Bisibelebath: food and emotion

Rice and dal(lentils) mingling oh so gently with each other but emerging into a fiery romance of flavors when emboldened with a coarse crumb of roasted spices. The barrage of vegetables ensues a flawless texture. Oodles of melted ghee lends it a dash of oomph. Forgive me for this dramatization but this blessed dish has inadvertently transpired into an emotion and a delicious one at that. I humbly present to you, Karnataka’s pride and joy, the Bisibelebath.
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The affair began years ago. Amid 3 inch candles, an ornate cake, a ceiling masked by balloons & a slightly untuned rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ , my maternal aunt and her kin unfailingly ensured that their guests returned home content and happy. Cake hardly disappoints but this sweet treat was always trivial in comparison to the piece de resistance of the said series of evenings aka,  The Bisibelebath. Melted Ghee was poured over a sizzling plate housing the above dish and spicy potato chips tossed in chilli powder (that we bangaloreans fondly call ‘khara chips’) were nestled on the side.

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My aunt, who I believe, possesses sorcery in her hands shared her wisdom with me when I was still at the brink of falling in love with cooking. It boasted of the perfect blend of spicy, tangy and sweet. I was a college-goer then and I spent weekends pampering the family with this dish. Years later, this delicacy continues to further boost festive occasions and spruce up mundane afternoons.
When my aunt first taught me how to make this dish, she didn’t measure ingredients with a measuring cup or a weighing scale. “3 hiDi’s of Dhaniya”, she explained. “HiDi in kannada translates to the amount of ingredient that one can grip within the fist. And that is exactly how I continue to measure the ingredients to this day. Of course, worry not,  below in the recipe, they’re measured with cups and teaspoons:)
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A little about the dish sans the above indulged dramatization. In the Kannada language, Bisi means Hot, Bele means dal(lentils) and bath refers to a rice based dish. Essentially,  it is rice and dal cooked together with a heaping medley of vegetables and with a spice powder mix (recipe for which I will share with you today ) and tempered with ghee, aromatic curry leaves & peanuts and mustard seeds. A medley of vegetables is mandatory and this can include beans, carrots, pumpkins, bell peppers, tomatoes and a melange of legumes.
Serve it with a cold Raita and/or crunchy sides such as Boondi or spicy potato chips!
Below I share the recipe for the Bisibelebath Powder(the spice mix) and the method to make the Bisibelebath as well. 

RECIPE FOR BISIBELEBATH

INGREDIENTS
For Bisibelebath Powder
Less than 1/4 cup of Urad Dal
Less than 1/2 cup Channa Dal
1/2 cup packed Dhaniya/Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp heaped Methi seeds/Fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp heaped black Peppercorns
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
1 Marathi Moggu
2 Cloves
1″ Dalchini/Cinnamon
25 Byadgi Chillies
5 Guntoor Chillies
1/2 cup dry grated coconut
1 tsp oil

For Bisibelebath
3/4 cup Sona Masuri Rice(See Notes)
3/4 cup Toor Dal/Split pigeon peas
1 cup heaped beans, chopped to 1″ long pieces
1/2 cup carrot , peeled and chopped to 1″ long pieces
1 medium sized capsicum/bell pepper, chopped into cubes
1 tomato, chopped into cubes
3/4 cup of mixed avarekalu(val lilva) and pigeon peas(tuvar lilva)- fresh or frozen(optional ingredient)
1 cup of winter melon- peeled and chopped to 1″ cubes
4 cups water plus extra
A pinch of turmeric
3-4 tsp of oil
1/2 tbsp thick tamarind paste
2 tbsp heaped jaggery, chopped
Salt to taste

For tempering- 
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp groundnuts
1/2 tsp ghee
12-15 curry leaves

METHOD
 For the Bisibelebath powder-
-In a thick bottomed kadai/pan, add oil and once it’s heated add all the ingredients for the spice mix except the coconut. On a low flame, fry until the lentils turn golden brown. Pour onto a large plate.
-In the same kadai, fry the coconut until golden brown and put off the stove.
-Let the roasted ingredients cool in room temperature. (do not mix the coconut with the remaining ingredients)
-First, grind the lentil & spices mix into a coarse powder in a mixer. Add coconut into the mixie jar at this point and grind to a fine powder. Mix well with a spoon and the Bisibelebath powder is ready.

