Today I want to dig deeper into the role of dal in Indain culture and mythology. What better place to start than one of major epics of ancient India, the Mahābhārata. I’m passingly familiar with the epic due to another of the audio books offered by The Great Courses, Great Mythologies of the World.
For those wholly unfamiliar with the tale, I’ll try to summarize as best I can. At its most basic, it’s the story of the struggle for the throne of Hastinapur, a non-fictional Indian city. The eldest sons of two branches of the ruling family both claim to be the next in line to the throne. The princes of the Kaurava line plot in many different ways to rid themselves of the princes of the Pandava line, including building a palace out of lac, a flammable secretion from insects that can be processes into shellac, and ghee, clarified butter that is commonly used in Indian cooking and is smothered on the bread rolls I’m currently eating, which was meant to be set aflame and burn away the Pandavas.
Dal comes onto the scene after the five Pandava brothers have fled from those who would trap them in the inferno of a semi-edible house. It is believed that Bhima, the brother most skilled in cooking, created the dish Panchratna Dal to give himself and his brothers strength during this exile.
It’s also worth mentioning that panchratna means five jewels, referring to the five dal used in its creation and also, possibly, the five Pandava brothers who were said to be the five jewels of the Hastinapur kingdom.
Today I want to take a quick look, more of an overview really, at the history of beans on the Indian subcontinent. There, legumes are known as dal, a word that comes from the Sankrit root meaning “to split”. Dal is also used as the term for all kinds of dishes made from legumes. Unsurprisingly, given the source of the word, legumes referred to as dal are split. Legumes that aren’t split are called gram.
There is so much I don’t know about dal and so much I want to learn, but let’s start with what I do know. I know that, unlike most other civilizations I’ve looked at, dal were not seen as a pauper’s food. I don’t know exactly why that is so in India, but I do know that at least part of it has to do with the long history of religious vegetarianism in Indian culture. Today it’s estimated that about 40% of people in India are vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarianism, specifically non-violence towards animals, was established as early as the 6th century BCE on the Indian subcontinent. The practice of non-violence was a part of multiple different religious teachings in the area.
What I think I’m getting at is that a large part of the population of the Indian subcontinent didn’t consume meat, and dal was a natural replacement for much of the nutrition that was easier to come by in more carnivorous societies.
I certainly have a lot more digging and learning to do on this topic, but I wanted to get started and hopefully help you think about how culture, religion, and society help shape the way we eat.
So I got the idea for this post while my husband and I were on our honeymoon/first anniversary (we had to recover from all the wedding planning, next life I’m just throwing a barbecue!) in Ireland. We had a fantastic dinner at Bunratty Castle near Shannon, Co Clare (I highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance, they aren’t kidding about the wine being never-ending) and they began the festivities by toasting with some (also-fantastic) mead. As the evening went on, one of our hosts found out we were there on our honeymoon and shared a story of the history of the drink.
He told us that in Ireland the happy newlywed couple was always given a month’s supply of mead as a wedding gift. Mead was believed to improve the virility of the groom and the fertility of the bride and help them on their way to growing their new family. Mead, being derived from honey, was then consumed by the couple of the last month, or moon, and thus the tradition of the honeymoon was born!
It’s a lovely story full of affection and delicious alcoholic beverages. It is also, unfortunately, apocryphal.
Instead it seems the term has no such romantic origin and is instead meant to highlight the way love wants like the moon. One of the sources I foundquotes Richard Huloet’s Abecedarium Anglico Latinum of 1552: “Honeymoon, a term proverbially applied to such as be new married, which will not fall out at the first, but the one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceeding love appearing to assuage, the which time the vulgar people call the honey moon”.
Busy is no excuse, but how about overwhelmed? I have so much to share from all the lovely overwhelming things, but for now I just want to make sure I’m writing something. Reminding you that I do think of you, every day. And get scared that I’ll never write on you again.
So I’m writing on you again!
I will do a real post soon! I’ll post about our Irish honeymoon (and the culinary basis of the very word!) and about the Thanksgiving dinner we hosted (haven’t figured how I’ll sneak some history in there, but the food part is definitely taken care of!) and do another garden check-in now that it seems to have stopped raining for the moment.
For living in the desert, it sure has been pretty damp lately!
I did some garden cleaning on Sunday and found a few more pods of beans that I had missed during the spring. Apparently a grand total of three (that I could find) of those lovely scarlet runner flowers had been successfully pollinated (they resulted in the larger, purplish beans). Honestly, that’s more than I was expecting! So I’ll have some second generation beans growing in the garden next year. This time I’ll set my expectations lower for those guys and just think of them as a lovely crimson accent to the garden that may result in a bean or two (or three). They definitely need trellises on the next go, though, they toppled the corn plants I’d hoped would support them!
