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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A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette

“Dear Mother Nature,
I’m entirely seduced by this shimmering blanket swathing the earth. Barren trees revealing gnarled branches, tangled and peppered with snow, they soar unbounded into grey clouds. Frozen icicles precariously cemented to ledges make for enough drama on mundane days and snow dusted church rooftops make for visions that for years, I’ve only vicariously lived through books. Playful mists of breath, tiny impressions of pigeon feet on unblemished snow, ripples of water vanishing into rock …..may the enthusiasm never temper, may the joy never recede,may the beauty never fade.
However, there are times when I find myself pining for a slip of sunshine, just a sliver. Wishful thinking, I know. Fortunately, that coerces me to navigate into other avenues. Therefore, at the moment, I will resort to the warm rhapsody of the blood orange. Blood Oranges are peeled are laid on a a sourdough galette base, slathered with blood orange marmalade,  baked warm and devoured fresh. This is our slip of sweet sunshine this cold, winter morning. Our golden gild.
O Mother, sprinkle our lives with a smattering of sunshine before I run out of ways to defeat the blues.”
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As you can see, I’m desperately scavenging warmth, sunshine and Vitamin D. And, my first-aid this season happens to be blood oranges. On the outside, these gorgeous fruits are disguised as the regular variety, donning a peel exactly like the latter and hence fairly easy to ignore whilst hurriedly hustling a grocery card(Tip:keep your eyes peeled for the name labels). It is only when they are sliced that one discovers how aptly they are christened. They bleed vivacious shades of crimson, sometimes a shimmering maroon, sometimes a rich saffron and at times, they’re adorned in sharp streaks with every shade mentioned above. Undeniably, they are a thing of beauty. A thing of joy.
I first discovered blood oranges in the dreary winter of 2016. I remember juicing them to witness a gleaming red glass of juice. This winter though, I hope to reveal their beauty in a language I’m most drawn to, baking.
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To make the galette, very simply, blood oranges are peeled, sliced, laid on a homemade walnut enriched Pâté brisée that is slathered with blood orange marmalade and baked until golden brown. It isn’t an overpoweringly sweet dish but promises to curb the cravings. If you ask me, this galette is best devoured warm. The flavours are fresh and strongly redolent of a warm, summer afternoon picnic. A picnic seems far from reality at the moment but a girl can dream….
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A little about the recipe-
The recipe for the Pâté brisée has been adapted from Sarah Owen’s wonderful book, ‘Sourdough’. It does call for a sourdough starter but not to worry because I have made it plenty of times without one and it works just fine. Additionally, the measurements are in grams and therefore demands a weighing machine.

Secondly, I opted for the blood orange marmalade because I stumbled upon a jar in the grocery but feel free to use any jam or spread that you might want to pair with the oranges. Moving on to the recipe….
RECIPE
INGREDIENTS
For the Walnut Pâté brisée
45 gms walnuts
45 gms whole wheat flour
65 gms all purpose flour
15 grams granulated sugar
Half a tsp salt
75 gms cold, unsalted butter chopped into cubes(taken out of the refrigerator just before use)
15-25 gms ice cold water

Other Ingredients –
4-5 medium sized blood oranges
Approximately 3 tsp of blood orange marmalade or any other jam/spread
1 tsp of maple syrup
1 tbsp of milk

METHOD
-To make the pastry, pulse together walnuts, whole-wheat flour, salt, sugar until the nuts are ground fine.
– Then transfer to a bowl and add the cold, cubed butter and bread it down with your hands it resembles a coarse crumb. Then add ice cold water to combine very gently. Do not over mix or knead. Once it comes together, place in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, peel your blood oranges and slice them evenly into app. 0.5cm thickness.
– Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the dough from the oven and allow to the dough to come to room temperature.
– The moment it is pliable, roll it out into a large circle( 10 inches).
To roll, I usually place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and then roll, so it doesn’t stick.  Place the rolled pastry on a parchment lined tray. Spread out your choice of jam/marmalade. Place the sliced oranges.
-Fold over the crust edges gently toward the centre. It can overlap as well, the more rustic the better:)
– The crust can then be brushed with milk and maple syrup (replaces an egg-wash) and baked for about 30-35 min until the crust is golden brown.

