Monday, March 29, 2010


Dear Rushina,

As a young girl, my mother loved Kerhü, lentils which are grown predominantly by the Angami tribe and almost entirely alien to the Sema tribe to which she belonged. Thanks to relatives and well wishers returning from Kohima in the Angami area who brought ample supplies of Kerhü, my mother could indulge herself. But not without regular reproach from her parents and relatives. The story still told to me goes something like this. My mom would pilfer handfuls of Kerhü and pockets stuffed, eating these raw lentils everywhere she went. My uncle claims that soon there were Kerhü plants growing everywhere, in the garden, the hillside, the flowerbeds, the compound, under the house, in the playground. They would just have to find a Kerhü plant to know my mom had been there. And my mom often recounts how her father would jokingly threaten her saying if she didn’t stop, she would have to marry an Angami man. She never stopped and sure enough, she married an Angami man.
To this day, every time newly harvested Kehrü arrives at our house, my mom promptly puts a handful into her pocket and munches on them as if they were the most delectable snack in the world. In this case, the lentil didn’t fall too far from the tree (or shrub is it?). I love kerhü too. Raw, it has a wonderful nutty taste.

The Angamis make a fabulous tathu (which is like a chutney but not quite) with Kerhü. First the lentils are roasted lightly, chillies are baked in hot ash and ground with wild ginger and Dzacie (a much more pungent version of Axone or fermented soyabean). Then the Kerhü is mixed with the paste. The result is a mouthwatering extremely hot, crunchy tathu (chutney) which can be eaten with red tea, rice beer or with food.
Kerhü when cooked becomes viscous pale maroon gravy. Add a little ginger and dried bamboo shoot and you have a fragrant, mildly tangy gravy, much like a rich dal makhani. But there is no better way to have Kerhü than with meat.

A particularly cherished example that comes to mind (and mouth) is a thick broth of wild boar and kerhü I ate at my aunt’s place one winter. Kerhü tastes fabulous with wild bird meat as well. With a modest supply of Kerhü at hand and a lucky visit to the butchers where I found a gorgeous cut of pork thigh (or it found me), I decided it was time to treat myself to another pork and kerhü curry.

Now I hear the Parsi Dhansak is also a rich broth of meat and lentils. If only I could try sample some soon...

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