Episode four of the Kitchenpostcards Podcast is all about essentials in a Punjabi Kitchen. After talking about seasonal produce and food in Episodes 2 and 3 we discuss timeless ingredients that are found in most pantries across northern India. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the utility of a well stocked pantry. Not only is it essential for a well-oiled cooking routine but a big help in any number of situations – shortage of fresh produce, difficulty sourcing food or just a lack of time. Dry rations – beans, lentils, grains, flours and other forms of processed grains – are often called boring or basic. We wholeheartedly disagree. They are far from boring! In fact, ingredients discussed in this episode are so ubiquitous and uses just as diverse that we began our conversation with a challenge – listing the absolute essential staples that would be priority, even in a temporary set up. Can you take a guess at what these essentials are? Hit play to find out and read on for more information.
As always, the episode notes aim to highlight some of the key takeaways from the episode and air a few issues, confusions, and questions that remain. We acknowledge that how you might stock your Punjabi kitchen (or any kitchen, we love them all!) will be different from ours. So, please share your feedback, and favorite foods with us. We’d love to try them!
Five staples of a Punjabi Kitchen:
Here’s a task for you, dear reader and listener: as you read try to list what you’ve stocked in your kitchen pantry. What do you deem essential, come what may? Think about it while you read about our list of essentials and the varied paths we take in using these seemingly straitjacketed ingredients. The five essentials that we begin our conversation with include:
- Rice – most commonly basmati, but we are expanding our repertoire! As Punjabis we are habituated to eating basmati (long grain and aged) more often than other rice varieties. Although we do mention a few like Sela, Parmal, Sharbati, Basmati Tukda (broken grain), Red Matta Rice and, Black Wild Rice. As we cook and eat foods from other cuisines our appreciation of different rice is expanding.
- Moong Chhilka / Moong Dhuli – Split, husked or unhusked Mung Bean is in many ways the backbone of our cuisine. There is another dal – the black gram – that has a similar status, but more on that later.
- Atta – whole wheat flour. The word atta can mean more than just whole wheat flour. Here, in this concise list it refers to atta (flour) for making everyday chapatis/rotis.
- Masoor dal – is amongst the most common family of lentils cultivated across the world. In India is it used in both its whole and split, husked form. Here we mean the split, husked version commonly cooked along with dhuli moong (hulled, split mung).
- Any kind of Chhole, kaale or safed: Chhole refers to chickpeas, also called Garbanzo beans. But when we say Kaale (black) Chhole, we mean a different variety of chickpeas. These are smaller with a dark hull and usually called Kaale Chane. Funnily, we haven’t found a conclusive source with their scientific name. Do you know?
“This wouldn’t be a dal conversation!”
What is a dal, this Punjabi Kitchen staple they won’t stop talking about?
An Indian kitchen is incomplete without Dals. The word dal refers to lentils, pulses and legumes in general. The word is such a recognizable dish from Indian and South Asian cuisine in general, that it is very likely that a westerner would be familiar with the term ‘Dahl’ or ‘Daal’. They are omnipresent in India from the North to the South. But we speak of our love for North Indian preparations using our favourite dals.
Dals are found in a few different forms:
- Whole or Sabut – The entire lentil, cleaned but not hulled or split into halves. The word “sabut” means whole in Hindi.
- Split and Unhusked or Chhilka – The word “chhilka” means a cover or peel in Hindi. For instance a banana has a chhilka, i.e. peel. A chhilka dal is split but unhusked.
- Hulled and Split or Dhuli – The word “dhuli” means washed in Hindi. But, when a dal is called “dhuli” it refers to one that has been both, split and husked.
- Husked but not split – Though rarer in Punjabi cooking, such dals are also available. Commonly, the Black Gram (urad) can be found whole but without its black husk. Masoor (red lentils) and even Arhar/Toor is also processed similarly.
“Kaunsi dal bani hai?”
More ways to identify Dals – Colors and Preparation
The etymology of dals, as mentioned above, indicates some key characteristics of the lentil and its processing. Commonly, from one household to another, color, shape and sometimes the consistency of dish are used to refer to dals. Split and husked dals assume a yellowish appearance after cooking because of the use of turmeric since the inner kernels are usually a pale yellow.
- Peeli / Yellow: The most common yellow dal is the Moong – Masoor ki dal. It utilizes two split, husked lentils – dhuli Moong and Dhuli Masoor. Another one is Arhar. Though, there are more and many ways of cooking them.
- Hari / Green: Sabut or Whole Moong has a green husk which gives it a greenish hue. It is also sprouted and used as a salad or a snack and side.
- Kali / Black: Urad or Black Gram is used in its sabut (whole), chhilka (split, un-husked) as well as dhuli (split, husked) forms. Probably one of the oldest, most commonly used dals in the subcontinent it is most recognizable in Dal Makhni, popularized by restaurant food. There are several ways of using Urad from North to the South. Called Mahn di Dal in Punjab, it is also mixed with other lentils to make Dhabewali Dal which is called Mahn Chholeyan di Dal in Punjab. But, when ground it is also used to make Bhalle in the north, Vadas in the south and of course, Dosa Batter.
Ways to cook a Dal – let it stew?
