Bisi bele bhath: Sambar rice
When down, eat rice.
I always go by that. Nothing can comfort you like a good serving of carbohydrates. This Bisi Bele Bhath (BBB) or Sambar Rice is what I go to when I know I’m about to fall ill. Or when I’m just feeling low on life in general. It lifts me up instantly. It is creamy like a risotto, punctuated with a little bite of the veggies once in a while. It’s got a hint of the tamarind and jaggery somewhere. It’s hot, it’s just the right kind of spicy, and with a dollop of ghee, it can do things to you that love cannot.
Most people use MTR’s Bisi Bele Bhath masala, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t. Except, I don’t stock up on BBB masala because–well, I’ve got limited pantry space, and I can’t waste it on a masala that I don’t use so often. But MTR’s Sambar masala is quite another story. I make sambar all the time. With idlis, with dosas, with rice. I use it to flavor a tender french bean stir fry and a massor (red lentil) dal. So, I’ve always made my BB with MTR Sambar Masala, not the MTR Bisi Bele Bhath masala (in fact, I’ve never bought it). I urge you to try this recipe. You’ll save some pantry shelf space.
Here’s a quick recipe; don’t be alared by the number of ingredients–the recipe will make itself once you assemble everything!
- 1 cup rice (I used Basmati, but you can use any you like)
- 1/2 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
- 1/2 a fresh coconut, grated or chopped
- 4 tbsp. MTR’s Sambar masala
- 1 tbsp. tamarind paste (or a lemon-sized ball of tamarind soaked in 1/4 cup of warm water and strained)
- 1 lemon-sized ball of jaggery
- 1 and 1/2 cup of assorted, seasonal vegetables, cut into cubes (I used ash gourd, pumpkin, drumsticks, carrots, eggplants, onions, and tomatoes)
- 2/3 cloves of garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
- 3-4 dried red chilies, torn into halves
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves, torn
- 1/2 tbsp. red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp. asafetida
- 1/4 tsp. + 1 pinch turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
- 2 tbsp. vegetable/olive oil
- 1 tbsp. ghee
- salt to taste
- Wash the rice and split pigeon peas together and place in a pressure/rice cooker with double the amount (3 cups) of water.
- Add salt to taste and a pinch of turmeric powder, and cook until soft (about 2 whistles).
- Meanwhile, place the coconut, sambar masala, and red chili powder in a blender. Use a little water to blend to a smooth paste.
- In a thick-bottomed pot, heat the oil.
- Lightly fry the garlic.
- Tip in the chopped vegetables and saute for a few minutes, until they begin to change color. Add about 1 and 1/2 cups of water. The vegetables should be just covered in water.
- Add the tamarind, salt, and the ground masala. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the hardest of vegetables is cooked.
- Add the jaggery and the cooked rice and dal. Stir gently until well-combined.
- In an iron ladle (or skillet or other appropriately small utensil) heat the ghee.
- When hot, make a quick tempering by adding the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafetida, turmeric powder, red chilies,and curry leaves. Turn off the heat and add this aromatic ladleful to the rice. Cover immediately, allowing the aromas to steep for a couple of minutes.
- Ladle, piping hot, into waiting bowls or banana leaves, topped with a dollop of ghee.
- Watch as the ghee melts down into rivulets and be assured that all’s right with the world.