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In my efforts to make complete, nourishing, taste-tempting meals, I find one-dish meals convenient. Vegetable rice dishes are one-dish combinations of vegetables and grains. They are usually prepared by sautéing vegetables; adding spices; stirring in the grain to lightly toast and coat it with fat, adding a cooking liquid, and then cooking the mixture until the grain is tender. I usually make a larger amount so that the leftovers can be packed for my lunch the next day. With 10 minutes between classes, packed food is really a boon.

The recipes below are slight variations of this procedure. South Indian cooking demands that the masalas for the rice be perfect. These masalas can be prepared in moderate amounts and set aside in air-tight containers for multiple days. My Bengali neighbor and friend frequently tells me that South Indians have a myriad of masalas to choose from—rasam powder, sambar powder, vanghi bhath powder etc.—and if my cooking came out good she attributes that to these masalas, the spice of life!

Also, the tenderness of the rice makes all the difference in world. The South Indian fried rice and Vangi Bhath require the rice to be separate and grainy. The Bisibele Bhath, however, requires the rice to be of a porridge consistency. The latter, in fact, is an entire meal, since protein-filled toor dal is cooked along with the rice and vegetables. These items are guaranteed to carry you beyond the pleasures of ordinary food into the realms of epicurean delight!

Bisibele Bhath or Vangi Bhath Powder
½ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup chana dal
¼ cup urad dal
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp dried coconut flakes
2-3 cloves
a pinch of asafetida
1 tbsp methi seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole black pepper
10 pieces dried red chilies

Roast the ingredients in small quantities of oil till golden brown. Set aside to cool and dry ground into semi-coarse powder.

An interesting variation is to substitute the dry coconut flakes with fresh coconut. Anything fresh always adds zest to the preparation. This masala variation, however, has to be used with the rice immediately and cannot be stored.

South Indian Fried Rice
2 cups Basmati rice (washed, cooked with 4 cups water and cooled so that grains are separate)
1 onion chopped (optional)
½ cup peas
1 bell pepper chopped
1 carrot thinly chopped
1 cup cabbage chopped
3 medium-sized potatoes chopped
10-15 green beans chopped
1 stalk curry leaves
2 green chilies halved
½ cup broken cashews
2 tbsp small raisins
½ cup peanuts
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp sambar masala
2 tsp Besebele Bhath powder (see recipe above)
¼ tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp oil
Chopped cilantro leaves (for garnish)
1. Heat oil in a heavy large skillet.
2. Add asafetida, mustard seeds, halved green chilies, curry leaves, and cumin seeds. Allow for spluttering.
3. Add the urad dal, chana dal, cashews, peanuts, and fry till light brown.
4. Add onions (optional) and stir.
5. Add all other vegetables, raisins, salt, and masalas. Stir for 8-10 minutes till the vegetables are cooked to your satisfaction.
6. Add the vegetable mixture to the cooled, cooked rice.
7. Add lemon juice and coriander leaves. Mix well but gently.
Serve hot with potato chips and pappadums.

Vanghi Bhath
This is a variation of the South Indian fried rice.

Omit all other vegetables and raisins. Add just 2 chopped eggplants in the fifth step of the recipe mentioned above. Eggplants will also need a little more oil. Add 2-3 tablespoons more oil for shallow frying.

Tip: Gingelly oil gives this recipe a better taste, and the more oil added to this dish, the better it tastes. This could be called cooking’s “dirty little secret!”

Lemon juice can be omitted, in favor of tamarind. The rest of the steps remain the same.

Bisibele Bhath
This is another variation of the South Indian fried rice. Almost all of the ingredients are the same except the raisins and peanuts.

You also need a ratio of 2:2/3cup (rice to toor dal), both washed and pressure-cooked.

Follow steps 1 through 5 mentioned for the fried rice recipe above.

Add 2 to 3 cups water and 3 tablespoons of tamarind puree. Allow for boiling.

Add the rice and toor dal mixture into the large skillet.

Mix all ingredients well. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of ghee and garnish with coriander leaves.

See, there are so many rice dishes one could make with that “Magic masala!” These items go well with pappadums and yogurt preparations. You can make these dishes for your next outdoor picnic. Most of all, enjoy!

Vaidehi Madabushi loves cooking and is a connoisseur of great-tasting vegetarian food.