Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bisibelebhath: A Big Bowl of Comfort

This weekend I decided to tackle a classic Indian regional dish: bisibelebhath. An iconic dish from the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, bisibelebhath (BBB to those who know and love it) is a medley of lentils, rice and vegetables that is designed to nourish body and soul.

Suma of Veggie Platter recently wrote a must-read post describing many nuances of BBB and explaining that this mouthful of a word bisibelebhath literally translates into "hot rice lentil mixture".

Bisibele powder (the spice mix used to make BBB) has been a pantry staple in my kitchen for many years. MTR is a well-known and widely available brand and I have always thought their BBB powder was tasty and authentic. I use this bisibele powder to make a BBB-inspired quick pressure-cooker khichdi, my go-to dinner that is still quicker to make than picking up the phone and asking for take-out.

A few weeks ago, I was the lucky winner of a giveaway at Mysoorean and Vani sent me a bunch of wonderful goodies from the famous Subbamma Stores in Bangalore. Included was a big packet of the most aromatic bisibele powder. Now here was a chance to revisit the making of BBB. My memory is poor on the whole but highly selective- things related to food and recipes I can remember even years after reading them.  That's how I remembered that Nandita of Saffron Trail had mentioned that her favorite BBB recipe was this one from Healthy Home Cooking, a blog that seems to be dormant now.

The recipe breaks down BBB making into a few simple steps. Read the original recipe for the details (and if you want to make the spice mix from scratch); below I have my version of it. Once the spice mix is ready (or you have a store bought one on hand), making BBB is much easier than I had ever imagined.

I doubled the recipe given below to make an enormous pot of BBB. The idea was to share a large portion with some friends. They have given us mountains of their daughter's outgrown clothing and gear for baby Lila and sending them homemade Indian food once in a while is my small way of saying thank you. We ate the rest over two days of lunches and finally yesterday I had a small portion that I had squirreled away for breakfast.

By the way, I have a question for my Kannadiga friends: Do you make anything other than BBB with BBB powder?

BisiBeleBhath 
(Adapted from this recipe)

Step 1: Dal 
Soak 1 cup of toor dal for 30-60 minutes. Rinse several times. In a large pot, combine the rinsed toor dal with 6 cups water, a drizzle of oil, pinch of turmeric, salt. Cook until the dal is barely tender.

Step 2: Rice and Veggies 
To the cooking dal, add 1/2 cup sona masoori rice (rinsed and soaked if possible) and 4-6 cups diced mixed vegetables. Carrots, cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, peas are all good. Frozen pearl onions and Lima beans (sold in all US supermarkets) are freezer staples in my home and taste great in BBB. Cook the mixture until rice and vegetables are about halfway cooked. Add water if needed to keep the mixture soupy (remember that it will thicken as it cools and you want the final result to be more like a stew than a dense paste).

Step 3: Spices and Seasoning 
In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp. bisi bele spice powder (or more or less to taste), salt and 2 tsp. tamarind paste with a bit of water to make a paste. Add this to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until the rice and vegetables are cooked. Turn off the heat. Taste the BBB and add more salt/tamarind/BBB powder as required.

Step 4: Tempering 
Make a tempering with mustard seeds, asafetida, cashews/peanuts and curry leaves. Pour the sizzling tempering onto the BBB. Stir in plenty of ghee and minced cilantro.

Step 5: Serve 
BBB should be served piping hot (it does reheat beautifully if stored in the fridge). I like it with yogurt or raita and with something crunchy on the side- like papad or potato chips.
* * *

These days, as I go about my daily routine, my thoughts keep turning to a brave little six year old boy named Fred. He is the son of our dear friends Mark and Joanne Drew who lived here in St. Louis when Fred was little. The reason I'm thinking of Fred all the time is because he entered Seattle Children's Hospital yesterday for a life saving bone marrow transplant.

Fred's mother is writing a blog which allow friends and well-wishers to go along with the family on this tough transplant journey. Joanne has a way with words- just listen to her speech at the Make a Wish Foundation gala (Fred is a space travel buff and wannabe astronaut and was granted the wish of watching the last NASA space shuttle launch).

