Comfort Food

Weekends used to be sacred in my mother's household when I was a little girl. My sisters and I were too young to have plans of our own, and we were allowed to sleep in.  My parents were in the "steady" stage of their careers; they were satisfied, but had not yet reached the point of working long days, having a demanding schedule, and occupied weekends. That time still remains one of the happiest of my life. 

Some weekends we used to wake up to my father clanging pots and pans in the kitchen. He would plan to cook for all of us to give my mother a break and to remind us of a very important detail. "I taught your mother how to cook, after all," he'd say, surrounded by mason jars of spices, jars of lentils and Basmati rice, flour rising in plumes from a stainless steel bowl as he banged spatulas and ladles on the counter. After many hours in the kitchen, my mother hovering on the edges, the maid's nerves overwrought with the anxiety of getting my father everything he needed while not getting in his way, my father would call out our (nick)names, "Ainee, Renu, Munnuuuuuuu!" We'd rush downstairs, starving, only to be greeted by a giant serving bowl of daal (lentils) on the table with a side of plain white rice, mint and cilantro chutney, and a chopped cucumber and red onion salad. "Daal!" We would crumple our little noses and roll our eyes at the food. "Don't you make faces now," my father would wag a finger at us. "You'll love it."

We always ended up loving the simple meal of lentils and white rice, eating expertly with our fingers, laughing at jokes my father told us as my mother admonished him for this or that with the overbearing task of cleaning the kitchen looming large. I can't eat as deftly with my fingers anymore. I have to use silverware now, but daal chawal is a dish that still looks great on the dining table and is satisfying despite its simplicity. I probably don't make daal as good as my father used to, but it's my go-to meal on busy days when I can't be bothered to plan a menu or cook an elaborate meal. I pair it with chappali kebabs to appease the meat-eaters in my household. It is a well-loved combination now - the light, creamy texture of daal with the rich, smoky flavor of kebabs.

Photos by Rebecca McCue