Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bisibelebhath: A Big Bowl of Comfort

This weekend I decided to tackle a classic Indian regional dish: bisibelebhath. An iconic dish from the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, bisibelebhath (BBB to those who know and love it) is a medley of lentils, rice and vegetables that is designed to nourish body and soul.

Suma of Veggie Platter recently wrote a must-read post describing many nuances of BBB and explaining that this mouthful of a word bisibelebhath literally translates into "hot rice lentil mixture".

Bisibele powder (the spice mix used to make BBB) has been a pantry staple in my kitchen for many years. MTR is a well-known and widely available brand and I have always thought their BBB powder was tasty and authentic. I use this bisibele powder to make a BBB-inspired quick pressure-cooker khichdi, my go-to dinner that is still quicker to make than picking up the phone and asking for take-out.

A few weeks ago, I was the lucky winner of a giveaway at Mysoorean and Vani sent me a bunch of wonderful goodies from the famous Subbamma Stores in Bangalore. Included was a big packet of the most aromatic bisibele powder. Now here was a chance to revisit the making of BBB. My memory is poor on the whole but highly selective- things related to food and recipes I can remember even years after reading them.  That's how I remembered that Nandita of Saffron Trail had mentioned that her favorite BBB recipe was this one from Healthy Home Cooking, a blog that seems to be dormant now.

The recipe breaks down BBB making into a few simple steps. Read the original recipe for the details (and if you want to make the spice mix from scratch); below I have my version of it. Once the spice mix is ready (or you have a store bought one on hand), making BBB is much easier than I had ever imagined.

I doubled the recipe given below to make an enormous pot of BBB. The idea was to share a large portion with some friends. They have given us mountains of their daughter's outgrown clothing and gear for baby Lila and sending them homemade Indian food once in a while is my small way of saying thank you. We ate the rest over two days of lunches and finally yesterday I had a small portion that I had squirreled away for breakfast.

By the way, I have a question for my Kannadiga friends: Do you make anything other than BBB with BBB powder?

(Adapted from this recipe)

Step 1: Dal 
Soak 1 cup of toor dal for 30-60 minutes. Rinse several times. In a large pot, combine the rinsed toor dal with 6 cups water, a drizzle of oil, pinch of turmeric, salt. Cook until the dal is barely tender.

Step 2: Rice and Veggies 
To the cooking dal, add 1/2 cup sona masoori rice (rinsed and soaked if possible) and 4-6 cups diced mixed vegetables. Carrots, cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, peas are all good. Frozen pearl onions and Lima beans (sold in all US supermarkets) are freezer staples in my home and taste great in BBB. Cook the mixture until rice and vegetables are about halfway cooked. Add water if needed to keep the mixture soupy (remember that it will thicken as it cools and you want the final result to be more like a stew than a dense paste).

Step 3: Spices and Seasoning 
In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp. bisi bele spice powder (or more or less to taste), salt and 2 tsp. tamarind paste with a bit of water to make a paste. Add this to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until the rice and vegetables are cooked. Turn off the heat. Taste the BBB and add more salt/tamarind/BBB powder as required.

Step 4: Tempering 
Make a tempering with mustard seeds, asafetida, cashews/peanuts and curry leaves. Pour the sizzling tempering onto the BBB. Stir in plenty of ghee and minced cilantro.

Step 5: Serve 
BBB should be served piping hot (it does reheat beautifully if stored in the fridge). I like it with yogurt or raita and with something crunchy on the side- like papad or potato chips.
* * *

These days, as I go about my daily routine, my thoughts keep turning to a brave little six year old boy named Fred. He is the son of our dear friends Mark and Joanne Drew who lived here in St. Louis when Fred was little. The reason I'm thinking of Fred all the time is because he entered Seattle Children's Hospital yesterday for a life saving bone marrow transplant.

Fred's mother is writing a blog which allow friends and well-wishers to go along with the family on this tough transplant journey. Joanne has a way with words- just listen to her speech at the Make a Wish Foundation gala (Fred is a space travel buff and wannabe astronaut and was granted the wish of watching the last NASA space shuttle launch).

