The first time, we walked up the Kali Gandaki to Jomsom from Pokhara. About half way, we arrived one December evening in Tatopani. It was a long time ago and I believe there was only one lodge. And only one dinner on offer – dal bhat.
‘But this is special Tatopani pumpkin dal, you will like my dal’ said the beautiful owner. She was right. The best dal I ever ate: maybe because I had walked a hundred miles uphill, maybe because of the hot springs and the mandarin orchards, but mainly because it just was the best.
- Ingredients: (All ingredients and method are only an approximation for what I ate)
Half an onion squash, peeled and cubed. The same volume of red lentils. The same volume again of a combination of sliced onions, carrots and celeriac. A small finger of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced, several cloves of garlic, one or two very mild chilis (I used one green jalapeño and one dried ancho), 1tsp each of ground cumin and coriander, half tsp of mustard seeds, one or two cloves, one or two kaffir lime leaves, one or two cardamon pods, salt. One Tbsp or more of rape seed oil.
Alternative ingredients: Your favourite eating pumpkin, turnip, swede, fresh coriander. Instead of mustard seeds a squidge of English mustard. Freshly ground spices – Nepali women spend a lot of time on this.
In a large cooking pot heat the oil and add the onions and spices. Stir around on low. Onions don’t melt in rape seed oil the way they do in butter but this is more authentic and ends up tasting better. When they have cooked a little, add the other vegetables and stir thoroughly. A little after that add the washed lentils. That little bit of water keeps the whole lot from catching for a time but not long. Now feed the dal with water, not as assiduously as a risotto but don’t just add it all at once. When the dal tastes cooked, add more water and a handful or two of fresh pumpkin cubes or maybe some roasted pumpkin and leave simmering for another 30 minutes.
Serve with rice – dal bhat. Or to make it more fancy, with sautéed spicy greens – dal bhat turkari. You can add home made chapatis, mango chutney, fresh coriander and lime. But the first version is the normal one on nights there is dinner available in the uplands of Nepal.
The second time, we walked to Langtang from Trisuli Bazaar. Langtang village isn’t there any more – it was totally destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.