Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bisi Bele Bhaath - here comes an 'awe'thentic dish and recipe

The baby is growing up albeit at its own pace. I haven't had a chance to check if it is in the 90th percentile or not. As a mother, I am completely in awe of my baby, unconditionally in love with it. As mom, I want the best for my baby and at the same time love to hear compliments from others about how well my baby is doing. As always the initial years are hard, it does take a lot of effort from the mom to make the baby presentable day after day, week after week. I am told that as they grow up and become adults the hand holding comes down, though I am not so sure that will happen with this baby of mine. Sometimes we work in perfectly synchronized motion, I write and the baby shows off, people around stop by, put a gentle peck on the baby's cheek, the baby smiles and mom feels elated. But sometimes, there are no people, just the two of us trying to talk, trying to be coherent.
Whether it is presentable or not, bulky or thin, smart or not, social bee or introvert, I am constantly aware of the journey we have taken together so far and extremely proud of my baby. Though the pats and cheers make it seem worth while, I also draw immense personal satisfaction just by being there. Here is wishing a fabulous 5 to my blog baby as she completes the fourth year and steps into the 5th. Why am I calling it a 'her'? no logical reason, I am a she so maybe it is just a complex of familiarity. Anyways, Happy birthday Sattvaa!! and thank you my wonderful family, friends and readers that have stood by me and read all things (interesting or not) I put on this blog. I do recognize that me & my blog have sustained this far only because of all of you.

Hope you had a blast of a 2015, as we start 2016, here comes my warm wishes for a better year, more successful, more peaceful, more joyous New Year to all of you! Happy New Year!! 
A special occasion such as this calls for a super special recipe, don't you agree? Here is a very special and close to the heart dish from nammamma's kitchen. It is not an exaggeration to say that I literally grew up eating this dish since it is so popular and 'world famous' in Mysore that you would have it regularly :-). It is wholesome (has carbs, proteins and nutrient rich veggies), addictively tasty (you can never have one bowl of it and stop, also because it is always made in large quantities and you end up eating it for 3 meals of the day), stays well and gets better as it settles and cools down, made with a couple of vessels making cleaning extremely efficient and on & on & on.. This is a dream come true for moms as they can get a healthy meal on the table for their family and get away cooking only once during the day :-). Even with all these describable features and words, I really can't express what bisi bele bhaath means to me and many, many Kannadiga folks around the world. It is comfort in a bowl that magically teleports you back to home (wherever it is) and sits you among loved ones.
Bisi bele bhaath literally means 'hot lentil rice', for such a non descriptive name it comes with flavors that are mind boggling and uniquely different from anything else you may have tried before. We shortened the name and always called it bibebha or Bcubed or BBB. I used to make this so often a few years back that all my friends and guests have had it atleast once :-), then came a dry period and I didn't make it for over a year. It started a few weeks back with BH asking for Bisi bele bhaath. I kept pushing it off with various (rather very flimsy) excuses. The truth was that I wanted to make the 'real deal' so I could show off on the blog :-). Finally with DD home for holidays, I just didn't have the heart to put off the ask any longer. So before we left for our vacation last weekend, it was a day of BBB along with traditionally delicious ambodes. BH was happy beyond words (yes, he just slept off the rest of the afternoon).
The key to a good BBB is the powder you use, its freshness, ingredients and the balance of the flavors. Rest of it is cooked dal, rice and vegetables. I prefer making fresh powder but sometimes use store bought powder when pressed for time.

There are some dos and don'ts when it comes to BBB, especially the vegetables. At the outset, let me clarify that this is not sambar bhaath or bisi bela which are close yet galaxies away from BBB. I have eaten many versions of BBB but always come back to the version from nammamma's kitchen. Vegetables such as okra, eggplants, radish, pumpkins, onions, garlic, corn are never added to BBB, also there is no ginger or cilantro in this dish. I sometimes add bell peppers but they are skippable unless you love the strong flavor of bell peppers. Nammamma never used cardamom or nutmeg in her BBB powder as the flavor is overpowering and I continue with that tradition. I like cooked peanuts over green peas or lima beans in BBB and hence add them to the dal while cooking.

