Food obsession: dal baati churma
Some people say that kneading bread is therapeutic, but I’d argue that breaking bread into tiny bits, soaking them in a bath of gently simmered lentils and eating the rustic, crumbly combo with my own bare hands is therapy unlike any other. The one dish that lets me roll up my sleeves and crumble away is dal baati churma.
Dal baati churma is a trio of Indian dishes from the north-eastern desert state of Rajasthan, where many villages still rely on earthen ovens fuelled by cow dung. Turbaned villagers dexterously roll and bake flaky globes of wheat and semolina, the baati in this three-part recipe, and then drown them in shimmering pools of ghee. The baatis are served with dal that is composed of five kinds of lentils (panchemal dal), simmered together until soft, and then ladled over with fragrant spices sizzled in more ghee. Finally, a few baatis are repurposed for dessert, where they are crumbled, fried, tossed with cardamom powder and sticky, whole cane sugar (jaggery), and then drizzled over with an ingredient that should feel like a theme by this point: more ghee!
The naughty recurrence of ghee is best explained by an Indian author, Chitrita Banerji, who wrote: “It is only natural that cooks from Rajasthan, a land where survival is a struggle and nature far from bountiful, will make the most of non-perishable elements such as sugar and ghee … to give tone, depth, and nuance to their food.”
Dal baati churma is a classic case of how ghee and sugar are used to coax two simple ingredients — primarily wheat and lentils — into starring as the three musketeers of an extremely fulfilling dinner act.
Dubai has three restaurants that are worth visiting for an authentic taste of dal baati churma. But you have been warned, this is a ghee-laden meal that had best be enjoyed with an open stomach, eager taste buds and a calorie conscience that is temporarily shut for the day.
• Manvaar, Karama, 04 336 8332; Karani, Bur Dubai, 04 353 0670; Rajdhani (served on Sundays and Wednesdays only), Bur Dubai, 04 393 4433
Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com