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Spicy sambhar rice (Bisi bele hulli anna)

The most traditional dish of Karnataka is Bisi bele hulli anna. Since I have recently moved to Bangalore, I had to make this the first dish I cooked in the city.

This dish is not just a combination of the traditional sambhar and rice mixed as many folks think, but a unique dish with a completely different spice profile. The dish originated in the kitchens of the Palace of Mysore where it was cooked for royalty. In the old days, the recipe was just rice, lentils and spices as the royalty had access to vegetables as sides. the vegetables were added later to make this dish a nutritionally balanced meal. the recipe was a very closely guarded secret but was eventually released and the dish turned into an iconic dish of the state and is loved across India.

This is a dish with a complex flavour profile. The spice paste adds heat, the tamarind the sourness and the vegetables add subtle flavours. The spice powder as the garnish adds a light texture and roasted nutty flavour. This dish pops on your palate, and this recipe, though a bit complex to make, is so much better than the commercially available dish.

This is one of the first cookbooks that I bought about 30 years ago, I was craving good South Indian cuisine when I moved to Philadelphia for my degree. We have cooked through most of the recipes in this cookbook, each one delicious, it helped us remember our lives in India while we assimilated in the US. This cookbook is always the first to come out when we crave this cuisine, and of course, led me to get every other cookbook written by Chandra Padmanabhan.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the rice:

1 cup basmati rice

1 cup pigeon (toor) peas

4 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

1 cup water

15 shallots, peeled and kept whole

1 green capsicum, diced finely

3-4 small eggplants, quartered

1 carrot, finely diced

1 potato or kohl rabi, finely diced

10-12 green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Salt, to taste

Cilantro, to garnish

Cashew nuts, roasted, to garnish

For the spice paste:

10-12 dried red chillies

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick

3 teaspoons Bengal gram (split chana) dal

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

5 tablespoons desiccated coconut

A pinch asafoetida

3-4 tablespoons water

For the spice powder:

3 tablespoons pigeon (toor) peas

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

3 teaspoons basmati rice

3 tablespoons fresh grated coconut

For the temper:

3 tablespoons ghee

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon black gram (urad) dal

1 tablespoon Bengal gram (split chana) dal

2 dried red chillies

10-12 curry leaves

Soak the rice and toor dal in water for 45 minutes, or overnight.

Rinse the rice and dal out and add the 4 1/2 cups water and salt. bring to a boil and simmer for 45-60 minutes till the dal is cooked and soft. The rice will be very soft. It is okay if there is still some water left in the rice after is it cooked.

Meanwhile make the spice powder, and dry roast all the ingredients, except the fresh coconut, individually till toasted and aromatic. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice mill. Set aside.

To make the spice paste, dry roast all the ingredients till toasted and aromatic. Cool and add to a small ble]nder with the water. Grind to a fine paste. Set aside.

Heat the ghee in a large pot, one large enough for all the ingredients. Add the temper ingredients in the order listed and fry on low heat for 1 minute till aromatic. Add the shallots and fry for 2-3 minutes till the onions turn translucent and soft.

Add the rest of the vegetables and continue to cook on low heat with the lid closed for 10 minutes till the eggplants are soft and cooked through. Toss the ingredients every few minutes.

Add the spice paste, tamarind, water, and salt and mix in well. Cook for 3-4 minutes till the spices are aromatic. Add the cooked rice and lentils and mix in well.

Serve hot in a bowl garnished with cashew nuts, cilantro, grated coconut and spice powder.

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