In Southall, West London, is the largest gurdwara, or Sikh temple, outside India. Its golden dome beckons thousands of worshippers, who come from miles around. It did not even exist when I first came to Britain. Now, there are 200 such houses of worship in the UK, offering spiritual nourishment to the growing number of Sikhs in the country.
The gurdwara, like all such temples the world over, also offers another kind of nourishment - food - to those who are hungry. No one is turned away. Its langar, or food hall, serves 1,500 people a day, and 2,500 at weekends. Preparations start at 1am. The food is prepared by the faithful, who offer their services free. They cook in a vast, modern, spotlessly clean kitchen. Certain strictures apply: the food must be simple, fresh and nourishing, with not too much salt, sugar, spices or oil; it must be vegetarian; no garlic may be used; and the langar must express the ideals of sharing, inclusiveness and the oneness of all mankind. All the money for the food is donated.
We watched several dozen women with their heads covered standing on both sides of long, steel tables, rolling out and cooking hundreds of chapatis. It was a beautiful sight.
This dish is made with whole and split legumes. If you cannot get one of the varieties, substitute that amount with more of the others. The slow cooking makes the dish delicious and digestible. You'll need to soak the beans the night before. Serve with chapatis or naan.
- 100 g (3½ oz) whole urad dal with skin
- 100 g (3½ oz) whole mung dal with skin
- 100 g (3½ oz) chana dal
- 100 g (3½ oz) moth beans
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 cm (¾ inch) peeled root ginger, cut into slivers
- 3 tsp finely chopped hot green chilli
- 60 g (2 oz) unsalted butter
- 1¾ tsp salt
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 4 tsp garam masala
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time overnight
The night before, pick over all four types of dal and rinse them all well. Combine all the dals in a large, heavy-based
pan about 25 cm in diameter. Pour in 2 litres of water and leave to soak overnight.
Next day, place the pan over a high heat and add the onions, ginger, chilli, butter, salt and turmeric. Cover and
bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer at a gentle bubble for about 2½ hours, stirring
Check for seasoning, then add the garam masala, mix thoroughly, cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then serve.