Saturday, July 9, 2011

Muddappapu - A Guest Post by Sra of When My Soup Came Alive

"When she opened a can of worms - well, a packet of instant soup that ultimately ended up having dead worms in it - she didn't know that years later it would prove to be inspiration for her blog that's nearly five years old ..." It is legend now, out of the pen of a natural-born storyteller. This is where Sra, of the irresistibly and endlessly entertaining When My Soup Came Alive, comes clean on the unusual titular origin of her blog. It is a confession complete with a devilish grin and a touch of glee. I would expect no less of Sra.

Sra is the rare sort of person who learned how to write before she could talk, and hasn't stopped doing either since. Where long hours in the newsroom would grind down even the most seasoned journalist, Sra is as stoked as
Hildy in His Girl Friday. I knew this for a fact the first time we spoke by phone, followed up by an all-day jaunt throughout Manhattan. She is just as much cracking good fun in person as you would think from reading her cooking and travel exploits, as well as her astute and witty cultural observations about life in India. Friendly, fearless, and feisty, had Sra not made her home thousands of miles from here, then New York, "the city that never sleeps," would suit her just fine.

I am very happy to welcome Sra and her unique take on a plain and fancy dal staple of Indian life as a guest blogger on The Well-Seasoned Cook in celebration of My Legume Love Affair - Kicking Off Year 4. Thanks, Sra!

The following writing, recipe, and photography are owned by Sra and protected by copyright. All Rights Reserved. 2011. All materials appear here by permission and courtesy.



In the last four weeks, I must have eaten more muddapappu - boiled and mashed toor dal (red gram/pigeon peas) - than I have in the last few years. Naturally, this unnatural activity has a lot to do with blogging. (I’m sure you can all identify with cooking and eating some foods solely, at least primarily, because we have blogs.) When Susan invited me to write for her blog to commemorate the third birthday of My Legume Love Affair, I tried to give myself time to think. You know how we sometimes try to think about various options but we know what we’re going to choose even as we attempt to keep an open mind? Well, I have to say muddapappu is what came naturally to me whenever I thought of the lentils I was most closely and culturally associated with.

In the non-blog life, I don’t go about thinking of my relationship with food as ‘an association with lentils’ or ‘my association with (a certain kind of food)’ in a formal sense. So it was good that the assignment I accepted made me think at least a little about something that went beyond one narrow recipe, and led me to a little learning too.

Muddapappu is a rather elemental dish that we grow up with. It has but three ingredients - toor dal; water; salt; and a drop of oil that we add so that the grains don’t stick when it’s cooking. (In many parts of the country, toor dal is sold coated with oil to increase its shelf life.) In my home state of Andhra Pradesh in India, it is eaten in many ways, all classic. The most well-known and popular of them all, and one of the two ways in which I’ve had it often, is to mix it with steaming hot, soft rice with ghee (clarified butter) and mango pickle. The other way is to have it with a sweet-and-sour stew made of eggplant/other vegetables/eggs, tamarind extract and jaggery.

With Mango Pickle Rice Ghee
With mango, pickle and ghee.

These combinations are such a mélange of flavors and textures - bland muddapappu tempering the fiery and sour pickle, taming the tang of the tamarind and amidst all this, holding its own. Recently, I ate some muddapappu with another staple, vaamu miriyalu - green chillies slit along the length and stuffed with a mixture of salt and pounded carom seed. I have to say that I was disappointed the two didn’t work magic together. Perhaps the chilli overpowers everything with its heat and salt; as it’s a preserved food, it’s high on salt too, and is better off with plain curd rice.

As I write, it strikes me that perhaps a dish that melds into the pappu, or absorbs it, is what goes with it best. It’s also eaten in many homes with rice and chaaru/rasam, a thin soup meant to round off a meal. Chaaru usually contains what seems like a welter of spices - cumin, black pepper, garlic, asafetida, red chillies, coriander, some jaggery even, and some toor dal and chana dal (Bengal gram or split chickpeas) go into the spice powder that’s added to the soup to give it some taste and body. I’ve tried it this way - it’s pleasant, but I wasn’t excited by it.

With Mango Garlic Brown Chickpea
With mango, garlic and brown chickpeas.

An uncle says there are many, many people who wouldn’t miss the myriad tastes of a full meal provided they had just muddapappu and chaaru to eat. He also mentions a friend from Orissa, a state in the eastern part of India, who showed him it could be eaten with rice and curds/yoghurt too. Now that’s something I don’t expect to try before I send this piece off to Susan! I found a fun way to eat muddapappu and charu here, I haven’t attempted it yet.

Muddapappu, rice cooked so soft the grains cannot be discerned and some ghee, and later on, mixed with some cumin and pepper, is how a baby in many Andhra and South Indian homes is initiated into solid food and spices. There’s a muddapappu made with moong dal as well, but call it force of habit, I prefer the one with toor dal.

