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
Dasara is a ten day festival of dolls that is celebrated in the months of September/October in India (lunar calendar). It is a Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Each of the 10 days is dedicated to a different God/type of prayer. As part of the celebration, most homes in South India erect a temporary staircase indoors. The staircase has odd numbers of stairs (from 3 upto 11), is covered with a white cloth and idols of Hindu Gods and dolls that recreate many tales from Hindu mythology are places on the stairs. The putting up of stairs was my favourite annual project with dad. Dad being a mechanical engineer had metal stairs custom made to fit our home and the dolls that my mum had collected over 2 decades. I was in charge of passing dad the tools, nuts and bolts to put this framework of stairs together. Fun days!
The other part of the ceremony is for little kids is to visit every home in the street to see their display of dolls and to collect the day’s offering which was usually a snack of some kind and a piece of fruit. More often than not, the snack would be a little bowl of “usli”. This recipe is dedicated to my “usli” collection days and the fun days of Dasara.
This recipe takes me back to my early teens in Bangalore. Yennegai and its common companion “jolada rotti” are dishes from the northern part of Karnataka, the state I come from. “Jola” is the Kannada word for sorghum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum) which is a gluten-free grain and jolada rotti is flatbread made out of finely ground sorghum flour. In Hindi, it is known as “Jowar” so you might want to look for jowar/sorghum flour in your local Indian grocer if you ever want to make bread out of it. As you can see in the map below, my former city of Bangalore is in the bottom-right of the state so almost the entire state is north of it. However, there is a green blob in the mid-top-left that says “Uttara Kannada” and “Uttara” means north so let’s say that this dish if from there upwards.
In Bangalore, there is a very famous hotel called Kamath Yatrinivas which boasts a roof-top restaurant dedicated solely to North Karnataka food. I was only taken there once or twice as a teenager because a decade ago, it was an all you can eat for INR 25 (25pence, 33 euro cent, 50 US cents) and you didn’t want to take a fussy child and waste your money. What I found the most fascinating that the dining area was actually quite small because the rest of the roof-top was covered with women hand-making “jolada rotti” on little kerosene stoves. So when you ordered a plate, the rotis would be hot and fresh of the stove. They were served with yennegai, raita (yoghurt and cucumber dip) and a generous blob of home-made butter. I’ve always had a fondness for butter (I can see my partner screw his nose up because he absolutely doesn’t) and would go back for seconds on my trips to Kamath Yatrinivas.
The recipe for this dish came from a dear friend who is an amazing cook. I’ve never seen her or heard of her using store-bought packet mixes/spice mixes. Everyday, she cooks everything from scratch, despite being a mum of two and working full-time. Whenever I go over, she goes completely overboard in cooking for me. The spice combinations she puts together are pretty amazing and this is one of them. Hope you like it too.