I thought to myself- wouldn't it be fun if Fred could get cheerful mail from all over the world to open in the hospital? He's going to be there for several weeks. If you have a few minutes to spare, please consider sending a happy card or postcard to little Fred with your good wishes. If you have kids, maybe they would like to make a little card for him. Here's the address:

Fred Drew
c/o Seattle Children’s Hospital,
4800 Sand Point Way,
Seattle WA 98105

Thank you, dear friends!

51 comments:

  1. For years, I thought BBB was sambar with rice cooked in it, in fact, sometimes I make it that way.
    Then I made a version from Dakshin, time consuming, but very tasty.
    For some reason, I did not buy the MTR ready paste.. I should, it will save me time and energy.

    Keeping Fred and his family in my prayers. All will go well. I'm sure S would like to make a card for Fred. S is learning to write and we will do this together.

    Hope Dalu dada is well, will you please share an update about him soon?
    Hugs to Lila!

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    1. Hi Manasi- Dalu is doing great. These days Lila goes along in her stroller to walk him every morning.
      I haven't tried the BBB from Dakshin- love all the recipes from that book but boy most of them are elaborate.
      Thanks VERY much for making a card for Fred!! Truly appreciate that.

      Delete
  2. As a variation, you can try using dalia(broken wheat) instead of rice in the BBB. My mom also makes a version using poha, instead of rice for BBB...
    Also, try spicy boondi as a topping on the bisibele, its a fav in Bangalore..
    My prayers are with Fred. Hope he is better soon..

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    1. Ooh I like the sound of those variations, will give them a try. I have to confess I'm not the biggest fan of boondi and it is hard for me to find good boondi here too. But I can see how it would be very tasty with bisibele.

      Delete
    2. Oooh the boondis taste really good on a BBB. A friend would make it with cashews and loads of boondi on top and that is the sole reason I liked it better than the Bengali khichuri :)

      Delete
  3. Thanks Nupur. I will ask the kids and we will send Fred a card. I am sure he is going to get better.

    Vani sent me the same BBB and she did suggest I could use it in other dry sabzi's too. I am planning to do that as well as the BBB.

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    1. Thanks so much for sending Fred a card- I really appreciate that!
      I LOVE the idea of using BBB powder in subzis- mmm, will try that ASAP.

      Delete
  4. got to agree, it is a comfort bowl :)

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  5. I can never get enough of BBB - have such a weakness for it. I too remember nandita mentioning this recipe but haven't tried it myself.

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    1. Oh this recipe is simple and worth trying. I like that it uses twice as much dal as rice.

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  6. I will surely make this for my 3 year old. He hates veggies but am trying my best to make him eat them... So another recipe just for him...
    Thanks

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  7. Nupur, BBB looks great! I usually add it as a sambar powder too, if you think abt it, sambar is lentils and veggies and we eat it with rice and BBB is rice and lentils and veggie, so a good substitution if you run out of sambar powder, also try it with vermicelli upma with veggies that tastes good as well. we add some shallots to the tadka pan before you pour it on top of BBB, that gives a nice flavor :)

    How is Lila? Has she started creeping or trying to crawl?

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    1. Thanks for your suggestions- I'll definitely try it in vermicelli upma...sounds very yummy. Like the idea of adding shallots in the tadka too.
      Lila is doing great, thanks for asking. Rather than creeping or crawling, her preferred mode for getting around is by tumbling (rolling over again and again). She disappears under the couch in the blink of an eye :)

      Delete
  8. Never say no to this super comforting BBB..love it.

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    1. I would never refuse this either :)

      Delete
  9. BBB have not made it in a while. MTR's works like a charm. I made my own a couple of times but the ready made is what I turn to.

    Best Wishes to Fred and will tell the kids to make him a card.

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    1. Glad you are a fan of MTR BBB spice too. In some cases when the ready made tastes great, there's no need to go with home made IMHO.
      Thanks for the wishes for Fred!

