W is for Waran-Bhaat.
Moving on to "W", I knew there was but one thing I wanted to make. A meal that embodies simplicity and humility. After weeks and months of eating spicy curries and using recipes with complex spice mixtures, our palates need a break!
The food that babies and toddlers are fed all over the world has many common attributes: it is bland, mushy and nourishing. As we grow up, our tastes mature and it is exciting to try different flavors, spicy and exotic. But every so often, especially in times of crisis and stress, we find outselves craving that primeval mouth-feel of comfort food.
This comfort food has different versions all over the world. It might take the form of small pasta shapes dressed simply with butter and cheese...the simplest form of macaroni and cheese. Or peanut butter and jelly. Or chicken-noodle soup. In Marathi food, that simple comforting dish is Waran-Bhaat.
Waran is a the simplest form of dal. In my grandmom's version, toor dal (split yellow peas) is cooked to mushy goodness, then mashed up and dressed with some curry leaves and a sprinkling of salt and turmeric. This dal is served with some fresh steamed rice (bhaat). The duo of the dal and rice is eaten with the mandatory dollop of ghee (toop), a wedge of lemon (limbu) and some salt (meeth) on the side. Thus we have the glorious platter of Waran-Bhaat-Toop-Limbu-Meeth, the magic words that transport the Marathi soul to simpler times.
On one of those inevitable days when you feel harrassed and stressed out, a bit under the weather, and the thought of eating a full meal is too unappetizing, try this simple meal. It is designed to lift the spirits and make you feel like all is right with the world again.
Waran-bhaat is also the first course in the traditional meal served at Marathi weddings. You eat a small amount of waran-bhaat before moving to to the rich festive dishes. Maybe it is a symbolic recapitulation of our taste in food, or just a tribute to this simple and delicious food.
Note: I know that what I am spelling as "waran" should technically be spelled "varan", but you will let that one slide, won't you?
(serves 3-4 as a full meal; ready in 30-40 minutes)
1 cup rice
1 cup toor dal
5-6 fresh curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
Wedges of fresh lemon
Kosher salt (or any coarse salt)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Fresh steamed rice
Soak the dal for 20-30 minutes. Rinse several times, then cook (on stove-top or microwave or pressure cooker) till the dal is completely cooked. Use the back of a ladle to mash the dal into a coarse pulp.
Add salt, turmeric and curry leaves and enough water to get the dal to the desired consistency. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat off.
Meanwhile, cook the rice till tender. Ladle the dal onto a mound of rice, with a dollop of ghee on the dal. Serve lemon and salt on the side, to be mixed in as desired.
- If you want to include vegetables in this meal, any simple stir-fry will do. Classic combinations include waran-bhaat with pan-fried potatoes or cabbage stir fry, and waran-bhaat with a milder version of matki usal.
- If tomatoes are in season, serve some fresh sliced ripe tomatoes with waran-bhaat for a special treat.
- The important thing is to eat this meal right after it is cooked, while it is steaming hot. In Marathi, the term for freshly steamed rice is pahilya vafecha which means "of the first steam" and this kind of rice is considered nothing short of a delicacy!
Hope you enjoyed this palate-cleansing food! We shall meet soon for another wild-card letter, the mysterious "X" of Marathi food.