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!
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.
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.
I can’t pretend to know where beans will go or what they will do in the world, but I do know where they’ll be heading on this blog!
I got to bicycle to my local library after work today (oh my it was so hot outside, but so worth it!) because the book I’ve been waiting to come in had arrived! Well, actually, it had arrived yesterday, but the library is closed on Sunday so I don’t know why they emailed me to let me know they had it. Such a tease!
But it’s here now, in my hands! I’m sure I’m going to learn more than I ever thought there was to know about beans, but I’m also sure I’m going to love every minute of it. I’ve never actually read any of Ken Albala’s professional works before, only listened to him through the Great Courses lectures he did (and yes, I’m going to keep linking that until you listen to it, too!), so I’m really excited to read this book.
I don’t know what I’ll read in there, but it will almost certainly give me plenty of food for thought (har har!) regarding beans and what I want to write about them. I already have a few ideas of my own, though! I want to look deeper into the importance of beans for lent and other religious observances, and I also want to look at the differences between Old World and New World bean varieties and which varieties are which.
I know at least one, already! Fava beans are Old World. Cause how much more Old World can you get than Ancient Greece!