Back in the day, a Christian wedding in Thirunelveli would last 3 days: the day before the ceremony, the day of the ceremony, and the day after the ceremony. Only vegetarian food was served on the first two days, with meat being reserved for the day after the ceremony. Guests sat on jamakkalams (Tamil Nadu cotton carpets) laid on the floor, and the vegetarian feast was served on a plantain leaf. Generally, the salt is always served first, and a tablespoon of this dhal is served after it. The other vegetables, pickles, appalams, etc., are served only after these two. When sambar is served for the rice, this dhal is again served in large quantities. The first tablespoon of dhal is served as a nod to its significance as an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet, and is therefore served immediately after salt even though its actual role in the meal comes later.
The Kalyana Paruppu that is served at weddings always has small green and dry red chillies, but I have to make do with whatever chillies I get here in Chennai. My mother used to say that the dhal was not tempered with mustard seeds, but it is now a common practise. We obviously don’t wait for weddings to come around to enjoy this dish, and we usually have this with rasam or Vendhaya Kuzhambu.
Red gram dhal contributes 22g of protein per 100g which makes it a very rich source of protein for vegetarians, especially when it is served along with rice as the two mutually supplement the essential amino acids to provide a protein of high biological value. This is a very bland preparation which can be served to those with delicate digestion. It is also a good dish to start infants on dhal.
- ¾ C Red Gram Dhal
- ¼ tsp Turmeric Powder
- ½ tsp Asafoetida Powder
- ¼ tsp Mustard Seeds
- 4 Dry Red Chillies
- 4 Green Chillies
- ½ C Sambar Onions (Shallots)
- 2 T Coriander Leaves
- 2 sprigs Curry Leaves
- 2 T Vegetable Oil
- 2 tsp Salt, or to taste
- Cook the dhal in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes. Cool.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan.
- Add mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the red chillies and stir.
- Immediately add the onion, green chillies, and coriander leaves. Fry till the onion is tender.
- Transfer the cooked dhal to the pan. Add the turmeric and asafoetida powders, salt, and a little water if the dhal is too thick.
- Simmer for a few minutes, stirring so that the dhal doesn’t stick to the pan.
- Add curry leaves and remove from heat.
- The sambar onion should be cooked whole (not chopped).
- The dhal should be cooked on low heat as it will scorch quickly, and the taste will be ruined.
- In some homes, a few drops of ghee (clarified butter) is added when the dhal is mixed with rice. This enhances the taste of the dhal. But I avoid this because of the high saturated fatty acid content of the ghee.