Kohlrabi due to its bland taste and 'no smell' virtue is a preferred vegetable in BBB. You can use chayote squash in place of or in addition to kohlrabi, but remember chayote squash takes much less cooking time.  If you don't get either, use only beans, carrots and potatoes. I like to cook vegetables separately so they don't become mushy and I add them to the hot water starting with the hardest vegetable first.
BBB is eaten with a side of raita and the most common one you will find in Mysore homes is made of onion & tomato. Though chips and boondi are hailed as perfect crunchy accompaniments for BBB and are pushed by the darshinis in Mysore and Bengaloru, my love has always been and will be ambode. This is a lentil heavy food nirvana that you can't easily come out of any time soon :-). My rice to dal ratio is 1:1.5. I like the consistency of BBB. I have seen some folks use equal proportion or more of rice than dal, it is a personal preference. For a BBB which sets nicely as it cools, use the ratio I have given below.
If this preparation seems daunting, here are a few short cuts for busy lives (that crave for good food). While nothing beats the freshly home made BBB powder, these come close to it and will certainly satisfy your craving.
1. You can use store bought spice powders to save some time. I have used a combination of MTR BBB powder and vangibhath powder to make an utterly delicious BBB. Don't use just the BBB powder as it tends to thicken BBB way too much almost making it dry out like cement as it cools. Use a mixture of the 2 powders - (2 BBB for 1 Vangibhaath powder ratio)
2. If you have a pressure cooker with multiple vessels that go in, use it to cook dal, rice and vegetables at the same time. Cut bigger pieces of vegetables so they don't disintegrate. Bring them together following the rest of the process.
3. Soak dal for an hour to speed up its cooking, add dal, rice, and vegetables along with spice powder, salt and tamarind water into the pressure cooker and let it cook. Once pressure releases, open the lid and adjust any spices, let it come to a boil. Season it and add a Tsp of ghee.
This recipe is hard core Mysorean, too much of nammamma and way too many memories for me to handle. I need to go and sleep now :-). Have a blessed year!

What do you need to make bisi bele Bhaath? 
For BBB powder:
1/2 cup chana dal
1/3 cup urad dal
3/4 cup coriander seeds
20 byadagi red chilies (milder in spice and brighter on color)
10-12 Guntur red chilies (spicier chilies)
10 maratha moggu
8 cloves
4 - 1 inch pieces of cinnamon
1Tsp black pepper
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/2 Tbsp mustard
1 Tsp fenugreek
1/4 Tsp mace/javitri
1 Tbsp gasagase/poppy seeds
1 sprig (8-10) curry leaves
1/2 cup grated dry coconut/kobbari
For Bisi Bele Bhaath: 
1 cup rice
1.5 cups toor dal/arhar dal/split pigeon peas
1 lemon sized tamarind
1 Tbsp salt - divided use (adjust to taste)
2 medium sized potatoes
1 medium sized kohl rabi
2 medium sized carrots
15-20 green beans
1/4 cup raw peanuts/green peas/edamame/lima beans
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
3 Tbsp oil - divided use
1 & 1/4 Tsp ghee/clarified butter

1 Tsp mustard
6-8 curry leaves
2 Tbsp peanuts (use cashew nuts if you like them better)
1-2 pieces broken dry red chilies

How do you make Bisi bele bhaath? 
Making the powder: 
  • Take a heavy bottom pan/kadai and heat it on medium heat. 
  • Add chana dal & urad dal and roast them until they are light pink, keep stirring to avoid burning of dals. Takes about 2.5 - 3 minutes.
  • Add coriander seeds, curry leaves and dry red chilies and roast for another minute until you smell the roasted coriander. 
  • Add dry coconut, poppy seeds to the pan. Mix it a couple of times and take all ingredients onto a wide plate to cool. 
  • Add 1/4 Tsp ghee in to the pan, add all the remaining spices (fenugreek, cumin, pepper, cloves, maratha moggu, cinnamon, mace and mustard) and roast them on medium heat for 1-1.5 minutes until you can smell the spices. 
  • Remove from heat and add it to the plate to cool down. 
  • Once cool, take it in a blender and make a fine powder of all the roasted ingredients. 
  • Keep this in an dry, air tight container until ready to use. 
Bisi Bele Bhaath preparation: 
  • Wash tamarind and soak it in 2 cups of warm water for 20 minutes. Squeeze out the pulp, pith and seeds (if any) and collect the tamarind extract in a bowl.  
  • Wash all vegetables and pat dry them. 
  • String green beans, remove the 2 ends and break/cut into 1.5 inch long pieces
  • Peel carrots, remove ends and cut them into 1 inch long and 1/4 inch thick pieces
  • Peel, remove ends and cut kohlrabi into bite sized pieces
  • Peel and chop potatoes into bite sized pieces. 
  • Wash toor dal in running water, add to a pressure cooker along with 2 drops of oil and 3 cups of water and pressure cook until the dal is soft and mushy (takes about 5-6 whistles or 15 minutes on low after the first whistle). 
  • If you are using raw peanuts, add them along with dal. 
  • Heat a big pot (in which you will bring BBB together), add 2.5-3 cups of water, pinch of turmeric powder and 1/2 Tsp salt. 
  • Add kohl rabi first, let it cook for a couple of minutes before adding carrots and potatoes. Let them cook for a couple of minutes before adding green beans. Let the vegetables cook for a total of 8-10 minutes (depends on the size you have cut them) on medium heat. Switch off and keep it reserved for later use. 
  • If you are using green peas or lima beans, cook them along with vegetables. 
  • Wash rice in 2 changes of water, add 4 cups of water and cook either in a pressure cooker, rice cooker or open vessel. You want to get soft cooked rice. 
  • Chop tomatoes into small pieces. 
  • Chop bell peppers (if using) into strips. 
How to assemble BBB? 
  • Heat a pan with 1 Tbsp oil, add tomatoes and bell pepper and a pinch of salt. Let them soften up a bit. 
  • Use a big pot with a heavy bottom so you can stir the contents easily as you add them. 
  • Add cooked vegetables along with the broth into it. 
  • Mash cooked dal with a spoon and add it in. 
  • Add the tamarind extract, salt and turmeric and let it come to a gentle boil. 
  • Stir in cooked tomatoes and bell peppers. 
  • Add the BBB powder and mix it in. It should be off pouring consistency at this time. Add water to adjust and let it come to a good boil. 
  • Mash cooked rice slightly and add it into the pot and give a good mix so everything is coated with the masala. 
  • Test taste once and adjust BBB powder, tamarind, salt if needed. 
  • Add ghee at this time.
  • Keep stirring frequently so it doesn't get stuck to the bottom and let it cook for 20-30 minutes. 
  • Heat oil in a small pan, add mustard and peanuts. Let them pop. Add curry leaves and dry red chilies. 
  • Pour the seasoning over the BBB, cover and let it rest for atleast 30 minutes before serving. It tastes better as it cools down. 
  • The consistency of BBB when you switch off the stove should be juicy and succulent. It solidifies as it cools. 
  • Maratha moggu is an essential ingredient for the powder, the ones I get here are not very fresh and I compensate by adding a few extra. If you get fresh & aromatic MM, you can reduce the quantity by a couple.  
  • Adding just a spoon of ghee makes BBB taste delicious, try not to skip this. 
  • Adjust red chilies based on their spiciness and your tolerance. I currently have a variety that is extremely hot so I use it sparingly. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

