Pappu runs in our bloodstreams!

Pappannam eppudu pedathaaru? When will you feed us dal and rice? – a nice, euphemistic way of asking, “When are you getting your son/daughter married?”

Pappu or dal or lentils if you must, so dear to the heart of every Telugu, like most protein foods, has always been more expensive than other foods – cereal foods, basically… and so, for a poor family, served only during celebrations – weddings, festivals…

Even then, the Telugu is inordinately fond of his pappu – those who can afford it, eat it every single day, in preference to any other side dish that will go with the main cereal – rice or roti or millets. To confirm this, I did a study amongst my friends and family – Telugu, Tamil, Kannadiga – and while most of the non- Telugu households will have substitutes for it, like vatha kozhambu (tamarind based sauce), mor kozhambu (buttermilk based, majjiga pulusu, majjige huli) and so on, the Telugu household might make these but… BUT without the pappu alongside, staring at you comfortingly and positively inviting you to ladle on the ghee – will feel positively bereft!

I’ve even been told by Tamil friends (no, they did NOT stay friends after that!) that Telugus are gullible because of the amount of pappu that they tend to eat! Have also been told that the prices of dal in Chennai have gone up after I moved here… I have an answer to that… HUMPH!!! Am sure by that token, the price of tamarind must have gone down!

There’s even a saying which goes, Appu chesi pappu koodu meaning to live it up on borrowed money – here too the idea of luxury is to eat pappu! And how about the world-famous in Andhra (wink!) surname called Pappu? Must have been a big man (manchi personality as we say admiringly!) who could afford to eat pappu every day!

Hmm…. the song “Pappu can’t dance, saala” springs to mind – yes i know it’s a bit of a stretch but pappu really can’t dance, you know – it’s a sober entity which sits on the side of the plate or on the mound of rice or wherever you put it without a cheep of a protest! So maybe pappu can’t dance is actually a compliment?! A pappu on the plate which can dance must be so thin it runs all over the plate and you have to chase it – horrors! Watch the song and tell me what you think of Pappu vs pappu the dalclick for YouTube video.

And to prove my case, you can take a Telugu out of his or her homeland but try taking the pappu away and you’ll have a fistfight on your hands!

Here’s a rather unusual but simply to die for pappu


  • Toor dal – 1 cup
  • Turmeric – 1 large pinch
  • Water – 2 cups

Pressure these together till soft – about 3 whistles and simmer for ten minutes. It helps to soak the dal for at least ten minutes before cooking.

  • Tomatoes – 3 large – slightly sourer country tomatoes are better for this – chunked and roughly pureed
  • Methi leaves/menthikoora/fenugreek leaves – cleaned and chopped – 1.5 cups
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Onions  – chopped – 1 medium
  • Garlic – 6-7 pods (optional  but desirable!)
  • Tamarind paste – 1/4 tsp – can omit this if the tomatoes are very sour
  • Jaggery – 1 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Oil – 1 tbsp


  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Methi/fenugreek seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Red chilies – sliced – 2
  • Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 generous pinch
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and when they splutter, add the rest of the tempering ingredients. Then add the onions and garlic and fry till golden brown. Add the methi leaves and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook till softenend. Mash the mixture with the back of a spoon. Add the salt, dal, jaggery, tamarind paste and red chili powder.

Serve with hot rice and ghee. Bet even you will dance after this!