A newly published cookbook takes the writer back to his stay in Kangra, and the simple magic of khatti dal
For quite a while now, I have been thinking about Pahaadi food. I had a great meal of Pahaadi dishes in Lansdowne when I was there last month, as diligent readers would remember, but that was just one aspect of Pahaadi — or hilly — food. The food there was Garhwali and Kumaoni. But Pahaadi food includes Himachali food, which is similar to and also vastly different from other hill dishes.
One of my most memorable Himachali meals was in this little village called Lagga in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. We — a group of friends — had spent a magical night there many moons ago, but I fondly recall the delicious desi chicken that we had for dinner by a bonfire. I also recall (with a mild shudder) the fact that our friend Murali sang many Malayalam songs, much to the bemusement of our Himachali host.
Earlier still, I had spent three months in Kangra, where day in and day out I ate something called khatti daal. By the end of the sojourn there I didn’t want to see khatti dal ever again. But some days ago, I was reintroduced to the daal when I went for a book launch in the city. It had been organised at a farm house by the author and the publisher. The author’s family — from her 82-year-old aunt to her 16-year-old niece — had all chipped in with their favourite dishes.
The family is known as the extended Sood family, and the book not surprisingly — is called the “Sood Family Cookbook” (101 recipes for every home). It has been written by Aparna Jain and published by HarperCollins (Rs. 899 for a hardbound copy). The book is a delightful compilation of recipes culled from the food-loving Sood family’s kitchens.
The book is not restricted to Pahaadi food — in fact, that’s just one section of the book. It also features all kinds of other dishes — such as chicken rasam, no-fuss baked brie, dushmani chicken, slimming hummus, 10-minute thoran and not-so-spicy Andhra food — that the family is known for.
But I have been focusing on the Pahaadi food because the subject has been haunting me for a while. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that I haven’t been to the interiors of Himachal Pradesh for years. Or it’s just pure nostalgia.
And that’s why I was really happy to run into khatti dal in the book. And I was happier still to see that it has a very simple recipe. For this, all that you have to do is heat oil in a pressure cooker. Add cumin seeds, hing and ginger when the oil is hot, and then malka daal. Fry for two minutes, add chilli, turmeric, coriander powder, salt and water and then close the lid. Cook on medium heat over three whistles. When it cools, open the lid. Mix amchur or soak bakhari (dried whole mango pieces) in a quarter cup of the daal mixture. Add this to the daal and bring it to a boil. Now serve hot garnished with coriander leaves.
Simple! No wonder our various hosts in Kangra kept serving us this.
The recipe has triggered my interest in the Pahaadi food of Himachal, and I now plan to try out a dish called The unbeatable Pahaadi Mutton, and then the Pahaadi dhaniya waala chicken. I hope the dishes take me back to Lagga. I can picture the same group of friends sitting under a starry sky by the fire — with Murali gagged and tied to a tree. If only!