Over Christmas break I took my kids back to my ancestral home in Rajasthan, India. We had been excited about this trip for months, as I warmly narrated glimpses of my childhood spent in that house. It was heartwarming to see my kids inquisitive, eagerly wanting to peer on the other side of the curtain to listen to stories of my distant past. Through them I re-lived some beautiful memories.
The “haveli” (house) was built by my great grandfather in his hometown of Bikaner. Back then, having big houses was the norm and he slowly built it with grandeur and taste that we admire to this date. I can only imagine how opulent their lifestyle must have been back then as my kids and I explored the haveli’s numerous rooms. I revealed my secret spots where I used to hide and devour treats away from my mom’s prying eyes. I showed them the incredible rooms built under the ground to keep cool during the summer months. We discovered cooking and serving utensils used 100 years ago. My kids thought they were on a scavenger hunt and that they would unearth some hidden treasure any minute.
Of course, a big part of our vacation is food, and we ate to our heart’s content. In addition to devouring delicious home cooked meals, we scoured the streets of Bikaner to enjoy the local delicacies. We stood in a crowded store and ate hot “mithai” dunked in sugar syrup, we drank saffron infused masala milk garnished with pistachios and almonds served in mud cups, and we ate hot puffed “kachoris” made with lentils. We enjoyed every bite and my mouth waters even as I remember our journey now.
Some childhood memories hold a special place in the heart. To relive those moments with the kids feels so gratifying. I hope these trips turn into unforgettable memories for them as well, so that one day they can share it with their children.
Rajasthan lies on the western part of India and is known to be the “land of colors.” Many cities are distinguished by the stone which is mined there. Jesalmer has yellow stone houses, Jaipur pink, Jodhpur blue, and Bikaner red. Another thing that Rajasthan is famous for is its food. Every nook and corner boasts some local speciality and people flock in stores to grab the freshest treats before anyone else.
One of my favorite dishes in Rajasthani cuisine is the Panchmel or Panchratna daal. Just like Rajasthan, this dishes embodies different colors and spices to make it one of the most delicious and nutritious dals. The word “panch” means five and “daal” is a lentil soup. A typical Indian household will always have a variety of dals in their pantry. Each dal is supposed to have its unique nutritional benefit in addition to being a rich source of protein. Traditionally in Rajasthan, Panchel Daal is eaten with a hard wheat bread known as Baati but any daal is tasty with rice as well.
This recipe makes approximately 3-4 cups dal
Serves - 2 people
¼ cup split green Moong dal
⅛ cup Channa dal
⅛ cup Tuar dal
1 Tbsp Masoor dal
1 Tbsp split black Urad dal
1 tsp ghee
1 bay leaf
1 big pinch turmeric powder
½ tsp amchur powder (dried mango powder)
Salt to taste
Ingredients for the “Vagar” (spiced dressing)
3 Tbsp ghee
1 small stick cinnamon
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 pinch asafoetida
1 tsp red chilli powder (or more if you desire)
Mix all the dals together, wash thoroughly and rinse and strain a few times to clean. Soak overnight in water with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Drain the soaking water. In a stainless steel pot add the soaked dal, 3 cups of fresh water and salt and bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
Skim off any white froth that gathers on the top.
Add 1 tsp ghee, bay leaf, and turmeric powder and let the broth simmer for about 20 min.
In a separate smaller “kadai” or pan, prepare the “vagar.” First, heat 3 tbsp ghee, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamoms in the pan.
Once the ghee is hot, add the cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds turn brown remove the pan from heat. Now add the asafotida and red chilli powder and immediately empty out all the contents of the pan into the simmering daal mixture. Cover the stockpot immediately. This step needs to be very quick to avoid the red chilli powder from burning.
Lastly, add the amchur powder to the dal and simmer for another 10 min.