A Maharashtrian delicacy made simply from yellow dal, Varan Bhaat is a West Indian favourite. Pigeon pea lentils are carefully pressure cooked and then wok tossed along with asafoetida and turmeric powder. A comfort food in the true sense of the word, Varan Bhaat is often served as bhog (holy offering) during Ganesh Chaturthi. A regular staple in the kitchens of mothers and grandmothers, the dish is often cooked as a hassle-free solution to a busy day; a nutritious, wholesome, yet light meal during illnesses; or even as a detox meal after a day of rich meals.
It is popularly known as Varan Bhaat Toop, with the term ‘toop’ referring to the dollop of ghee that is sprinkled lightly over the lentil and rice combination. Very similar to the humble Khichdi, Varan Bhaat has been part of Maharashtrian kitchens for eons. In fact, it also makes an occasional appearance during weddings.
Considering the simplicity of the dish, it may seem odd that it would be served alongside rich, and sinfully oily sides. But Varan Bhaat’s sentimental value far overreaches its modest nature. The term ‘varan’ refers to boiled lentils and ‘bhaat’ is another word for rice. The special feature about the dish is the fact that jaggery is used in it to sweeten it. Since the dish is associated with traditional cooking practices in Maharashtrian villages, the use of jaggery or gud is crucial instead of refined sugar. However, modern renditions do add sugar even though the use of jaggery has now been recommended by many medical specialists (owing to the natural sugars in it).