Dessert or Not To Dessert?

July 21, 2009

"So...If I eat this then do I get dessert?" asked Neha.

"No. You have to eat everything. The rice - the yogurt AND the dal," I repeated.

"Ohhhh. But I just took a taste of the dal and I don't like it," said Neha.

"Right. But, I just heated up a second type of dal and I think you'll like that one."

"I don't like that one either. So, if I eat just the rice and the yogurt can I have dessert?"

Ahhhhhhhhhh....It's never ending. Trying to get Neha (6) to sit down and eat her meals. But, I'm determined.

Now that I've been cooking for this project one thing I've got the girls used to is sitting down to a full North Indian spread. I've realized going to some of these restaurants that most non-Indians don't know what this is and thus don't really know how to even eat Indian food.

Normally, a North Indian meal always consists of the following:
Bread (roti or naan) or rice, a soupy curry (dal or beans) in a little bowl to the side, a dry vegetable (sabzi) (like cauliflower and potatoes or eggplant), a bowl of raita (savory homemade yogurt), a papard (a peppery chip made from urad dal) and a side salad of cucumbers and onions with lemon juice and lots of black salt (kala namak).

We normally eat by tearing off a piece of bread with our hands, scooping up some dry sabzi and then dipping this into the soupy curry. As we are eating this we eat a spoon of yogurt and a bite of the salad. So you get spicy coolness with a crunch all in one bite. If I'm eating rice, I'll mix bits of the dry and wet curries in with small bits of the rice, mix with a little yogurt and eat all the while taking bites of onions and cucumbers. It's nice to have the papard on the side like a chip to add more crunch. If I'm eating a one-bowl meal (a mix of rice and dal) I'll mash the papard in my hand and sprinkle it over the dish to add crunchiness in every bite. Often, papard is actually eaten before a meal with an alcoholic drink like peanuts with beer. My father, husband and father-in-law all eat it this way with a glass of scotch believe it or not.

My kids already love the sides. They could eat buckets filled with homemade yogurt (that's right - I'll be posting the recipe soon), rice, papard and raw onions and cucumbers. I realize they're already doing pretty well compared to most American kids. But, through this project my mission is to get them loving all the dals and dry sabzis.

And you guys too!!

Recipe: Savory, Flavored Yogurt

1 cup plain yogurt (fat or non-fat)
1 teaspoon white salt (regular table salt - I use sea salt)
1 teaspoon black salt (kala namak)
1 teaspoon roasted cumin - powdered (recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
1 tablespoon each finely diced onions, tomatoes, cucumbers (you can add all or just pick your favorites)

Put everything into a bowl except the veggies and whisk together until blended well. Add the veggies and stir. Serve immediately. This makes a great side for Indian dishes and is a wonderful lunch option over just plain, salted white Basmati rice. Yum!

Roasted cumin is one of my absolute favorite spices. And, it's so easy to make at home. I wouldn't buy it already roasted because it's so much better to just make it yourself in small quantities. It's fresher and more fragrant. Just roast 1 tablespoon of regular cumin seed (available at most grocery stores) in a shallow, dry pan over medium-high heat for about 2-4 minutes. Shake around in the pan so nothing burns. As soon as the kernels brown put in a dish to cool. After 3-5 minutes, blend in a coffee grinder reserved for just spices, in a mortar and pestle or place between two paper towels and roll over several times with a rolling pin. Grind until a powder. Put that into your yogurts and you'll never go back to the sweetened variety again! And that's a promise!

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