I thought to myself- wouldn't it be fun if Fred could get cheerful mail from all over the world to open in the hospital? He's going to be there for several weeks. If you have a few minutes to spare, please consider sending a happy card or postcard to little Fred with your good wishes. If you have kids, maybe they would like to make a little card for him. Here's the address:

Fred Drew
c/o Seattle Children’s Hospital,
4800 Sand Point Way,
Seattle WA 98105

Thank you, dear friends!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Challenge: Clean Those Fridge Door Shelves

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been trying to organize and declutter my home bit by bit, 15 minutes at a time. Right now, it is the turn of the fridge door; a small space consisting of a few shelves that have become a catch-all for jars and bottles of every description: sauces, condiments and preserves.

Why am I posting a silly thing like this on the blog? Because it is one of those small things that I never get around to, but it makes grit my teeth several times a week when I rummage through the jars. Making this public will motivate me to get the job done. And maybe you'll peek into your own fridge and discover that you want to do this with me. Social support is a powerful help for the big and little things in life.

From now until the evening of Monday, May 14, the mini-challenge is to clean and declutter the shelves in your fridge door.

If you want to take the challenge, it is simple:
1. Leave a comment on this post saying you're in.
2. Go clean your fridge door :)
3. Come back and leave a comment on this post by Monday night saying you did it!

If you want to send me before-after pictures or write a post on your blog, feel free to do so, but really you just need to clean and that's IT.

Don't get distracted and start cleaning the rest of the fridge, or the whole of your kitchen (that just leads to being overwhelmed and frustrated). Just do this small thing and give yourself a pat on the back. Babysteps, as FlyLady says (By the way, that website is a great resource if you feel overwhelmed by clutter).

By Monday evening, I plan to
1. Remove all contents.
2. Wipe down the shelves of the fridge door.
3. Examine everything that I have removed from the shelves of the fridge door.
4. Discard all bottles that won't be used.
5. Group the rest in some fashion- all jams together and all Asian stir fry ingredients together, for instance.

I will also try and come up with some recipe ideas to use up ingredients from the fridge door shelves.

Who's with me? Watch this space for updates.

Saturday, May 12: I'm all done! After putting this off for weeks, this chore took all of 20 minutes max.

Here are the highlights-
Biggest rediscovery: A bottle of the fancy extract fiori di Sicilia which was an impulse purchase several years ago.
Most over-represented: Pickled peppers. I have 4 different kinds (Indian green chilli pickle, pickled jalapenos, pepperoncini, and some bright red ones from Trader Joe's), and will need to think of ways to use them up in chutneys and pestos.
Unlikeliest fridge door resident: A bottle of instant coffee. Neither V nor I drink this stuff. But I remembered that we bought it for my parents last year. I'll have to use it up in some iced coffee drinks.
Sadly wasted: Another impulse purchase- a bottle of Manchurian sauce from the Indian store. It was horrid and I felt guilty about wasting it so there it sat, taking up space. Today it finally was dumped and the bottle recycled.

The shelves are now tidy and there's plenty of free space in there. The fridge door shelves, if well-stocked with sauces and curry pastes and that sort of thing, can be a wonderful resource for quick meals.

As promised, I came up with a recipe to use up some of the jars. I used the remnants of a jar of roasted almond butter with flaxseeds, and the remainder of a bottle of giardiniera (Italian brined vegetables- don't ask me why I collect all this stuff) to make a big and completely delicious noodle salad in a nutty sauce.