      Delete
  10. Nupur - BBB is my husband's favorite vegetable dish, so we eat BBB atleast once a month. I use a tsp. of BBB for Masaale Bhaat, tastes very good. For the longest time I didn't have BBB, so used Sambar powder. Last year my friend's Mom got me a stash from India. I like adding Pearl Onions the way you did, will try with Lima Beans next time.
    My prayers with Fred & family. I am sending a postcard to the little boy.

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    1. I love the idea of adding some BBB powder to spice up masale bhaat!
      Thank you for sending a postcard to Fred- we appreciate your gesture.

      Delete
  11. I love your blog, Nupur.

    BBB is my fav too and my granny always makes it when I'm down in bangalore. Another version which they have in the south is replacing rice with 'beaten rice flakes' (the one used to make poha.

    The bbb powder tastes good with masala vegetable upma too.

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    1. Thanks, Suma :)
      I love your suggestions- will definitely try spiking upma with BBB powder.

      Delete
  12. Nupur,
    My husband doesn't like squidgy rice as much as our son and I do. But the the man was not raised by an Indian mum :-). But he loves the masala so I have added it to a wet aloo bhaji, to a mixture of kurma like vegetable, and it goes down a dream. I have also made a brown basmati-vegetable pullao, with that as the masala and the house smelled divine. Nevenn (son) made koshimbir and we roasted papads.
    Ujwala

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    1. Oh the sheer pleasure of squidgy rice :)
      Ujwala, I love your ideas of adding the masala to aloo bhaji, kurma and pulao- will try them all!!

      Delete
  13. Dear Nupur

    Thank you for this post. I remember when I was younger and living in Madras, my mom, our cook, and my aunt would make a big deal about making Bisi Bele Baath once in a while. I have fond memories of my cousins and I spooning the piping hot BBB into papad "bowls" and then racing to eat them as fast as we can before the papad got too soggy! Now that we are in the US, my mom often makes it for my birthday. Either that, or Pav Bhaji, which I also become very nostalgic for. BBB is truly comfort food for me!

    Thank you for sharing about Fred - I was really touched by his story. My heart goes out to him and his family. I imagine him opening up the many cards that will be sent to him and being very excited.

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    1. I know what you mean about "big deal" some classic dishes are made in such a elaborate fashion. This recipe turns out great but it easy for anyone to make.

      Delete
  14. Hearty & Comforting meal -- it makes a lot too. My mom uses BB masala to make what we call vegetable bhath. Here's the link: http://cooks-hideout.blogspot.com/2008/10/vegan-mofo-day-29-vegetable-bhath.html.
    You can also make vangi bhath with the same masala.
    Enjoy your weekend.

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    1. Ooh that vegetable bhath looks so good, thanks for the link. I think my BBB masala is going to get a lot of use!

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  15. any email id of fred

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  16. What a nice person you are, Nupur!
    I'll get my 5-yr-old to make Fred a card. These things hit very close home once you're a parent, eh?

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    1. My thanks to your little boy for making Fred a card. Yes, these things really hit home now that I am a parent. I am so heartsick and distraught thinking of everything this child is having to endure.

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  17. I love BBB. It was my fav dish when I lived in Bangalore. I had always seen it served topped with khara boondi :)

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    1. Well then next time I have to find some khara boondi to sprinkle on this!!!

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  18. Way with words is so true, loved Joanne's speech. Did a bit of an ugly cry after and then laughed at Fred's and Matilda's speeches at the end. Hope he has a successful transplant.

    -Anu

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    1. Oh Anu, I did the same. Cried at her words and laughed at the kids being silly. Fred's transplant went well yesterday and now it is "wait and watch" time.

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  19. Nupur: I have tried both the powder and the paste and the paste comes out much better!
    My amma makes her masala from scratch. (Will get it from her and email it to you)

    Hugs to little Lila. When are you guys moving? Good luck with the move!

