Bisi (pronounced : be+see) bele (pronounced : bay+lay) bhath (pronounced : bath) is an old stalwart in the Bangalorean/Kannada kitchen. Simply put, it is a one pot dish consisting of rice, yellow lentils (split pigeon peas or toor dal), assorted vegetables and optional dollops of ghee/butter. It is one of those dishes that will always be dear to my heart and my taste buds and I’m very glad my husband loves it too. My version has red-skinned peanuts in it which my mum would absolutely shun but hey, it’s MY version.
The last time I made this dish was while I was on holiday and was busy playing with my then recently acquired Nokia D200. The result was a somewhat burnt spice mix (shhh), lots of not-so-great pictures (that caused the burning) but a delicious bisi bele bhath for a rather late lunch / early dinner. I have given you the recipe for the spice mix as well as the dish itself. Hope you will give it a go!
Bisi bele bhath with greek yoghurt on the side – It tastes better than in looks, I promise
I will use these terms interchangeably in this post – moolangi, mooli, daikon, radish. Moolangi or daikon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daikon) is a long, white, carrot like vegetable and brings back many childhood memories. As a child, I absolutely hated it. Not because it tasted bad, but every time mum cooked it, the house smelt like half a dozen cows were simultaneously having tummy problems. Mum would make moolangi rotis using grated daikon but the first step to that was squeezing out all the liquid from the grated daikon. The juice was particularly pungent and I would avoid loitering around the kitchen whenever moolangi was on the menu. As I said before, the smell was the main deterrent but the taste of the soft rotis and the mollangi sambhar that mum made was always very good.
As a mature adult (ahem), when mum or I cook moolangi now, I don’t go around with my fingers pinching my nose any more. Having lived away from home for so long, I crave moolangi sambhar every now and then. I happened to spot daikon in our local supermarket one evening and got very very excited. This recipe is a result of my excitement.
If you are wondering what “sambhar” is, it is a thick, tangy, lentil-based soup. Like a lot of South Indian dishes, the centre piece of sambhar is the spice mix or sambhar powder. Unlike its South Indian companion Rasam, sambhar does not contain any tomatoes but often contains various vegetables including moolangi.
At the same time as I was in Rome, my extended family in India were celebrating a harvest festival called ‘Pongal’ (pronounced ‘pon’ as in pontiff and ‘gal’ as in seagull) in the state of Tamil Nadu and ‘Sankranti’ (pronounced ‘sun’ + ‘kra as in kraal+’ n’ + ‘thi’ as in ‘thick’) in the state of Karnataka. This festival marks the end of the winter and the beginning of the new harvest season in these parts of the country.
Wikipedia explains quite nicely how the festival is celebrated in the state of Karnataka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makar_Sankranti#Karnataka and in the state of Tamil Nadu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makar_Sankranti#Tamil_Nadu. Since both my parents grew up in Tamil Nadu but my sister and I were brought up in Karnataka, we grew up celebrating both versions of this harvest festival. The Tamil version involves the preparation of this rice and lentil porridge called ‘Pongal’ where the festival gets its name from. It is a dish that I fondly remember from my childhood days and is a recipe I learnt from mum who learnt from her mum. It comes in a sweet version – Sakkara pongal (meaning sugary pongal) and Venn pongal (meaning savoury pongal). I will share recipes for both dishes with you in separate pages to make reading easier and the next time I make them at home, I’ll put up a picture or two.
In my first two recipes, I’ve mentioned a few ‘dals’. ‘Dal’ is the Hindi word for lentils. The Kannada word for lentils is ‘Bele’ pronounced ‘Bay-leh’ where you roll your tongue on the ‘l’. The Tamil word for lentils is ‘Parippu’ pronounced ‘par-ruh-puh’. The Telegu word for lentils is ‘Pappu’ pronounced ‘pa-puh’. Lentils feature in a lot of Indian dishes irrespective of their state of origin. Their usage varies depending on the dish and region but they are a prominent feature. For vegetarians and vegans, lentils are a great source of protein.
I understand that some of the lentils I mention might not be familiar to some of you. I thought I should post some pictures and names as a guide but people have already beaten me to it and have done a much better job that I could have. So please check these websites out if you’d like to know what they look like and how to cook them. Continue reading →