Bisi Bele Baath

This simple dish of rice, lentils, and vegetables is popular in southern India where it is eaten as dinner or breakfast. As with all traditional dishes, there are many different recipes varying considerably in complexity. And sometimes translating the list of ingredients can be a challenge; for example, I learned today that a drumstick in India is a kind of bean pod, not the leg of a chicken. Distilled to their essence, though, the recipes all contain, besides the rice and lentils, mixed vegetables, a mixture of spices and tamarind juice. The traditional split pigeon peas called tuvor or toor dal can be difficult to find in the US; either yellow split peas or red masoor dal are good substitutes. The vegetables can be fresh or frozen: peas, green beans, carrots, eggplant, potatoes, and chayote are among the possibilities. Unsweetened coconut is much preferred but if all you can find is sweetened, soak it for a while to remove some of the sugar and omit the sugar in the recipe.

Note: some Indian recipes call for cooking the dal in a pressure cooker; others say to cook the rice, lentils, and vegetables in one. As much as I like my pressure cooker, I could not think of a good reason to use it for this recipe since toor dal cook rather quickly and I would expect that the vegetables might come out mushy. If I have sacrificed authenticity, so be it.

Ingredients

 

Fenugreek seeds

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Coriander seeds

10 milliliters

2 teaspoons

Dried red chilies

3 or 4, to taste

3 or 4, to taste

Cumin seeds

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Pepper corns

6 or 7, to taste

6 or 7, to taste

Cinnamon

25 millimeter stick

1” stick

Grated coconut

30 milliliters (10 grams)

2 Tablespoons

Water

500 milliliters

2 cups

Turmeric powder

1 milliliter

¼ teaspoon

Toor dal

150 grams

¾ cup

Ghee and/or oil

60 milliliters

4 Tablespoons

Mustard seeds

3 milliliters

½ teaspoon

Cumin seeds

3 milliliters

½ teaspoon

Curry leaves, optional

2

2

Asafetida, optional

1 milliliter

¼ teaspoon

Onion, thinly sliced

1 large

1 large

Tomato, diced

1 large or ½ 15-ounce can

1 large or ½ 15-ounce can

Mixed vegetables, see above

200 grams or more

1 cup or more

Chili powder (mirch), to taste

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Coriander powder 

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Turmeric powder

1 milliliter

¼ teaspoon

Jaggery  or sugar, optional

3 milliliters

½ teaspoon

Tamarind paste  

3 milliliters

½ teaspoon

Rice, preferably basmati

300 grams

1½ cup

Water

750 milliliters

3 cups

Salt

To taste

To taste

Method

 In a small, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, toast the fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, dried red chilies, cumin seeds, and pepper corns until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the grated coconut and stir until lightly browned. Be careful to burn the coconut or seeds. Turn onto a plate to cool then grind to fine powder and set aside.

Bring the 500 milliliters (2 cups) of water to a boil, add the turmeric, and then stir in the dal. Simmer for 10 minutes or until about half cooked. Drain and set aside.

Heat the ghee and/or oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pan with a tightly fitting lid. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves if using, and asafetida. When the seeds start popping add the onions and sauté until softened and slightly golden. Add the tomatoes and let some of the moisture cook out of them before folding in the vegetables. Stir in the chili, coriander, and turmeric powers and the jaggery or sugar, if using.

Dissolve the tamarind paste in the 750 milliliters (3 cups) of water. Add to the pot along with the rice, the dal, and the roasted spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to very low, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes or until the rice is done. Season to taste with salt.

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3 responses to “Bisi Bele Baath

  1. Carswell King November 18, 2013 at 18:43

    Hi Leo – now this is right up my alley! We’re very lucky to have an East Indian grocery store close to where we live so the ingredients are handy. I also have an East Indian friend who is a glorious cook – maybe I’ll try this out on her! I’ll let you know how it turns out. Hi to Glenda!

  2. Leo Cotnoir November 18, 2013 at 18:46

    Indian ingredients are becoming easier to find in the US, even here in Binghamton. Now the challenge is to teach people that Indian food can be wonderfully aromatic without being too hot.

  3. Karen November 22, 2013 at 18:52

    This has to be such a delicious dish with all the flavorful spices used…sounds great.

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