To Mrs. Dalal, with Love

Cooking, like cycling and swimming, has what I call a ‘step-learning curve’. For a long time you wallow in the shallow end, flailing your arms and legs helplessly – pretty much resembling a drowned rat. And then after days of swallowing lungfuls of chlorinated water, you suddenly start gliding gracefully and doing multiple laps of the swimming pool. Till ten years back, I could barely brew a decent cup of tea and the height of my culinary expertise was potato sandwiches. So I started with a few books which taught me the basics of cooking – right from selecting and storing various types of vegetables, telling the various types of lentils and flours apart, and the fundamentals of cooking with eggs. I will never be close to being the Michael Phelps of the cooking world; however, I can now comfortably feed myself (and family and friends) mostly healthy and occasionally decadent meals and dishes.

A large portion of my cooking prowess is owed to Tarla Dalal. With her passing away the week before last, the media – print, electronic, and social – has been inundated with obituaries and tributes. As a tribute and a big thank you, I did what she taught me – I cooked. This last ten days have been both a walk down the memory corridor, recreating my favorite recipes from her books, as well as a journey into experiments and learning new techniques. While flipping through the often food-spattered pages, to find my tried and tested recipes, I came upon some new ones which I have discovered to be keepers.

Read more to find highlights of the food which came out of my kitchen last week, the details of the books I picked these from and the slight modifications which I make to the recipes to a) hasten the process and b) decrease the washing up.

The sign of a recipe book being loved
The sign of a recipe book being loved

By the best thing that happened to me in terms of recipe books is this 6 by 3 inch wonder. A well-made hot bowl of lentils warms the heart, delights the taste buds and gives you all the protein you need for the day. Practically every recipe in this book is a winner and I have bought, owned and gifted several copies. I made a couple of dal dishes this last week, both with spinach – Palak Toovar Dal, and Masoor Dal with Spinach. Easy to put together on a weeknight, especially if you have some spinach cleaned and refrigerated to be used. With all lentils, I pressure cook them with a wee bit of turmeric and very little water. Most other ingredients are fried up along with the tempering (in a wee little tempering pan I own) and added to the dal along with the water, brought to a boil and then simmered. Instead of using tomatoes and amchur, my version of masoor dal used a large dollop of tamarind paste.

Bread Kofta Biryani
Bread Kofta Biryani

Another treasure trove of rice recipes is this little book. Bread Kofta Biryani graced my table, not once but twice the last week – because it is the perfect way to use up left over bread, it is easy to scale for several people, and it is something you can assemble before a party, ready to be put into the oven minutes before serving dinner. Ah, I baked the Koftas instead of frying them – 200 degrees c for about 25 minutes with turning them around occasionally to ensure even baking.
My tribute to Tarla Dalal will be incomplete without due mention of Badshahi Khichdi. If you like potatoes, curd and rice, I suggest you drop everything you are doing and rush to make this now.

After dal and rice, we have to have some parathas. I am sadly, still at that stage, where all my rotis and parathas resemble, as the cliché goes, the map of India or Africa, whichever one is your favorite. However, with this Paneer and Vegetable Parathas, there is very little rolling as the parathas are quite small but extremely tasty, healthy and filling

Some rice and veggies to go with the Chettinad Curry
Some rice and veggies to go with the Chettinad Curry

And since the rest are one recipe from each book..
…I am going to put them together.
The delicious Chettinad Curry, in which I left out the cabbage/cauliflower and instead added some partially steamed broccoli while simmering the curry.
The Creamy Spinach Toast which was breakfast yesterday, sans the cheese and the additional baking.
The Tandoor Paneer Tikkas which are staple finger food – where the taste is determined by the quality of the paneer and the grilling technique. The marinade of this can be used for pretty much any vegetable – including cauliflower and broccoli.

Needless to say, this is but a miniscule sample from the thousands of recipes Tarla Dalal has written out. While I can chronicle the number of recipes and cookbooks she has churned out, the millions of bucks her empire has earned, or even the entire generations of women she has taught to cook, nothing indicates a life well lived better than the fact that long after her passing, she will continue to make a significant difference in people’s lives. I look forward to discovering more of the world, Ms. Tarla Dalal created – one which is redolent not only with spices and aromatics, but also with the unmistakable love which characterizes dishes cooked for people we care for.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Dalal – you shall be missed and thanked every time I open a book of yours.

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