 NOTE:Optionally, a thick syrup or glaze can be made to spread onto the galette.
Ingredients –
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
a handful of blood orange slices
Method –
– Bring the sugar and water to a boil on medium high heat. Then turn down the heat and add the blood orange slices. Remove the fruit slices a few minutes after. Let the syrup thicken on low heat.
-Once cooled, it can be spread on the finished galette.

 

 

A Letter to the Elusive Vegan French Macaron

An Overworked Kitchen
Toronto, Canada
February 13th, 2017

Dear Vegan Macaron,
Bonjour!
You have seemingly become one of the most profound culinary discoveries this decade, much to the delight of enthusiastic vegans & vegetarians such as myself. A riveting creation with bloggers and foodies responding maniacally(again,such as me). Stalwarts in veganism have challenged & battled the ‘Egg’ to recreate the delicacy that bears little forgiveness to it’s maker. You surprisingly imitate not just the supremely elegant,tantalizing looks of your non- vegan friend but thoroughly infatuate the taste buds too. The chewy goodness and melt in the mouth factor have indubitably been captivated. You are no fake my dear, rather, an identical twin…
Allow me to abate the flattery so I can come to the point. It is of my opinion that no baker is satiated well enough until he/she masters or at the least, attempts the task of conjuring the glorious French Macaron. With this, I  begin this intense, heartfelt and veritable account of my journey with you. Please allow me to bare my heart and I pray you take no offence. I have no intention of appearing impertinent or petulant. I’m just a mad, incorrigible baker that has discovered an authentic, calming remedy for insomnia,  a learner that is on a tranquil quest to decipher the cryptic myths & mysteries of baking, and, at the bottom of it all, I’m just a soul that loves insanely, to eat, experience & live….

“What will be, will be…”
One blazing afternoon in the soaring summer of 2016, as Doris Day crooned to “Que Sera Sera”, I arduously jotted down the recipe from Blog #1. Many hours were spent reading, re-reading & registering a detailed instruction manual, to the point that it was indelibly ingrained. The author, a kind lady must have spent tedious hours drafting the inner workings of it all for the benefit of her readers. I was captivated and floating in nervous elation.

To some I may seem a tad impatient but set me to do a creative task & I am instantly overcome by the patience of a saint. Aquafaba was whipped to a snowy white meringue and powdery almonds were sieved painstakingly. Le macaronage was done without an ounce of care or concern for my aching biceps. The batter flowed like thick ribbons of hot lava, delicately amalgamating with the remaining batter. The Pipe-wait- bake-wait drill was unduly carried out as well. Soft words of encouragement came from my eternal cheerleader, the hopeful husband. Yet, I failed, miserably. The shells were lopsided!

Backing to the drawing board the following day only to be struck by disaster. The adage, “Third time’s a charm” is preseumably a myth since the catastrophe occurred again. I won’t go on my dear, for 6 attempts within a span of one week led to a similar ordeal. Where was I going wrong?
Well, the chapter finally  came to a close, not without the utterance of a seething string of profanities.

“Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection….”
Despite the series of disappointments, the winter of 2016, instilled in me a desire to take a chance. Winter inspires in a myriad of ways. The liberating chilly breeze, the gray skies. The night in question was a snowy one, snowflakes descending like cotton fluffs. My heart was full, spirits high. Gwen Stefani sang a soulful “Rainbow Connection” , emphasizing the magic of wishes, the tangibility of dreams….
I bet my hopes on a new recipe from Blog #2 and the miracles spurring from a flurry, wintry night. This particular recipe involved the making of a French Meringue(vegan of course) as opposed to the Italian Meringue done previously. Three times my heart was blown to smithereens. The shells were lopsided! I will confess, two of those fateful attempts, the batter was a pathetic mess and I had to toss it out before it was even piped.

Blog #3 had a much more detailed plan with definite reasons for lopsided shells/Uneven feet and pictures accompanying literature. Another glimmer of hope. Another brand of almond powder. Another round of tinkering with the oven temperatures. This recipe employed the Italian Meringue technique and it was the best macaron batter I had achieved, even if I say so myself. The result you ask? The shells were lopsided.