As you can see, it is an institution, at least in culinary-cultural terms. It is present at every auspicious occasion. “So when are you serving pappannam?” is a common enough question put to (and often puts off) unmarried girls and boys. Pappannam (Pappu [dal/lentils] + annam [rice]) is another way of asking them when they are getting married - this muddapappu is a staple in wedding meals.

Another name for muddapappu is suddapappu. This is a name that derives from form. Sudda means ‘blob’. Muddapappu’s blandness is as famous as it is infamous. It’s not particularly tasty, but sustaining, as someone I just spoke to put it - and that, I suppose, is one of the qualities of comfort food. In Telugu, my mother tongue and the native language of Andhra Pradesh, boys/men who are lazy, loath to show initiative, aren’t go-getters, are called muddapappu/ suddapappu/ pappu sudda. That’s the pejorative aspect of it there!

So here’s the recipe:

Toor dal/split pigeon peas/red gram: ½ cup, soaked at least an hour ahead or even overnight (it cooks faster, consumes less fuel)
Water: Enough to submerge the lentils and then just a little
A drop of oil

If you’re using a pressure cooker, place dal and water with the drop of oil.

Fix the lid, place on the stove and wait for the steam to rise from the spout. There are two kinds of pressure cookers - ones where you to close the spout with the ‘weight’ even before the steam rises and ones where you have to wait for the steam before you close the spout.

After putting the weight on, wait for it to hiss/whistle. After two hisses, lower the flame completely. Let it hiss twice or thrice.

When the pressure falls on its own, open the lid and check that the dal is done. It should mash easily. Mash it well and add a bit of salt. Add it only after cooking the dal.

(Note: The weight comes away easily after the pressure falls on its own. Don’t attempt to prise it out. If you have to, put it under running water - it will cool down and then you can open it, but please note that the dal will still be cooking inside.)


You can add vegetables and greens to this dal and make one with more complex flavors. You can even add a ladle of it to the chaaru to make it a little robust.

If you cook this on the stovetop, be prepared to keep adding water till the dal is completely cooked. I don’t cook dal on the stovetop often but when I do, this is how I do it.

Here are some links, they aren’t cooked dal first and vegetables next but you can add the vegetables to the muddapappu and temper them:

Daal with Greens



  1. Susan, you just described Sra to a "T". She is indeed a delight to know. :)

    Sra, I think this has a special place in the heart (and stomach) of most South Indians!
    For us it is just plain "paruppu" and is always how we begin our festive meals and then with sambhar.

  2. That was a fine piece of writing on the humble toor dal Sra. Loved every word of it.
    Susan said everything about your writing that I have come to admire and look up to.
    As to the paruppu, we Maharashtrains call it sadha varan, sadha being plain, varan being dal. It is not only one of the first solid foods mixed with soft rice and ghee that is given to babies but also served during weddings and other festivities. Used to be my favorite growing up as a kid and still is. We don't make it so thick though and some turmeric and jaggery is added to our version.

  3. lovely post sra and susan great job of bringing her to MLLA 4

  4. A very interesting post! That mashed pea preparation is so versatile. The sweet version is so intriguing and so unusual for somebody like me...



  5. Mudda Pappu is the epitome of comfort food for most South ndians, especially from Andhra Pradesh I think... Sra, I totally enjoyed reading all the cultural euphemisms that poor stodgy muddapappu stands for! Another one I have come across is when people exclaim "Oh you are muddapappu gaalu" (members of mudda pappu family)which basically means they have discovered that I'm a Telugu Brahmin by caste...! I think it stems from the fact that muddapappu is a daily staple at every Brahmin's table :D
    I love having this pappu exactly like you described it - with ghee and avakai (mango pckle). and even my punju husband loves it this way :D
    but its equally delicious with charu...

  6. This is totally new to me! But the dish looks so good with the pickles! Thanks Sra for sharing :)

  7. Looks like a perfect base for so many things! Thanks, Sri, for sharing the recipe, and thanks, Susan, for sharing Sri with all of us! ;)

  8. Very interesting post, Sra. As usual, a pleasure to read.

  9. Susan, thanks for the lovely introduction - I'm waiting for the B-B-B to strike! ;)I really enjoyed myself, writing this piece. And I really wish I could spend a bigger chunk of time in NYC!

    Aparna, Desisoccermom, Priya, Notyet, Rosa, thank you very much.

    Swati, really? I didn't know that. Thanks!

    Anh, Bellini, Ricki, Simona, thank you so much. I really liked the picture with the dollop of ghee and the mango pickle - one of my best, not that I'm a great photographer at all.

  10. Enjoyed reading about Sra more than the Muddappapu :) She IS a sweet heart!

  11. I am drooling here - with mango, pickle and ghee? What's not to love! :)