Friday, May 24, 2013

BisiBele Bath (Sambar Rice)

When Little A started school, I was hoping that her exposure to lunch boxes from other homes will open up opportunities for expanding her food chain. When her teacher proudly told me that they dont allow kids to share snacks / lunches I was disappointed. (apparently it was for hygiene and allergy reasons). I wish she had  seen "lunch-times" at my school. 

 I guess most of us would remember those times when we would wait to see what others have brought for lunch. We did not have air-conditioned lunch halls. Instead we had an open field where groups of us would have invisible territories where we gather around to open those stainless steel / Milton hot boxes. Lunch would always be a shared affair wherein you get to taste stuff that arent usually made at home or made differently in other homes. Bittergourd chips from L's home, Potato roast from B's lunch box, Peanut kuzhambu from P's mom, Chocolate cake from D and a range for other cuisines opened the doors for future foodies.  

I believe the experience made us appreciate cuisines, respect food cultures and also be tolerant to food preferences. Sadly Little A would get to experience this only on playdates and parties. 

I still recreate some of my friend's lunch box dishes at home for that touch of nostalgia. I was hunting for the recipe for Bisi Bele Bath which my friend G's mom had made for a pot-luck lunch almost 12 years ago. I landed on the recipe from Food Connoisseur authored by R another friend of mine - who had fallen for the same delectable dish. I have adapted the recipe with minor changes to suit our taste.

Bisi Bele Bath is a medley of rice, dal and vegetables along with spices. The dish has its origins in Karnataka and like any other popular dish has its own local twists.


Rice – 1 cup  ( I use Thai Jasmine rice for flavor. But ponni rice is also fine).
Tuar Dal – 3/4 cup
Peanuts - 1TSambar Onion or Shallots - 15 - 20, Peel and slice (refer notes)
Tomato - 1
Mixed Vegetables - 1 cup (I have used 1 carrot, 1 potato, 3-4 green beans, 1/4 cup green peas) Refer notes
Sambar Powder - 2T
Tamarind - lemon sized - soak and extract pulp
Salt to taste
Turmeric – 1 pinch
Ghee – 2T
Curry Leaves - 1 Sprig

For the masala

Corriander seed -6T
Dried Red chilly - 15-20
Channa Dal - 2T
Asafoetida - 1 pinch (around 1/4t)
Fenugreek - 1t
Cinnamon - 1 inch stick
Cloves - 2
Black Peppercorns - 1t
Garlic - 2
Marathi Moggu - 1
Grated coconut - 3T (refer notes)
Ghee - 1t


1. Wash and soak the rice and dal together along with the peanuts.
2. Pressure cook the rice, dal and peanuts in 6 cups of water along with a pinch of turmeric.
3. When the rice-dal is cooking, prepare the masala. 
4. Heat 1 teaspoon of ghee in a kadai and add all the masala ingredients one by one except coconut. When the spices have browned add the grated coconut and fry till it is brown. Cool and grind to a coarse powder. 
5. Heat ghee in a large pressure pan / kadai. Add the curry leaves and onions and fry well.
6. Add the mixed vegetables and fry well.
7. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and mix well.
8. Add sambar powder and tamarind pulp along with a cup of water and bring to a boil.
9. Take two tablespoons of the ground masala and mix with water to make a paste.
10. Add the paste to the vegetables and bring to a boil. Simmer and allow the vegetable to be cooked till soft(you can pressure cook for 1 whistle at this stage). 
11. Mash the rice-dal and add it to the boiling vegetables. Add salt and mix well. 
12. Taste and adjust spice and salt. If less spicy add some more masala paste and mix well. Add a cup of water if it is too thick bring to a boil and mix well.
13. Switch off the stove and add a dollop of ghee on top. (highly recommended)
14. Serve hot with appalam and pickle.


  • The masala powder can be made in bulk and stored in the fridge. But the flavor will not be the same when it is 2-3 weeks old. I normally make it fresh when I have guests and use the leftover powder for a quick weekday lunch.
  • You can use a wide range of vegetables like Raw banana, drumstick (recommended), radish, avarakkai etc. Don't overload the vegetables. It should be more of rice-dal with a sprinkling of vegetables in every bite. 
  • Small Onions / Pearl Onions / Shallots gives the dish a wonderful flavor. If you do not get them, then substitute with 1 big onion. Some people add them whole but I dont like finding them in my food. So I have sliced them.
  • Traditionally Kopparai (Dry coconut) is used for Bisi Bele Bath. If you have them, then do use it instead of grated coconut as it takes the dish to another level. 
  • BisiBele Bath should be gooey. It should not be dry. If you find it dry, then adjust water at step 12. 
  • You can also garnish with cashew nuts roasted in ghee.
  • Do not skimp on the ghee as BisiBele bath is not for the calorie conscious. Even without the ghee its not going to be low calorie. So go ahead and indulge :-)
  • It usually is a dark brown color but the shades may differ depending on the quality of tamarind used.
  • Always serve it hot with a dollop of ghee.

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