Bisibele bhath: Of siestas!

Bisibele huli anna to give it it’s full name (hot dal tamarind rice – if anyone’s looking at putting it on a New Yorker menu!)
Sunday lunches, actually come to think of it – all meals on Sundays – were hearty affairs – now you know how i got to be the size i did ;). Mom used to really go to town on Sunday to make up for weekday meals of sambar and curry and paranthas – come to think of it – those sound heavy too (sigh, life seems to be all about heavy…. 😉  Breakfast would usually start with masala dosas – with all the frills. Lunch would be either bisibele, potato curry, appadams and a sweet dish (remember the apple pie in a previous chronicle??? ) or a biryani! Would you believe it, after that, at about 5-ish, Panda, our amazing cook, used to dish up either samosas or cutlets for tea! And not one or two each – but unlimited numbers! Followed by a dinner of parathas, eggs and a curry to go with it! Strangely, with all that, all of us were quite trim but i think, like nemesis, all those cutlets are following me around now 🙁
My mother was one of those women who’d never learnt the meaning of the word ‘no’ or ‘enough’ when she offered us third or fourth helpings – the second one wasn’t even counted – normal food! I remember a cousin who was staying with us who burst into tears because Indatha ( mom) served her a second helping. For the first time , probably, Mom was shocked into not offering a third helping! (D, remember?)
For all the crusader’s spirit which my mother had wrt strange foods, there were things at which she was unbeaten queen – bisibele definitely being one of them. She’d learnt the dish from her mom-in-law – my appamma.
Here goes:
1 cup rice – cook in 3 cups water till soft
1/2 cup toor dal – pressure cook.
Assorted vegetables – carrots, potatoes, shallots (fry slightly), peas, pumpkin etc.) -1 cup
Tamarind paste – 1.5 tsp
Jaggery – 2 tsp
Ghee – 1/4 cup
1 tbsp sesame oil
Turmeric – 1 pinch
Cashewnuts – fried
Curry leaves 2 sprigs
1 large ripe tomato – ground
For seasoning:
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Urad dal 1tsp
Asafoetida – a sprinkling
For masala: Roast and powder fine
Asafoetida – 1 small lump the size of a chana dal
Dhania – 2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds – 1/4 tsp
Chana dal – 1 tsp
Urad dal – 1 tsp
Red chillies – 4 – 6
Cloves -2
Cinnamon – 1 ” stick
Patthar ke phool (stone flower, dagad phool, kalpaasi) – it’s actually a lichen which grows on rock – 1 generous pinch
Mace (the outer layer of the nutmeg) – 1/4 tsp
Nutmeg – 1/4 tsp
Copra or dry coconut -2 tbsp
(substitute with fresh if you don’t have)
Heat sesame oil in a large vessel, season with mustard, urad dal and asafoetida. Add curry leaves. Add the vegetables and a pinch of turmeric, 1 glass of water and cook till almost done. Add the tamarind paste, ground tomato, masala powder and jaggery and let it come to a boil. Add more water to bring it to a thick pouring consistency. Add the cooked rice and dal  and salt and bring it up to the boil, stirring frequently. Add the ghee and continue to cook till the family comes drooling around 😉
Sprinkle fried cashewnuts on top and let rest till flavours infuse – about half an hour if everyone can wait, 10 minutes if they can’t! What goes with it? Potato curry and appadam. Bisibele tastes great the day after – i like mine cold but if it’s gotten very thick overnight (must be getting tight on the beer on the frig sitting overnight – check the bottle!) , add a glass of boiling water and mix again.
Warning :Bisibele is heavy, very heavy so if you want to eat it, you’d better prepare for a siesta in the office!

