Bisi bele bath was a speciality dish prepared in the kitchen of Mysore palace a few centuries ago, and it is still a popular rice dish in Karnataka. Bisi bele bath is a hearty meal prepared by stewing rice, lentils & vegetables along with a spice powder in tamarind juice just like any other sambar sadam, kootanchoru, or kadamba sadam. But bisi bele bath is made special by adding fresh peanuts and/or fresh beans 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 generous amount of ghee. It is divine when spicy bisi bele bath is served viscid & hot (as the name [bisi means hot] suggests) in the cold winter night along with warm curd rice.
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.
Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.
Born into a family of vegetarians I am totally clueless about the flavors of meat of any kind and hence I used to wonder what makes people to have cravings for meat. So I have been looking for vegetable substitutes for meat, and then started trying out the most popular meat-based recipes like biryani, kebab, kurma, etc. using those vegetable substitutes.
Biryani is a medley of rice, vegetables (or meat) & spices popular in India, Srilanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries in south Asia & central Asia. Traditionally biryani is cooked over hot coal in a sealed cooking pot allowing the aroma of spices permeated into the vegetables (or meat) & rice. This method of cooking in low heat is known as “Dum” process. Now I have prepared Paneer Dum biryani in this process over stove top, nowadays dum biryani is also prepared using slow cooker, or baked in the oven.
Peas pulao is a simple but delicious and aromatic rice dish. It is so captivating to see the rice dish dotted with green peas, and hence it can be served to the guests at the family gatherings.
Aadi Perukku is a festival of fertility & prosperity celebrated in south India for over 500 years. It was mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature, Paripadal, written in the 14th century about the celebration of this festival.
Tamarind rice is a traditional rice dish popular not only in Tamilnadu but also in other states in South India and are called as puliyodharai, puliohare, or puli sadam. Puliyodharai stays good & tastes divine even if it is kept without being refrigerated for 3 or 4 days. Earlier people used to pack tamarind rice and carry it in large quantities for their family trips and it was regarded as the ideal food for travel.
Preparing Sweet Pongal used to be a difficult task for me when I started cooking, it took really a long time for me to meet my expectation of making sakkarai pongal similar to the one served in temples.
Chitrannam is a platter of different rice varieties usually prepared on the day of Aadi perukku ie. 18th day of Aadi month in Tamil calendar. It is believed that whatever we do on that day would grow manifold, so farmers used to sow their seeds expecting a good yield, businessmen venture into new business, and people in every walk of life eager to start something new.
Ulundham Paruppu Sadham (Black gram rice) is a unique rice prepared by people in Tirunelveli, a southern town of Tamilnadu. Sesame chutney is similar to Mediterranean Tahini sauce and is an essential side served with black gram rice. We usually serve this nutritious meal to young girls during their cycle every month. Although we prepare this meal specially for young girls & pregnant women, it can be served to kids, men & old people alike.
Interestingly Indian Biryani & Italian Risotto share some similarities: Seeraga samba rice & arborio rice are of same texture and they are cooked al dente in both the recipes. Seeraga samba rice is a quintessential ingredient of biryani in south India for its wonderful flavor, it also absorbs the flavors of all the spices used in it, and it does not gather into thick lumps.
Thuvaram paruppu sadham (rice with split pigeon peas) is a traditional flavorful one-pot meal popular in Tirunelveli. I usually prepare our favorite thuvaram paruppu sadam for lunch on a lazy weekend as it does not require much of a planning. Besides I can serve this rice simply as a meal along with appalam or papadam (sun-dried lentil discs) and vengaya vadagam (sun-dried lentil and shallot balls). It is so delightful when we pour coconut oil lavishly over the rice and relish with crunchy appalam & flavorful vadagam.
Citrus fruits are beneficial to boost our immunity, energy and also our mood and they aid in detoxification & digestion, this was the main reason that lemon rice was earlier prepared & packed for short travels. So even today we can pack this traditional rice dish for children’s lunch box as it helps to keep them active & energetic all through the day.
Generally vegetable biryani served in restaurants are greasy, overly spiced, and made of semi-cooked rice tossed with few vegetables. Hence I prefer to make simple flavorful delicious vegetable biryani at home, and I like to add textured soya for making protein-rich delicious biryani. Soy biryani is a wholesome meal and is usually served with refreshing raita.
Kootanchoru is a traditional one-pot meal prepared for lunch by my maternal grandmother at our family gatherings especially in the summer vacation every year. She used to prepare this flavorful rice dish with locally grown vegetables like drumsticks, drumstick leaves, raw banana, raw mango, jackfruit seeds, etc. and she served us kootan-choru with home-made fried appalam & vadagam. The main attraction for kids in this meal are the nutty jackfruit seeds & the mango seed encapsulated by tangy fleshy mango. I still remember the mixed flavors of vegetables, spices and deep-fried vengaya vadagam emanating from her kitchen when we all played in the courtyard.