Pithla, a kind of “instant” daal flavoured with fresh coriander and green chillies, was a staple at lunch times in my house when I was growing up. My mum was a pathologist and ran a laboratory so she was a busy working mother. This was a typical lunch dish because she could have it on the table together with rice and yoghurt in under half an hour during her lunch break. In fact, Pithla is an institution in Maharashtra, where she came from, where it is eaten with sorghum rotis or “bhakris”. It is made with gram flour which is naturally high in protein compared to many other daals and therefore a good thing to include in a vegetarian diet. It is quite unlike any other daal you would normally find on Indian menus but you might just get hooked when you try it!
Serves 4 Cooking time: 20 mins
You will need:
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 hot green chilli, slit lengthways
- 1 tsp black or brown mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder
- 1.2 tsp turmeric powder
- gram flour – probably a cup and a half but judge the quantity while cooking as explained below
- half a cup of chopped coriander leaves and stalks
- 1 litre water
Heat the oil, add mustard seeds. Let these pop and add the cumin seeds and let these pop too. Now turn the heat down and add the green chilli. Let this sizzle in the oil so that it becomes infused with the heat and flavour from it. As there is very little oil in the pan you may need to tilt it so that the chilli is submerged. Next add the asafoetida, stir and add the turmeric. Stir again and immediately add the water taking care not to splash yourself or the surrounds with hot oil. It will make a loud sound but if you pour it in carefully, there is no risk. Turn the heat up and wait for the water to boil. Now comes the tricky part. You will need to use both hands, and if you are not very ambidextrous, you might want to ask a friend to help. With one hand, sprinkle a handful of gram flour on the surface of the boiling water, slowly stirring it with a large spoon or ladle with the other hand. Do this again and you will notice the mixture thickening and forming small lumps. You should continue until you have a mixture that is the consistency of a thick daal, with small lumps. Large lumps should be broken up because they will have uncooked flour in the middle. If you accidentally add too much flour, add some water to dilute it down. Once the desired consistency has been acheived, add the coriander and simmer the Pithla for a further five minutes. It will splutter and spit but that is fine – just stay out of the way or put a lid on it. Serve with rice or rotis.