Kuzhi paniyaram or guntha ponganalu: Toad in the hole – India ishtyle

I first encountered these little balls of deliciousness – crisp and browned on the outside and deliciously, steamily soft on the inside at an aunt’s place in Bellary. Being brought up on a diet of sambar and koora (dry vegetable curry), with an occasional biryani thrown in for the sake of Hyderabad, we hadn’t been exposed to the finer side of  South Indian cuisine very much! This aunt, Meera kaaki, was one of those very painstaking cooks who MUST get it right – and boy, did she!
Oops, i still haven’t told you what this thing is, right? It’s Tamil name is kuzhi paniyaram but i much prefer the hilariously descriptive Telugu version – ‘ guntha ponganaalu’ – literally – ‘ the thing which swells in the hole’!!!!
Meera kaaki served it with the most awesome peanut chutney and i tried for years before finally cracking it! Being the nutrition conscious niece of Malathi Mohan, i had to find ways to make it lower in fat and here’s my version.
The picture, btw, was part of, operative words, being ‘part of’ Kanchana’s brekker today – the other parts consisting of a large bowl of leftover pasta and Boost as a pre-breakfast ‘digestive’! The post breakfast thing you see on the plate is a glass of banana mango milk shake – and no, this is NOT my biggest glass! I had to put in a tiny glass (my share) to fit the whole thing in the frame! Let’s get to the matter though.
Guntha ponganalu with peanut-mint chutney
Dosa batter – well, if you have a family with a large appetite, about 8 to 10 cups. For normal human beings 1 or 2 cups should suffice!
Ponganala pan – here’s a picture of it – scroll right on the main picture above.
Oil – a couple of tsps.
To make the ponganaalu, heat the pan on the stovetop on medium heat, add a few drops of to each of the holes and swirl around. Lower heat, pour in enough batter into each hole till it’s almost at the brim. Cover and cook on a low flame till the appams swell ( get it??) and the batter draws away from the sides. Test by peeking under one – with a skewer, silly – till they’re golden brown. This should take about 3 minutes. Turn over each appam and let cook, uncovered for a further two minutes.
Peanut and mint chutney
Peanuts (surprise!) – 1/2 cup
Mint – 1 cup
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Chana dal (bengal gram) – 1 tbsp
Urad dal – 1 tbsp
Asafoetida – 1 lump about the size of a chana dal
Green chilies – 3
Red chilies – 3-4 – believe me, the kick is worth it!
Tamarind or tamarind paste – 1 tsp
Jaggery – 1 1/2 tsp
Salt – about 1/2 tsp
Coconut grated – 1 to 2 tbsp.
Cabbage – shredded – 1/2 cup – this recipe actually calls for more coconut but i have substituted a lower cal option. You are free to choose to pile ’em on but jes’ giving a statutory warning here!
Sesame oil – preferred – but can do with any other oil too – no, no, Arch NOT diesel oil!
Heat oil in a saucepan, add asafoetida and peanuts and roast for 3-4 minutes till the peanuts smell ‘roasty ‘. Add the mustard, let ’em pop, add the rest of the ingredients except the jaggery and stir fry on a high flame for about 3-4 minutes. Switch off, add jaggery and grind to a rough paste adding about 1/2 glass water – makes a thick, ‘sitting-on-the-plate’ and not ‘me-running-behind-to-catch-it’ kind of consistency!
Dat’s it! Eat! And tell what you think..  😉
 And finally, ta-da, the first batch of Kanch’s breakfast!

Cabbage molagootal: Of New brides and strange foods

Twenty nine years ago and counting, I’d come to Madras as a new bride, entering a new home and a new culture and many strange new foods i’d never heard of, much less encountered!
Some i took to my heart some i preferred to meet just occasionally and some – topping this last list is something called ‘maahaani’ in Tamil and Malayalam and sarsaparilla in English ( always wondered how something so stomach-churningly smelly could have such a pretty name, conjuring up rose arbors , lavender sachets in frilly lace and peaches and cream and all things nice!) which i’d prefer to keep out of my life and my kitchen altogether!
Ouch – all you maahaani lovers out there, don’t throw stuff at me – i can’t actually keep it out as in OUT coz’ of a maahaani-loving husband – sigh….
One of the dishes i grew to like and make frequently is something called ‘kosu molagootal’ – ok, the cat’s outta the bag, i’m married to a Palakkad Iyer! Kosu (pronounced with and elongated ‘o’ is cabbage as opposed to “kosu” pronounced with a shortened ‘o’ which is the byproduct of eating too much chana and is guaranteed to clear the space around you in seconds!) p.s. – let you in on a secret – i mixed these up many times in the process of learning Tamil, resulting usually in much hilarity!
Molagootal – i am informed – is a ‘kootu’ made without pepper (i.e molagu vittitu panninadu – made leaving out pepper – weird way of naming a dish by mentioning that which is left out – rather like he-who-shall-not-be-named). This is one injunction i prefer to ignore because just 4 or 5 peppercorns added to molagootal elevate it mightily!
Here goes my version:
Cabbage – chopped fine –  2 cups
Green peas – 1 tbsp (optional)
Cooked tuvar or moong dal – 1 cup
Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
2 small red chillies
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp urad dal
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp  jeera
4-5 peppercorns
Grated fresh coconut                                    (mine’s fresh from the freezer 😉
1 tsp coconut oil
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Curry leaves to garnish + 1 pinch hing
Cook cabbage and green peas with the turmeric till almost done (in an iron kadhai if you have one. no? go buy one!). In a separate saucepan, heat 1/2 tsp coconut oil and fry the red chillies, 1 tsp each of jeera and urad dal and the pepper. Add coconut and switch off. Let it cool and grind to a fine paste using a little water. Add this past to the cooked vegetables and bring to the boil. Add cooked dal, simmer for 3-4 minutes to blend the dal and veg together and switch off. Heat the remaining 1/2 tsp oil and add mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp each of urad dal and jeera and curry leaves and hing powder. Switch off when seasoning is ready and drop into the dal.
Molagootal is now ready! Very simple, very low on fat, high on veggies and very tasty. Serve with rice, a salad and a pickle. Jokes apart, Palghat does have a very healthy cuisine – that should keep hubby quiet for a while- along with the molagootal!

