Little Luxuries: Pulses Racing
Many countries claim special attachment to certain legumes. Egypt has fuul, slowcooked fava beans, Brazil has black beans for feijoada, France has aristocratic Puy lentils and China has soya in myriad forms. In India, the land of dal-roti, it might seem impossible to pick a single legume out of the many we consume, but perhaps mung might come closest.
Vigna radiata, to give its recently reclassified botanical name, originated in the subcontinent and finds mention in the Yajurveda, along with its close cousin urad (V.mungo). Previously they were part of the genus Phaseolis, which includes many other beans, but now it’s felt these ancient Asian pulses require their own genus. Mung is cooked in most parts of India, perhaps reaching its most elemental form in khichidi, a dish that visitors to India over centuries have noted was almost a staple food here.
When Gandhi was a young man, mung helped give him a lesson in respecting his Indian identity. He was studying in London then and was quite the young dandy, dressing in British fashions and eating English food, though vegetarian. One day he encountered a Gujarati writer and poet called Narayan Hemchandra, an interesting personality who combined a passion for learning about other cultures with an equally passionate attachment to his Indian identity. This would get him into trouble later on, in the USA, when he wore a dhoti and was arrested for being indecently dressed
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