Introduction to Dal: Badi Sun-Dried Legume Nuggets

Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji

I Was Away From My Column last issue, but I'm glad to be back. Continuing on with our study of dal, I'll open with a story.

November 1970. The large iron key, sent by registered post, fell heavy onto the sandstone roof of Delhi Dharmashala. Ten hands darted to retrieve it. We passed it around respectfully, knowing that it was our passport into Vrndavana, Lord Krsna's eternal abode, whose counterpart in this world lay only ninety miles south.

Srila Prabhupada's hand-written note that came with it told our small group to travel to Vrndavana and clean his quarters in the Radha-Damodara temple compound. The rooms had been vacant for two years. He described them as two rooms a kitchen and a bedroom-study separated by a veranda. These rooms were his eternal quarters in Vrndavana, he wrote. They had been his residence just before he had come to the West and introduced Krsna consciousness. With great eagerness we made arrangements for our first visit to Vrndavana.

The gray wooden door to the kitchen swung open slowly, iron hinges groaning from disuse and the weight of the door. Shafts of sunlight shone through carved window shutters and fell on shades of silvery grey. The scene was like a still life from a previous century. Every surface was coated with two inches of powdery Vrndavana sand that obliterated corners and angles and made all forms look ethereal.

Sweltering in ninety-degree heat, we took hours to remove bucket after bucket of sand. It was late afternoon by the time we could inspect the contents of the kitchen. The equipment was sparse spoons, metal plates, two clay jugs for water, an iron griddle for capatis, a bowl-shaped karai frying pan, and a Bengali knife, the kind that's held between one's feet for cutting vegetables. A pair of reading glasses and a paper notebook rested alone in a tiny niche in the wall.

The shelf for dry goods was empty save for a few jars of spices and one jar with a screw-on lid. The contents of this jar were strange to us rock-hard golden dollops the size and shape of Hershey's chocolate kisses. Curious to know what they were, I set the jar aside for later. By the time we'd finished washing everything, evening was upon us.

Leaving the temple, we crossed paths with Sarajini Devi, a longtime Vrndavana resident who had sometimes helped Srila Prabhupada in his cooking by shopping, building coal fires, or washing dishes. I showed her the jar and asked about its contents.

With a toothy grin she answered, "Mung badi, mung badi, one of Bhaktivedanta Swami's favorites, especially with potatoes in a soup."

Delighted with the information, I was eager to learn how it was made and everything else about badi.

With a letter of introduction, the next day we called on Dr. O. B. L. Kapoor, one of Srila Prabhupada's Godbrothers. During our pleasant visit, I asked about mung badi and showed him the jar. He explained that badi was made from wet-ground legume pastes, seasoned, shaped, and dried until brittle. He then ushered us into his kitchen and showed us three homemade varieties: mung badi with green chilies; spicy urad badi, Punjabi style; and mung badi with tomato mixed with urad badi with peppercorns.

On the spot I got a detailed lesson on how they are made and stored and several ideas for usage. Dr. Kapoor insisted we stay for lunch, featuring a badi dish. The meal included fresh wheat capati flatbreads, a yogurt salad, and a dish we called "Vrndavana Badi Sabji."

Which brings us to the present. Badi, also called warian and wadi, is India's equivalent to TVP, textured vegetable protein. Aside from adding toothsome texture to a dish, it is a fat-free protein source with varied flavor. It is easy (though time-consuming) to make at home, and you can freeze it for up to one year. The good news for busy cooks is that badi is available ready-made at larger Indian grocery stores.

Aside from badi's traditional use in Indian cuisine, I have added pan-toasted badi bits to everything from chili to potato salad to taco stuffing to Spanish rice.

Try the following recipe. To experiment further with the versatility of badis, check the index in Lord Krishna's Cuisine or The Best of Lord Krishna's Cuisine and work through several more dishes. Then come up with a few creations of your own.

Vrndavana Potato-Badi Stew

(Serves 6)

For an everyday meal, Sunday brunch, or company dinner, try this dish with flame-toasted capati flat breads and a salad.

1 cup yellow mung badi
2 tablespoons ghee or cold-pressed corn oil
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne, or as desired
4 medium-size tomatoes (about 1 pound), chopped
3 medium-size potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
6 cups water
¼ cup chopped cilantro or parsley
salt and pepper

Crush the badi into roughly ½-inch bits. Heat the ghee or oil over moderate heat in a heavy casserole. Add the badi and pan-fry until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the ginger and cumin and fry them until the seeds darken a few shades. Stir in the turmeric, cayenne, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly pulpy, about 10 minutes.

Add the badi, potatoes, water, and half the herbs. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the remaining herbs, season with salt and pepper, and set aside covered for 10 minutes before serving.

Yamuna Devi is the author of Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.