2. The first step is to cook the rice, lentils and vegetables. Since each vegetable takes a different amount of time to cook, we deal with differently.
Pressure cook rice, toor dal, beans, carrot, avarekaLu and togarikaLu(SEE NOTES), with a pinch of turmeric, a few drops of oil and approx. 4.5 cups of water. Put off the stove after 2 whistles.
3. In a large kadai/deep bottomed dish, add oil and once it’s heated, add the chopped capsicum. Season with salt. Once it’s almost done add the chopped tomatoes and cook till they are soft. For the pumpkin, heat some water in a vessel, add salt and cook the pumpkin until softened. It softens fairly quickly, so keep an eye.
4. In a bowl, mix  heaped 1/2 cup of Bisibelebath powder, tamarind, salt and jaggery with 1 cup of water and add this to the kadai with capsicum and tomato.
5. Next, add the cooked rice-dal-veggies, tamarind, jaggery and salt.Add another cup of water and mix everything together ensuring that the rice and dal is uniformly coated with the spices. On low heat, let the bisibelebath simmer for about 5 -7 minutes, then put off the stove(Add another half cup of water only if the bisibelebath becomes too thick)
6. Make the tempering by heating a tbsp of ghee/clarified butter (or oil) in a small pan /tadka pan. To this add groundnuts, mustard seeds, hing. Let the mustard seeds and groundnuts splutter, then add curry leaves and put off the stove.
7. Add the tempering to the Bisibelebath and mix well. Serve hot.

NOTE:
1.Store the remaining powder at room temperature in an airtight container.
2.Cashews can be used instead of groundnuts for the tempering. But, in this case, fry the cashews in ghee first, remove them from the kadai and then temper the mustard seeds, hing & curry leaves.
3. The consistency of the bisibelebath can vary. Some like this thick while some prefer it to be a little diluted.So the amount of water can vary.

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Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.
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Understandably, tovve-anna makes its divine presence fairly often. Aside from that. simple dals emboldened with cucumber or ridgegourd or capsicums are consisitent too. A North- Indian version with spices, onions and tomatoes and a seducing tadka is more a fortnighly scene. Dal Makhni with its protein rich lentils and oodles of butter is a rare visitor. My kitchen has also witnessed a Rajasthani Panchmel Dal albeit only in one instance. Another dish that has made a debut is Gujarati Dal Dhokli that I learnt from a friend and is conjured on similar lines as the one I’m about to share with you today. This week, I decided to broaden my horizon a little bit more. Perhaps indulge in something a little more audacious!
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 Anjum Anand’s wonderful creation,  ‘Indian Vegetarian Feast’ was just the the book that needed a break from its long hiatus in our bookshelf. Her book is brimming with curries and warm dishes that winter nights demand so fiercely. This beauty of a dal is no different. It is subtly sweet owing to jaggery  and awfully comforting. The dumplings are made with wholewheat and stuffed with peas and coconut, almost a melt-in-the-mouth experience when dunked in dal.
Poured over rice or daliya this dish can be thoroughly satisfying but it easily transforms into a hearty winter soup. Ladle into a big bowl and devour as is. 
Only a few changes in my version: fresh coconut replaced dry coconut and roasted peanuts were added without restraint. Also, the original recipe has included the addition of kokum, a fruit that lends a sour flavour but since I didn’t have any I’ve relied on my good friend, the tamarind.
Hope you like this dish as much as we did:)
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RECIPE FOR GUJARATI DAL WITH GREEN PEA AND COCONUT DUMPLINGS
INGREDIENTS
For the Dal:
1 cup split pigeon peas or Toor Dal, washed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tbsp jaggery
3/4 inch of ginger, peeled and grated
a pinch of chilli powder(add more if you want the dish to have more heat)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts(or more), crushed coarsely
2 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp asafoetida
4 cloves
2 tbsp ghee
8 dried kokum, soaked(optional)
1/2 ts p each of mustard and cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
10 curry leaves
1 tsp readymade tamarind paste or soak a tsp of tamarind in hot water and squeeze out the thick juice
Salt to taste

For the Dough
1/2 cup wholewheat or chapati flour
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ajwain or carom seeds
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Filling
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp fresh or dry coconut( I used fresh)
an inch of ginger- peeled and grated

