One drawback of the house according to nammamma (though we never cared) was that there was a wide, deep open drain meant for sewage running behind our house. It was dry for most part of the year except in the rainy season and never actually was used for the purpose it was built for. The mori as we called it in Kannada was deep and much lower than the street level and we kids had strict instructions not to go to the back side of our fenced wall and peep down into the activities that went on in the mori :-). As it was dry most days, it had become a play ground for traunt kids from a nearby neighborhood that never seemed to go to school. The kitchen window when opened overlooked a garden cum vegetable patch on the other side of the mori. When we first moved into that house, nammamma was very hesitant to even open that kitchen window but after some months she felt confident that the vegetables were grown in a healthy way and started getting her greens from there.
In the vegetable patch they mostly grew greens - all kinds of them, amarnath (dantina soppu), fenugreek (menthya soppu), Dill (Sabsige soppu), Coriander (kottambari soppu) and many others that I haven't seen in years and do not know the English names such as honagonne (a small leaved, slightly sweet and supposedly great for eyesight), keere soppu, chakkota soppu (though it had no relation to the similarly named citrus fruit) and so on. The patch looked like a green carpet from far and nammamma would know which was ready to be harvested by the height and density of the patch. I believe it was maintained by a family but we mostly saw two teenage boys tilling the patch, seeding it, hauling water from a dug up well, tending to the plants, harvesting and taking them off to the market for sale.
Although there was no scarcity of street hawkers frequenting our street starting at 6am in the morning with fresh picked vegetable baskets on their heads, nammamma preferred getting the greens from this extended backyard of ours. All she had to do was open the kitchen window and have a quick conversation with the guy in the patch as to what he was picking that day and what she wanted. He would keep some aside for her. After that one of us kids would be told to run around the house and the mori and get the freshly picked greens in a environment friendly basket called butti. The guy would come back later in the day to get his money and we never saw him as we would be at school. Fresh picked vegetables are the best kind and buying local was a lesson in paying attention to what went into the plate and stomach every day.
Saaru in Kannada refers to the usual tangy appetizer also called rasam in many other languages that preps you up for a well made south Indian meal. Saaru is usually made with lentils and much thinner in consistency compared to the vegetable laden sambar or hulis. Every day saaru at home is made with toor dal & tomatoes/tamarind and then there are umpteen varieties of lentil free saarus made with the intention of drinking up as an appetizer. These are the comfort foods of every home cooked meal. Bassaaru is a popular variation of the saaru where in lentils and greens are cooked together and strained to get a very flavorful broth which is boiled with fresh roasted and ground spices. Since the saaru has to live up to its consistency, most of the cooked lentils and greens are transformed into a palya (curry) while the juicy broth is made into the saaru. The word bassaru can be broken up as 'basida (~strained)' + 'saaru(~rasam) which just explains the procedure of making this tasty saaru.
While you can use all you want of the ready made rasam/saaru powders off the shelf for regular saarus, prepare bassaaru with freshly roasted and ground masala paste for best taste. The saaru is spicy with a blend of red chilies, tamarind and salt for taste while the palya is milder. The list of ingredients looks a little intimidating but they are all usually found in the Indian pantries, so go ahead and give it a try.
What do you need to make bassaaru & palya?
4 cups cleaned, chopped dill leaves
1 cup toor dal/togari bele
2 Tsp salt divided (adjust to taste)
Small lime sized tamarind soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen) - divided use
5-6 cups of water
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder/arishina pudi
1 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 Tsp poppy seeds/gasagase
4-5 dry red chilies (adjust to taste)
2 cinnamon sticks - 1 inch long each
2 black pepper corns
1 Tsp oil
2 Tblsp coarsely chopped onions - use red onions or shallots for best taste
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp chana dal
3/4 Tsp urad dal
1 or dry red chilies broken into 2 pieces each
3-4 curry leaves
How do you make bassaaru & palya?
- Clean, remove thick stems and chop the dill leaves finely.
- Wash, pick toor dal, add chopped dill leaves, water and turmeric powder and cook it in pressure cooker until the lentil is cooked soft.
- Open the cooker after the steam is gone and pour the entire cooked mixture into a sieve to collect the water in a bowl. Reserve both the broth and the dal mixture separately.
- Heat 1 Tsp of oil in a pan, add all ingredients under saaru masala except onions and fry on medium heat until well roasted, 3-4 minutes.
- When the roasted ingredients are cool, take them to the mixer/blender along with soaked tamarind, chopped onions and 1/4 cup of coconut and grind it to a smooth paste.
- Add salt and ground masala paste to the reserved broth and bring it to a slow boil. adjust salt, tamarind and water to taste if needed.
- Add 1 Tblsp of the dal and greens mixture on top before switching off. Consistency of the saaru should be slightly thick (like full fat milk). Bassaaru is ready to be served hot.
- Take another pan and heat a Tsp of oil and add the seasoning ingredients. When mustard pops and the dals turn light pink, add the reserved strained dal and greens mixture, salt and remaining coconut gratings and mix well.
- Keep this on the stove for a minute or two to bring it together and switch off. Palya is ready.
- I used Byadagi variety of chilies which gives a bright red color to the saaru but is mild on heat. If you are using other spicy varieties of chilies, adjust the quantity
- Do not add garlic to this saaru as it will overshadow the dill flavor.
- If your cooked dal & greens mixture has less water or is devoid of water, add 2 cups of water, mix well and then run it through the sieve. You need to get the flavored broth for the saaru.
- Bring the saaru to a slow boil as the onion needs to cook and let go of the raw smell.
- The palya tends to get dryer and thicker as it cools because of the cooked dal in it.
Coming up next on Sattvaa - Guess what we ate bassaaru with? It makes for a very nutritious meal and is a regular meal in the farming communities in Karnataka. I will be back soon with that recipe.