When my son joined playschool in Gurgaon, I was quite surprised at the habits of many of the kids and their parents. I was working part time - in the afternoons - and so preferred the morning classes, which began at 9 a.m. In any case, I believe school should start early and let the kids go early so they can rest in the afternoon and have a nice long evening ahead for play. One term, it so turned out that the morning class had very few people registered and would be combined with the afternoon class. The playschool required a parent to go with the child. I couldn't shift my work schedule, so I asked if the afternoon class ( starting at 12 noon) could be moved to 11:30 am, so that I could attend, then rush off to work. All the other mothers, who happened to be stay at home moms, flatly refused, saying that it was hard enough for them to get their kids out of bed, bathed and breakfasted by 12 and it would be too hard to move it up by half an hour. It wasn't their refusal but the fact that they saw it as perfectly natural that their kids would go to sleep really late ( around 11 pm, or even midnight in some cases) and wake up anywhere between 10 and 11 in the morning!
Anyway, this is a blog about food, so on to the second shocker - despite living in India, barely 1 or 2 kids out of the 15-20 in my son's class had anything Indian for breakfast. Most of them had a boiled egg or toast or cereal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a banner-waving purist who insists only on Indian food, but there's such a lot of variety in Indian breakfast foods that it just seems a travesty that people are disregarding them and rushing into white bread/ sugary cereals. The other food shocker was what most of the mothers saw fit to pack for school picnics/ lunches. Without exception, cookies, maida-cakes, bags of potato chips, fried potato smileys, white bread sandwiches with mayonnaise and colas would be packed, whereas I, like the ultimate nerd, would have worked overtime to make healthy whole wheat, sugar free muffins. In fact, at a recent birthday party, I saw a mother carefully helping her 2 year old child to drink a whole glass of coke. When the kid said he'd had enough after draining 3/4ths of the glass, the mother actually pushed him to finish the glass. All this while urban India, particularly among the educated classes, is going through a child obesity epidemic. I just don't get it!
Anyway, so we usually have a varied breakfast through the week, with lots of Indian dishes thrown in. A couple days of toast ( wholewheat, natch, with fake boursin - the recipe is in the archives somewhere), a day of muesli with fruit and skim milk, upma or poha a couple days. Maybe idli one day. Sprouted moong salad on some extra-healthful mornings. Besan chillas in the winter. And moong dal chillas in summer. Of course, occasionally the gourmand in me comes out and grins evilly at a plate of puris with tari wali aloo ki sabzi!
We had moong dal chillas today, and as always, I was amazed at how delicious, yet how simple and healthful they are. Moong dal chillas are a pretty filling meal too, so lunch can be as light as you like. They are quite a bit like Pesarattu which is another thing I love for breakfast.
Moong Dal Chillas
2 cups moong beans, soaked overnight
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
Salt to taste
2 small Onions, chopped fine - optional.
1 tbsp oil
(Makes about 8-10)
In the morning, grind the soaked moong dal into a smooth paste, with water.
Add the cumin seeds, chillies and salt and stir to mix evenly.
Add the onions if you like ( I usually do like).
The paste should be of a pancake batter consistency ( thinner is better if you want the chillas to be crisp) - add more water after grinding, if necessary.
Heat a tawa ( frying pan) until it is medium hot. Use a rounded tablespoon to pour a tbsp of batter in the center of the tawa and working quickly, spread it using the back of the spoon in a spiral motion outwards.
Spread a tsp of oil ( peanut oil for choice) around the edges of the tawa.
Wait till the chilla batter starts looking dry on top, and brownish in the center.
Use a flat spatula to lift the chilla, working at the edges to smooth it away from the pan.
Flip over and cook on the other side.
When spread well, the chilla comes out deliciously crisp on the center, with mealy edges. Its spicy taste and green appearance is well complemented with roast red pepper chutney, red chilli ranjaka ( I'll blog about that later) or just plain mint and dhania chutney and ketchup.
The same chilla is also made using besan ( chickpea flour) instead of moong dal. The difference is that the besan version is instant - you just mix the besan with the other ingredients and water, cook it and serve. No soaking, no grinding. My kind of food!