Bhaat, daal, alu bhaja (dal, rice and fried potatoes) ... Comfort food for singletons

I never thought of dal and rice as soul food till I left home. But come Saturday afternoon and my P G (Paying Guest) aunty's dal rice and potatoes fried in besan, fried specially for me, were manna for me in my bachelor days.


Rice


There are many ways of cooking rice. This is the Bengali way. Removes the starch and keeps the rice firm. I am not in favour of microwave cooking as I doubt if the rice turns out as firm. Buy Basmati. It forms well. Costs hundred bucks (2 USD) a kilo. But lasts for a while and you would otherwise pay Rs 30 - 8o for a single serve in a restaurant in any case.
  • Soak half a cup of rice in regular water for half an hour (takes a lot more time to cook otherwise)
  • Put this in a deep saucepan (patila/ dekchi) along with three cups of water
  • Switch on gas
  • Let it boil (water would bubble when boiling)
  • Reduce flame if the water seems like its going to overflow
  • Take out a few grains of rice in a serving spoon. Blow it gently too cool and bite. See if its cooked enough. A few more dips and you will reach your favoured consistency
  • Switch of gas
  • Hold strainer over the kitchen sink
  • Hold pan with a cloth (so that you don't burn your fingers) with another hand and pour contents of pan into strainer
  • The water's out drained. Rice is ready
This is how my maid cooks it. If you are at level three then you can do what I do. Cover the pan with a stainless steel plate. Grab it by the edges with two kitchen cloths. Upturn and pour out the water. This could be hazardous. Stick to the strainer.

Oil free Microwave Masoori Dal

There are more types of dals in India than there are folks trying to break into films in Mumbai Sambhar, channa masala, dhansak, maa ki daal, chholar dal etc etc. This is a simple Bengali styled yellow mooshori dal which belongs to the domain of the women of our family. My mom taught my wife and she taught the maid! It's a one step very easy oil free dal.
  • Take half a cup of masoor (light orange coloured) daal
  • Soak it in water for half an hour
  • Put it in a microwave cooking bowl
Spice mix
  • Add half a teaspoon salt
  • Half a teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Half a teaspoon cumin powder
  • Half a teaspoon Kalo Jeere/ Kalonji/ Nigella seeds
  • One split green chilly
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 a tomato finely chopped
  • Two cups water
  • Cover with a lid
    Cooking
  • Switch on microwave for six minutes
  • Switch off for 30 seconds
  • Switch on for seven minutes (It will overflow if you do it for 13 min at a go)
  • Take the vessel out carefully with the help of kitchen cloths
  • Open tentatively. A lot of steam with come out. Could scald you if you are not careful
  • Warning: it might look watery or dry (!) when you take it out. Don't panic. Stir it slowly with a spoon and it will reach the right consistency

The dish comes alive once you garnish it with chopped coriander leaves and becomes wicked and tantalising if you add half a teaspoon of ghee. Remember there was no oil so far.


Now dal, rice and a spot of pickle and a green chilly could do for many. I need something on the side though. So here's how to make alu bhaja or Bengali French Fries. The second Indian to get the Legion De Honour after Satyajit Roy. Warning - stop reading here if oil scares you.


Alu Bhaaja
Preamble
  • Take two potatoes. Peel the skin off with a peeler.
  • Put each potato on a chopping board.
  • Cut parallel lines along each, 1/2 inch thick. Turn them at 90 degrees and cut more parallel lines across the entire surface. Your fry strips are ready.
  • Sprinkle half a teaspoon each of turmeric powder, black pepper powder or red chilly powder and salt on the potato strips.
Frying
  • Put three tablespoons of cooking oil in a non stick saucepan
  • Switch on the gas. Let the oil become hot
  • Carefully put in the potato mix in it. Oil might splatter out so wear a face mask or stand away from the pan
  • Cover with a lid
  • Uncover every one minute. Turn the potatoes. Cover again. Keep repeating
  • Potatoes take ages to cook. This should take ten to- fifteen minutes and you can do it while the dal is in the micro
  • The potatoes ready once it looks orangish and the skin looks a bit sprinkled. In case you haven't stirred the potatoes, the skin would black. That's burnt!
So sit back enjoy your rice, daal and alu bhaja with a nice chilled beer. Or an ice cream if you are under eighteen.
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