Bisibhele bhat – South Indian Lentils & Rice
Bisibhele bhat or Bisibele huli anna is a south Indian dish, made with red lentils, vegetables, rice and a flavorful mix of spices. ‘Bisi means ‘hot’, ‘bhale’ means ‘a mixture of lentils and veggies’ and ‘bhat’ means ‘rice’. This rice has an almost stew like consistency and is definitely my comfort food. This wholesome recipe is originally from the south Indian state of Karnataka and has become very famous in the rest of the country for its unique taste. I have always been a fan of this rice and my mom makes the best Bisibele bhat!! I do not know if it is the most authentic version, but this is what I grew up with. This was one of our most favorite Sunday lunch. Whenever I make this, the aromas take me back to my childhood! Sunday is usually the vegetable shopping day at our home. And after coming back from the market with loads of fresh veggies, me, dad and mom would sit picking out the vegetables to organize them in the fridge! And the question ‘what should I make for lunch’ arises. Bisibele bhat or vegetable biriyani (another one of my mom’s specialty) would be the obvious answers. So, we would sit with steaming plates of this rice and watch our favorite Sunday TV programs!! Life was just so much better when we were kids, right?? I’m all nostalgic right now
Anyways, the ingredient list may look daunting, but after you’ve made this for the first time and have all the ingredients in your pantry, then it is a breeze to make. This is a fantastic and warming winter meal. I also like to double the masala recipe and freeze it (without the fresh coconut) to use later. It stays fresh for up to 3 months in an air tight container.
Note: If you do not have the time/patience to make the masala from scratch, MTR Bisibele bhat powder is the best one in the stores (according to me!). Follow the same steps and add in some ground coconut with the powder if you would like to.
Rice – 2 cups (short grained rice like sona masoori works best, but basmati will do too)
Toor dal (red lentils – 3/4 cup
Tamarind – 1 lemon sized ball (or 2 Tbsp of tamarind paste)
Turmeric – 1 tsp
(These veggies are most suitable for this recipe, however feel free to experiment)
Oil – 1 tsp
Onion – 1 medium (or 1 cup of pearl onions)
Brinjal/Eggplant – 4-5 small (diced/cut lengthwise, Indian eggplants, or use half of a large one)
Potatoes – 2 medium (diced into 1 inch cubes)
French beans – 10-15 (1 inch pieces)
Carrots – 2 medium (1 inch pieces)
Drumstick – 1 large (cut into 3 inch pieces)
Tomatoes – 2 medium
Green pepper (capsicum) – 1 small
For the Bisibele bhat masala:
Dry red chillies – 3-4 no.
Coriander seeds – 3 Tbsp
Channa dal (Bengal gram) – 2 Tbsp
Urad Dal (black gram) – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon – 1 inch piece
Cloves – 2-3 no.
Green Cardamom – 1 no.
Mace – 1/2 inch piece (a very powerful spice, use in moderation)
Nutmeg (grated) – a pinch (a very powerful spice, use in moderation)
Marathi Moggu (kapok buds) – 1 no. (optional, a very powerful spice, use in moderation)
Grated coconut (dry or fresh/frozen) – 4 Tbsp
Asafoetida (Hing) – 1/2 tsp
For the Tempering:
Ghee- 2 Tbsp
Oil – 2 Tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Dry Red chillies – 2-3 no.
Curry Leaves – a few sprigs
Peanuts – a handful (or more if you like!)
Cashew nuts – a few (optional)
Sambar powder or Bisibele bhat mix- 1 Tbsp (optional)
- Pressure cook the toor dal with the 1/2 tsp turmeric until soft. Mash the dal very well after cooking. Keep aside. Reserve the water you cooked the dal in (if you have any left).
- Cook the rice with 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder. While cooking rice, use the ratio of 1:2.5, 1 cup rice to 2.5 cups water. The rice has to be very soft and almost mushy for bisibele bhat.
- Heat 1 tsp of oil in a large vessel (that can hold the rice and vegetables together) and add the onions. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Now add all the vegetables except green peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp/paste, 4-5 cups of water, salt to taste and cook until the potatoes are tender. Now add the green pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, roast all the ingredients mentioned for the masala individualy with very little oil (or dry roast). I like to add all the ingredients except the coconut and roast on low heat until aromatic (and the dals turn golden brown). If you are using dry coconut, add it ad the end and turn of the stove immediately. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature. Now, grind these spices to a fine powder.
Note: If you are using fresh coconut, add the fresh coconut and spices in a blender and add some water to make a smooth paste. If you are making a dry powder, you can store it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- When the green pepper has almost cooked, add the freshly ground masala and the mashed toor dal,, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. At this time you should have enough liquid left in the gravy. It need not be too watery, but you should have enough liquid to at least submerge your vegetables. If a lot of water has evaporated in the cooking process, you can add more water to get the right consistency. Usually, Bisibele bhat has a stew like consistency, so add water accordingly. Check the taste and adjust the salt.
Tip: Use the reserved dal water in the above step, instead of water.
- Now mix in the cooked rice gradually, making sure there are no lumps. Mix gently, or the rice will become too mushy.Mix in all the rice and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
- Heat the ghee and oil for tempering. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the dry red chillies, peanuts and saute until the peanuts are done (about 4-5 minutes). Add the curry leaves, cashews and sambar powder (if using), and cook until the cashews are golden brown. Stir in the tempering into the rice and serve hot.
The best accompaniments for bisibele bhat are papads, potato chips or boondi. I also like to serve it with some raita (yogurt dip).