As a teenager, I had zero interest in cooking. I didn’t hang around my mother in the kitchen while she cooked. I hardly ever quizzed her on family recipes or cooking techniques or tips/tricks in the kitchen. All I had was a healthy appetite, and I put it to good use. Everything my mother served us (well, almost everything) I ate happily, full of praise and compliments. We ate simple vegetarian food, mostly Indian, that fed our hearts and bellies, and kept us healthy and energetic. Even as a child, I understood: this is delicious food, Mummy is a wonderful cook.
Alas, none of this prompted me to learn cooking myself. I was happy to partake of the daily delicacies (simple and elaborate) that emerged from our tiny kitchen but I didn’t ever think that I could try my hand at making something too. My mother tried her best to get me to help around the kitchen, perhaps learn a few basic dishes. But I was a hard nut to crack, and she soon gave up. She reasoned that a day would come when I’d have to cook and feed myself, and I’d figure it out on my own when I absolutely had to.
That day came soon enough. After marriage, I headed to the United States. My husband certainly had more cooking experience than me at that point. He had come to the United States to go to grad school. His mother had armed him with a few plastic containers of beans, lentils and spices, along with some basic recipes. He got off to a great start in the kitchen, and in a matter of weeks, he was whipping up delicious biryani, piquant chhole and spicy pav bhai for his hungry roommates. When I arrived, he showed me the various ingredients commonly used in Indian cooking (so many varieties of beans and lentils, I had no idea!) and basic cooking methods (e.g. how to use a pressure cooker). I learned as I went along, consulting the Internet and my mother, as I progressed to becoming a more skilled and confident cook.
This is a recipe for Split Yellow Mung Lentils Paayasam in Coconut Milk. This recipe is originally vegan as it uses coconut milk. Paayasam is a sweet dish commonly served at weddings and other celebrations in the southern state of Kerala, India. In fact, this particular dish was served at my own wedding too. The original recipe is a simple one but I sometimes fancify it by adding roasted cashews and raisins. Go crazy if you like, or keep it simple.
Split Yellow Mung Lentils Paayasam in Coconut Milk (Parippu Pradaman)
- 3/4 cup split yellow mung lentils (also called mung beans)
- 1/2 cup jaggery
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2/3 cup canned coconut milk (full fat)
- 1/4 tsp powdered cardamom
- 1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1. Roast the mung lentils in a flat pan until lightly toasted. Let cool. Wash the lentils with water, rinsing thoroughly.
2. Cook the lentils with water in a pressure cooker, or in an open pan over stove top. If you go the stove top method, stir periodically to ensure that no lumps are formed, and that the cooked lentils do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
3. Once cooked, mash the lentils with the back of a spoon or a potato masher to remove lumps and get a somewhat uniform consistency.
4. Place jaggery in a pan. Add boiling water. Stir thoroughly. Cook on medium-low heat until the jaggery dissolves into a syrupy consistency.
5. Add the cooked lentils to the jaggery syrup. Reduce the heat to low. Mix thoroughly.
6. Add coconut milk. Mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat.
7. Sprinkle cardamom and/or ginger. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
Photo: Lakshmi Jagad