Another way to talk about dals is by specifying how it is cooked. While the soupy lentil is a common way of cooking dals. It is not the only one. Dals can also be made in a drier preparation called Sookhi Dal. One kind mentioned in the episode is Moong Chhilka. Find a recipe for another common Sookhi Dal, Urad with Palak on the blog.
Something Unique – Moong Dal ki Kadhi
Kadhi is a spiced stew of yogurt and chickpea flour served with vegetable fritters. We learn in this episode that kadhi can also be cooked using Moong Chhilka, served with Mangodi – fritters made with moong dal. It’s a dal, in a dal, in dal kind of situation! Have you tasted Moong Dal ki Kadhi?
“Kaale chane ko bhi chhole bolte hain.”
A Punjabi Kitchen Favorite – bean, dal, flour, what is it?
When we began discussing pantry essentials, we thought it would be a short list. Honestly, it is easy to lose sight of the complexity of an ingredient when it is a reliable staple or staples as in the case of the chickpea. Depending on how it is processed post harvest, this legume leads to a variety of ingredients. First, there are several kinds of chickpeas – white, black (Kaale, Hindi/Punjabi) and green (Hare, Hindi/Punjabi). Then, a dal which is a split, husked chickpea. And, finally, a flour called Besan. Called “Chhole” in Punjabi and Chana in Hindi there are several different ways to cook with it too. So let’s see what’s possible with its various forms:
- Chickpeas of all kinds are cooked in a stew like the Punjabi Chhole, steamed for snacks like Chaat, roasted to make namkeens, steamed and salted for salads. Gur (jaggery) and Chana (kala, roasted) is a very common winter snack and something even the horses love! Which one of us tells this story? Press play to learn!
- Bengal Gram/ Chane ki dal: A very popular dal in Bengal, it is also used variously in Northern India. By itself in Lauki Chane ki Dal, in a Khichdi or cooked to make a filling in Puranpoli.
- Chickpea Flour / Besan: If you’ve eaten a ladoo, halwa or a barfi chances are you’ve enjoyed the nutty flavor of besan. Chickpea flour is versatile and tasty. It is used for breads, kadhi, desserts, in sabzis and warm drinks like Sheera. Try it in your cooking with these easy recipes: Besan Ladoo, Besan Halwa and Besan ka Cheela.
“Ghode wali dal bhi bola jata hai.”
Help us find the answer – Rongi or Laal Lobhiya?
As Punjabis we love Rajma. You can hear us talk about it and follow our recipe here. But there is another bean that we enjoy almost just as much – Lobhiya or Black Eyed Peas. The problem though is that we cannot fathom if the word Rongi – Punjabi for Lobhiya – also refers to another, smaller variety of Rajma. There is a large variety of red beans from the Rajma family in Northern India, specially in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand and Jammu. Help us find an answer to this conundrum!
Rice in a Punjabi Kitchen
Rice is a recent addition to the Punjabi diet. For the longest time chawal or rice was a luxury food item used sparingly for dishes like Kheer. Now, Punjab produces the majority of Basmati used around the world and as a result it is also used much more in Punjabi cuisine. Some recipes that can help you use rice are: Khichdi, Kheer, Biryani, Meetha Pulao or as a binding agent in these Rajma Bean Burgers.
“Aj double roti kha lende ne.”
Atta, Breads and Sanjha Chulha – a lost tradition of Punjab
The word ‘Atta’ is both a noun and a verb. In many every day contexts it simply refers to whole wheat flour. But it also means dough as we discuss and describe in the episode. Most Indian breads – chapatis, naan, tandoori roti, paranthas – are made of one kind of atta or another. When refined, the whole wheat atta yields Maida which is called All Purpose Flour in the US. This brings us to a unique food item – the Double Roti. It is a colloquial term for white sandwich bread. We think it might have arisen due to the fact that two slices are needed to make a sandwich!
While cuisines across the subcontinent have absorbed and adopted various colonial foods, like the Pav – a Portuguese Bun used in a favorite street food from Mumbai called Pav Bhaji, there are some traditions like the Sanjha Chulha that we have lost, especially in Punjab. Sanjha means together and Chulha means a stove. Traditionally, these used to be clay oven or tandoors. A Sanjha Chulha used to be a community tandoor where the whole neighborhood would deposit their kneaded dough in the morning and retrieve cooked rotis later in the day. This tradition continued right up to the partition of India. Do you know of someone who remembers visiting or eating bread baked in a Sanjha Chulha?
Tell us about your list of pantry essentials!
This attempt at listing what we count as essentials in our Punjabi kitchens and have seen over the years is in no way comprehensive. Did we even mention all the other things one can do with dals – like make pappads (poppadoms) or use them as a filling for foods like Kachori and Puranpoli? Not all that we cook is from Punjab but a lot of it still relies on the same pantry essentials. So, tell us what are some of your must have staples. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
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P.S Wondering what those phrases mean? Read on.
“Kaunsi dal bani hai?” – Which dal has been cooked?
“Kaale chane ko bhi chhole bolte hain.” – “Black chana are also called chhole.”
“Ghode wali dal bhi bola jata hai.” – “Its also called horse-dal.”
“Aj double roti kha lende ne.” – “Let’s eat bread today.”