Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quinoa bhaath with Multicolored bell peppers - simple tastes best

Say this with me, "Delicious doesn't have to be complicated". I know this by many years of having fun in the kitchen. I will prove it to you with this post today. I have a really delicious, light and healthy dish that has proteins, fiber and nutrients with some extraordinary taste. Perfect for a lunch at home or at work.

Before we get into the works of the dish, here is a little bit of acquired gyan on Quinoa (Keen vah). It is a whole grain(actually a seed but that is merely a technicality), high in proteins and fiber and is easy to cook. It is a grain native to South America. Over the last few years, it has shot to fame because of the complete protein (9 amino acids - look up why they are good for you) it offers along with being gluten free.

I am a true blue South Indian, though I eat a lot of different types of cuisines, when it comes to comfort food, I love my fluffy white rice with a simple saaru & palya. I was so habituated to eating the sona masoori rice all my life that eating anything else left me wanting it very badly. When we first moved to the US and when we were automatically multiplying every dollar we spent with the Indian exchange rate and feeling guilty for spending so much money over groceries, I tried buying other lower priced varieties of rice. But nothing seemed to bring that feeling of joy you get after eating a bowl of light, fluffy white rice. While the brain kept saying that it was polished off of its nutrients, the mind kept staying hooked to the color and taste :-).
But life has a way of bringing in wisdom at the right time. I started experimenting with whole grains and healthy foods a few years back and slowly started eliminating the processed stuff from the pantry. I still use white rice and still bake with all purpose flour but the frequency is very much reduced.

The first time I heard the name Quinoa was from a cousin some years ago. It took me a couple more years from there to actually try it. Honestly, I didn't relish it the first time I ate it but had to try a few more times as I had brought a big packet from the store :-). I tried mixing it with the regular side dishes and it worked really well as you won't notice the slight smell of the grain and thus the grain became a main stay in my kitchen. I cook it atleast 3 times a week and alternate it with other grains like millet or broken wheat and they all work beautifully as replacements to white rice. If you are looking for alternatives to rice, go ahead and give quinoa a try, I am sure you will love it. Though many people seem to turn their noses up because of its inherent taste, I enjoy the nutty flavor very much.

Quinoa has come a long way from being the hard to find ingredient available only in the specialty food/health food stores to being spotted in the bulk bins of regular grocery stores. Though it is well suited in most dishes where rice is used, I like to surround it with other familiar flavors and give it a robust taste.
Onto today's recipe, it is a version of the very famous Karnataka vangi bhaath or brinjal rice. Many of my non kannadiga friends are surprised when they eat my vegetable bhaath without brinjal in it :-), it is actually quite common in Karnataka. We use the same vangi bhaath powder but use different vegetables. I do not make vangi bhaath unless I find the right variety of brinjals since it is sacrosanct to not spoil the authentic vangi bhaath :-), you cannot use any altoo-faltoo brinjal and make vangi bhaath, you are better off eating something else instead. But vegetable bhaath has no such restrictions, have a handful of green beans and some carrots, you are good to go. Next to vangi bhaath, I love the bhaath made with bell peppers especially the colored ones, these are milder than the green peppers. So here is a bhaath made with vangi bhaath powder and with colored bell peppers and quinoa. It is one of my favorite lunch box items to carry.

