Dalma: An Odia Style Preparation of Lentils with Vegetables — 2 Ways

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Jump to Recipe | Homestyle Preparation | Temple Style Preparation



My everyday Indian home cooking journal cannot be complete without dalma, an almost no-oil medley of dal and vegetables from Odisha cooked with minimal spices. A dalma can make any meal wholesome, leaving you with a feeling of satisfaction and comfort.


This quintessential preparation of lentils with vegetables from the state of Odisha is ancient, being as old as the region of Kalinga perhaps the older larger region from which Odisha emerged as a state later and is food of the people in homes and gods in temples alike. Although more popular in the coastal belt of Odisha and a regular in the prasad offered to Lord Jagannath at the Puri temple and many other temples across the state, dalma is prepared in other parts of Odisha as well, at least on special occasions if not regularly.


My parents and their extended families belong to coastal Odisha, from Berhampur to Bhubaneswar, and needless to say that dalma was a constant in my meals while growing up - no matter which part of the country we were at the time. At around 3 p.m. in the afternoon, I and my sisters would return home from school, ready to unfurl our bag of stories in front of mother. After some serious tattle telling and delayed washing and cleaning of hands and feet, we would settle to eat, eyeing everything at the dinning table. "Is there paneer today?", sister P would be quick to ask. "I won't eat if there's no egg", sister M would announce. "Ma, please! I want some bhaja now", I would chivvy. Mother was always patient and let us have anything, only under one conditionwe had to finish our bowls of dalma first. There was no exception to this rule just like santula at dinner, a masala free mix veg preparation which had a distinct garlicky tempering in my house.

A dalma generates a feeling of satiation, of being full in a happy way. It has everything that a hungry stomach demands: a dal typically tur or chana (although a specific type of dalma called habisa dalma uses moong dal) boiled with a delicate balance of root and water-based vegetables lending a subtle sweetness, and a bare minimum of oil or ghee fragrant with a hint of spices balancing the overall flavours, ladled on a bed of rice or scooped with parathas.

In the image: From left to right - Tur, Moong and Chana Dal


Depending on where it's prepared, the constituent vegetables and spices vary. In temples, particularly Jagannath temple at Puri, only indigenous and local vegetables are permitted and all forms of red and green chilies are prohibited. Peppercorns provide the heat quotient while spices like coriander, cumin, fenugreek and black cardamom lend earthiness. The taste of cinnamon is quite prominent in a temple dalma too. The proportions are of course not an open book, although it's known that cumin is more than coriander in the spice mix. The famous Odia cookbook writer Usha Rani Tripathy spells out a version for Chef Kunal Kapoor on a cooking show.


The technique of cooking at the Puri temple is somewhat secretive and magical at the same time. Earthen pots, kudhuan, are stacked up, one on top of the other, on wooden ovens and the contents are never stirred. The topmost pot's contents cook first while the contents in the bottom most pot get cooked in the end despite being closest to the fire. Dalma at the temple is also prepared using the same mechanism, tasting distinct and special.

Typically in homes, there's no limitation on the vegetables or spices except when the dalma may also be a part of the prasad, offering to gods. The characteristic tempering for a homestyle dalma is phancha phutana or paanch phoron (mustard, cumin, nigella, fennel and fenugreek seeds) and bhaja jeera-lanka gunda (roasted and pounded cumin and dry red chilies). All Odia home pantries are stocked up on these two spice blends, which are sufficient to change anything bland into everything delicious and heavenly.



Dalma, a dish from the past


Although many theories exist on the origins of dalma, the one that makes most sense to me is how food writer Madhulika Dash's article, Dalma: A Dish from the Distant Past explains dalma's connection to the ancient tribe of Savaras in Odisha. The Savaras were also the first to worship Lord Jagannath as Neela Madhaba. Dash elaborates,

Traditionally, dalma was essentially chana dal boiled with vegetables grown by the tribes such as eggplant, elephant's foot, arbi, shallots and pumpkin among others. Served during festive occasions when bhaat or boiled rice was made alongside saag (greens), it was served with a dollop of ghee for aroma and taste. For many back then, Pokhala (fermented water rice) was a staple. It was this preparation that made it to the Puri temple.

To me, this theory feels logical. My father who is my go-to guide on all questions about Odia food and cultural history and the cult of Jagannath, also affirms to this reasoning.


