Dal Pakodas from Uttrakhand are an all-time favourite- a must make for all auspicious occasions. Weddings, festivals, birthdays or even when you just crave nostalgia! The whole process is a celebration of traditions. The very aromas of these will take you back to the sounds and laughter of family, they will fill your hearts with loving memories of a happy occasion.
My 92-year-old mother still insists on making these herself at every family wedding. The urad daal or split back gram is picked and washed and ground under her watchful eye. She then will work the dal paste deftly with her small, wrinkled hand. The paste yields to her touch, almost obeying her unsaid command.
While daughters and bahus will struggle with shaping the paste, my mother would have already dropped five pakodas in the wok. There they would be dancing in pungent hot oil, releasing the delicious aromas of lentil and hing (asafoetida). Getting enticingly golden from the outside and deliciously spongy from the inside. Stern stares from her would keep the greedy hands of youngsters in check because the first right of bhog for this traditional delicacy stays with the Gods.
Our foods or recipes are coded with so many memories. Each ingredient has the power to transport you to a different time. These food coded memories transcend the time and space conundrum. With that fact in mind, I want my children and their's, to know me through my recipes. And here I am, dear HerZindagi reader, reaching out to you too with a part of my history and tradition, with my recipe of Uttarakhandi Dal Pakoda.
The magic of traditional cooking is that it needs to most basic of ingredients. You will need split black gram or urad dal. These pakodas are fried in mustard oil, so you will need that as well. Some salt, red chilli powder, turmeric and hing. You will also need white sesame and cumin.
The first step is to clean the dal. Make sure there are no pebbles or dirt in the dal. Then wash and soak them overnight. The next morning you need to rub and scrub this soaked dal so that the skin of the dal comes off. Rub and wash the dal to remove as much skin as possible. This process is done so that the pakodas do not soak access oil while frying. Now grind the dal in a processor. Traditionally dal would be ground on a Sil-Batta or a grinding stone and I do believe that the taste gets that much more enhanced when done like that.
But however you do it, be careful to not water down the dal paste. Also, you will need to ensure that the dal is ground evenly otherwise the texture of the pakodas will be compromised. To this smooth paste add salt, chilli, hing and turmeric. Now whisk this with your hand, just a bit, to ensures the pakodas are soft and fluffy. Your dal mix or peethi is ready now.
Now heat mustard oil in a big wok. Once the oil reaches the smoking point, simmer the flame to bring the temperature down. Now gently take the dal mix or peethi in your hand, pat it with your wet fingers. Give it a circular shape and make a hole in the middle. The hole in the centre ensures that the pakoda will not be undercooked. This also gives a unique and beautiful shape to the uttarakhandi pakoda. After this stick sesame seed and cumin on the face of the pakodas and gently dip them in oil. The oil should not be too hot so that the pakodas can cook even from the inside without burning from the outside. Fry them from both sides till they become crisp.
Once done remove excess oil and transfer to a dish lined with soaking paper. Your delicious pakodas are ready. Eat them hot and crispy. If you end up with too many pakodas you can also make gravy and add these pakodas.
In case you find shaping and dipping pakodas in hot oil a challenge, you can also try shaping them on aluminium foil and simply dropping them in oil.
If you try this recipe, please let me know how it turned out.
Writer: Hema Mamgain
(The author is a mom and a grandmom, a teacher and a home chef. She enjoys cooking and feeding her family and loved ones. She is also a spiritual person who believes 'bhooke pet bhajan nahi hot', which means that there can be no prayer on an empty stomach)