During my year of living in Canada as part of the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), I made dal (lentil soup) a number of times. In my country, India, dal is a basic everyday food.
My IVEP placement was at Thrift on Kent, an MCC thrift shop in Kitchener, Ont. We did soup days for a few months during my time there, when once a week one of the staff would make a soup lunch for all of the others. When I made soup the first time, it was on my birthday and I was a little nervous. The staff loved it and one of the managers asked me for the recipe. That is when I actually wrote it down on paper; before that it was just in my head.
I learned this recipe from my mother. She was an amazing cook, and I am a very average cook. I learned to cook when she was fighting cancer. She passed away five years ago, so this is one of my memories of my mother—this is a part of her that I try to keep with me. This recipe for spinach dal is one of my favourites, and my family (my dad, brother and sister-in-law) all like the way I make it.
My host family, Erin and Rick Bruinsma, live in Waterloo and attend Waterloo Mennonite Brethren Church. I cooked dal the first time for my host family, and they loved it because of its good flavour and because it has little spice compared to other Indian food. I made it for them more than once.
My host mom works for the Mennonite Brethren Mission. When she was organizing a prayer retreat, she asked me to make palak dal (spinach lentil soup) for anyone who was vegetarian or needed to eat a gluten-free diet. So I made a huge pot for 50 to 60 people. Because I had to work the next day and couldn’t stay late, I wasn’t there when it was served, but I heard that everybody liked it!
In India, dal is frequently eaten with flatbread such as roti or chapati, or with rice, a combination referred to as dal bhat. Many different kinds of lentils can be used to make different kinds of dal. My recipe uses pigeon pea lentils, that are similar to yellow split peas, which are very commonly used in Chhattisgarh, the state in India that I am from.
As I think about my experience of making soup in Canada, I say, “Dal se dil tak,” which means “to the heart through dal.”
Ashisha Lal served as a management support worker at Thrift on Kent in Kitchener, Ont., for a year, ending July 2018. She is from Korba, Chhattisgarh, India. Her home church is Katghora Mennonite Church, part of Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Calisiya.
See the recipe at canadianmennonite.org/stories/lal-dal.