Both dalma and pakhala fit the bill of being tribal dishes in their primitive forms. The frugality and simplicity associated with both these foods writ large on the common people's meal platter. Lord Jagannath is revered for his humanness, a god who comes to the roads and moves on a chariot amidst the masses once a year. It's plausible that he is also offered the same food as the common people eat albeit with many improvisations. To make things ouroboric, it becomes the food of the common people once it's offered to the lord. It's not served, referred as abhada (a distorted form of the Odia word badha meaning served/to serve food), rather taken and embraced by all irrespective of who they are.

We often visited Puri in my childhood. We still do every time I'm visiting my parents in India. Now that my parents live in Bhubaneswar, it's an hour's drive. The sea beach and the temple (not so much for religion but the art) were always my favourite spots despite that we went there at least twice a year.


Fascinated by the history, architecture and culture of the temple and the many gods and goddesses it houses, I always had questions probing my mind. Going around the premises of the main temple, from one smaller temple to another within the campus, my father would answer all my queries. While my mother trailed ahead of us, I'd clutch my father's little finger, pulling him closer and ask further.


By the end of it, we would be at Ananda Bazaar, buying abhada or mahaprasad. Although mother made dalma almost daily at home, I'd still be waiting to eat the Puri temple version. As clichéd as this may sound, it truly tastes like ambrosia. The flavour is etched in my memory, its smell lingering like the last page of a favourite book I always want to revisit.


Dalma which is a hallmark of the Odia cuisine, is taken for granted in the taste although loved with devotion nonetheless. It's that mundane food which you don't realize how exceptional it is until you don't get to eat it often. When I left home and started cooking by my own, it was no sweat to make an everyday dalma. I had seen my mother making it enough number of times to understand the process, which isn't painstaking at all. But to make the kind of dalma which leaves you feeling gratified, that demands a certain appreciation for beauty in simplicity the backbone of Odia cuisine without overplaying the ingredients or the technique.


Homestyle vs Temple style


I make it both ways depending on my mood and occasion. My home style version has a basic paanch phoron (and a bit of asafoetida at times) in a spoonful of ghee and a generous sprinkle of homemade roasted cumin and chili powder, and occasionally tomatoes for the much needed acidity. Grated coconut or coconut shavings are also usual in my dalma though not mandatory. I usually don't use onions in dalma unless I feel like having some change or I'm making a non-vegetarian version with shrimps.


For the temple style version, I make a special spice blend bereft of paanch phoron and chilies, which I add to the dal and vegetables after boiling. The key spices are coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and black cardamom.

For the tempering, I use ginger, asafoetida and cumin in some hot ghee. Freshly grated coconut and a unique kind of badi called as nadi badi provide the temple style dalma its characteristic texture.


As compared to a usual badi, nadi badi is pre-fried and readily added to any dish as a finishing note. It mixes with the dalma while still holding its shape. Regular badis are sun-dried lentil dumplings which are shallow fried before adding to gravies, dals or greens.


Pro Tip


Don't overdo the spices or oil/ghee in a dalma! The real taste lies in the individual vegetables that get boiled with the dal. Spices are only added for a slight kick. If you add too much of the masala or a ton of other ingredients, you're only taking flavours away from the dalma.


Choose a combination of root and water-based vegetables to go with the dal. Although there isn't any restriction on the vegetables you may use, sweet potatoes, yam, colocasia/taro, spiny gourds, pointed gourds, plantains, yardlong beans, eggplants, radish, elephant apple and pumpkins are extremely good options. You can also use carrots, French beans, cauliflower florets or potatoes. Look inside your fridge, and try with any vegetable you have. A simple chana dal and any kind of pumpkin makes a delicious combination for dalma too!


Pegion peas, horse gram, split chickpeas and slit yellow moong dal, any of these can be used to make a dalma. The kind of dal and the combination of vegetables determines the overall taste. Either way, you will not go wrong!


I generally use a pressure cooker to make dalma for faster cooking. Although you can make it in a vessel or tall pot as well. Whether you're using a pressure cooker or a vessel, start with boiling the dal. Once it's halfway done, add vegetables and cook till they are tender. This ensures everything is cooked evenly, vegetables hold some shape and generate a nice texture which is neither watery nor mushy.

 

Recipe


Did you check the pro tip?


Home Style Dalma

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup tur dal (Pegion peas) washed, rinsed and soaked for at least 20 minutes It's okay if you don't have time to soak the dal, although soaking dal ensures faster cooking

  • 1/4 cup of 3-4 different vegetables or 1/3 cup of 1-type of vegetable, cut into big chunks (see pro tip for suggestions on the vegetables) For reference: about 4-5 chunks of each vegetable

  • 1 medium sized tomato, sliced into four parts

  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

  • For tempering/tadka: 1 tsp ghee or neutral oil, 1 tsp paanch phoron, 1/4 tsp asafoetida, 2 dried red chilies

  • 1 tsp (plus extra for taste) roasted cumin and chili powder Dry roast 1 tsp cumin with 1 dry red chili, and pound in a mortar-pestle or grind in a spice mixer. You can also make a bigger batch and store for future use.

