Bisi bele bath was a specialty dish prepared in the kitchen of Mysore palace a few centuries ago, and it is still a popular rice dish in Karnataka. It is a hearty meal prepared by stewing rice, lentils & vegetables along with a spice powder in tamarind juice just like sambar sadam, or kadamba sadam or kootanchoru, a counterpart in Tamil cuisine. This Karnataka specialty dish is made flavourful by adding fresh peanuts along with other vegetables, a unique flavorful spice powder made with the distinctly aromatic Marati moggu (kapok bud) as the star ingredient, and also by adding the spices tempered in ghee. It is divine when a spicy Bisi bele bath is served hot (as the name [bisi means hot] suggests) & viscid and hence the perfect meal for cold winter nights.
Horse gram crops are usually grown in drought-hit parts of India particularly in South India, and both the beans & hay are used as fodder mainly for horses. Since horse gram is considered a nutritional powerhouse, it is normally recommended for workmen or sportsmen who involve themselves in physically challenging activities, but for others, it may be consumed in small quantities. So I used to make horse gram idli or dosa when my son actively participates in sports, and I also like to include horse gram into our diet during winter or monsoon as it is useful to keep our body warm in this season.
Spinach curry is one of the most popular Indian curries not only for Indians but also for the people across the globe. It is a traditional winter curry prepared using leafy greens & cottage cheese (paneer). Spinach curry with paneer is commonly prepared using palak (Indian spinach), whereas saag paneer is prepared using mustard leaves. Here I have prepared spinach curry with the South Indian spinach namely Amaranth leaves (mulai keerai). Actually it is as delicious as palak paneer and creamier than palak paneer.
A majority of my ancestors were farmers, my maternal grandfather became the last agriculturist of our family due to several reasons. They mostly grew rice & lentil crops in their farmland. There were large amounts of nutrient-rich broken rice and broken lentils kept inside kudhil (a gigantic earthenware used to store foodgrains) in my grandfather’s house. Since those small uneven particles of rice & lentil (kurunai) could not be sold in the market, they were used by our grandmother for making upma, payasam, kanji, kurunai dosai, etc.
It is a common tendency of people here that they pamper their guests whom they respect the most with sumptuous feasts to express their special affinity towards them. So the way food offered to guests is obviously regarded as a scale to measure their closeness. During my childhood days, I often found people getting offended during family functions, particularly weddings, as they felt humiliated at the banquet hall (pandhi) which incidentally became the starting point (place) of most of the family feuds. Nowadays to avoid such unpleasant situations, people hire hosts/ hostesses who give an artificial smile at every guest, treat them all with due respect, and eventually ensure the equality.
Oil bath is almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago. Surprisingly it offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. But people nowadays prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there. Most of us take oil bath at home only as a religious ritual on the day of Deepavali festival every year.
A long time ago I read through an eye-opening piece of information published in almost all the newspapers & magazines about the special menu meticulously planned by the top chefs to ease the tension during the talks between Indian premier & Pakistan president at Agra summit in 2001. It made me to realize for the first time that the food we ingest not only nourishes our body but also influences our mind, mood, or thoughts as well. It also struck me that it is possible to tame the tantrums played by kids, or to channel the teens’ minds to set their goals by serving mind-calming foods. Apparently every mother could play a crucial role for the physical, mental & emotional well being of her children by serving appropriate food to fulfill their needs.
Navarathri is a festival of worshiping the goddesses Parvathi (for creative power), Saraswathi (for wisdom) & Lakshmi (for wealth). Navarathri celebrations in Tamilnadu is incomplete without making sundal (legume salad). Generally, we offer sundal as naivedyam to deities during Navarathri. We typically prepare sundal using chickpeas or other legumes. So I have prepared sundal using karamani (black eyed beans) for the soft skin & creamy texture. Now I have used karamani of different colors viz., mahogany, peach & white colors and prepared 4 types of sundal.
