Bisi-bela-huli-anna is a signature dish of Karnataka cuisine. I have split the name to explain what it means.
In Kannada (language spoken in the state of Karnataka), bisi means hot, bela means lentil (paruppu/dal), huli means tamarind/puli, and anna means cooked rice. The name pretty much gives you the recipe in a nutshell! It's a wholesome dish that has starch, protein, fat, and vitamins in the form of vegetables. Can be a one-pot dish if cooked the traditional way, but for ease and quickness, I cook the rice and the dal separately and add to the pot in which the tamarind is boiled with vegetables and spices. So, mine is kind of a 3-pot meal, but takes a lot less time.
This is an involved recipe and the list of ingredients could be intimidating at first, but if you plan and get organized, it really is a simple dish to make and enjoy for a couple of days! On to the recipe now!
1cuprice, such as basmatiI typically use white basmati, feel free to sub with grains or brown rice
1/2cuptoor dalcooked and mashed
1lemon-sizedTamarind pulpsoak in warm water
Spices To Roast And Grind To A Paste
2tbsptoor dal or toor and chana dal, combined
2inch piececinnamon stick + 5 clovescinnamon and cloves are a must in this recipe
1pinchkalpasioptional ; See notes
3-4piecesmarati mogguoptional; see notes
1/2cup fresh/frozen, thawed coconut
8-10dryred chiliesuse less or substitute with kashmiri chilies for less heat
1/4cupraw or dry roasted peanuts
3tbspghee or ghee+oil mixed
2cups assorted, chopped vegetablesAlmost any vegetable can be used (except maybe broccoli)
Cook rice until very soft, I pressure cook for an extra two minutes, for a total of 10 minutes. Cook toor dal (1 measure of dal to 3 measures of water)
Extract tamarind juice from the pulp, to make roughly two cups
While the rice and dal are cooking, chop all the vegetables. For today, I used carrots, beans, shallots, and kohlrabi
Gather the spices for roasting
Boil the tamarind extract with the vegetables, with 2 tsp of the salt
Heat a heavy bottom pan/kadai and when fairly hot, add a tsp of oil. Start with the cloves, cinnamon, and the kalpasi and marati moggu if using
When the spices are fragrant (frying in the oil will release the aroma in all these spices), add the toor/chana dal, coriander seeds and roast for a few seconds; when they turn slightly reddish gold, add the chilies
Saute for a few minutes, taking care not to burn them. Add the coconut and the curry leaves
Toast until the coconut looks deliciously toasted, and your whole kitchen smells wonderful
Let cool and using a blender, blend into a paste, adding water as needed
Now it's time to assemble and finish. Add the spice paste to the boiling tamarind extract, and cook for about 3-5 minutes
Add the dal and cook for another two minutes
Add the cooked rice, and mix everything gently; add the remaining salt and mix. The dish should be fairly liquidy, and will solidify a bit when cool.
Let it cook for a few minutes on low heat, check often to make sure the rice and dal are not sticking to the bottokm; in the mean time, heat the same pan used to roast the spices, and add the tempering oil/ghee mix; add the mustard seeds, chili, and when the mustard seeds pop, add the peanuts and fry
Pour this mix over the dish
Turn the heat off; the dish tastes best after it rests for about 20 minutes, even better the next day
Serve with fried papad, and/or a cucumber/onion/tomato raita, and extra ghee drizzled over the top
Instant Pot Bisibela
Start with dal in the IP - I cooked it for about 15 mins under pressure, then released pressure.
While the dal was cooking: I got the vegetables ready - shallots, carrots, beans, extracted tamarind juice from the soaked tamarind, soaked the rice
Open the IP, add the vegetables, tamarind extract, rice, and enough salt, and water (rice+vegetables:water in the ratio of 1:3)
Cover, select "Rice" setting on the IP display, and seal
While the rice is cooking, toast the masala ingredients, and blend into a thick paste
Open the IP after releasing pressure, add the ground masala, and cook without sealing/pressure for about 5-7 minutes to let the flavors meld
Open, and temper as usual! Bisibela in one pot (except for roasting spices and tempering) is ready!
Although it's similar to sambar in the sense that it has the same building blocks (dal, tamarind extract, and spices) to call it sambar rice, especially in front of a Kannadiga would be a grave insult, and will likely result in you never being invited again 🙂
Jokes aside, this dish is a favorite of my son, and he requests it every time he comes home. He likes mine, his aunt's, and a friend's version, and has told each of us that ours is the best!
As for vegetables, feel free to use any combination of vegetables you may have on hand. My most favorites are shallots and drumsticks (moringa stem, not the leaves), as they both impart a lovely flavor to the dish.
Kalpasi: This is a kind of fungi that's used in Chettinad cuisine, and in this dish, and I found it in Bangalore. It's not readily available in Indian stores in the US. I have also made it without this spice, but using it definitely adds a flavor dimension.
Another spice that I only found in Bangalore in any store, I love adding this to this as well as my vangibaath. But you can make it without it as well.
This is indeed a wholesome, (possibly) one-pot meal that incorporates all the food groups and is a crowd pleaser. Easily scalable (just increase everything proportionately using this as a base to serve 4-6 people), it's a great main dish for parties.
My recipe is a blend of tips and tricks I learned from my Kannadiga friends, my mom, and cousins. If you do make it, would love to see photos of it!
Instant Pot Recipe - Updated:
I have not included instructions for pressure release and settings on the IP. If you're used to cooking in IP, you most likely know how to do all that. A separate post on IP may be posted if needed, but there are thousands of IP usage instructionals on the interwebs. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel 🙂