasuri Methi Potatoes
What I used
3-4 small potatoes boiled in a dish placed in a pressure cooker
2-3 red chillies
1/2 teaspoon jeera seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 1/2-2 teaspoons kasuri methi
A dash of asafetida
Salt to taste
How I made it
I pressure cooked the potatoes in a pot (without water), placed in a pressure cooker (with an adequate water level). I used to dunk the potatoes directly into water, but I have found this helps cook the potatoes without turning them into mush. I also turn the cooker off little ahead of time, than I would if I were making, say, mashed potatoes. This is so that the potato cooks through but still retains its shape, so I can easily peel and chop it.In a pan, I warmed some oil. Since I wanted the potatoes to be crispy, I was a little more generous that I usually am with the oil. In it, I popped the jeera, mustard and red chillies.When they had sizzled and sputtered enough, I added in the chopped potatoes and a sprinkling of turmeric and a dash of asafetida.I tossed this around with some salt to taste, till they were evenly coated with the masala. Then I added in the kasuri methi and mixed well.I let the potatoes cook on a medium-high flame, tossing continuously till the outsides were browning and turning crisp (about 5-7 minutes). Done!Until the husband returns from his trip, I am reveling in the simplicity that is a plate of rice with velvety dal spooned over it. Mixed by hand, with bits of potato blended into each morsel, maybe some pickle on the side, a bite of this can send me to the happiest place there ever was.