Lord Ganesha is regarded in the same manner as God Janus in Greek mythology. It is interesting to find the striking similarities between the two, as they both hold the honor of being the first god worshiped in every ritual. I like to start my day by listening to the soul-stirring hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written in Tamil (the oldest language) and sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
We often felt shy talking about food during our childhood days as we might get teased by our peers or others as gourmands. Nowadays, it is a welcome trend that the kids are happily wielding small ladles to cook up their favorite meals (thanks to the TV shows like Masterchef Juniors), and the teens turn to food critics with élan. Today the gourmands proudly declare themselves the foodies and try various cuisines. Apparently, a foodie would find Pesarattu, the golden green crepes, served with melt-in-mouth savory sooji (upma), flavorful lentil stew (sambar), spicy ginger chutney and creamy coconut chutney as a gastronomic delight.
Actually, I am not a soup enthusiast as I remember taking soups when I fell sick during my childhood days. Besides, it is a hot & humid climate almost 75% of the days here, so I would like to take hot vegetable soup only during winter or monsoon. Nevertheless, I like the idea of serving simple yet wholesome soup & salad for dinner as it makes us feel absolutely satiated. Sweet corn soup with sprouted moong salad is one such hearty and healthy meal that can be prepared with little efforts.
Paruthi paal is a cottonseed milk dessert popular in the villages near Madurai, my home town. People, esp. the villagers, prepare a nutritious dessert using cottonseed milk, a traditional vegan milk. As a part of my college education, I served as an NSS (National Service Scheme) volunteer. We used to camp in the surrounding villages during summer vacation to understand the living conditions of the people and also help them improve their standard of living. We were always greeted with a glass of delicious paruthi paal in almost every household in those villages. Normally they used to grind a large quantity of cottonseeds everyday and used as a fodder feed particularly to milking cows. Apparently cottonseed milk is beneficial to lactating mothers as well. Others consume this dessert during summer to keep them cool.
We, generally, prepare puttu using rice flour and serve for breakfast along with spiced or sweetened legumes. Here I have tried using cornmeal (makka chola maavu) as I find cornmeal ideally suitable for breakfast compared to rice flour. You can refer the comparison table below for the nutrient values of cornmeal.
Nowadays drumstick (moringa) pods are grown abundantly in my mother’s garden, and she used to keep sending me a batch of these pods every now & then. But it has been boring to see these drumsticks (murungakkai) in our sambar, kuzhambu, kootu & poriyal on our plates every day. Nevertheless I don’t have the heart to waste these amazing fruits of a “miracle” tree considering their nutritive values and health benefits. So I find the drumstick pods soup as a distinctive alternate recipe to use the large quantity of drumsticks in one go.
Crispy Masala Dosa was the only Indian food appeared in the list of World’s Best 50 foods compiled based on the online poll conducted worldwide by CNN Travel in 2017. Dosa is a savory south Indian crepe generally prepared for breakfast or dinner. It can be prepared thin & crispy (paper roast) or soft & spongy (uttapam). Although there are numerous varieties of dosa prepared in South India, masala dosa is the most popular dosa as savory potato filling is stuffed inside the crispy dosa.
Idli, an ancient South Indian delicacy, is now gaining popularity all over the world as a gut-friendly breakfast. Various studies conducted by renowned institutions across the globe state in unison that idli is one of the best breakfasts. Idli is a soft spongy steamed cake made using naturally fermented rice & lentil batter, and it is the most common breakfast in South India.
Indian medicine systems recommend all the ingredients that have an astringent flavor such as banana blossoms (vazhaipoo), pomegranate, red gram (toor dal), Indian blackberry (naval pazham), etc. for women’s health as they keep our uterus strong & healthy. Consuming cooked banana blossom with curd or yoghurt is believed to be one of the most efficient ways of treating excessive bleeding during menstruation as it increases the level of progesterone. So it a good practice to serve vazhaipoo paruppu usili (lentil crumble) with yoghurt curry (mor-kuzhambu).
Dal is the most popular dish served with Indian breads like roti, naan, or pulav. The simple dal can be devoured as a hot lentil soup on a cold winter night. Nevertheless, we can make this simple dal more flavorful by adding tadka (tempering), more nourishing by adding assorted lentils, or rich & creamy by adding ghee and/or fresh cream. Dal Tadka is a hearty lentil curry flavored with ghee-roasted cumin seeds & red chillies. We can prepare this easily with commonly available ingredients in no time.