A trio of daals: The rich and true taste of aromatic comfort

Published: May 4, 2015

All I remember is eating that daal with chapattis and those green chillies. PHOTO: SUMAYYA USMANI

I could go on about my saviour, the simple daal. It is the ultimate non-stodgy comfort food that I reach out to each time I feel blue or homesick. I look back at the moments in my life where I sought out this humble bowlful of loving care and I don’t quite recall why I needed it. I just know that I felt better with the first mouthful. Possibly because nothing compares to the places this simple flavour and texture take me – one reminiscent of home, safety and smiles of loved ones.

My clearest, most revisited memory would be the one of me entering my Dadi’s (paternal grandmother) home on Sundays. The edible experience would begin long before I walked into her kitchen. It was a sensory and sensual experience from the moment I stepped through her main gate; the night bursting with the intoxicating pungent scent of fresh curry leaves abundant on the sole tree along her garden path, the waft of green spiciness of chillies and freshly cut lemony coriander.

As soon as I would enter the house, the heavy air with the earthy smokiness of freshly cooked chapattis from the kitchen would hit my nose. Through the door of the kitchen, I would be greeted by five aunts and a grandmother, all effortlessly creating a wholesome meal for the whole family. There was Bhindi, Korma, chapattis, basmati rice and daal – one item that was always there! I would sample everything, spicy and aromatic laden abundant with flavours of spice, which to me is the true taste of Pakistani cooking alone.

However, I was always drawn to the plain and simple yellow daal, sitting there in a pot, making no apologies for its’ sloppy demeanour. Its plain, comforting earthy essence was yet to come alive with a hot hit of tarka with garlic, cumin seeds and red chillies in ghee, bringing it to life and transferring its shy yellowness to glistening pride.

The meal was ready to be served and everyone at the table was ready to relish this lavish yet simple meal. It was the love and dedication with which this dish was made that added to its richness. One ingredient no table at my Dadi’s was without were fresh and long unforgivingly hot green chillies by the dozens. Consumed with each bite of food, no one was ever excused from trying them. All I remember is eating that daal with chapattis and those green chillies. An acquired taste to say the least, but it is one that I crave always.

A true taste of home and comfort for me will always be daal, roti aur hari mirch ka navala (a morsel of daal, bread and green chillies).

This recipe takes 25 minutes to prepare and cook.


Masoor daal – 50 grams

Maash daal – 50 grams

Moong daal – 50 grams

Turmeric – ½ tsp

Garlic – 1 clove (thinly sliced)

Salt – To taste

For tarka:

Ghee – 2 tsp (you can also use vegetable oil mixed with 1 tsp melted butter)

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Garlic 1 clove (thinly sliced)

Dried red chillies – 2 to 3

Fresh curry leaves – 3 to 4 (optional)


Chopped coriander

Chopped green chillies

A pinch of garam masala

A handful of fried crispy red onions

Photo: Sumayya Usmani



1. Mix all the daals together, wash them and drain.

2. Heat enough water in a saucepan to immerse the daals and add one sliced garlic clove, turmeric and mix well. Let it cook for approximately 12 to 15 minutes on medium heat. Keep stirring to avoid it from sticking to the pan and add more water if it dries up quickly.

3. Let the daal cook thoroughly and mash up the daal with the back of a spoon. Once cooked, add the salt according to taste and mix well. Pour into a serving dish.

4. In a small frying pan, heat the ghee. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and cook for 10 to 20 seconds. Next add the garlic clove and red chillies and let it brown slightly for a few seconds. Add the curry leaves and cook for a couple of seconds. Pour over the daal immediately.

5. Add on the garnishing and eat hot with roti, rice or by itself.

Photo: Sumayya Usmani

This post originally appeared here.

Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani

She is a writer and cookery teacher based in London, UK, specialising in the cuisine of Pakistan, where she was born and raised. She blogs at www.mytamarindkitchen.com/ and tweets as @MyTamarindKtchn (twitter.com/MyTamarindKtchn) She is also the author of a cookbook, Summers under the Tamarind Tree.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.