Now, intense research has taught me that of all reasons that are have been attributed to lopsided shells, the one thing that is not in my control is an oven that heats unevenly. At the risk of sounding petty, I have to say, it is conceivable that this is perhaps true. More than that, the other reasons attributed have been scrupulously checked for. After 11 valiant attempts, enormous expenses at the grocery (although I never resorted to making full batches), an unhealthy amount of  sugar intake and countless nights scrubbing unkempt utensils and kitchen sinks, I think I deserve to place the blame elsewhere!

That said, this is not Au revoir my friend. The curious case of the Vegan Macaron will be deciphered. If this tumultuous ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that I can be a fighter. I’m not quitting, just indulging in a long break.
Maybe someday you will appease this chagrined baker, maybe someday I will seize that ineffable joy, maybe someday I will bake the perfect French Vegan Macaron…..

Until then,
A Despaired Baker
P.S – Here’s a picture of my imperfect vegan macaron. The entire flawed area I.e with no feet is hidden behind owing to some smart photography by the husband;)
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(Thank you for reading this article. I just want to take a moment to thank those wonderful bloggers/bakers who have put in enormous effort in bringing those recipes. Successful or not, I will forever be grateful to them.)

Ode to an Indian Summer – Wholewheat Eggless Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard & Shrikhand Frosting

I read somewhere that..”An empty stomach and a full mind do not let you sleep” or in the likes of it. Obsession, Passion, whatever you choose to call it, the mind refuses to believe in logic and the results are insomnia and groggy mornings. You must wonder how this is pertinent in an article regarding cupcakes & frosting, let me clarify. It is when the sun hides in the horizon, paints the sky with a dark navy blue and the night is saturated with silence, that my brain ostensibly decides to plug the switch on. Ideas flash like light bulbs, sometimes riveting, sometimes not and refuse to abate until appeased. If not for my husband who is constantly wary of my whereabouts in the kitchen or my art table, I wouldn’t  make the effort to sleep for 8 hrs a day. I’ve always been in my opinion that 24 hrs is far too less….why spend prized moments in dreamland when you can paint a prettier picture with reality.

Just a brief halt before we get on to today’s food journey, I’m happy & humbled to share with you all that I’m now officially a Cake Decorating Instructor (Wilton Method Instructor)! What excites me most is that this is synonymous with the few things I love aka Art, Baking & Teaching! Although I have been teaching art & craft for about 3 years now this is a new arena for me to explore and I’m beyond excited…Here are some of my creations….
An official website is on the way but please do check out my page on INSTAGRAM
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Now, we go back to this summer recipe!IMG_1779
It was on one such night when my mind was hovering around my caking obsession,  that it dawned upon me make these cupcakes. I’m all for chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut & oreos but a large part me & my food come from a land where every flavour is infused with the richness of spices. Be it a savory or a sweet dish, we are almost lost without them!  Therefore,  I decided to stick to my roots & conjure up something that included my love for baking with an Indian twist. The result….Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard and a Shrikhand Frosting aka a recipe that screams an Indian Summer! Let me elaborate…
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Elaichi/ Cardamom with it’s sweet, pungent taste is a mandatory in most Indian desserts and nothing can contest a piping hot cup of Elaichi tea/chai after a tiring day at work. They work up their magic in these cupcakes too and the entire kitchen is suffused with the aroma they emanate.
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Mangoes are a part & parcel of Indian summers. Grandmothers pickle the raw ones while the ripe ones are demolished by the grandchildren! My mom erased the boredom out of regular humdrum dinners by indulging us in a particularly decadent yet simple dessert…she squeezes out pulps of the raw mangoes and mixes it with a little milk, sugar & Elaichi to eat with chapatis/rotis & summer dinners suddenly became exciting! The Mango Custard I’ve used in this recipe is inspired from that and it makes for a delicious filling in these elaichi cupcakes.
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Shrikhand is a creamy, delicious dessert made with hung yogurt & sugar and risen into added vigor with the addition of Saffron! Now, Saffron,…reputed to be rather expensive but, aside from bringing in a natural “golden like the rising sun” tinge to the food, the aroma it exudes is beyond ordinary. It’s no surprise that my mom always insists that I incorporate saffron in the sweet dishes I offer to the Gods! The BEST accompaniment with Shrikhand has to be Pooris ( very bluntly, deep fried rotis) and weekend breakfasts with my grandma were synonymous with this but I’ve used it to dress up these cupcakes!
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Like Helen Keller said, “Alone you can do so little, together we can do so much.”
The union of Elaichi, Mango & the Shrikhand is divine but I take no credit because the discovery goes back ages to my forefathers and all I can is that I’m beyond grateful. I’m thankful for the inspiration and the chance to experiment with creative diversity.
Also I’ve used wholewheat in this recipe given it’s health benefits and as always it’s eggless too. Not to worry about the cakes being dense and all. They are super moist, spongy and the golden yellow luscious custard and the creamy aromatic frosting make this a perfect dessert to indulge in.
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I’m going to stop my chitchatting and get on with the recipe….I do hope you try this dessert and do let me know if you liked it!


