Lentils: Home In A Bowl

My mother wears two golden bangles on her right wrist. The sound of these bangles delicately clinking together is the sound of home to me.

As a child, it was the sound that woke me up at night when I’d find her dotingly stroking my forehead. Now, when she walks through the door after a long day’s hard work, it’s the first sound I hear before the door shuts behind her. It is how I know she’s awake and walking around the apartment making sure things are in place for us. It is the sound I hear when she turns the pages of her prayer book in the morning with us in her thoughts. And, it is the sound of her stirring the deliciously spiced oil (tadka) that she uses to garnish her favorite meal, lentils (dal) – the taste of home to me.

My mother loves lentils so much that even today my father enjoys affectionately teasing her about lentils on their honeymoon. They bought a Volkswagen Beetle in Germany and decided to tour Europe for a month in their new car before shipping it back to their new home in Sudan. My father was a debonair professor, an adventurous eater and someone who had traveled quite a bit. My mother was a beautiful young bride, a recent graduate with honors, a vegetarian and this was the first time she was leaving India. While they drove around various countries, my father ate his way through Europe and my mother asked for a bowl of spicy lentils. And I now know why.

I wish I could reach back into time and share a bowl of dal with my mum back then. I would talk to her about the longing for home that is nurtured by a humble bowl of lentils and the uncertainties of taking a new step when leaving behind that home. My new step was coming to America for college at the age of 18 yrs, which was not much younger than her when she got married.

These days my husband, Tarah, travels for work very often. He eats incredibly delicious meals at some of the best restaurants while he’s away. But when he’s on his way to the airport to fly home, he often calls me to ask if I would cook him a bowl of lentils and rice; his first meal home.

Sometimes I think I hear my mother’s bangles here in my apartment in Brooklyn even though I know she lives in another country. I like to think that it’s her being busy doing something around her home and missing me, and somehow that sound echoes across the oceans all the way to me here as I sip my soothing bowl of velvety dal.

Missing home,
~ Anjali

A printable list of ingredients and directions are at the end of this post,
along with an image of this Perfect Morsel.

Rinse and soak 1 cup of lentils in water for an hour. This step is optional but soaking them cuts down the cooking time by about 30 minutes. Add to a saucepan with 7 cups of water and bring to a boil on medium heat.

About 10 minutes in, a layer of foam will form on top of the lentils. Scoop this layer off and discard.

While the lentils are boiling, chop half a tomato, slice a quarter of an onion and finely chop a couple of slivers of peeled ginger.

Add these ingredients along with a quarter teaspoon of turmeric to the boiling lentils.

Continue to boil the lentils for about an hour or until they completely soften. Stir occasionally to prevent the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You know the dish is ready when the lentil seeds have dissolved into a velvety soup. Add more water if necessary as it should not be thick or lumpy. Add 1 teaspoon of salt.

Next, gather the spices for the spiced oil (tadka) to garnish the lentils with – red chili pepper, cumin seeds, coriander powder and black onion seeds (optional).

Place 5 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. When hot, add the spices along with a finely chopped clove of garlic. Stir till the cumin seeds and garlic start to release a deliciously roasted aroma and turn a darker brown. Be careful not to burn the spices as they’ll taste unpleasantly bitter.

Pour the spiced hot oil onto the lentils. You’ll hear a lovely sizzling sound as the oil hits the lentils. Serve with a garnish of fresh cilantro. Eat as a soup or serve with rice, bread or a salad.

My favorite way of eating these lentils is with Basmati rice, a side of sliced tomatoes with lime juice and chili pepper, and achar (Indian pickle).

From my home to yours,


  1. Neena says

    Beautiful thoughts -reminscent of very beautiful times. Thank you Angie for this very fond remembrance on Mothers day!
    To all who read and try this recipe ,
    May they savour and relish that
    which for many is truly ,
    Home in a Bowl

  2. Hannah says

    I love this story. Reading it makes me think of my mother and all the wonderful meals she made for us that now remind me of her and of home. And of her Volkswagen Beetle! It’s a beautiful portrait of you and your mum. xo

    • says

      Thank you. I’m so glad you like this story, Hannah. And that it makes you think of your wonderful mum. So cool she had a VW Beetle as well. I may have to buy one when I become a mum.

  3. Rashmi from YumKid.com says

    What a beautiful story about your mom and dal. I love dal. I think it is my soul food and if I haven’t eaten it in 2-3 days, I find myself craving for it. Now I understand what you meant by your posts taking so long..It makes sense, it takes time to write something as beautiful and as moving as this post. :)

    • says

      Hi Rashmi, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. I appreciate it. Looking forward to eating some dal with you the next time I’m in LA.

  4. Bernadette Chopra says

    Anji—- Thanks for sharing such a beautiful ‘mother daughter’ bond ! You are so like her in so many ways!!! A simple bowl of hot rice and dhal will always be our soul soothing meal at the end of a rough day !! Thanks Anji for bringing back that memory!!!!

    • says

      Berny, I’m so glad you liked this. I thought you’d like the picture of Maa. I love how peaceful she looks. Huge hugs to you. Can’t wait to cook together!

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