The dragon’s tongue beans I planted did much better! I’ve only a handful of them dried, but I snacked on quite a few when they were fresh. I think they were too fuzzy for my husband, but that just meant more for me! I look forward to a second generation of them, as well. I think I’ll aim for more plants next time, since the one plant I had this year was low-maintenance and such a good producer.
We’re still working hard on getting the garden into a non-messy, completely usable state. There’s tufts of daikon doing some hard work aerating the soil, and we’ve trimmed back the tomatoes (the plant has decided to be a perennial for the time being) so they don’t succeed in escaping the confines of the side planter. We put them over some not-so-happy garden spots to help feed the worms (very healthy, wiggly worms). We’ve still got a ton of dry patches thanks to spotty sprinkler placement, but that’s on a more long-term to-do list. At this point, I’m not really sure I could handle the whole garden being filled with plants.
We’re working on that, too, though! I sprouted some artichokes (have you ever seen a blooming artichoke flower? It’s going to be hard to pick those before they bloom) and we’ve got a couple of those into the dirt in the side planter. They should grow pretty big, but I don’t think they’re meant to produce for at least a few years. Got to start somewhere!
I’ve also got some really really cute asparagus sprouts that I have to get into their permanent homes soon. Just have to find good places for them. They’re another plant that won’t produce for a few years, but I don’t think they sprawl as much as artichoke. I think they just get tall and stalk-y like corn.
And we’ve got a smattering of leafy greens that we’re trying to grow. Weather is super weird, though, so I might have to put down another round of seed to get a good number of those. I think we’ve got kale, chard, spinach, and cabbage trying to grow. Don’t know which is which, since I’m a disorganized mess, but it will be a fun surprise!
We’re growing a kabocha squash plant that we’ll hopefully get to make some yummy tempura from.
And we’ve got a random butternut squash plant that decided to grow by itself (I didn’t plant it) and has already given us one delicious squash and is still hanging in there and trying to give us more.
We’ve got some happy little onion sprouts growing from some onion sets we purchased at the farm supply store last time we got mulch. Around those I planted a sprinkling of scallions, then watermelon radish, purple carrots, bok choy, and purple-top turnips (I think purple vegetables are gorgeous. The cabbage will be purple, too!) Their little sprouts are starting to pop up, now! I think I picked a good place to put them, they all look very happy. It’s going to be hard to thin them once they’re large enough.
Our volunteer potato plant (probably sprouted up from some kitchen scraps I buried outside for the worms) finished its life and withered away, so I dug it up to see if there were any potatoes. There were, but they were super small and something had already started eating them! I put a couple back in the ground to see if they’ll pop back up next year. The rest I’m leaving out in the sun to see if they’ll sprout. I’m not particularly hopeful.
Our younger kitty loves the garden, too, and was kind enough to sit for a photo shoot out there the other day.
Here’s hoping you’re all having a lovely fall, and that the weather gets a little more predictable soon!
Hi folks! I’m back on track today with another leguminous adventure through history. Well, I’m mostly back on track, cause I’m not actually going to talk about the bean part today. No, today I’ll be taking a look at the history and use of tamarind. Tamarind is actually the pulp from inside the pod, not the seed (or bean) itself. While the beans can be used to make oil, it doesn’t seem to be used in cooking. Instead, it looks like it’s used as a food coloring and also to make vermouth (interesting!). Maybe I’ll look into that vermouth thing later (distill your history?), but for now let’s look at the part of this legume that makes it into our tummies.
I’ve probably had tamarind mixed into other things before without really knowing or thinking too hard about it (this blog helps me pay a lot better attention to what and how I eat), but a few weeks ago I got to experience it as a star player in a fantastic meal. My cousin (and currently also my roommate) had his girlfriend over and she offered to cook for us. She made us Pork Sinigang (pronounced sin-uh-gong) and asked us if we were okay with sour food. I was expecting the souring agent to be some sort of vinegar, but it was a spice packet. When I checked it out, the main ingredient was tamarind, and I was excited to see (or taste, rather) what it would do to the dish.
Oh my goodness I’m in love. It’s such a wonderful medley of sour and earthy and crunchy vegetables and melt-in-your-mouth pork all served over tender rice. I didn’t know boiled (technically, but it was so much more than that) meat could be that good! I know I linked a recipe already, but I’m going to try and get her to write up her method because she just whipped it up like it was no big thang. Also, because I would very much like to re-create it!