Noodle Salad in a Nutty Sauce
1. Cook some noodles. Any kind will do- today I used thin whole-wheat spaghetti.
2. In a glass microwave-safe bowl, mix some almond butter, peanut butter (I used chunky), teriyaki sauce and sambal oelek. Microwave until the nut butters melt and whisk everything together, adding water as required to make a thick yummy sauce.
3. Dice some cucumber and slice yellow/red bell peppers. Today I added some of those Italian pickled vegetables.
4. Toss the vegetables and cooked noodles with the sauce. Garnish with plenty of minced cilantro

So simple and so utterly tasty. Cabbage and carrot would be wonderful in this salad too. Mint or green onions would be an excellent garnish. Top with some toasted sesame seeds or crushed nuts for a nice crunch. This noodle salad is perfect for lunch boxes, picnics and potlucks in the summer days that will be here soon.

Now do entertain me with tales of what's hiding in your fridge door shelves.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Nachos with the Works

My bestie Neighbor Girl and I are practically the same age- but I should note that I'm a full 14 days older (and therefore proportionately wiser) than her. We're celebrating our birthdays right around this time of year, and when I say celebrating, I really do mean that we're thrilled about reaching another birthday. None of that moping around about how we're getting older and how we no longer get carded while buying beer at the grocery store. No lying about our age and perpetually saying we're 29. Neighbor Girl and I agree that we're happier with each passing year. We're more comfortable in our own skin and not feeling any pressure to impress anyone. We make it a priority to surround ourselves with kind and loving people. We know for sure that diamonds are not a girl's best friend. Best friends are a girl's best friend.

This weekend we threw each other a birthday bash. A fun little party with cupcakes and a build-your-own-nachos bar in keeping with the post- Cinco Di Mayo mood. Setting up a nachos bar is a good option because depending on how much time you have, you can use all store bought ingredients, or make several of them at home.

There are so many possibilities for a build-your-own-nachos bar:
1. Tortilla chips: 2 to 3 options with different textures, flavors and shapes. You could add soft flour tortillas and hard taco shells for taco options to make it more of a meal.
2. Beans, in the form of chili, cooked beans or refried beans.
3. Vegetable toppings, like minced green onions, cilantro, sliced colorful bell peppers, onions, lettuce, olives, corn kernels, pickled jalapenos, avocados.
4. Dairy toppings, like sour cream and shredded cheese.
5. Salsas: There are endless possibilities for different flavors of salsa. I made a salsa verde with tomatillos and an easy blender salsa with fire roasted tomatoes. I also bought a bottle of good old Tostitos brand salsa con queso. What? Don't look at me like that.

In addition, Neighbor Girl made a giant 7 layer dip. Her motto is "more is more" so it was more of a 17 layer dip, all said. We also had tasty chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. That's a flavor that is utterly predictable but utterly beloved in this home.

Neighbor Girl and I always exchange birthday presents. This year, she's taking me shopping for some summer clothes to celebrate the reappearance of my waist (last year at this time I was too pregnant for my usual summer wardrobe). I was wondering what to get for her when she mentioned that she's looking for a good pancake pan. So I'm putting together a "pancake kit" for her, with a cast iron griddle, pancake spatula, homemade pancake mix, a jar of chocolate almond spread to use as topping for the pancakes, and a crisp red dishcloth folded into the shape of a heart. On my birthday, Neighbor Girl showed up on the doorstep at 6:30 AM with balloons and lilies and a full breakfast- eggs with spinach and mushrooms, mini berry muffins, juice. Now that was the sweetest gift of all.

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. If you'd like to know more about the recipes for anything you see here, feel free to ask me in the comments.

On The Bookshelf

I was looking for some lighter reading recently and picked up these two books at the library. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is the unlikely love story between a retired British army officer and a Pakistani woman, set in an English village. It was delightful in parts and a good read overall but there were some parts that bored me and a few that had me gritting my teeth. 

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is the latest installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series by one of my favorite authors in the light-yet-meaningful genre, Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher and brings her musings to the mundane ups and downs of everyday life. These books always make me smile quietly. You know, I just noticed that both these books have garments illustrating the cover. 

My friend Cathy told me about this website What Should I Read Next? where you can plug in the name of a favorite book and author and get recommendations for similar titles. I'm hoping to find some more light and uplifting books to read this summer. Have you read anything good lately?