As we traversed the road and zoomed past familiar terrain, on our way to the tiny hamlet in Southern Karnataka, the place where my paternal ancestors lived, memories came in a flash. There were moments filled with happiness and joy, festivals and ceremonies celebrated and there were some dark moments too, like when our grandfather passed away and the entire family was engulfed in sadness.
Going to Siddapur from the town in which we lived was a regular feature of our life while growing up and we (my parents and two siblings) did this many times in a year. Every important festival on the Hindu calendar was celebrated here with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Food, served on banana leaves and new clothes made us young folks really happy. Later on, the joy of meeting cousins and some adventures took over. Fun filled times and long walks around the hillocks with conversations ranging from music to politics, education and cinema and other playful trivia. And when my cousin brothers, Shashi and Vinu, learned to drive, the walks were often replaced by drives with our favourite music playing and many a time without the knowledge of our elders, which added to the thrill and sense of adventure.
This visit was special as this time I was going with my baby for the first time. He was too young to understand what was going in my head, but one day he will. We were received at the entrance by my aunts Indira and Vijaya and alongwith my sister-in -law Vinuta, they performed all the traditional rituals of welcome for my little one. This included an arati and a plate of vermillion and arecanut, all symbolic of culture and heritage passed down through generations and with deep seated meaning.
We ate a sumptous lunch, lovingly prepared by the women of our family and yes Huli was a part of this meal. Since we were short on time and were to leave the same evening there was no time to rest. Add to this extensive feeding sessions with my toddler. I had to get out and take pictures too. Although the house has most of the modern amenities available in cities, once we step out of the door the rustic charm of an Indian village beckons. Coffee, Coconut and Arecanut are all grown in the backyard. There is the cow shed which houses 40 cows. My folks here have access to fresh milk from well tended cows, a luxury that I truly yearn for in Mumbai. The house itself is in the middle of a farm, surrounded by beautiful fruit bearing trees.
“A little coriander seeds, some cumin seeds, a little mustard and fenugreek seeds and a pinch of asafetida….” I heard my grandmother explain to my sister on making the perfect “Huli”. It was her hand which had stirred pot after pot of Huli, nurturing her huge family of seven children and fourteen grandchildren. When my sister asked her for exact proportions, she simply shrugged and said we never measure while cooking, the reply you are bound to get from most grandmothers.
I could very well say that Huli is in my blood. I have literally grown up eating it and it is my no. one comfort food. My mother always made sure that there was Huli for me made with my favourite vegetables and to this day "Huli" prepared by her gives the most contentment to my heart. Be it any festive occasion, marraiges, religious ceremonies or daily fare, Huli, with a multitude of regional variations is an intrinsic part of Kannadiga Brahmin cuisine.
There is another story I have to share with you. When I was engaged to be married, the thoughts of serving great meals to my husband got me interested in cooking. And in my mind, a satiating meal would have "Huli" ofcourse. When we went visiting and inviting relatives, after a great lunch which invariably had “Huli”, out came my note book as I jotted down recipes from relatives near and far, all masters in the fine art of preparing Huli. Only to discover after marraige that my man doesnt care much for “Huli” He loves his Rasam instead. Since Ro doesnt appreciate Huli as much as I do, it partially robs me of the complete pleasure and contentment of having a Huli meal. But, I’m hoping that my little one inherits my love for Huli which will be some sort of a consolation.
There were many request for “Huli” recipe and when we were back at my parents I prepared some so that I could take pictures and put it up here. If there is one person who loves “Huli” as much as I do or probably more than me, it has to be our dear friend Abhijit. He has relished to the core “Huli” made by me and my mother. So much so that it made my mother remark, that she feels like sending the entire bucket of “Huli” to Abhijit in Mumbai.
Huli/South Indian Dal with Vegetables Recipe
There are hundreds of ways for preparing Huli, but this is the way it is prepared in my ancestral home. You could use any seasonal vegetables like beans, carrots, radish, pumpkin, cabbage or even fresh greens either alone or in combination.
150 gm (3/4 cup) red gram dal (arhar dal or toovar dal)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ghee or vegetable oil
500 ml (2 cups) water
250 gm (approx 2 cups) chopped vegetables of your choice
500 ml (2 cups) water
3 to 4 dry red chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp tamarind
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp asafetida powder
3 tbsp coconut, grated
1 tsp coconut oil
80 ml (1/3 cup) water
2 tsp coconut oil
3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1/2 tsp asafetida
3 tsp salt or to taste
Assemble all the ingredients for the dal in a pressure cooker and cook till done, about 3 to 4 whistles. Alternatively cook on medium low heat in a medium sized saucepan for about 45 to 50 minutes or till done.
In a saucepan, cook the vegetables with the water.
In a small wok, heat the oil over a medium flame and put in the dry red chilles, corainder seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and cook until the mustard starts to pop and the corainder seeds are a nice golden brown. Lower the flame and put in the fenugreek seeds, turmeric and asafetida powder and stir for 40 to 50 seconds. Switch off the flame and mix in the fresh coconut and tamarind. Grind to a fine and smooth paste with water. you might need a little more or less of water to get the desired smooth and fine paste.
Mix in the vegetables and the ground paste with the cooked dal, add the salt and cook over a medium flame until the entire mixture comes to a rolling boil.
In a small wok or kadhai, heat the coconut oil for the seasoning over a medium flame. Put in the mustard seeds and when they pop, add the curry leaves and asafetida. Be careful and stay away from the wok while you do this. Pour the seasoning into the boiling dal. The sound made by this is something that I absolutely love.
Serve hot with rice and a bowl of yogurt.
Serves 4 to 6