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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Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita

I’m spooling the tape back to childhood. Do indulge me while I unfold a tiny snippet from the past. Sukh Sagar, the famed eatery’s italic lightbox glimmered under the city’s night sky. Serving meals to patrons parked outside the restaurant while they reclined in the comfort of their cars was quite à la mode in 90’s Bangalore. The 5 of us(the parents, the 2 brothers and me), huddled in our car outside the restaurant while the food was brought and stationed on the bumper. The tray wobbled precariously as it hosted glasses of water and other snacks. For the next hour or so, the brothers and me devoured 4-inch discs of dough studded with bell peppers, onions and smothered with a tomato sauce and topped with visible strands of cheese. This was our first pizza and it has tethered itself unrelentingly to fond childhood memories much like the way mozzarella cements itself unyieldingly to a pizza base.
We’ve come a long way since then. Simplicity has transpired into a labyrinthine experience and I say this bearing no complaints. The thin-crust, the thick crust, the cheese-burst, the white sauce, the red sauce, the neopolitan, the Italian version, the Chicago version, there’s also the Indian version that I bake by splashing the base with a spicy Paneer Tikka Masala. Suffice to say, the options have no end.


We also bake our own pizza. When Little Brother #1 visited us  last month, he pampered us with a beautiful Deep-dish pizza(baked from scratch) outpouring and trickling with mozzarella and the works. I lazed on our sofa, unfurling the recipe, an explicit list of instructions from the book, all well accompanied by little extracts of my sage wisdom. Precisely what one would commonly expect from an elder sister. Lest I forget to mention, he cleaned up too. I basked in my proud-sister moment that night.

This week, Little Brother #2 embarked on his baking journey by making a Pizza Margherita.  We baked the fare together as we silently said a thankful prayer to technology(never have I been more grateful for video calling). Him in Bangalore, me in Toronto. 5pm for him, 6:30 am for me. Clearly, no lounging for me this time around! We kneaded our yeasty doughs together, watched as our tomatoes bubbled boisterously into a sauce and exactly 3 hours later, we revealed our pizzas together. He relished a dinner of earnest hardwork while the husband and me savored an unusual but very delicious breakfast.
I’m going to interrupt my proud-sister moments for now and move on to the the making of this cheese-laden indulgence.

The recipe for this authentic pizza has been adapted from Rachel Allen’s cooking show that I stumbled upon many years ago. The following evening, we had an enticing dinner. I’ve relied on this recipe many a time and continue to do so, sharing it with friends and family because of its unerring ways. Simple in make and always results in a contented smile. The length of time that any bread demands may be overwhelming at first but that is something one will get the habit of fairly soon. My suggestion : bake the pizza often; patience is directly proportional with frequency of make.
The original recipe uses all-purpose flour while I’m sharing the one with wholewheat flour owing to its health benefits. But, either way, there isn’t much of a difference make. The other  significant component is the sauce. Summertime farmer’s markets are brimming with San Marzano tomatoes and I haul back heavy bags splilling with these dainty, deep-red fruits. But other times, I depend on Roma tomatoes. Quite frankly, use whatever tomatoes you can get your hands on.
Moving on to the recipe:

RECIPE FOR WHOLEWHEAT PIZZA MARGHERITA (Makes 2 large pizzas)

INGREDIENTS- 
TOMATO SAUCE FOR THE PIZZA
4-5 tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
10 basil leaves
Salt
Ground Pepper
1-2 tsp sugar
Thyme and oregano can be added for flavoring as well
PIZZA DOUGH
250 ml warm water(a little extra if the dough feels too dry)
1/2 tsp castor sugar
1.5 tsp active dry yeast or 1 x 7 gms sachet of fast acting yeast
350 gms or 2.5 cups wholewheat flour plus extra for dusting(all purpose flour can be used too)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil plus extra for dusting
Semolina for dusting
TOPPINGS
A few basil leavesGrated Mozarella – roughly 1-1.5 cups(I say roughly because I throw it on my base without restraint!)

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA SAUCE
1. Boil water in a large vessel. Make an ‘X’ at the bottom of each tomato and add into the boiling water for a couple of min. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and peel them.
2.Heat oil in a pan, add onions and cook for 4-6 min, till browned. Add tomatoes, herbs, salt, pepper and sugar and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer till sauce thickens for about 45 minutes, or until the raw smell of tomatoes goes away (Add 1/4 cup of water while cooking if necessary).
4. Cool & blend into a smooth sauce.

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA DOUGH AND THE PIZZA MARGHERITA
1. In a bowl, mix the warm water with the sugar & yeast & leave it to stand for 5 min or until looking frothy. (No need to do this if it’s fast acting yeast. Just add the yeast directly to the olive oil and sugar).
2. Add olive oil into the yeast mixture.
3. Add the wholewheat flour into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the olive oil-yeast mixture into the well and mix by hand, until the dough is wet & sticky.(Add extra water if it is too dry).
4. Next, knead with your hands on a floured counter for about 10 min(5 min in the food mixer) or until smooth & springy to touch.
5. Grease the bowl with olive oil & place the dough back in. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size. ( if you gently press the dough with your fingertip, the dent should stay, and that means it’s ready).
6. Preheat oven to 240C or 465 F.
7. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and divide into 2 portions. Keep the one that you’re not using covered.
8. Roll out each disc to a 10″ inch circle.
9. Place the rolled out dough on a tray sprinkled with semolina. Alternatively, use a parchment paper.
10. Spread a good dollop of sauce on top of the base and spread it with a ladle.
11. Place the shredded cheese(toppings can be added too)
12. Bake at 465 F / 240 degree Celsius for 15 minutes.
13. Slice and serve hot.