Dalma is a simple lentil and vegetable stew prepared mostly in Odia households. Photo: Pallavi Roy
Today I cooked dalma and arua bhata and served it to my little angel with generous dollops of gua ghee. She finished her meal like a hungry urchin! It may not taste the same, but I tried to recreate your magic.
I write this letter in my subconscious mind every time I prepare something from my mother's kitchen. I cannot be my mother, but I am evolving to be another.
Every humble household in Odisha prepares dalma, which is a simple lentil and vegetable stew. It is cooked without oil, and with minimal seasoning to be served over piping hot rice. The aroma engulfs the entire house with its earthiness. I call it God's own food! Be it an offering to the deities, a humble everyday meal or an elaborate feast, the Odia dalma always find its place on the menu.
It is a dish, which enriched my childhood and continues to do so. After failing to trace its origin, I started making frantic calls to my uncles, aunts and local libraries. The information is scrambled, yet I am sated.
Legend has it that Savara Raja Vishwabasu, who worshipped Neelamadhaba in a cave in Neelagiri, had once offered him rice, daal and vegetables to eat. The same food was also distributed as prasad to all the people. The earliest known form of Lord Jagannatha was Neelamadhaba. The Savaras belonged to the Munda tribe of Odisha. After years of trial, it was King Indradyumna who brought the idol and built a magnificent Vishnu temple. He dreamed of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Chakra Sudarshan, and thus placed them in the Puri Jagannatha Temple.
Here, food is prepared in the temple and around 56 varieties of dishes are offered as naivedhya to the deities. Among them is dalma, a lentil stew, cooked with coconut and enriched with fresh ghee and vegetables like pumpkin, arum (elephant foot yam), eggplant and raw bananas. The food is prepared without oil, onions and garlic. It is then distributed in reasonable portions as mahaprasad to the innumerable devotees waiting at the Ananda Bazaar.
As an advocate of food and culinary tradition, dalma holds a special place in my heart, and I believe no meal is complete without it. It is usually cooked with toor dal, but in my house, I prepare it with moong dal. There are several versions of the recipe, however potatoes and onions are not added when it is offered to the Gods. It is high on nutrition, and can be cooked with a variety of vegetables such as green papaya, daikon (variety of radish), spiny gourd or kantola, carrots and potatoes. Traditionally it is slow cooked in an earthen pot, but modern day facilitates the usage of pressure cooker to accelerate cooking time.
Recipe for Dalma
1 cup moong dal (split green gram), rinsed and drained
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 small eggplant, cut into 1" pieces
1 small pumpkin, cut into 1" pieces
2 small arum, cut into 1" pieces
1 drumstick, cut into 2" pieces
(1) 2 1/2" pieces ginger, mashed into a paste
1/2 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp asafoetida
1/4 cup ghee
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried chillies
Salt to taste
1. In a deep bottomed vessel, dry roast the dal until a nutty aroma is released. Then add 4 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir in turmeric, pumpkin, arum, eggplant, drumsticks and salt. Cook until dal is mushy for about 45 minutes. Stir in coconut, sugar, asafoetida.
2. For the tempering, melt ghee in a skillet over medium-high heat, splutter the cumin seeds and red chillies for 1 to 2 minutes. Now stir it into the dalma.