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Feel Good Food: Bisi Bele Bath

BisibeleHolidays are here! Can you believe that it is already time for Christmas? I mean, it was only June yesterday but I woke up this morning to a very cold day and it suddenly hit me that we were nearly done with 2013. Last year this time, I was subtly pregnant and we were shopping for our trip to India. Although we are not due for a visit back home yet (or to deliver a baby), we are still shopping. Shopping for Christmas gifts that we would be taking with us while we visit family and friends back in East Coast.

I am pumped about travelling back to where it all- K and my life together, my culinary Eureka moments and ultimately this blog- began. But I am more excited about meeting the family, showing them Aarabhi for the first time and catching up with the awesome family, especially my wonderful sisters and brother-in-law (they range from the age of six to eighteen, so I find it weird to call ’em that).

Anyway, back to food. I cannot talk about Bisi Bele Bath without mentioning that our New Jersey aunt is a pro at making this wonderful dish. It is native to Karnataka, as she is and the spice mix she puts in her Bisi Bele is wonderful. Since I ran out of it last year, I used the store-bought Bisi Bele Bath powder by MTR and I have been in love with it since! But S Chithi did promise to give me the recipe for it this time when we go to Jersey.

Kannadigas around the world are freakishly proud of this dish and rightly so because it is a one pot wonder and nothing can parallel the taste of hot hot Bisi Bele. Especially on a cold day like today. The name itself is an abbreviation. Called Bisi Bele Huli Anna, hot and sour lentil rice, the name is pretty self-explanatory. It is made of rice, Dal and tamarind and generously packed with other veggies and a hot spice mix. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?! So here is how I made it.
Bisibele2Bisi Bele Bath

Ingredients:
One cup white rice

Half cup Tuar Dal

One cup Shallots

One cup frozen peas

A lemon size ball of tamarind (or two Tbsp tamarind paste dissolved in two cups of water)

Salt

Three Tbsp MTR Bisi Bele Bath powder

Quarter cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Two Tbsp Ghee/Brown Butter

One Tbsp Cooking oil

One tsp mustard seeds

Few curry leaves (optional but recommended)

One tsp Asafoetida

Few pieces of cashew nut

Method:
Before we begin, let’s talk rice.

Whatever you do, try to avoid using Basmati rice for this dish. South Indian rice dishes seldom call for Basmati since it is predominantly used in the northern parts of India only. Moreover, and most importantly, using fragrant rice varieties like Basmati or Jasmine would alter the taste of Bisi Bele and that is really not what you want to do, trust me.

If you are using rice bought from the Indian grocer, cook it together with the Dal in six cups of water until it turns mushy and runny. If you are using white rice bought from a store like Costco, cook them together in four and a half cups of water. This is because you generally need less water to cook American rice than you need to make Indian rice, whether it is Sona Masoori or Ponni.

Pour two cups of water to the tamarind and extract thick juice. Heat the one Tbsp of oil in a huge pot. Fry the shallots for a few seconds. Add the tamarind water and peas to this. Let it cook for ten minutes on medium-low. Now add the peas, salt, Bisi Bele Bath powder, coconut and asafoetida. Cook this together for ten more minutes. The tamarind water and peas have to cook and the spices have to mix and blend with the gravy.

Once done, mix in the cooked rice and Dal mix in batches. The result has to be loose, runny and smell like your kitchen has suddenly transformed into Indian food heaven. Heat the Ghee separately. Fry the mustard seeds along with cashew pieces and curry leaves. Add this to the Bisi Bele Huli Anna and mix it up one last time.

Since Appa decided to throw his strict diet out of the window for the day, I (guiltily) made spicy Potato Curry to go with it. Chips and onion Raita made our lunch brighter.

Much yummy noises were made at the dining table. That made me a happy girl!

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I Scream!

It felt like the fog had lifted finally. I felt more energized, did not want to throw up at the smell of cooked rice and could eat just about anything I wanted. The week before Thanksgiving was a dream, yes. Since I have to cramp the last three weeks of coursework in two and then do my finals before I fly, I requested my professor to give me more work for the long weekend. We had no plans, except sprawl on the couch and take in all the NCAA and NFL action we could. So I thought I could get on top of my assignments and emerge a very intelligent, studious person. As my granddad would say, “God has his own plans, my dear.”

First, K came down with a cold. Poor thing. He is not a very fussy patient: gets very silent and calm. I fussed around him, of course, like Molly Weasley, fluffing his pillows, making hot green tea and hot water for steaming. As he got better, I fell sick. Since I am the fussy one, K spent three days tending to me. I still have a terrible cough but I am getting better, thank you for asking.

Being sick did not stop me from wanting cold treats. I have always wanted to experiment with making ice cream but I don’t have an ice cream maker. A quick search landed me on David Lebowitz‘s blog yet again. Man, David. Sigh. I ogle at his web site everyday. He is handsome, talented and makes me drool… over his food. And he totally makes me want to ditch my life here and run away to Paris in search of my dream! Anyway, back in cold old Down South, I decided to use my recipe and his method to make handmade ice cream. No, I didn’t even use my trusty KitchenAid to make this.

Since this was my first time whipping up ice cream, I went with a basic custard-base vanilla recipe (with a little bit of my touch). Which means this one is loaded with calories. I shall experiment with more low-cal, healthier ones as I go.

Vanilla-Almond Ice Cream

Ingredients:
Two cups heavy cream

One cup skimmed milk

Eight egg yolks

One cup sugar (or replace with a Stevia-based one)

One tsp salt

One tsp pure vanilla extract

Half tsp pure almond extract (optional)

Half cup blanched, skinned almonds (you could roast almonds with skin instead, for a nutty flavor), chopped

Method
Heat the heavy cream and milk together over medium heat. When it begins to boil, switch the heat off and give it an ice bath. While it is cooling, mix the egg yolks, sugar and salt into a thick paste. When the milk has warmed, temper the egg yolk paste with a ladle or two of the cream. Pour the tempered solution into the rest of the cream and return the pot to the stove. Switch the heat on to medium-low and keep stirring. The custard is done when it gets thick enough to coat the back of your spatula and you are able to draw a clean line with your finger on it. This is time consuming. It takes so much time that you may want to abandon your project at various stages. Don’t.

Cool the custard in the ice bath again. Mix in the essences and chopped almonds. I used a stainless steel pot so I covered it with plastic wrap slightly touching the surface of the custard. You can transfer it to a plastic/glass container with a lid and freeze it too. Now comes the best past: waiting. You could click on this link for David’s detailed, step-by-step version or follow my poorly (and hastily) written one.

Our primary goal is to break up the ice crystals that form on the custard as it freezes. If we fail, we have a frozen log of custard ice that cannot be consumed. So let the ice cream freeze for 45 minutes. Bring it out of the fridge and you will notice that it has started freezing in the sides. With a spatula or a whisk (or a hand blender), break this up vigorously. Mix it again and freeze. Continue doing this once in 30-45 minutes until the ice cream has frozen completely, sans the ice crystals. When done, transfer to a container with a lid and freeze overnight. The cream gives it a beautiful store-bought texture but your special touch gives it a home made, rustic taste you will not find in commercial products. Enjoy!