  • 1 tsp salt or to taste

  • (optional) 1 tbsp grated coconut

Method
  1. In a pressure cooker, tall pot or instant pot, add the dal with 1 and 1/2 cup of water, sliced tomato and turmeric. Start boiling on medium heat.

  2. After 5-7 minutes, add a quarter of the salt you wish to add in the entire recipe and stir well. Next add the vegetables, beginning with the hardest vegetable, waiting for a minute and adding the next. If you're using only one vegetable, you'd just add that.

  3. Stir well. Add more water if the vegetables don't appear submerged. Close the lid of the pressure cooker, and cook for 5 minutes (1 whistle on high heat, and 1 one low to medium heat). If using an instant pot, cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. If using a normal tall pot, cover and cook on medium to low heat until vegetables are tender and dal is soft - should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. Remove the pressure cooker from heat and let the steam release naturally. For instant pot, let the steam escape naturally too. Open and taste. Adjust salt if needed. Pour boiling hot water if the dal is too thick and stir.

  5. Keep the pressure cooker back on the stove on low heat/switch on the sauté mode for instant pot/ reduce the heat for normal tall pot.

  6. In a fry pan or tadka pan, heat ghee or oil. Once hot, add paanch phoron, dry red chilies and asafoetida. Let everything crackle and if you have any big chunks of tomato in the dal, pick out and add them to the tadka now. Mix well and pour the tadka over the dal. Take some dal and add to the fry pan, swirl the pan and add it back to the dalma.

  7. Add the roasted cumin and chili powder and let the dal simmer for a minute. Add grated coconut if using.

Switch off the heat and serve warm!

 

Temple Style Dalma

Ingredients

Please note the ingredients are for a temple-style inspired version of dalma made at home. The actual dalma made in temples is restricted to specific vegetables.

  • 1/2 cup tur dal (Pegion peas) washed, rinsed and soaked for at least 20 minutes It's okay if you don't have time to soak the dal, although soaking dal ensures faster cooking

  • 1/4 cup of 3-4 different vegetables or 1/3 cup of 1-type of vegetable, cut into big chunks (see pro tip for suggestions on the vegetables) For reference: about 4-5 chunks of each vegetable

  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

  • 2 bay leaves

  • a handful of nadi badi

  • 2 tbsp grated coconut (or coconut chunks chopped very fine)

  • 1 tsp salt or to taste

  • For dalma masala: 1 tbsp coriander, 1 1/2 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp peppercorns, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 2 black cardamom, 4-5 cloves, 1-inch cinnamon Dry roast in a pan (adding spices in the order as mentioned) and pound/coarse grind.

  • For tempering/tadka: 1 tsp ghee or neutral oil, 1/4 tsp asafoetida, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 inch ginger pounded

Method
  1. In a pressure cooker, tall pot or instant pot, add the dal with 2 cups of water and turmeric. Boil the dal until half done (roughly 7-10 mins).

  2. Next add the vegetables, beginning with the hardest vegetable, waiting for a minute and adding the next. If you're using only one vegetable, you'd just add that.

  3. Stir well. Add more water if the vegetables don't appear submerged. Close the lid of the pressure cooker, and cook for 5 minutes (1 whistle on high heat, and 1 one low to medium heat). If using an instant pot, cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. If using a normal tall pot, cover and cook on medium to low heat until vegetables are tender and dal is soft - should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. Remove the pressure cooker from heat and let the steam release naturally. For instant pot, let the steam escape naturally too. Open and pour boiling hot water if the dal is too thick and stir.

  5. Keep the pressure cooker back on the stove on low heat/switch on the sauté mode for instant pot/ reduce the heat for normal tall pot. As the dal simmers, add bay leaf, salt, nadi badi and coconut. Stir and then add the freshly pounded/ground masala. Stir again, cover and let it simmer on low heat.

  6. In a fry pan or tadka pan, heat ghee or oil. Once hot, add asafoetida, cumin and ginger. Mix the ingredients and swirl the pan, and pour the hot tadka over the simmering dal.

Switch off the heat and serve warm!

If you enjoyed this recipe, share your creations with me on Instagram. Tag me and tell me how you liked it! I'd love to hear from you.


 










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