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How Amma Named Her Recipes

It’s a long holiday weekend of five days. Me, my husband, our nephew and a good friend have spent the last couple of days on long drives in the day, late nights of song and conversations, and a lot of food indulgence along the way. By the third day everyone is ready for some simple, nourishing comfort food.

My mind goes straight to Amma’s Kandaa Dal and Nimbu Salad. Literally translated to English it is Onion Lentils and Lemon Salad. Sounds weird right?

I never thought about this before, but now I picture my Amma in 1961, arriving from Kallidaikuruchi in Tamil Nadu to Bombay, a bustling metropolis. She only knows to speak Tamil at this point. We have one Tamil neighbour but otherwise it is a multi-lingual group of people living in small single room dwellings without even access to running water, in Kalbadevi, South Bombay.

By the time I was born, Amma spoke Hindi quite well, albeit with a thick Tamilian accent. In the 14 years since she landed in Bombay and I arrived in the world, she had managed to pick up how to speak an entire language along with a repertoire of recipes completely outside of her South Indian comfort zone.

Kandaa. The Marathi word for onion. This dal has a whole lot of things other than just onion but it’s the word she chose to give this dish. It’s the way the entire family refers to this dish. After all these years, I wonder was it because she wanted a way to remember these new words she was absorbing daily?

Nimbu. The Hindi word for lemon. Whenever Amma made Kandaa Dal, there was always Nimbu Salad to accompany it. Most people would refer to this as Kachumber. Chop up onions, tomatoes, cucumber, green chillies and coriander as finely as you can. Toss in salt, chilly powder and lemon juice. And you have a simple, tangy, spicy accompaniment to the smooth, mild flavoured Dal.

There were many dishes like this which she named in her own unique way. Probably whichever term made it easy for her to recall the recipe to mind. She never did keep a recipe book of the dishes she learnt from our neighbours. All of it was meticulously stored in her head using her own classification that helped recall the recipe instantly.

Like the Sambhaaro made by Gujaratis, a warm salad of sorts that goes very well with rice and Kadhi, only in my house it was called Kadalamaavu Bhaji, the mixed veg preparation that has chickpea flour in it.

Or the Nimbu Daal, made out of split moong beans, flavoured simply with a tempering of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, green chillies, ginger, curry leaves and finished off with coriander leaves and a generous amount of lemon juice.

I delight in these creative names today. It puts a smile on my face when I now try to decipher why exactly Amma named something the way she did. It makes me marvel at the many ways she found to cope with the overload of everything she must have experienced when she arrived in Bombay.

It makes me proud to be her daughter.

Picture Courtesy: Pratik Kadam. Catch his amazing clicks at

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