Sunday, January 25, 2015

Vangibhath - One pot rice dish, a quintessential kannadiga staple

Another week passes by with much happening and here I am on a Sunday evening with a delicious, traditional recipe from home. Many of you have asked me for this recipe in the last year or so, I had to put it off until now to make sure I got consistently great results with my powder before I shared the recipe with you all. There are some recipes that though you have the exact measurements, something seems to be lacking when you make them. If you ask nammamma, she would say, "kai palagabeku" which translates roughly to "you need to become more experienced with practice". I believe I have reached that stage with Vangibhaath powder now.

Vangibhaath is a traditional rice preparation in Karnataka, attend any wedding or other auspicious ceremonies, you will get to enjoy the taste of this divinely delicious item. Though vaangi is not a kannada term, it is more closely related to vankaya (brinjal in Telugu) or vangi (Brinjal in Marathi), the name vangibhaath has stuck in Karnataka homes. This is prepared very differently from the bhaath in Maharashtra which uses goda masala.

Vangibhaath is typically flavored with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace and coriander seeds. The heat comes from both black and red pepper. Spices are toned down from the sweetness of coconut and the unmistakable asafoetida is added for flavor. Once the powder is ready, you can go creative with the usage. Brinjals do not have to be the 'be all, end all' vegetables for this recipe, you can use green peppers, colored peppers, combination of vegetables such as green beans, carrots, green peas etc. Whatever choice of vegetables makes you happy (within a certain boundary ofcourse, don't use radishes in vangibhaath :-)). You can make a super yummy masala upma by throwing a spoon full of this powder while making uppittu or upma. You can even use this powder to make quinoa bhaath like I did here.
This has to be the very first recipe I cooked as a new bride when I got married. With a brinjal crazy FIL, anything with eggplants is heartily welcomed at the dining table in our home. Those were the days, I was not a very confident cook in the kitchen especially in a new kitchen. But the bhaath turned out delicious (secret being the powder nammamma had sent with me) and I was crowned the defacto vangibhaath queen. Like everything else, nammamma always made this powder in large quantities and used to store, I prefer to make small batches and finish it off quickly.

In Mysore home, the preferred brinjal for the bhaath was always the light green, long ones called eeranagere (village where the vegetable came from) badanekaayi(brinjal in kannada). I do not remember amma using any other brinjals for this recipe. These brinjals were slender, devoid of seeds and held their shape without going all mushy on you upon cooking. I have not seen the green brinjals in ages now and make do with the Japanese purple eggplants. Do not use the big eggplants as they tend to be more fleshy and collapse into a watery mess after cooking. You need to take a few precautions while cooking eggplants from an aesthetic and taste perspective. I have noted a few lines below on what works for me, feel free to follow suit. If you get the green eggplants, good for you, make the bhaath and don't forget to send me some for taste :-)
On a recent trip to Chennai when we were in India, cousin L made Vangibhaath for all of us and it tasted delicious as always, she said her powder recipe has an ingredient called dagad phool or stone flower. I had never heard of it until then, not something used in South Indian spice powder preparation. L even swore that dagad phool was what made the difference to Vangibhaath and offered to pack me some of it to carry. It looks like dried, crumpled paper that you lift midway from getting burnt at the fire, doesn't have any smell in its raw form but I was told that it adds a woody, smokey aroma to the powder when roasted and mixed. I am a little bit of a stickler to traditional recipes in certain areas especially when trying to reproduce the smells and tastes from nammamma's kitchen. She made one of the best vangibhaath in the entire world :-) and I like to stick to her tried, tested and enjoyed recipe.
If you happen to find dagad phool in a store near to you, go ahead and use it but I will promise that the powder recipe below (without dagad phool) makes a delicious vangibhaath. This is how my mom made it always and I believe I have her recipe nailed down correctly.

