Animals learn to recognize weather symbols early, maybe it is there experience living outdoors with the elements. There was unfortunately that same uncanny sense of realization, when my father paid the last visit to us over two years back. I knew I needed to get back as much as I possibly could. Every visit was with a sense of frustation expecting and knowing that the end would come and yet when it came it still left me startled. I have realised watching the clouds and seeing them there does not still take away the effect of the storm when it comes. The rain still lashes and drenches. The wait makes the experience settle in deeper often without realizing it.
The scared dog or cat hides for a long time before they can come out.
The signs of the strom linger and hit you when you least expect it. I remember watching our garden recover from the recent bout with Irene. Some of the plants did die and then there were others we thought that would never make it, but they did eventually come back to life.
The past few days, I have not been able to get into the kitchen, this has been unsettling for the kids so I went in last evening to put together a simple one dish meal. There is a lot of comfort in trying to find simple soulful food, something that nourishes without taxing the senses.
A dish from the Southern state of Karnataka, it is a variation of what is more popularly called kichari is other parts of India. This recipe is essentially a medley of the hearty lentil stew called sambhar featured as an almost daily item in South India and rice making it an infinitely well suited one-dish meal.
Also, cooked best in the pressure cooker, the recipe gets done in under about 30 minutes, using the cooker. Despite using the pressure cooker, I cook this recipe in stages because I think it is essential to preserve the essential character of the spices and retain the natural texture of the vegetables.
Bisi Bele Bhaat – Rice and Lentils Seasoned with Tamarind and Sambhar Masala
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes (using a pressure cooker or about 2 hours without)
Makes 10 servings
1 cup yellow pigeon pea lentils (toor dal, preferably the oily variety)
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tomatoes chopped
1 tablespoon sambhar masala
¾ cup rice, preferably a short grain variety
2 tablespoons tamarind paste or ½ cup tamarind water
1/3 cup chopped green beans
1 small eggplant, chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
½ cup green peas
For the tempering
1.5 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black split urad dal (split mapte beans)
½ teaspoon channa dal
1/8 teaspoon asafetida
2-3 dried red chilies
10 curry leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Method of Preparation
1. Place the toor dal and half the water at the base of a pressure cooker. Add in the turmeric, salt and tomatoes and cook under pressure for about 15 minutes. The texture of the lentils should be soft and creamy with flecks of the tomato in the mixture.
2. Add in the sambhar masala and the rice and the remaining water and cover and pressure cook the mixture for about 10 more minutes, at this point the mixture should still fairly thin, but the rice should be almost cooked through.
3. Add in the tamarind paste and the vegetables and continue cooking on medium heat for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is thick and smooth. The color should be a somewhat dark yellow color.
4. Heat the ghee on medium heat for about 1 minute until the ghee has melted and is fairly hot.
5. Add in the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and within 15 seconds once the mustard seeds are done crackling,Add in the black urad dal and the channa dal and cook for another 10 seconds to allow the seeds to darken a little.
6. Add in the asafetida, red chilies and the curry leaves and allow them to crackle a little and pour the spiced butter over the lentils.Gently mix in the seasonings and simmer the mixture another 3-4 minutes before serving.