RECIPE FOR EGGLESS WHOLEWHEAT ELAICHI CUPCAKES WITH MANGO CUSTARD AND SHRIKHAND FROSTING(Makes 8 regular sized cupcakes)

INGREDIENTS
FOR ELAICHI CUPCAKES
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 white vinegar + 1/2 tsp
1/2 cup milk( I used skim)
4 green elaichis/cardamoms + a pinch of sugar
FOR MANGO CUSTARD
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder
4 tbsp milk + 1 cup milk
2.5 – 3 tbsp mango puree
1 tbsp sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
FOR SHRIKHAND
2 cups thick curd ( I used 3%) hung overnight in a cheese cloth
1-1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
1 green cardamom+ a pinch of sugar
a good pinch of saffron strandsMETHOD
To make Elaichi Cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line the tray with cupcake liners.
2. Preparing the elaichi powder – Remove the seeds from the elaichi pods. Add them to a mortar & pestle along with a pinch of sugar and crush them into a fine powder.
3. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients- wholewheat flour, sugar, baking soda and elaichi powder.
4. Make buttermilk by adding 1/2 tsp vinegar to the milk. Add this to the large bowl (with the dry ingredients)along with oil and vinegar. Mix well and ensure there are no lumps.
5. Fill 2/3 rds of the cupcake liners with the batter and bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool Completely.
 To make Mango Custard- 
1. Heat 1 cup of milk with 1 tbsp sugar over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small cup, mix the custard powder with 4 tablespoons of cold milk.
2. Once the milk is boiling, put off the stove. Add the custard-milk mixture to the hot milk while whisking in one hand. Make sure there are no lumps. Let it cool.
3. Add the mango puree to the cooled custard along with 1 tbsp sugar and blitz using a hand blender.(SEE NOTES BELOW)
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep it ready. If the mixture is too thin, just keep it in the freezer for 5 minutes.
To make Shrikhand- 
1.Transfer the hung curd from the cheesecloth to a medium sized bowl.
2. Make elaichi powder with 1 elaichi as explained above.
3. Prepare the saffron- In a tiny cup, heat 1 tsp of milk or add a tsp of hot milk and add a good pinch of lightly crushed saffron strands. ( You can lightly crush them using your fingers as you add them into the cup). Let it sit for a minute or 2 and you will see a beautiful yellow-orange colour imparted to the milk.
3. Add this milk to the hung curd along with sugar and elaichi powder. Fold them into the hung curd very gently for a minute.
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep in the freezer for 5-10 minutes so that it firms up a little.
TO ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES
1. Using a large piping tip, just core out the centre of the cupcakes. ( I used my piping tips to do that)
2. Fill with the Mango custard.
3. Frost the cupcakes with the creamy Shrikhand and garnish with elaichi powder and saffron strands. ( I’ve use a Wilton 2D to pipe the rosettes).
NOTES:
1. Instead of homemade Cardamom/elaichi powder you can use readymade cardamom powder too.

2.The amount of sugar in the custard can be increased if you like. I have used only 1 tablespoon. Taste it and if you feel it’s less, add more.
3. Again, I’ve added a tbsp of sugar to the mango puree as well because the mangoes I used were a little sour. Depending on the sweetness of the mango, you can reduce or increase the sugar.
4. Readymade mango puree can be used as well. I just squeezed the pulp of the mango into a bowl and used it.