Before we go into the recipe details, here are a few things I want to discuss with you, please pay attention especially if you are a first timer to this recipe, just making some grand declarations, nothing serious :-).
  • There is no onion, tomato or garlic in Vangibhaath, it is a saatvik preparation and do not add these ingredients unless you are ok turning it into a fried rice of some sort. 
  • Amount of tamarind depends on your tolerance for tartness, so use judiciously. Nammamma used to soak dry tamarind, extract the juice, let it boil for a few minutes with the vegetables until the water evaporated, I however take a short cut with the ready made tamarind concentrate. Saves me some time, adds instant sourness, no liquid to evaporate or raw smell to boil. Choose whatever works for you. 
  • Kannadiga Vangibhaath traditionally uses a long grained rice like sona masoori. Any long grained non sticky rice should be good. I am personally not in favor of using Basmati variety for this as the innate flavor of rice conflicts with the spices. 
  • Eggplants in Vangibhaath should be cooked fully but hold up shape. 
  • I add potatoes just to make it DD friendly as she is psychologically averse and allergic to eggplants :-)
  • Vangibhaath is a slightly spicy rice dish with cloves, pepper adding to the heat, so nammamma always adds a small bit of jaggery while preparing it. I like the taste and continue the tradition. 
So here is the recipe for Vangibhaath from Nammamma's kitchen, hope it brings back memories of your own and also stands up to the expectations. Would love to hear from you all. By the way, the best side dish for vangibhaath is a cool yogurt raita. 

And for all my Indian friends, HAPPY REPUBLIC DAY!
What do you need to make Vangibhaath powder?
1/4 cup chana dal
1/8 cup urad dal
1/2 cup coriander seeds
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1.5 inch piece cinnamon
4 cloves
6-8 black pepper corn
small piece of nutmeg
2-3 pieces of mace/jaapatre
4-6 curry leaves
1 Tbsp dry coconut grated
1/8 Tsp hing
8-10 dry red chilies (mix hot & mild varieties)
1/8 Tsp Turmeric powder
1 Tsp oil
How do you make Vangibhaath powder?
  • Add oil to a heavy pan and heat it on medium high. Add the dals and roast for a minute. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients except for dry coconut and asafoetida and roast them stirring frequently until the dals turn bright pink in color and the spices give out a beautiful aroma. 
  • Add dry coconut, asafoetida, mix it once, switch off and let cool. 
  • When completely cooled, grind in a dry mixer jar or spice grinder to a powder, a rava like texture is perfectly acceptable.  
  • Keep in a closed container until ready to use. If you make in large quantities, freeze the powder, stays fresh for months. 
What do you need to make Vangibhaath? 
Brinjals - cut into 1/4 inch thick X1 inch long pieces - about 2 cups
Potatoes - cut into 1/4 inch thick X1 inch long pieces - about 1 cup
3 Tbsp of Vangibhaath powder
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery
1/2 Tsp Tamarind concentrate 
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
3 cups cooked rice - sona masoori or long grained rice
4 Tbsp oil - divided use
1/4 Tsp ghee

Seasoning
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp chana dal (optional)
1/2 Tsp urad dal (optional)
2 Tbsp peanuts
few curry leaves
pinch of hing
pinch of turmeric powder

How do you make Vangibhaath? 
  • Wash and cook rice so grains are fully cooked but stay separate
  • Put into a wide bowl and let it cool down. 
  • Parboil potatoes until just tender, drain all the water. 
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wide skillet, add drained potatoes in a single layer, sprinkle a pinch of salt on top and roast them until they develop golden brown covering. 
  • Keep aside.
  • Heat another Tbsp oil, add brinjal pieces, cover and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes, remove cover, mix and cook for another minute covered. 
  • The steam from the covering will help brinjals cook faster and evenly. Once they are soft but still hold shape, add salt. 
  • Mix in potatoes, add tamarind concentrate, crushed jaggery and give a gentle mix. 
  • Add the powder, mix well, cover and cook for 2 minutes on low heat so the vegetable soak in the spices. 
  • Take it out and spread it on top of the cooked rice. 
  • Prepare seasoning, pour it on the rice+vegetables. Let it all cool down. 
  • With gentle fingers, mix them together so the rice grains absorb the spices, and juices.
  • Add a 1/4 Tsp ghee, mix and set aside for atleast 30 mins before serving. 
Notes: 
  • If you are making a big batch of powder, skip the dry coconut as it spoils faster than other ingredients. You can add a handful of grated dry coconut to the seasoning for a slightly different but delicious variation. 
  • Add cashews instead of peanuts if you prefer. 
  • Secret of good vangibhaath is in roasting the ingredients for the powder. If you watch the chefs in weddings, they roast the spices in a lot of oil as they want to enhance the taste and also get it done quickly. To achieve the same results without the oil, you need to be patient while roasting the spices. Giving the dals a little head start ahead of other ingredients helps get them all crunchy and cooked.