I have organized the ingredients and preperations in 3 distinct steps. Most of these can be done in parallel and the total time would not be more than 30 minutes and you can beat Rachel Ray hands down with this healthy, super yummy dish any day :-).
What do you need to make Quinoa bhaath? 
Bhaath powder: 
2 Tbsp chana dal
1 Tbsp urad dal
1.5 Tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
2 - 1 inch piece cinnamon
4-6 dry red chilies
4-5 black pepper corns
2 cloves
2-3 strands of mace/javitri
1/8 Tsp asafetida
marble sized tamarind
1/4 cup grated dry coconut
4-6 curry leaves
For Bhaath
1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp bhaath powder
2-2.5 cups chopped bell pepper (see variations)
1/4 Tsp turmeric
1/4 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
For seasoning: 
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp chana dal
2 Tbsp raw peanuts
4-6 curry leaves (optional but gives the authentic look :-))
How do you make Quinoa bhaath? 
Cook Quinoa: 
  • In a heavy bottom sauce pan on medium heat, add quinoa along with 1/2 Tsp oil.
  • Stir to coat the oil and roast for 4-5 minutes stirring frequently until quinoa starts to pop. 
  • Add 3 cups of water and mix well. 
  • Bring the water to boil, lower the heat, partially cover the pan and set the timer to 20 minutes. 
  • After 20 minutes, water would be all absorbed and quinoa cooked. 
  • Close the lid completely, switch off the stove and let it stand for 5 minutes before fluffing it up with a fork or spoon. 
Making the Bhaath powder: 
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan (I prefer cast iron for all my roasting) on medium heat. 
  • Add all the ingredients under bhaath powder except for dry coconut and asafoetida.
  • Stirring frequently, roast the ingredients for 7-8 minutes or until the dal turns golden brown and the spices give out the aroma.
  • Add grated coconut and asafortida, mix, switch off the stove and let it cool completely. 
  • Once cool, grind into a fine powder. Keep aside covered until ready to use. 
Assembling the Bhaath: 
  • Heat a wide pan (so you can mix everything in it without transferring the contents to another bowl), add 1 Tbsp of oil. 
  • Add the chopped bell pepper, salt and turmeric powder. 
  • Do not cover the pan, let the peppers cook for 4-5 minutes. They just lose the rawness but stay crunchy on bite. 
  • Add 2 Tbsp of the masala powder, jaggery and mix well. 
  • Switch off the stove. add the cooked, fluffed quinoa and set aside until it is cool to touch. 
  • Heat the remaining oil in a seasoning pan, add the seasoning ingredients listed and roast until mustard pops and peanuts turn crunchy. 
  • Pour the seasoning over the quinoa and let it come to room temperature. 
  • Mix everything together gently with a light hand, taste and adjust masala, salt as needed.  
  • Pack in lunch boxes, eat when warm or cold. A side of yogurt goes very well. 
  • Roasting quinoa before cooking brings out its nutty flavor very well. 
  • You can also wash quinoa in couple of changes of water if you are just getting introduced to the grain until you get used to its faint smell. I soak and wash it thoroughly when I use it in Dosas. 
  • Follow package instruction for the exact amount of water, generally it is 1:2 for quinoa to water. 
  • Patience is the key to roast the bhaath masala ingredients, low to medium heat, a sturdy pan, frequent stirring all bring out the best flavored powder. 
  • You can scale up the ingredients and make bhaath powder in larger quantities, remember to store in air tight, dry containers. Refrigerated powder stays longer. 
  • Tamarind I get here is usually quite dry and is easy to powder with the rest of the ingredients. If your tamarind is sticky or you are using tamarind paste, skip it from the powder but add it to the vegetable and fry until the juices are absorbed. Make sure to adjust the cooking time to keep the vegetables as crunchy as you like. 
  • Like I said in the beginning of this post, you can make this bhaath with other vegetables - beans, carrots & green peas is a good combo, just plain brinjal tastes delicious (it is the famous vangi bhaath), cabbage bhaath is a family favorite - quick and easy but don't take it in lunch boxes :-), another delicious variety is made with cluster beans (Gorikayi in kannada). 
  • You can use the same powder to make bhaath with regular white rice. Cook rice making sure the grains are separate and mix in the vegetables/masala. 
  • A typical vegetable bhaath in Karnataka is a treat with its spices, salt, sourness and a very faint sweetness. Roasted dry coconut and the little jaggery help add the right amount of sweetness to the dish. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

this colorful bhath looks really wonderful and healthy too. long live Quin ova. nice recipe.

Nandita SS said...

Quinoa is one grain that I have to try. This dish looks very tempting. I am sure to try this whenever I get quinoa :)

Priya Suresh said...

Lovely quinoa bhaath, after oats quinoa is my favourite grain nowadays.. With those bellpeppers, bhaath looks colourful and flavourful as well.