It doesn’t matter where one is from or how much of global cuisine one is exposed to because at the end of the day all food enthusiasts have one thing in common.We all crave comfort food.Not anything fancy or unusual but food that reminds us of being ‘hand–fed’ by parents or grandparents and offer that sense of being loved.
Very often I find that comfort food is translated as being something that’s unhealthy or loaded with sugar .I beg to differ.This one that I crave for towards the tail end of the year is a nourishing lentil that rarely finds mention.I’m referring to the horse gram otherwise known as kollu down south.I wait for that time of year when the weather goes from warm to predominantly cool before delving into my big glass jar filled with these pale beige brown dhals to cook a substantial portion of our kadanja kollu paruppu .We enjoy eating it alongside hot steaming rice with a drizzle of ghee or nallenai ,for lunch. It’s said to generate heat during the digestion process and is hence best eaten only during the winter months.Once cooked it is transferred to a black clay bowl for the mashing and churning which is as was done traditionally in the old days with a wooden masher that is typically used only for this purpose. It calls for a great deal of arm action to get a smooth creamy mixture. All of that effort is what I think leads up to the way it tastes. With the right proportion of chilli,spice and small onions it tastes absolutely delicious ! During this season it features in my children’s lunch box once a week. It goes really well with most poriyals but we somehow tend to favour cabbage or vazhaithandu as an accompaniment to the kollu paruppu.
It was when I made the switch to organic groceries that I first came across the karuppu kollu or black horse gram. Apparently it is a variant that mostly grows wild and is rain fed. It’s nutritive properties are similar to it’s brown counterpart ; high in iron,phosphorous,calcium and protein, extremely beneficial in warding off respiratory ailments and helps in kidney function.The fact that it grows without having to be cultivated means that the nutrient level will also be at par with what nature intended it to be.So now I alternate between both varieties of horse gram.
Another favourite is the ulavu charu that is a typical telugu dish. Some of our Andhra relatives find it highly amusing how we in Coimbatore have elevated this dish to one that is considered a delicacy.It is slow cooked and served with a dollop of fresh cream.I find it hard to imagine that something that delicious was originally meant only to be fodder for livestock !
With seasonal foods I like to take advantage of their health benefits as much as possible. Horse gram is great eaten in both sprouted as well as in micro-greens form. Another technique I like to apply is that of roasting.These lentils when dry roasted turn crunchy and can be mixed into a tempering with puffed rice and eaten as a snack. An equally doable option is to cool the roasted lentils and make a dry spice rub by adding black peppercorns or dried chilli ,salt etc and blending it into a fine powder. This can be then added to lemon juice for an easy,highly nutritious salad dressing or used as a marinade for cooking vegetables or meat.The possibilities are many. It can also be a seasonal podi option for the idli.
A lot of my friends and family who either study or work abroad , especially the ones living alone constantly lament over what to cook that is healthy as well as easy and comforting. In my opinion , this lentil fits that brief perfectly. My friends admit that amidst the pasta and salad options , this one is something they rarely even think of. So many ingredients can be added to vary the taste of this wholesome dish. Garlic , coriander leaves, roasted cumin are some of the many options. One just needs to wash the lentils , chuck all the ingredients in a pressure cooker and cook until done. It can even make a great soup to eat with crusty bread !
As I sit down to my kollu paruppu and rice meal, I’m not exaggerating when I say that my senses block out all else. I get deeply involved in mixing the two ingredients to the perfect finger holding consistency,pausing only to lick away bits sticking to the tips of my fingers before completely digging in.This simple dish will never fail to be a soul satisfying meal as far as I am concerned!