Like the scrumptious cheese toast I wrote about some time back that still takes me back to a simpler time in life, Sodhi is another preparation that had quite slipped my mind until a few months back when one of my sisters mentioned it.
Growing up, it was one of my favourite options served for lunch with hot, steaming rice. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly I love about it. It’s a super simple recipe but packed with flavour and personality. Comfort food at its best!
This dish is not even of Indian origin, it comes from Sri Lanka. I’ve looked up Sodhi recipes online in recent years, and realised it is made even with non-vegetarian ingredients. Being from a pure vegetarian household, I never knew the recipe was so versatile that it worked for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions.
The other interesting fact about this dish is that according to Appa, Sri Lankans traditionally make it when the son-in-law of the family is visiting. It is reserved as a special dish for what is treated as a momentous occasion. Much later in life, I wondered if this is why my parents learnt how to make it, since they had five daughters, and consequently five son-in-laws to pamper!
The flavour profile of Sodhi (as Amma and Appa made it) is mild. It is coconut-milk based with mild spices and finished off with lemon juice to cut through the richness of the coconut milk. The online recipes I’ve read have more ingredients that have led me to conclude the original Sri Lankan version is probably way more spicier and punchier than what we make.
What makes this and anything else my Amma and Appa made together in the kitchen was their teamwork and coordination in the kitchen. More on that another day, but right now I can safely say growing up, most of the food we ate was the result of joint effort from both Amma and Appa.
If you’d like to try the Amma and Appa version of Sodhi, here’s how they made it. This would serve a family of four to six people.
Take 1/2 cup of moong dal and dry roast it in a kadai. It will give off a nice nutty fragrance. You don’t need to wait for the dal to change colour. As soon as you get a whiff of the toasty fragrance, transfer it to a large cooking vessel (where the rest of the ingredients for sodhi will go as well) and cover with a cup of water to let it soak.
While it soaks (doesn’t need too long), chop up some mixed vegetables. Following Appa’s lead, I typically make this with potatoes, french beans, carrots, peas, cauliflower and cabbage. Wash the vegetables (about two and half cups) and add to the vessel where the moong is soaking. Add maybe half a cup of water more (if you tilt the vessel slightly, you should be able to see the water but it should disappear when the vessel is no longer tilted, that’s my yardstick for the right amount of water), salt and turmeric powder. Cover this dal-vegetable mixture and cook on a medium to low flame on the gas stove. Alternately, I use an electric rice cooker sometimes to steam it so I don’t have to keep an eye on it constantly.
When the vegetables are halfway cooked, grind ginger and green chillies and add to the veggies and dal. Mix well. This is the only spice added to the Sodhi, so if you’d like a kick in your Sodhi, here’s where you need to up the spice levels.
While the veggies and dal are cooking, halve some cashews and finely chop one medium onion. Take a couple of teaspoons of ghee in a kadai and saute the cashews and onions till the onions are lightly browned.
Once the vegetables and dal are cooked, add a cup of thick coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes. I buy any organic brand that is available. Amma and Appa though took the effort of making the coconut milk from scratch, taking the Sodhi to a whole different level of freshness.
Turn off the stove, squeeze the juice of one large lemon into the sodhi. Add the onion and cashew garnish and some finely chopped coriander leaves. Mix well.
I’ve realised that adding the onion this way gives a much milder effect of onion flavour compared to if it was cooking with the vegetables and dal since the beginning. It’s one of the things I love about this dish.
Serve with hot, steaming rice! With or without a son-in-law to pamper, the dish is delicious and heartwarming!
I could not quite remember how exactly Amma and Appa chanced upon this dish. I had always assumed it was during one of Appa’s many travels he undertook while his business was still growing in the 60s and early 70s when I had not yet even made an appearance in this world. Recently I asked my sisters if they had any recollection of the origins of this particular recipe.
It turns out when Amma and Appa first came to Bombay, they had a Tamilian neighbour in the old Bombay area of Kalbadevi where they started their life. This neighbour is the one who shared the recipe with Amma. Once we moved out of Kalbadevi into the suburbs of Andheri, we completely lost touch with this neighbour with whom my sisters say we were very close. I suppose the lack of a telephone and other means of contact within the same city would have added to the challenge of continuing to keep in touch.
But what is amazing is that some fifty-three years later, the recipe she shared stayed in all our memories and continues to be a family favourite to this day.
With small gestures like sharing a recipe, we land up creating a powerful memory of ourselves that endures the ravages of time! Here’s to life bringing us in touch with special people who share special recipes that ensure they are always fondly remembered every time we cook that recipe.
And the hope that we too, are remembered in the same way by someone, somewhere – cooking a recipe that we shared years ago!