Hope is the one emotion that unites us all, no matter what faith, cultural background or attitude to life we have. When there is sadness, rejection, hurt, grief, hunger, and even death, there is the hope that the situation will change, and we know that it will, because everything in life is transient.
I believe that hope and food are connected. The human predicament is such that we are eternally hopeful that food will somehow save us from ourselves. In the underdeveloped world, those who have to beg for food, hope that they will be offered a meal by a kind stranger, and that this gesture will at least allow them one more day.
Those who grow their own food in their villages hope for a good crop; they hope that no drought or heavy monsoons will come and decimate their lovingly cultivated vegetables and grains. Commercial farmers too hope that their crops will be bought for a good price and that their customers will be satisfied enough to give them repeat business.
In the West, there is hope of a very different kind. We hope we will come home to our favourite meal after a hard day’s work. We hope that our restaurant meal will be worth the money it costs. We hope that the food we have spent time preparing for friends or family will be appreciated enough to feed our delicate egos, thus making all our effort worthwhile. The hope is that that we will get something back in return.
Hope surrounds us all when it comes to food, but in different ways. In the poorer nations, where poverty is rife, many people are malnourished and there is lack of quantity, not quality. These people are not exposed to ready meals, fast food, additives or preservatives. When they do eat, they eat freshly prepared vegetables, rice, legumes; they drink water, maybe not always as fresh as they would like, but if it keeps them alive and hydrated, they are not going to be fussy.
The preventable diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, many cancers, strokes and heart disease, have increased exponentially in the developed world, and are mostly related to food and alcohol consumption. Excess sugar, saturated fats, ready meals, and fast food, are all unwholesome foods and are considered in Ayurveda to be Tamasic (causing lethargy, excessive sleep, heaviness).
However, this post is about HOPE. We need to use that hope to rebalance the situation. Where there is abject poverty, we need to work towards eradicating it and endeavour to create equal distribution of the wonderful wholesome food that grows on the earth. Where there is excessive unwholesome food consumption, there is the hope that through education and understanding, we can begin to change our relationship with food and see it more as vital to healthy living (the Ayurvedic principle that comes to mind is ‘food is medicine and medicine is food’), rather than something that is an indulgent birthright.
Food that is eaten at home should not be unaffordable for anyone. If it is so, then it is not likely to be freshly prepared food. We have the choice to eat healthy, wholesome food for very little money, by cooking it at home as often as we can, with simple, fresh and ideally seasonal ingredients.
Dal represents all that a meal should be. It is incredibly wholesome, simple to prepare, economical, and delicious. It is inclusive, affordable to everyone, it is not a trendy food that one needs to purchase unusual and elusive ingredients for. A bowl of dal comforts and delights the taste buds, and it is the perfect meal for communal eating. It brings people together (nobody should have to always eat alone), and it can be eaten for lunch or supper, being easily digested. Last but certainly not least, it is beautifully, aesthetically pleasing.
This meal can literally feed the world, and my wish is to make it a symbol of global hope- a bowl of ingredients that come together synergistically and symbolically to render each one of us equally deserving of it and all that is represents.
- A measure of yellow moong dal, well rinsed
- (130g is enough for two people)
- Four to five measures of warm water
- A teaspoon fine Himalayan rock salt
- A small green chilli sliced in half lengthways
- A teaspoon ground turmeric
- A good squeeze of lemon juice
- Two medium tomatoes, chopped.
- A small onion, sliced
- Five or six curry leaves (fresh ideally, but dried will do)
- A good pinch of asafoetida
- A fat garlic clove, thinly sliced
- A heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
- Half teaspoon black mustard seeds
- A tablespoon of rapeseed oil
- Half a bunch of fresh chopped coriander leaves
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Optional additional ingredients:
- A large handful of baby spinach leaves and/or a sliced carrot/courgette.
Wash the dal a couple of times and soak for an hour or two, and once soaked, drain away the water and add more fresh (quantity above)
Mix the first eight ingredients together, and slowly bring to the boil. Once the mixture is boiling, turn the heat up to medium, so that the dal is on a slow boil the whole time. It will start to froth a bit and you can skim this off with a wooden spoon as and when it builds up.
Add any vegetables half way through the cooking.
Let the dal cook until it has become quite soft and a bit mushy. This should take around half an hour.
Once it is cooked, heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the cumin, mustard seeds and asafoetida.
When the seeds start popping, add the curry leaves and garlic, and let it slightly colour.
Now carefully add this to the dal (it may splutter a little), and mix it in. Cook it for another ten minutes or so.
Throw the coriander leaves on top and serve in deep bowls.
I add a tablespoon of homemade ghee(clarified butter) at the end of cooking.
Serve with homemade flatbreads (chapattis) or naan and a little yogurt if desired.
Moong beans are one of the most easily digested foods. Balancing for all three Doshas, they clear ama (toxins) and help to detoxify the body. They are also high in both fibre and protein, and great for combating obesity. They are often given in a very bland, thin soup-form to people who have digestive problems or who are off their food through recent illness, or have been fasting. They are high in magnesium, which means they are cardioprotective.
Himalayan rock salt is mineral-rich and full of flavour, so the quantity required is less than other salt.
Cumin seeds and mustard seeds aid the digestive process.
Asafoetida is a flavour enhancer and aids digestion.
Curry leaves are anti-diabetic, digestive and diuretic.