METHOD
-First, the split pigeon peas or toor dal needs to be cooked soft. They can either be pressure cooked or boiled in a large vessel. Either way, add two times the water along with turmeric and a few drops of oil. Cook until completely mushy. Then, using a stick blender, puree until smooth.
(If using a vessel to cook it, cover it partially and keep an eye. Sometimes the water water may spill over)
-Next, make the dough by mixing together all the ingredients listed. Knead until soft and elastic. Keep aside by covering with a wet cloth.
-Thirdly, the filling is prepared. Boil the frozen peas in salted water until completely soft. Drain the water and mash either with a wooden spoon or cool completely and blend in a mixer. To the mashed peas, add grated ginger and fresh grated coconut. Then, in a little pan(tadka pan), heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add it to the peas mixture and keep aside.
-To the pureed dal/lentils, add the chopped tomato, jaggery, peanuts, chilli powder, salt and tamarind and simmer for 10 minutes in low heat.
-Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings. Divide the dough into 9 or 10 portions. Take one, roll into a little ball and then roll into a thin 3 inch circle all the while. Use some extra wholewheat flour to keep it from sticking to the countertop or rolling pin.
Take 1 tablespoon of the filling, place on one half of the circle. Using your finger line the entire edge of the circle with a little water and fold one half over the other, tightly pressing on the seams and making sure the filling is well within the dumpling.
Make all the dumplings this way and keep aside.
-Add about 1 cup or 1.5 cups of water to the dal and thin it down. The amount of water may vary depending on how thick you like your dal. To this, add the dumplings and let them cook for about 5-7minutes or until done. Important to note that the dumplings should be added to the dal just before serving or else they may disintegrate and turn mushy.
Finally, add the tadka or tempering. In the same tadka pan used above, heat more ghee and add to it cloves and cinnamon. Also add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Add curry leaves that have been washed and dried well with a cloth or tissue. Once the mustard seeds splatter and the curry leaves have crisped up, add the tempering to the dal and serve hot.

Lessons I’m Learning from my Mother….Sihi Kootu & More

“My mother is my best friend”….the old chestnut holds true with me as well…
Admittedly, I can go on for ages about how her children received immense priority ultimately leading up to her sacrificing her best career years in order to render us all a warm home. With a husband whose job entails touring the country half the month & three children, two of whom are really hooligans disguised as chubby little boys, the cacophony & chaos can prove challenging and not just in terms of time. I can write about how her face beams with a blend of pride and satisfaction when people notice me as her mirror image and how the same face cringes when some mistakenly mention otherwise! I can write about how she thoughtfully scribes the sweetest( and longest!) messages that prompt me to effortlessly tear up 10,000 miles away and how she indefatigably listens to me blather for hours about the most inane topics. I can write about how she instilled the love of God in our hearts at a tender age thereby guiding us to live a life saturated with faith. I can also write about how she perpetually corrects our lapses and how she relentlessly eludes us from the poisons of revenge.
However,  I won’t.
Today I want to share with you the lessons I am LEARNING from her….
To say she is the epitome of patience is practically an understatement and this can be vouched for by any soul that’s crossed paths with her. The worst of agitations don’t trigger her to bring the roof down. She is the icy water that douses fiery hot heads! As a teen, I learnt the rewards patience can bestow upon one….the learning continues…

Her calm demeanor culminates as her biggest strength. Recalling the pandemonium that joint families can be subjected to, it dawns on me that her serene silence and smile nonchalantly answered most circumstances. My learning continues….

Trying times bizarrely are directly proportional with her degrees of optimism. Needless to say, much needed. Hope is never a dearth at home and that’s saying something.
When life hands lemons, she musters up courage and emerges a winner. She protectively continues to stand up for us in our toughest times and is indubitably my pillar of strength. I continue to learn and if only I can soak in one drop in that ocean of optimism…..

Among the many feathers in a mother’s cap, she also transpires as a long distance constant cooking coach, guiding me gently and indulgently through the complications of it all, awaiting reviews from a hungry son in law. Although I picked up the the basics of Madhwa Cuisine under my mother in law’s unremitting tutelage, there are some recipes that I continue to learn from my mother….Sihi Kootu is one such. How can I possibly forget devouring bowl after bowl of Sihi Kootu with warm rice as I rushed back home from school? Or when I visited the same home with a husband by my side,  15 years later?

We now arrive at the kitchen of my mother’s home, wafting with  aromas of a simmering Sihi Kootu!

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The recipe has flawlessly been passed down the many generations: what my mom learnt from my great grandmother, I learn from my mom. While my great grandmother laboriously and painstakingly ground the spices and coconut in a mammoth stone mortar & pestle, we get away with a turn of a knob! “It doesn’t taste the same”, my mom says.
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Sihi means sweet in Kannada & Kootu basically belongs to the sambar/stew family which means it is rich in dal, coconut & vegetables. I feel the need to clarify that it’s not necessarily sweet but mainly called so to ensure that it’s not confused with another Kootu, the ‘Kharaddu’ meaning Spicy.
The addition of pepper & dry chillies impart a subtle heat to the dish. Byadgi (mildly spicy but adds colour) & Guntoor (very spicy but doesn’t add much colour) are the two types of dry chillies used and together they create a balanced combination. There’s jaggery, which is a mandatory in Madhwa cuisine that lends a sweet note to the dish that when mixed with ghee(clarified butter) and rice can easily become a feast for the Gods! Dal i.e. Toor Dal is added in a slightly generous quantity than regular sambars to give a thicker, creamier consistency. With a whole lot of Dal(lentils), Veggies, & a medley of spices, this authentic South Indian Vegan dish is a bowl of warmth & comfort.

