Her name may be Rose; she looks anything but...
This and other similar snide comments were whispered by visiting relatives and guests alike when they saw our maid, Rose. She was a tribal girl, an Adivasi, who had come to Bombay in search of a better life. She had some basic education so she could read and write in both English and Hindi, and she could count, too. She and her sister had dropped out of school because getting there took them several hours, as did getting back. They lived in a hut with a thatched roof in a remote area of Bihar and had to walk several miles for water on a daily basis. They had no electricity. Every year, she would go home for about a month, to take some of her earnings back to her family. The journey itself was long: several days by train, followed by several days by bus and about a day of walking. Every time she came back, she had lost a fair amount of weight from both the journey as well as the harsh conditions in which the rest of her family coexisted. We were like two lionesses - my sister and I - with nails drawn and teeth bared, when it was assumed that it was perfectly alright to snicker about her.
Rose was an excellent cook. She taught us many of her recipes, just as she learned many from us. The one that has stayed with me is her Masoor Dal. It is simple, it cooks quickly and it can be used copiously to drown rice in a large bowl and consumed in absolute bliss. Here is my adaptation of Rose's Masoor Dal.
- 2 cups uncooked masoor dal, washed and drained (hulled split red lentils)
- 2-3 tsp oil
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- pinch asafetida
- 10-15 whole black peppercorns**see notes
- 1/8 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 beefsteak tomato (optional), sliced into 8 wedges
- 6 cups water
- juice of one lemon
- salt to taste
- Heat oil in the pan of your pressure cooker.
- Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add asafetida.
- Add whole black peppercorn - careful now, as they have a tendency to pop right out of the pan and into your face.
- Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder and the tomato wedges.
- Add masoor dal, water and salt. Stir well.
- Cook under pressure until the dal cooks, taking care to ensure that it does not burn. The time and method varies depending on the type of pressure cooker. I usually cook it under pressure on medium-high and after the first 'whistle', I turn the heat down to low and let it cook for another 20-25 minutes.
- Allow the pressure cooker to cool and open it only when it is safe.
- Add lemon juice, mix well and serve over steaming hot rice.
- Rose's original recipe called for a generous sprinkling of freshly ground black peppercorns over the dal just before serving. I prefer to add whole black peppercorn because it works for all of us. Those who can't deal with the intense flavor of black pepper can pick out the whole peppercorns. Those who need the punch can just munch on them.
- This dal is meant to be sour. However, you can add less lemon juice, if you wish.
- You could add chopped cilantro, too. I don't because this is my go-to dal when I am out of fresh green chillies and cilantro. You don't even need dried red chillies. You could add them if you wish, but why bother pulling out the cutting board? I chop my tomato and lemon right over the pan. Enjoy simple flavors with very little clean-up.
- I don't have a picture of the finished dal. I might update this post later with a pic and do a Priya on you.
The funny thing is that no matter what they called her, everyone agreed that Rose had magic in her hands. Even funnier is that her real name was not Rose. She was Ruth.
(I know the ending does not make much sense. But that is why I am not a famous author that all of you are clamoring to meet. It is why I write a blog.)