On Being Homesick For Food: Dal Is the Greatest Comfort


Being a total mongrel (I'm a first generation Indian-American who grew up in Texas, California, Indonesia, and India and now lives in London) I don't have the clearest concept of "home" or "hometowns" or "home countries" or any of that. So when I get homesick, I get homesick not for places, but for food (and people, of course). The thing is, as a born and bred Texan, I get equally homesick for the healthy South Indian food I grew up with as I do for Mexican food of all varieties (Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Indo-Mex, Mex-Mex, you name it).

Boy, when I need Mexican food, I have to have Mexican food. London is not great for this, admittedly. Luckily there are two burrito places within 5 minutes walking that are, in my opinion, superior to Chipotle. And of course there's Wahaca, which has possibly the best Mexican food I've ever had anywhere.

But if you're desperate for comfort food and don't want to eat out, let's face it. You can't really whip up an easy enchilada.

But the foods of my ancestral home? Far simpler (perhaps not simpler, but certainly less effortful).

Which brings me to Dal, the savory yellow porridge that feeds millions every day. I can't pretend to cook any South Indian food as well as my mother or my grandmother, except for Dal. I default to it so often that I've experimented it into relative perfection (spicy, tangy, umami with a hint of sweetness).

It's cheap, it's easy, and it's quick. What's better than that?

Serves 6


For pressure cooking:

  • 1 cup yellow dal (doesn't matter which, but moong tends to give the best texture)
  • 2 fresh tomatoes (chopped), or half a can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 green chillies, slit down the middle
  • Optional: Any vegetable, preferably zucchini
  • Optional: Fenugreek/methi if you have it

For the tadka (lightly fried spices that go in at the end):

  • 1 tbsp oil of your choosing (olive is healthiest though, folks)
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • Pinch of asafoetida

Before serving:

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Mango powder/lime juice
  • Fresh coriander
  • Rice or Chapati/Nan, whatever you prefer (I choose rice every time)


  1. Place first set of ingredients into the pressure cooker along with FOUR cups of water. (If you don't have a pressure cooker, then you're gonna have to leave it to boil for AGES. Ages in this case defined as "around 30 minutes on medium-high but pay attention"
  2. Let cook until you hear FOUR whistles, which typically takes 5 minutes in all.
  3. Remove lid once pressure is released, and turn on to low heat. Add water if it's a little thick for your taste (I like it thick myself. That's what she said.)
  4. Once the dal is cooked, heat oil in frying pan.
  5. First put the mustard seeds. Once they start crackling, add the rest of the spices.
  6. Once they're cooked, (I wish I had a handy way of telling you how you know they're cooked, but I don't. This is when the old olfactory gland is useful, I find), add them to the dal in the pressure cooker.
  7. Add salt, and let simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off heat and add lime/lemon juice or mango powder (or something tart) to taste. Also coriander leaves.
  8. Serve with rice or bread, or eat on its own.

Variations: I like to add green peas, but I know that's not always a popular choice, but hey.

And there you have it! Our first edition of Oncoming Comfort Foods. (and oncoming foods in general).

Weigh in in the comments. What are your favorite comfort foods? Do you have any special "dal" tricks?

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