So tamarind and I are buds now. As such, I figured I should look into its past and see if I could find anything interesting! Guys, I had no idea it was a legume. I was so excited when I found out! If this blog achieves nothing else, I hope it can at least help people learn new things about their food and their history. Even if it’s just me here learning by myself, it’s a worthwhile endeavor in my book.
The word tamarind is very straightforward. It’s Arabic for Indian Date (tamar hindi) because, while the plant is likely indigenous to tropical Africa, it was grown and used in India for so long that those naming it believed that was where it originated. It still grows wild (it’s a leguminous tree, by the way) all over Africa and in parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It was already in South Asia, likely through human intervention, as early as several thousand years BC. It’s all over, from Australia to China, Southeast Asia to islands throughout the tropical belt. In one Indian myth it was literally declared the king of trees.
Beyond its culinary capabilities, tamarind is also used in fold medicine throughout Southeast Asia, and has been showed to lower the cholesterol in eggs when given to the chickens laying them.
I’m glad I met tamarind. It sounds like it might be hard to find it in a non-powdered form where I am, but maybe the internet can help me out and I can try my hand at making some of these things! Tamarind candy sounds delightful, as do tamarind-aided pickles.
I’ll see if I can get us all that Sinigang recipe, too!
As the title says, this post is completely off topic. But I’m so excited to share what we did!
My husband and I have been sleeping on our sweet latex mattress on the floor since we’ve got it. We’d never had a king-sized mattress before, and just kept putting off the purchase of a bed frame. King bed frames are pricey, even from IKEA!
We finally own a home, now, and don’t plan on moving anytime soon, so we decided it was about time to stop sleeping on the floor. I still didn’t like the idea of spending a bunch of money on a bed frame of questionable sturdiness (my husband loves to fling himself with abandon into bed), so I started doing some research online.
After some searching and deliberation, I settled on this DIY bed frame plan. It looked like a sturdy, simple construction plan, which was perfect since I haven’t ever done a carpentry project without my dad’s guidance and supervision. I’m really happy with the choice I made.
About six weeks ago we got everything (almost, we ended up needing more screws because I am overzealous, and we borrowed a bunch of tools from our families) we would need to build, stain, and finish our own bed frame. I was terrified, sure I would get halfway through before giving up. Or fail completely and regret my delusion of being a DIYer. But we finished it (last week, actually)! And it looks amazing!
My overzealousness with the screws also paid off, and the frame doesn’t so much as make the smallest creak when the husband catapults his pajama-wearing self into it.
So I wanted to share our triumph, even though it has nothing to do with food, history, or beans. I do hope it will help to explain my absence over the last couple weeks, though! I’ll be putting up a delicious on-topic post about tamarind soon, so please stay tuned.
It turns out, that legumes were so important (or at least prevalent) in ancient Rome that multiple great families shared their names with one species or another of the plant. As you’ll see, the names actually weren’t always born of respect for the legume, but the names and the people who wore them still give us a very interesting window into how these beans were viewed at the time.
To begin, let’s talk about this guy to the left. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman and prolific writer whose works give us some of the best primary material concerning Roman history. He was born six years before the first century BCE and lived to be 63, before having his heat cut off on the orders of Mark Antony for having given a series of speeches condemning Antony (these are the Philippics). He is considered the master of Latin prose and credited with transforming the Latin language. He was admired by Erasmus, Martin Luther, and John Lock. He influenced the culture of the Renaissance and the penning of the Declaration of the Independence. He has been loved and loathed as a writer, statesman, and philosopher for millennia.
And his last name means chickpea in Latin. Literally.
I could apparently do an entire article on this guy, he’s got so many interesting stories and works to explore, but most of it’s not related to food, so let’s look at how he got his name. Luckily, Plutarch wrote about Cicero in his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies Plutarch put together probably only a few centuries after Cicero had lived. In it, he writes that the first of Cicero’s forebears to have been given the family name due to a dent in his nose that apparently had made it look like a chickpea. When it was suggested to Cicero that he drop the name upon his entrance into politics he instead promised to make the name of Cicero even more famous than those of Scaurus or Catulus. Funnily enough, those names mean “Swollen-ankled” and “Puppy” respectively. Apparently the Romans had a thing for silly nicknames.
So you got the name of chickpea if you had a funny looking nose. Okay.
Let’s look at another leguminous family, the gens Fabia. One of the most ancient patrician families in Rome, they claimed to be descended from Hercules. Maybe you can put this one together after our long talk about Pythagoras, but Pliny the Elder claimed that their name was derived from the word faba, for fava bean, since the family was supposed to be the first to have cultivated the plant.