happy happy new year 2016 dear Sattvaa. looking forward many more wonderful recipes . bisi bela bhath is very much tasty in this cold weather. congratulations.

sashi said...

So true. Bbb is so mysorean and that taste can't be matched. Brings a flood of memories. Well surely try and let you know how it turns out. A wonderful new year recipe.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on four years of blogging! I enjoy visiting your blog very much. It is comforting to be aware of food that I grew up with being cooked with so much joy and enthusiasm somewhere in this paradesha :-)
PS: The blender is working very well and has aided in the processing food faster.

Nagashree Ravi said...

@Sashi, I know right? BBB doesn't taste as good made elsewhere :-)
Vasudhara - Thank you very much for the continued support. I am glad the blender is useful, enjoy maadi.

Anonymous said...

Regarding BBB, thanks for clarifying all the misnomers and misconceptions about this elegant dish. Whenever I see people who have never tasted authentic BBB call it 'sambar rice', I think to myself 'ballavane balla bellada ruchiya' (after suppressing a hot burst of annoyance). :-)

For BBB in restaurants in the US, the closest to authentic that I have tasted has been at Dasaprakash in Santa Clara, CA.


sashi said...

@Vasundhara, there was Dasaprakash in Santa Monica, CA and I wouldn't mind driving 40 miles to taste BBB. I order BBB in every south indian restaurant hoping someone can recreate the magic; still looking.

Jyothi said...

Congratulations on your baby growing up so marvelously.I love all your recipes and I refer to your blog frequently when l need authentic Mysuru recipes.It's so funny that you called it Bcubed .My brother and I had the same name for it growing up .Hmmm,wonder if we're related ;-).Also I love your references to the PNW,living here myself . Wish you a happy belated Sankranti.

Nagashree Ravi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nagashree Ravi said...

@Jyothi - Thank you for stopping by. I am glad you like my recipes. B cubed is probably a very Mysore term too :-). Are you from Mysore?

sashi said...

Tried BBB yesterday. Turned out good. I guess i need to temper down the cinnamon a tad bit. Couldn't find maratha moggu here. Still decent for the first attempt, I may say. Wondering should we grind the kobri separately, because grinding with it causes a lumpy mixture. Also what ratio would you use to cut down the powder amount for one time use?.
Thanks again for the recipe.

Nagashree Ravi said...

@Sashi, glad you liked the BBB. Yes cinnamon can get overpowering and you will hit your sweet spot with it with usage. You need to let the spices cool completely before grinding it, also if the kobbari is tender and juicy it gets lumpy. Do not fry after adding kobbari either, just the heat of the pan is sufficient.
How much rice & dal would you cook for one time use? I will try and send you the proportions for the pudi. The quantity I have above makes BBB for atleast 3 meals for 2 people (it tastes better as it cools down) and there was about 2 spoons of powder left.