This combination of rice, toor dal, vegetables and spices is essentially a south Indian variation of north Indian kitcheree — the classic one-pot meal — with the use of tamarind, coconut, aromatic spices and a tempering characteristic of south Indian cooking. The bisi bele spice mix is a rather unique and wonderfully aromatic blend of coriander, fenugreek, dried chiles and cinnamon that is a snap to make up. A fragrant and warming dish with a bit of heat and a delightful sweet and sour flavor, bisi bele bhath is all you need for a satisfying and nourishing meal. Throw in some crunchy vegetables and roasted cashews for a nutty taste, bisi bele bhath is a south Indian comfort food and gentle for tender tummies.
There are a few steps to this recipe but it’s totally worth the effort as you get a complete meal for your effort. The bisi bele masala or spice blend is available commercially at Indian grocers, but grinding your own blend at home always give you the freshest spice blend experience. I’ve used carots and green beans for the vegetables in this version, but feel free to experiment with other vegetables such as okra.
Bisi Bele Bhath (Rice with Lentils and Spices)
Recipe by Lisa Turner Cuisine: South Indian Published on June 19, 2016
A fragrant and warming south Indian one-pot meal of rice, lentils, vegetables, tamarind and aromatic spices tossed with coconut and cashews
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, soaked in 2/3 cup hot water for 20 to 30 minutes
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small red onion
2 green or red chilies, seeded and minced
2 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 cup green beans, chopped
1/2 tablespoon coconut or brown sugar or jaggery
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews, halved or chopped
1/2 cup toasted dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
a few pinches of asafetida
small handful of dried curry leaves, crumbled
Rinse the rice under cold running water and transfer to a medium saucepan. Cover with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, rinse the toor dal and bring to a boil in a large saucpean with 2 cups water. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the dal is tender, about 40 to 50 minutes.
While the rice and dal are cooking, toast the ingredients for the bisi bele masala (spice blend) for a few minutes in a small unoiled saucepan over medium heat, tossing or stirring frequently. Transfer to a coffee to spice grinder and blend to a powder. Set aside.
Now drain the soaked tamarind pulp by pushing it through a sieve over a bowl and remove any seeds that may remain in the pulp. Reserve the soaking water.
Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes until softened. Now add the chilies, carrots and green beans. Continue to fry until the vegetables are just tender.
Once the toor dal has cooked, add the tamarind and its soaking water, sugar or jaggery, spice blend and salt. Mix well. Add the cooked vegetables, rice, coconut and cashews. Add a bit more water if it seems too dry. Stir gently to combine.
For the tempering, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once the mustard seeds begin to splutter and pop — 30 to 60 seconds — add the asafetida and curry leaves. Stir once and then pour into the rice and lentil mixture. Cover and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir and serve hot.