Indian food writer Monica Bhide and her 12-year-old son Jai share an everyday Indian dish.
Playing cricket, watching the “monkey man” and eating grilled corn from a street vendor are my son Jai’s favorite activities when he visits his grandparents in New Delhi, India, each summer. The “monkey man” is an old man who brings his trained monkey to houses in our neighborhood and has the monkey do all kinds of tricks from dancing to pretending to be a great chef.
A 3,000-year-old country of a billion people, India is all about diversity. The people speak many languages and have more than a dozen religions. India’s geography is very diverse, too: the north boasts the peaks of the Himalayas; the south borders great oceans; the heart of the country has deserts and lush fields; there are tropical hideaways in the south-central parts. India was greatly influenced by many invaders. All these factors contribute to each of India’s 28 states having its own distinct cuisine and food traditions. But common everywhere is the use of spices and fresh, locally grown ingredients.
There is no concept of “courses” in India; a meal is generally served all in one course. A traditional meal will include a dal (lentil), vegetables, possibly a meat curry, rice, bread, a spicy chutney (relish) and finally yogurt. My son loves the fact that Indian meals are eaten with your fingers, not with forks and knives. Indians love sweets, and desserts, generally prepared with milk, are a must at the end of the meal.
One favorite day for children in India, Raksha Bandhan (bond of protection and love), falls at the end of August (the date is different each year depending on the phases of the moon). On this day, sisters tie a decorative bracelet around the wrists of their brothers, asking the brothers to take care of them and bless them. In return, brothers give their sisters a gift. It is a heart-warming tradition that deepens the bond between siblings. My son has no sister but still takes part in the tradition when he visits his grandparents in New Delhi each year—he “adopts” one of his cousins to play the role of a sister.
—By Monica Bhide
This dal is mildly spiced and creamy and can accompany just about any Indian-style dish.