KAMAL MALIK COOKS FROM HER HEART
INDIA: Tarka Dal
“When you make good food you are cooking from your heart,” says Kamal Malik. On the day we visited Malik and her family in their NDG home, Malik was preparing to cook up a pot of Tarka Dal.
When I suggested we might use her dal recipe in the soup section of our upcoming The Secret is in the Sauce! cookbook, Malik did not think that was the right place. “For North Americans, dal is soup. But for us, dal is a main course – especially for vegetarian families,” she explained.
Malik, who is fifty, was born in Pune, in Maharashtra province. Because her father, who loved to cook, was in the air force, the family moved around a lot. Malik spent a lot of time in northern India, which explains her special interest in Punjabi cuisine. “In southern India, they make a lot of curries. Northern India is known for its chole (chickpea curry), Tandoori dishes and food cooked in clay pots,” Malik explained.
Malik, who works in a pharmacy, says she was a curious child. When she saw both of her parents busy in the family kitchen, she insisted on helping. “My mom prepared the ingredients. I mixed and sautéed,” she recalled. Malik remembers her mother making the dal recipe Malik was about to show us.
At twenty-eight, Malik moved to Montreal to join her husband Rajesh, who teaches psychology at Dawson College. The couple had only met twice before they married.
At the time of their meeting, Malik was teaching elementary school in India. They were pleased to discover their shared interest in education.
Indian cooking has become another of the couple’s shared interests. Rajesh remembers that the first time Malik prepared rice for him, it was not a success. “I showed her the best way to do it,” he said. “And now she’s a better cook than me. I’m always happy to eat what she makes.”
Malik used to drive a half-hour to buy ingredients at Indian grocery stores, such as Chauhan Brothers in Lasalle, and Singh Farm in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. But then she discovered her local Loblaws carries everything she needs for her recipes.
Malik cooks every day. Her children, 19-year-old Vivaik, and 17-year-old Meera, were raised on Indian food. But neither of them were excited about their mom’s Tarka dal, made with red lentils. “I prefer her chickpeas,” said Meera. “I like toor dal, which is made with pigeon lentils,” said her brother. The siblings occasionally order in food – usually vegetarian pizza or vegan poutine.
Over the years, Malik has done some catering – preparing her Punjabi dishes for customers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for Malik’s catered food picked up. “I feel proud,” she said, “that I cook delicious food.”
2 cups masoor dal (split red lentils), rinsed well
6 cups water
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 green cayenne chilis (purchase at Indian store)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil or ghee (do not olive oil)
2 dried red chili peppers
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Rinse lentils with water, then place in a large pot with water and salt. Add onions, tomato, turmeric, red chili powder and coriander, then cook on medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Heat oil in a small fry pan until sputtering hot, then add the dried red chilis, coriander seeds and garlic. Saute over high heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring continuously, then add to the daal mixture.
Stir everything together well, then remove from heat. Cover and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes for the flavours to develop and intensify.
Serve with rice, naan bread or chapati.
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The Secret is in the Sauce! is sponsored by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program.