Oriyarasoi is on twitter !

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Khesari Dal : A victim of propaganda ?

I first read about Khesari dal in the textbooks in school. It was the villain who seduced the poor into consuming it in large amounts and then promptly turned them into miserable cripples. Sadly, I believed every word of it. Such was my faith in the written word. But then everything comes with an expiry date. Or at least an upgrade patch. Much needed to fill those gaps in the software or in the context of real life, the half-baked textbook knowledge religiously fed to unassuming schoolkids. 

The Khesari dal's notoriety as a 'paralysis inducing' ingredient is only second to its disrepute as a cheap adulterant used to bulk up more expensive pulses. And it has actually been found to have been added to everything from toor dal to 'besan' to even the 'sattu'. But then not every part of the world eyes it with suspicion or explicitly bans its cultivation and sale. Lathyrus Sativus is an important crop in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Ethiopia for reasons that range from meeting the protein requirement of the poorer sections of society to its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil and also its usage as animal fodder. Though it was banned for sale in India in the year 1961, states like Bengal, parts of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have continued to use this dal for human consumption. And importantly, Maharashtra has overturned the ban on the cultivation and sale of this dal based on the research findings of a Nagpur-based nutrition scientist Shantilal Kothari. His work makes for an engaging though lengthy read.

While reading up on Khesari dal, I stumbled upon the fact that it had been banned first in 1907 by the Maharaja of Rewa(Madhya Pradesh) after a severe drought drove . While one cannot deny the presence of the neurotoxin ODAP in Khesari dal, it is shown to have an adverse effect only when consumed in excess amounts, almost skewing the normal carb to protein ratio of a regular Indian meal . Medical texts state the 400 g of Lathyrus consumed daily over a period of 3 months or more may increase the risk of Lathyrism. While such instances have occurred during periods of drought or crop failure, the resilient character of this legume makes it an asset during such periods. It can grow in almost any kind of soil and provides a good amount of protein even when consumed in moderation. Soaking the dal in hot water for 40 mins to an hour and washing it thoroughly multiple times is supposed to cuts down most of the neurotoxins. Even soaking in normal water cuts down the neurotoxins by half. (Haileyesus Getahun 1Fernand LambeinMichel VanhoornePatrick Van der Stuyft) . On the other hand, consuming sufficient cereals with the dal to balance the essential sulphur aminoacids can help prevent Lathyrism.(Fernand LambeinYu-Haey Kuo)

As per Ayurveda, 'Khesari dal' is 'cold and heavy' with laxative properties and hence should be consumed accordingly. For example, if one visualizes a proper Indian meal, a decent chunk of it is the carbohydrates that provide the most calories. Then comes a bowl of dal, one or two servings of vegetables which change according to the season, maybe a chutney or a pickle, even papad or badi. All of it together makes the meal complete. There is no concept of 'Ati' or excess. A fact reiterated by some of the families who cultivate this dal in Odisha. All of them use it occasionally and in small amounts. Mostly for making a snack called 'piaji' (not to be confused with the onion extravaganza by the same name) and then very rarely for a regular dal to be eaten with rice. Research literature points to the usage of the green pods as a snack very much like the Bengal gram. 

While there is ongoing research to develop newer cultivars with lower ODAP levels, one can still consume them in smaller amounts as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and it is also easier on the pocket. It is known to strengthen the bones, balance Pitta-Kapha dosha, reduce inflammation, enhance potency, and also stimulate the appetite. In the coastal parts of Odisha, especially in Cuttack and nearby areas, the 'Piaji' or fried fritters are almost always made with Khesari dal.

A side by side comparison of Tuvar(tur)side-by-side and Khesari dal to help in identifying the latter. While Tuv has a rounded shape, the latter has a rather irregular shape and yellowish-orange color. 

Sharing a quick recipe for the 'Piaji' or 'Dal vada' I made with it -

Khesari Dal Piaji/ Vada

Ingredients -

1/2 cup Khesari dal

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1/2 inch ginger (crushed)

1-2 green chili(crushed)

1/2 cup chopped greens (coriander/tender mustard greens/moringa/radish greens)

salt to taste

200 ml oil for frying 

Preparation - Wash and soak the dal for 1-2 hours. Drain off all water. 

Transfer to a chutney jar and give a quick pulse. Add the rest of the ingredients except oil and give another pulse. The paste should be a little finer than the coarse texture we prefer for Channa dal when making dal vada.

Heat the oil. Don't get it smoking though. Add small dollops of the paste. Do not crowd the frying vessel at any time and keep the oil at a constant temperature. 

Turn it a few times and remove it when it starts to acquire a light brown color.

Serve immediately.

The remaining 'piaji' can be refrigerated and added to a curry. 

Alternatively, one can also make a thin and flavorful dal with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Post

Green Papaya Laddoos (SugarFree recipe)

Mom is undoubtedly the dessert specialist at home. God forbid, if she takes to blogging, she could give a lot of folks a run for their mone...