When India and Pakistan drew up lines of separation, my forefathers chose to cross over from Karachi to Bombay in the hope of starting over. One people and their culture now survived on two mainlands, and a Sindhi kadhi in India rubbed shoulders with Amti and Sambhar over the years. Kadhi, churiya chawar (fluffy rice) and aloo tuk are quite a sensation now, and every household has a different hand over the amount of tamarind juice that goes into it. The almost sambar-like taste of the kadhi comes from the strength of your tamarind, and we’re so big on imli, that we even have its chutney for breakfast alongside Dal pakwan.
This recipe is a rather odd one that my elders claim they’ve been cooking since their time in Karachi. It’s a cross between a Hyderabadi Khatti Dal and a Hot Sambhar, while bearing some resemblance to a Sindhi Kadhi chawar. Tooar dal or split pigeon pea is used to make it, the spices are all individually fried in oil, then blitzed to a coarse powder, which is then added back to the dal and a wooden churner is used to combine everything. We opted to use vegetables like cluster beans (gavar), drumsticks and aubergine for this dal, but you could just as easily pop potatoes, ladyfinger and even seasonal gourds. Always serve your khatti dal with sweet boondi or boondi ladoo, as this changes the flavour profile completely.
Toor dal/pigeon peas 1 cup, soaked for two hours
Salt 1 heaped tsp
Khatti Dal Masala 2 tbsp (recipe below)
Drumsticks 1, peeled and cut into 2-inch sticks
Lady-fingers 6-8, trimmed and slit
Gavar or cluster beans 8-10, trimmed
Aubergine 2-3 small, cut into quarters
Curry leaves 8-10
Tamarind pulp from a lemon-sized ball of about 50g max
Sugar 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Oil 1 cup
The Khatti Dal Masala (yields 1 cup of masala)
Coriander seeds whole 3/4 cup
Cumin seeds 1/4 cup
Fenugreek seeds 2 heaped tablespoons
Kashmiri Red Chillies 25-30, or more
Wash and boil the dal with salt and 3 cups of water in a pressure cooker till well done; approximately 4-6 whistles depending on how long the dal has been soaking for.
While the dal is boiling, get on with the masala. In a small kadai, take approximately a cup of oil and fry the masalas individually till slightly pink; Jeera-fenugreek-coriander-chillies last. Fish them out with a metal strainer or slotted spoon. Leave it aside to cool and start chopping the vegetables.
Next, grind the masala to a coarse consistency using some of the leftover oil from frying, and store it in a sterilised jar.
Once the pressure has released, use a wooden hand churner to blend the dal until it is blended into a smooth paste. Always blend a hot dal, or alternately, you can use a hand-blender here. Once it has become smooth, add two tablespoons of this masala, or more if you like. Do it to taste if you want it spicier. Continue to blend till the whole dal becomes an orange-ish red colour.
Throw in the curry leaves and the cut vegetables, put the dal back on full flame, and bring it up to a boil, stirring occasionally. At this stage, you can adjust the liquid in the dal as it will just thicken further as the vegetables continue to cook, adding more water as you go. We easily put two cups by the time the dal is done.
When the vegetables are almost cooked, add the sugar, followed by the tamarind pulp, taking care not to add all the pulp all at once. Save some and go strictly by taste. Lastly, adjust the sugar and some salt, if necessary. Serve this with steamed rice, sweet boondi and wafers.