Every night for dinner we have one vegetable dish, one dal, roti (for me), rice (for Ramesh), and ‘buttermilk’ made with yoghurt. There’s always a dish of yoghurt on the table, and sometimes there’s pickle and / or papad. Six days a week we eat Gujarati food, and on Sundays we have Tamil sappadu: rice and sambar and rasam and poriyal and pachadi and apalam and buttermilk, with lime pickle and sometimes curry-leaf chutney.
Sunday dinner is somewhat elaborate, but our daily fare is meagre by Gujarati standards. Ordinarily there would be two vegetable dishes, and one savoury (e.g. samosa, or kachori), and one sweet, and some chutney / salad / raita, and papad, and a few more things here and there.
Last night the vegetable was cauliflower-potato-peas, and along with that there was sprouted moong (i.e., mung bean sprouts) cooked in a thin sauce with yoghurt and a little chickpea flour, like a kadhi. Ramesh looked at it and said, “Cauliflower doesn’t go with moong.” I said, “Why not?” He said, “It goes with moong dal (i.e., the same pulse, but broken and without the skin), but not with full moong.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Likewise, it goes with urad dal, but not with full urad.” I said, with mock exasperation, “Gujjus!” (a derogatory term for Gujaratis), and he looked at me with mock offence, and that was that – but he ate the cauliflower and left the moong.
After all this time I should know this – that some things don’t go together - but somehow, because of laziness or because we’ve always had a cook, I still make these mistakes.
I really don’t think that was the case when I was growing up. The dinner plate then would have three discrete sectors: one for a piece of meat / chicken / fish; one for a small pile of boiled vegetables; one for potatoes, or, occasionally, a small mound of white rice. There would be a salad plate (here called a quarter-plate) containing some iceberg lettuce and tomato, or grated carrots with raisins, or a pineapple ring with cottage cheese in the middle. (I miss cottage cheese! Putting paneer in the blender doesn’t do the trick.) When there was company, or a special occasion, there would be rolls -- the Pillsbury ones, that were frozen and came in a tube. There was always dessert.
When we went away to college, the Gourmet magazine that my father loved to read suddenly began to be used, and we came home to veal scaloppini, and grilled swordfish, and sweetbreads, and such. I guess feeding children kept my mother subdued.
But what I was driving at was that, as far as I know, those flesh / green vegetable / starch categories were completely interchangeable. Lamb chops would go with green beans or peas or corn or spinach, or carrots. I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t go with every other thing. Except lima beans, which didn't go with anything at all.
I solve the problem now by having toor dal several times a week – it’s the O positive of dals, it goes with just about everything (and it’s my favourite). Ramesh gets his favourite, urad dal, once a week with okra, which goes with it. The rest of the week is when things get edgy.