You get the name of fava if you have a hand in agricultural revolution. That’s pretty neat, if true!
You get the name of pea if you’re trying to cultivate an image of a down-to-earth politician. Clever!
According to Emma Borghesi’s The Beans & Grains Bible, there’s supposed to be another family, Lentullus (after lentils), but I couldn’t find anything about that family. So we unfortunately don’t get to find out how you get the name of lentils.
Well that was a really fun brush with Roman history. Found a couple of cool books I’d like to check out, and learned a lot about Cicero that I didn’t know. I’d call that a win!
I just got back from returning my beans book to the library. Well, not just just, since I’ve been putting off writing this post for about half an evening now. Guess I just needed to get enough martini-glass margarita and World of Warcraft in me to get enough of the creative juices flowing. Now that they’re going, I thought I’d treat you to the recipe I’d promised quite a few posts ago. The dish my husband and I spontaneously made on a weekenight and just-as-spontaneously added some garbanzo beans to. It was the right move. So we re-created it last night, and it was just as good as remembered.
I also took better (visual) notes of the process, so I could more accurately share it with you!
So, let’s go through this step-by-step. It’s super easy, and nearly everything comes from a can. I’m pretty sure we got everything except the garbanzo beans, coconut milk, and vegan Worcestershire at Costco. But you might be able to get all those at Costco as well!
First, put some oil, salt, and pepper into a pan and start heating it up at medium heat.
Add a layer of chicken breasts, thighs, or tenders (we’re using frozen chicken tenders from Costco). Cover each piece of chicken with a smear of tomato paste.
You can add a second layer of chicken and tomato paste if you’d like. This was actually the first time I’d tried it this way, and it worked very well! Then pour on a good glug of Worcestershire sauce (we used a vegan version because it’s what I had in my fridge, and I think it’s more interesting than the regular version).
Then pour on a can of lite coconut milk (can go heavy if you’d prefer!), and two cans of pineapple chunks in juice. Do not use the ones in syrup. I did that once and it was a nasty, sticky mess.
Then, for the pièce de résistance, add in a nice, huge can of no-salt garbanzo beans! Salt and pepper liberally (maybe not terribly liberally, use your judgement). We also added a good dusting of garam masala (maybe a couple tablespoons?), two big pinches of fenugreek leaves, and a bunch garlic powder.
Give a good stir, making sure all the pieces of chicken are submerged, then set the heat to high until bubbling. Once it’s bubbling, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes to…. pretty much however long you want to. You can double check if the chicken is done with a meat thermometer to make sure everything’s properly done, if you’d like.
We served it with brown rice.
Last night, since hubby had to work later than expected (and I underestimated how long brown rice takes to cook), the meal simmered for over an hour and the chicken was still nice and tender when we dug in.
This meal is also super yummy if you use frozen salmon, instead!
It’s a variation on a meal my mom often made for the family on weekdays. Really yummy flavor profile, really easy prep, and usually a good amount of leftovers to have for the rest of the week!
Couldn’t recommend it enough.
As for the progress report, the book has been read and a lot of inspiration has been gathered. I have many (actually, too many) ideas for future posts, but I think a few of the ones that I’m most eager to write are:
Beans: To Catch A Killer (this one was not actually inspired by the book, but by a TV show I happened to watch this week)
Famous people named after beans (sounds like a Jeopardy category)
Hello Dahl-y (I actually can’t help myself): beans in India
Soy, the sacred grain.
There are plenty more where that came from, but we’ll see how long I want to run this bean marathon before starting to sprinkle in other subjects!
We went to the aquarium recently, and in the room with the (gorgeous) jellyfish, they had a display touting jellyfish as a snack food. I had never in my life heard of eating jellyfish before, so I was immediately intrigued! It looks a lot like dried squid, which I think is delicious. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t have a lot of taste by itself, but it’s more than happy to soak up whatever type of seasoning or sauce you want to put it in. The aquarium even provides a recipe on their site for a cold jellyfish salad, which I think definitely sounds worth a try.
However! I’m going to try my best to scrounge up some jellyfish from somewhere. I’m hoping my local Japanse market might have it nestled away somewhere. If not, I can always pay exorbitant prices to have it shipped to me from Amazon (it’s not Prime eligible, I’m afraid). Once I’ve managed that, I plan to try out that jellyfish salad the aquarium recommends!
I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, as a parting gift and an apology for our departure from our regular bean-centric programming, here’s a picture of the way-too-adorable Lumpsucker that also had a house at the aquarium.