The learning continues….

I hope you try this recipe and I would love me a feedback:) Also, I’m trying my hand at food photography and styling these days….I do hope you like these pictures!

RECIPE FOR SIHI KOOTU

INGREDIENTS
3/4th cup Toor Dal
Roughly 3 cups of chopped vegetables like Beans, Carrots, Chayote, Potatoes & legumes like pigeon peas & Padpi lilva
1.5 tbsp jaggery
10 curry leaves
Salt to taste
For the masala paste –
1.5 tbsp urad dal
3 Guntoor dry red chilles(very spicy)
5 Byadgi Dry Red chillies( a little less spicy)
3/4 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
For tempering –
1 tsp of oil
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
A good pinch of Hing/AsafoetidaMETHOD
1. Pressure cook toor dal with 2.5-3 times the water
2. Cook the veggies in boiling water & a little bit of salt. Alternatively, it can be pressure cooked along with the dal itself but there is a chance they may become a little mushy.
3. In the meanwhile, make the masala paste.In a kadai, take a teaspoon of oil and fry Urad dal, chillies, peppercorn in medium heat until the dal is golden brown in colour. Allow them to cool.
4. Once it’s cooled, grind it with fresh grated coconut and some water to get a paste of medium coarse consistency.
5. Add this to the cooked dal & veggies along with jaggery,curry leaves & salt. Let it come to a boil.
6. To temper, in a smaller kadai/tadka pan, add oil and once it heats up,  add urad dal & mustard seeds. Let the mustard crackle and then add Hing.
7. Add this to the Kootu. Serve hot with rice & ghee

#Rice with Coconut & Mustard/ Kayi Sasive Chitranna

Before I go into the details about this delectable recipe, I have to acknowledge a person who is the sole reason behind my intense love for the dish . She was Sita Kaki, my grand aunt and my dad’s paternal aunt. One of the strongest people I have come across , she was a picture of elegance, immaculate neatness and an expert in the kitchen. Her patience and optimism was something I constantly admired.
Amma ( my mom) would take us to her place now and then to spend the day & she would lovingly treat us with a delicious juice made with cooked raw mango every single time. Being passionate about gardening, she had a florid garden around the house bounteous with roses & the chinese fireball. Her backyard was brimming with lemon grass and she was responsible for introducing  lemon grass tea to my mom who is an ardent tea lover. Continue reading “#Rice with Coconut & Mustard/ Kayi Sasive Chitranna”

#Soup with Cream of Rice and Yogurt / Hulinuch

There are days when all you want is some no-fuss comfort food that can satiate the tummy & the soul. Hulnuch is one such dish. Made with Idli Rava or Cream of Rice and curds, it’s ideal for  winter mornings. This recipe takes me back to a simpler time a.k.a childhood when my grandma would make this for us. A few days back, bored of the usual upma, poha, idli & dosa, I was in a dilemma as to what to make for breakfast. It suddenly dawned on me that it’s been more than 6 years since I had/made Hulnuch. A quick call to my mom & I was more than ready to face the morning.
Continue reading “#Soup with Cream of Rice and Yogurt / Hulinuch”

#Amma’s Green Pulao

It was my 16th birthday. My friends had come over for a pyjama party/sleepover. I remember vividly, Amma(Mom) had made her ‘Green Pulao’, with French Fries as a garnish for dinner & I had loved it. She probably gave it the name ‘Green Pulao’ for ease with her three children, my brothers & me. That was the first time I ate this dish and since then most special occasions at home are incomplete without it. Continue reading “#Amma’s Green Pulao”

#raita with cherry tomatoes

‘Raita’ is a curd/yogurt based Indian side dish and this one is particular is one of the simplest foods I’ve whipped up in my kitchen. It takes hardly any time but don’t mistake it’s simplicity for a meagre tasting dish. Like Julia Child says, “Cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy”. The luscious cherry tomatoes marry perfectly with the mint & curd and is a perfect side for any rice pilaf/pulao. Continue reading “#raita with cherry tomatoes”