Apple crumble: Exams and apple crumbles… daughters and fans!

Kanch goes in for a NESTA exam today – that’s the US certification exam to become a fitness trainer (phew, my daughter, just imagine – considering i barely know my toes from my fingers when i’m asked to bring the two together ;)!
Excited call about a couple of hours later saying she’s passed – obviously being the mom that i am and the daughter that she is – my thoughts of celebration turn instantly to food – what shall i make ???
Open the fridge and stare at it for a while before registering a few cubes of cheese, maamidi taandra (aam paapad) and assorted vegetables – none of which look particularly celebratory to me. Panic- till i sight some..many apples! Apple crumble – quick and delicious and easy enough to whip up so she can walk into a house filled with the smell of cinnamon and baking – yay!
Start coring the apples – completely forgot to peel them, btw! – and my thoughts zing back some 4 decades and my mother’s first attempts at baking. Mom, while not very skilled – was an adventurous soul, if nothing else and we’ve eaten many a strange result of one of those ‘adventures’! Still alive to tell the tale. Back in the sixties and seventies, pre-internet and almost pre-cookbooks (okay, okay, prehistoric if you must say so!), there were very few home bakers and recipes were passed around carefully and preciously. My mother, being crock-full of confidence, disdained pieces of paper and preferred to commit recipes to an uncertain memory 😉
She comes back from work one day with a recipe (mindmap!) for apple pie that she’d overheard an Anglo-Indian friend of hers discussing with another friend. Since her mind was at the same time, a bit preoccupied with breech presentations and caesarian sections, she decided to gloss over the parts that she had missed out on. The result was a lumpy thing that fell apart when you tried to pick it up! Mom decided that merely slicing apples was too easy to be quite right so she ground them up. Then again, just 50 or was it 100 gm of butter – couldn’t be quite right, right? Let’s slather it on! I remember feeding bits of apple pie to Tommy, the dog (mentioned earlier in these chronicles), and Tommy being gloriously sick the next day.
Let’s hope this apple crumble doesn’t have the same effect on you 😉
Apples – don’t forget to peel and core – 6 – slice and squeeze juice of about 1/2 a lemon to prevent them from discolouring
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Oats – 1/2 cup
Flour (maida) – 2 tbsp
Cold Butter – 3 tbsp
Cinnamon powder – 1/2 tsp
Whizz all ingredients from 2 to 6 in a mixie till the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs and is not wet. Layer in a flan dish and sprinkle oats mixture in top. Bake at 200 C for 25-30 minutes till done and the crust is golden.
Serve with whipped cream. Well, ice cream if you must but it’s not a patch on the real stuff…

Rice balls or kozhakottai with rasam: Wet Monday mornings and conversions

Now we’ve spent much of Sunday in making rasam powder, yes? Hope you’ve made enough rasam for Monday too coz we here are about to be beamed up to an elevated level – a rasam based dish. First, we start with picking out the pieces of pineapple you put in yesterday and realised you didn’t REALLY care for at all!! (jes’ kidding, we are quite sure you loved them, it’s only that pesky 4 year old of yours who didn’t like them!)
I’ve been watching Masterchef Oz for years with great relish and Masterchef USA ( a very second rate show – food and drama wise!) when Oz gets over and I really have nothing else to watch – sad state of affairs…and i kept dreaming about making this dish till……i finally did!
Tiny rice kozhakottais with rasam
4 cups rasam
¾ cups rice flour
1 cup plus 2 tbsp of water
1 tsp gingelly oil
1 fried curd chili crumbled (mor mozhaga/
 majjiga mirapakaaya)- optional
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp chana dal
1 tsp urad dal
1 large pinch jeera
1 large pinch hing pwd
½ green chilli – chopped
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Method: Heat oil in a pan and add mustard, wait till it splutters, add all the other ingredients except rice flour and water. Add water and salt (go easy with this coz the chilis are salted already) and pour in the rice flour, stirring all the while. Switch off and continue to stir till the rice forms a ball around the spoon. Let cool a bit and then shape into tiny balls – about the size of the small marbles (golis). Place in a greased colander and steam for 7-8 mins on high till soft but springy.
To serve, pour rasam in each bowl and add  about 7-8 kozhakottais to each serving. Top with coriander and serve.
And if like me, you are an Andhra who can’t live without ‘skin potato’ curry, here’s a variation:
Scrub and cube potatoes (death to those who peel them!) and roast over a slow flame with just hing, turmeric, salt and chili powder till you get a crisp curry. That’s it! for the curry i mean. Add this curry into the rice mixture and then make balls and continue as you did before. You now have a gourmet Masterchef dish made from humble rice, potato and rasam. For those lazy bones who can’t be troubled with all this – plain rice and roast potato curry with rasam will do!! And don’t cry!
For those active bones who DID, in the elimination challenge – here’s a 9 on 10 from each of the judges and off you go to the balcony! Oh, i forgot to add – a wet Monday morning in Madras is an inspiration to laziness 😉