Monday, January 28, 2008

Thai Pirandal

Thai Pirandal Vazhi Pirakkum is an adage in Tamil, which translates into “when the month of Thai (Jan 14th) starts, all roads open up”. This is especially said in connection with marriages. Marriage season starts with Thai in the south because Uttarayanam is considered to be the best season for conducting functions like marriage, upanayanam etc. Moreover, in the olden days, by the time of Thai people were a little free after the harvesting and had time to attend to the time consuming job of searching for and conducting the marriages of their children.

I am continuing this blog post at this blog

Sankranthi 2008

Sankranthi is over and the sun has started its journey towards the northern hemisphere (uttarayanam). The days have started becoming a little longer and warmer and the birds are back chirping.

This time around I was in Hyderabad during Sankranthi. Though I did not get to see much of the Sankranthi celebrations of the people of Andhra Pradesh, I was invited to an interesting ritual and since it involved little children, I enjoyed it all the more.
We were invited for an Annaprasanam ceremony of our son’s friend’s baby on the 14th morning. Since we could not make it to the morning function, we visited them in the evening. “We have a function in the evening also,” they said. I thought there would be a function in connection with the annaprasanam of the little one.

This ritual is called Bhogi Pandulu. A mixture of regi pandulu (a type of berry that flooded the markets the previous day and I was wondering what these would be used for), flower petals, colored rice (Akshatha), coins, and sugar cane pieces were kept ready on a decorated stool. There was another decorated seat to seat little children below the age of 5. The house we visited had a 6 month old baby and another little girl, both dressed in their best and looking stunningly beautiful. All the ladies from the neighbourhood and older relatives of the family were assembled.

Around 5 pm, all the members present showered the mixture of flowers and colored rice (they said they did not include sugar cane pieces and coins as it might hurt the little baby) on the children, one by one. Even the male members of the family showered the petals. After this, Arathi was done to the children. The invitees were given thamboola with fruits, betel leaves, kumkum and soaked chickpeas.

This function symbolizes the seeking of blessings from the elders for a healthy and long life for the little ones and also to ward off all evil. I was reminded of a similar ritual called Aimpara, conducted in our tradition during the full moon day of the tamil month of Masi (between Feb 14th –March 14th). More about that later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Recipe: Bisi Bele Bhath

I have spent more time now in Karnataka than in my native Kerala that it would be unpardonable not to write about authentic Karanataka cuisine. What other recipe can be more authentic and originally Karnataka than the now world famous Bisi Bele Bhath? Bisi Bele Bhath in Kannada means hot dal and rice. It is simply that. Perhaps originally it was only hot rice and dal. Now it has progressed to a complete filling meal with dal, rice and all sorts of vegetables.
In our earlier years in Bangalore, we lived in a largely tambram area and hence did not have much contact with the native Kannadigas. The only bisi bele bhath we tasted were at the wedding receptions, which on those days were mostly conducted in dim choultries and food served on greasy plates. The bisi bele bhath served was too spicy for us and hence I never attempted to learn the recipe. Moreover our handsome and charming younger son never liked the food served on such occasions, so much so, even before we set out, he would ask us, “are they serving food in banana leaf or kozhakozha plate(greasy plate)”. So most of the time if it were kozhakozha plate, we just came away for our curds rice at home. It was only after I knew my best friend Veena, who is an authentic Kannadiga to the core, that I got to taste the delicious homemade bisi bele bhath and ever since it has become a favorite of not only of all at home but of all our guests also. They often say,”The bisi bele bhath served at the hotels is so spicy, your bisi bele bhath is very tasty”.
Here then is the recipe for the bisi bele bhath masala powder. It may be made in advance and kept in air tight jars so that bisi bele bhath can be prepared in a jiffy any time.
Ingredients for the masala:
Dhania: 100gms
Red chillies : 100gms
Chana dal(Bengal gram dhal): 100gms
Urad dhal: 100gms
Dry copra: 100gms
Cinnamon : 10 gms
Marathi moggu: 5 pieces
Cloves: 1 tsp.


Dry roast all the ingredients except copra separately (as each one will turn pinkish at different temperatures) to a pink color or until a nice aroma emanates from them. Grate the copra and add to the fried ingredients. Grind to a fine powder and store in air-tight jars.
The quantity of red chillies may be increased or decreased according to personal taste.
Making of Bisi Bele Bhath
Bisi Bele Bhath is a very versatile dish and any vegetable can go into it. Though many people don’t use ladies fingers and brinjals (which would turn mushy when cooked) I would say any vegetable would add that extra taste to it. So use any vegetable you like.

The following quantity will suffice for 6 servings.
Carrot: 50 gms
French beans: 50 gms
Green peas: 50gms
Knol khol: 1 small
Cauliflower: few florets
Potato: 1 medium
Double beans: 50gms
Cabbage: 50 gms
Chayote : 50gms
Tomato: 150 gms
Curry leaves : few sprig
Coriander leaves: few
Fresh coconut: 2 tbsp.
Tamarind : marble size or
Tamarind paste: 1 tsp.
Fresh ground nuts: 2 tbsp.

Rice : 1cup
Toor dal: 1 cup
Bisis bele bath powder: 2 tbsp.
Turmeric powd: 1 tsp.
Jaggery : 20gms.
Salt to taste
For garnish
Ghee: 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds: 2 tsp.
Red chillies: 2 nos.
Cashew nuts (optional) : few
Hing : 1 tsp.
The whole meal can be prepared in a pressure cooker in one go. That’s how I do it.
Soak the ground nuts in water for 2 – 3 hours. Wash and Chop all vegetables to 1” squares. Shell peas and double beans. Wash and drain the rice and dal.
Soak the tamarind in ½ cup of warm water.
Unlike the other “mixed rice preparations” the bisi bele bath should be well cooked and should be in a semi solid consistency.(kozhayae in tamil).Accordingly add 3 cups of water for each cup of rice, 2 cups of water for each cup of dal and one cup of water for each cup of vegetables.
Boil water according to the above proportion in a pressure cooker and add all the vegetables, soaked ground nuts, rice, dal and turmeric powder and close the pressure cooker. Put the weight on when steady steam comes out of the weight valve and cook for 3 whistles. (I usually reduce the heat at the first whistle and allow another whistle in reduced heat and switch off the stove).
Allow the pressure cooker to cool. Open the lid and check if the rice is cooked well and there is enough water content. If not add one more cup of water and boil, adding the jaggery, bisibele bath powder and salt. Extract the juice out of soaked tamarind and add to the boiling rice. Add half the ghee also to the mixture. Boil for 5- 10 mnts stirring well taking care not to burn the contents (this happens because the contents are very sticky). Add the fresh coconut gratings. Switch off the stove and add a few springs of curry leaves.
For garnishing:
Heat the remaining ghee in a pan. When the ghee is hot, add the hing powder, mustard, cashew nuts, broken red chillies and few curry leaves. When the mustard stops spluttering and the cashew nuts turn to a pink color, add the contents to the prepared rice. Garnish with finely cut coriander leaves .
Serve with chips, papad or vadam

Enjoy Pongal with Bisi Bele bhath.