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    1. I agree Alka the paste is fantastic. For some reason, I always seem to have their powder on hand though.
      Thanks for your wishes- we're moving in a few months.

      Delete
  20. The BBB looks perfect! Hope Fred gets better soon. It is heart wrenching to see a child ill

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    1. Vani- your BBB powder was the best gift of all (along with all those other goodies, especially that superb chutney for idli).
      Yes, seeing an innocent child ill makes me really sick.

      Delete
  21. Forgot to add, I've used this in vegetable bhath, sukhi

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  22. Ur amti powder is a permanent feature in my kitchen nupur, i add this to BBB at the end to enhance its flavor, It also finds its way into kichdis, vangibath, kharabath and lots of other subzis and in any pulse gravy.

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    1. Oh wow- you are using amti powder in such a versatile way!!

      Delete
  23. Dear H- You wrote this really nice comment, and I'm sad to say that I accidentally clicked "delete" instead of "publish"! SO sorry about that. Anyway, I'll try and answer your question about how to avoid wasting vegetables. Here are my top tips:
    (a) Learn 3 or 4 fridge cleaning recipes that are amenable to using a large quantity and variety of vegetables. I make vegetable pilaf/pulao, veggie quesadillas and vegetable patties that you can use all sorts of vegetables in. There are others, like vegetable soup, pasta salad, roasted mixed vegetables etc.
    b) Then designate one day of the week as "fridge cleaning night". This would usually be the day before your regular shopping day. Make one of the recipes and use up your stock of vegetables.
    (c) You might be buying too many. Sometimes we are ambitious and buy too many vegetables at one time. I know I do that! Being realistic avoids waste.
    I'll write a post soon with more tips so stay tuned! Sorry again about your comment being accidentally deleted.

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  24. No problem Nupur, I fumble between delete/publish all the time.. :D Those are great tips, I totally agree with (c). (I always wish if groceries can move themselves from the car to the fridge to the pots and stove themselves.. :-?)

    I'll wait for your elaborate post (am a long time lurker, sometimes you "reply" to people's qns half a year later!!! LOL, I wonder how you remember those folks or their qns.. awesomeness.)

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  25. It does looks like a big bowl of comfort. We love it here as well. Have to make it again soon :) Thinking of Fred and will be sending him a letter. So wonderful of you to suggest that. Hope Lil Lila and dale are doing well.

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  26. Back after ages... was here last week and got so much into reading all posts (which somehow don't show up for me anymore)... and forgot to comment! Good luck with your move and a big hug to Lila.

    Yes, once BBB is made at home and you learn how simple it is, there is no going back.

    Loved all the posts and am glad Fred's surgery went well.

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  27. I love your memory for food related things - I am glad I usually remember because occasionally I don't and it is so frustrating! I also love your generosity in looking out for fred - will try and check out his mum's blog (would love to post something but am so behind with my posting that I dare not promise)

    The BBB sounds great - I could imagine this would go down very well here - I have never heard of the spice mix but we have great indian shops around here

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  28. i have the same problem with these specific powders. I dont know what else to make with them:) thought i am sure they will go well in other dishes too. thats how i end up finishing my north indian mixes.

    just went onto fred's mum's blog and it is such a difficult journey. so many medications and procedures. i am sending lots of prayers his way. I am right here in Seattle and will surely write to him.

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  29. You can use BBB powder in your rice cooker upma recipe too

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  30. Hey Nupur, yeah I use bbb powder to make sambar at times turns out yummm.
    Also you can make masala upma , Poha bisi bela bath same way like rice one but you use poha instead of rice turns out yummm and faster too than rice one if you are in a hurry and need a filling one pot meal.

    Love all your recipes. Thanks for sharing. I have tried many till now and helped me so much to fix my dinner. I love love your chavali amti and Vaal amti(the sprout version) My favs from your blog as I have done these two recipes many times....it turns out perfect each time:) that too a cook like me an amateur one. Your instructions are perefcet, believe me!!
    Thanks and love to your little daughet and Dale!!
    Sheela

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