It’s that time of the year again! Flowers, sadhyas and family time. It’s Onam, and this year, I’m reminded of my hale-and-hearty grandmother who’s pushing 100 and the meal she had cooked eons ago and the taste of which still lingers on my tongue. My friend who was the only other beneficiary of the wonderful lunch that sultry, hungry day will vouch for the fact that it was perhaps the best meal we’ve ever had.
We were a few hours away from my grandmother’s village and en route to Kochi when we decided to pay my gran an impromptu visit. It was around lunch time, and my gran, who lived all alone back then, wasn’t expecting anyone at all. [We didn’t call her because back then she had no land phone, and no one had heard of cellphones!] My friend and I were on the verge of starvation blindness when we stepped into my gran’s home that day.
“Have you had lunch?” she asked.
“NO, we are starving!” we said together.
By the time we washed up and I had just about finished giving my friend a teeny-weeny tour of my gran’s backyard, lunch was served! It was almost as if the frail old lady had waved a wand to lay that meal on the table! There on the two plantain leaves were roasted poppadams, naranga uppilittathu (yellow lime pickle in brine), kicchadi (a raita kind of thing made of chopped tomatoes, onions, chillies and ginger in yoghurt), steaming red rice, valli payaru thoran (stir-fired long beans with grated coconut) and cherupayaru parippu (lentils with coconut paste)! The fresh-out-of-the-clay-pot aroma deeply intensified our hunger pangs and I remember us pouncing on that meal like we hadn’t eaten anything for days. It was nowhere near Onam time, but that, for me, was a mini Onasadhya. Memories of that meal make my mouth water even now, after so many years. I am sure everyone has that one meal they can’t ever forget the taste of. This happens to that meal for me and it has become my benchmark for any sadhya. So, every Onam, I try to replicate those flavours, ever so unsuccessfully.
Cherupayaru parippu is an essential part of the Onasadhya menu. It tastes best when cooked in a standard red clay pot, the way my gran used to. But I am going tell you two ways of going about this – my gran’s method and mine [in square brackets; it’s the quicker, lazier method].
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1 cup Green Moong Dal [or, Split Yellow Moong Dal]
½ cup Fresh Grated Coconut and ½ tsp Cumin Seeds ground to paste (not too fine)
A pinch of turmeric [Gran doesn’t use it; I do, for colour]
Salt to taste
1 tsp oil/ghee, curry leaves, a pinch of cumin seeds and two dried red chillies for seasoning.
In a clay pot, lightly dry roast the green moong. [Roast split yellow moong in a regular kadai till faint brown.]
Crush the roasted green moong on the grinding stone. [If using yellow moong, skip this step.]
Use a bamboo sieve to winnow the green chaff. [No winnowing needed if using yellow moong; hence, skip.]
In the clay pot, pour two and a half cups of water, add the now-split moong dal and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. [Pressure-cook roasted yellow dal with two cups of water and some curry leaves till the first whistle.]
When done, use the ladle to blend the dal lightly even as it cooks. [Remove from fire and lightly hand blend the pressure-cooked dal.]
Add the ground paste and cook till it bubbles. [Place cooker on heater, add the ground paste and cook till it bubbles.]
Remove from fire. [Pour cooked dal into a serving bowl.]
In a ladle/seasoning pan, heat oil/ghee. Throw in the cumin seeds. When the seeds start to splutter, add red chillies and curry leaves and pour into dal. Serve hot with rice, a dollop of ghee and roasted or fried poppadams.
PS: Some people add crushed garlic or ginger or a green chilly to the coconut and cumin paste. Some add onions and mustard seeds (instead of cumin seeds) for seasoning. Whatever recipe runs in the family, I suppose.
About the contributor:
Marshmallow is a fussy-eater-turned-food enthusiast and sometime writer. Mother to two Bean-loving (British not French) kids and wife to a travelling spouse, M has been cooking since age 10.