25 August 2014

Having trouble cooking dal?

Change the water. High mineral content in water i.e., hard water doesn't seem to work, even with a pressure cooker.

It took me two months to figure this out. 

One of the first things I did at the start of my visit here was to pop over to the local Indian shop, and pick up Tur Dal and Moong Dal. Besides intestinal comfort, the mushy yellow dals would serve to warm and soothe the spirit. I even bought a chotu pressure cooker from India to speed up the cooking.

I have done it a countless times: wash dal, place in cooker with enough water, pinch of turmeric, some salt and then wait till 4-5 whistles blow. Open cooker, spoon tempering on to mushy yellow stuff and consume. Simple right? I got stuck at the mushy part here, because when I opened the cooker each dal bean looked like a mini fried egg; a translucent muddy yellow halo surrounding a bright yellow brittle center. Gah?! But normally simple solutions to simple problems work: put whistle back on and cook for longer. Only this time, there was no change in texture. 

Never mind, that was Tur dal. Switch to Moong. Fast cooking moong; cook with rice, put dollop of butter and ladle on some kadi. Tasty, yum. But eh, moong has same problem. Boil for 2 hours over 2 days. No change. Soak dal in water for 24 hours before cooking, no improvement.

So, may be dal was bad. That would be a first for me though. Bad dal. Never heard of it! Confounding this investigation was the beaming face of my Indian colleague who had no problem cooking dal from same store. 

Then, found dal in regular grocery store, which was Tur (pictured), but looked like it had been semi-cooked so that stove-top cooking would be faster. Tried this with various combinations too, didn't work. 

Then I took apart ingredients of this operation: dal (check, works for Indian colleague), salt (someone needs to do a PhD on this cause on the internet the addition or not of this is hotly debated), turmeric (harmless really) and then, cymbals and lightbulb, water. Buying it off the shelf just felt wrong, but I did it, buying something that said "Classic" which I assumed was classic water, but no it just had the classic amount of gas. Back to drawing board. You see, at work, we have 3 different kinds of water. I helped myself to the lowest grade, which is double distilled. 

Measured dal, added lab water, salt, tumeric and tossed into cooker. 3 whistles and 15 mins later, mushy yellow dal.  Announce as breaking news to all family.

There is one open question: why is Indian colleague able to cook same dal with tap water in his house? One explanation is that the water in that area is not as hard as mine. Hmm... now that I write this, I do recall that technically he lives in a different city, zip code, even though 5 minutes from lab...