The pre Sankranti(Pongal) days are very busy days for the farmers of India. That is the time when they reap what they had sown, when mother Earth showers her bounty on all those who toiled.
Our ancestral house buzzed with the harvesting activities in preparation to welcome the Dhanya Lakshmi-THE GODDESS who blesses us with grains-that is the harvested paddy into the house.
Grandfather supervised the preparation of the open courtyard, where the paddy had to be mounded up. The floor was well swept, sprinkled with water and a stone roller was rolled all over to level the ground. Then it was plastered with a mixture of cow dung and water. Cow dung is believed to be an insect repellent as well as a disinfectant. After it dried in the Sun the floor looked spick and span, and was ready to hold the paddy.
The family owned lands were a twenty five miles away from our house.The farmers filled up the jute sacs with the paddy and loaded them on to the bullock carts and they would slowly saunter towards our house. Grandfather and father kept count as the farmers measured the paddy in marakkal-a measuring can used for the purpose- and heaped the measured paddy on the previously prepared floor. As the paddy hillock grew in size, we the mischievous foursome, as children, climbed the 'hill' and slid down again and again, in spite of knowing the consequences of our pranks. Later when we complained and squealed about the intolerable itching, mother gave us all a good bath interspersed with a few thrashes.
Grandmother laid a wooden plank in the middle of the hall and decorated it with designs drawn with a mixture of rice flour and water (rangoli or kolam). A basketful of the new harvest was placed on the plank and she performed a small pooja-worship-to the Lakshmi with gratitude. A sheaf of paddy was hung in the doorway for the house sparrows to peck in as they flitted in and out of the house.
At the end of the tiring but fulfilling exercise of the harvest, father fed the farmers with a delicious sambar rice (Rice, dal and vegetables cooked with spice) lovingly prepared with his own hands.With the help of his Man Friday, he made a stove by arranging three big stones under the huge jack fruit tree at the bottom of our garden. A huge brass cauldron filled with water was placed on the stove which was fed with dry fire wood. When the water boiled father added rice, dal and the vegetables meticulously cut by mother. Mother ground the spices in the big stone mortar in the kitchen and carried it to the garden in a big vessel.
The aroma of the Sambar rice wafted in the gentle breeze and tickled our hunger pangs, as we played see-saw on the yokes of the bullock carts, while the bullocks rested in the shades of the trees chewing the cud contentedly.
Father stirred in a big dollop of ghee into the Sambar rice and served it on big banana leaves freshly cut from the garden. His face shone with great joy and contentment when the farmers hungrily gulped down the delicacy.
I have not tasted anything that resembled my father's Sambar rice in all my sixty years of life.
Here is a short and quick way to prepare the delicious Sambar rice (bisi-hot,bele-dal,bath-rice).
BISI BELE BATH / SAMBAR RICE
Rice - 100 gms
Tuvar Dal - 100 gms
Turmeric powder- 1 pinch.
Ghee-2 table spoons
Tamarind - the size of a plum.( 1 or 2 tea spoons or to taste if it is paste.)
Salt -2 teaspoons or to taste.
Asafoetida - 1 small piece or 1/4 tsp if it is powder.
Bengal gram dal - 1 tbsp
Coriander seeds -1 tbsp.
Red chilies - 8 numbers
Black gram dal -1/2 tsp
Black pepper -4 numbers.
Fenugreek seeds -1/4 tsp.
Cardamom - 1.
Cinnamon stick -1/2 inch.
Cloves - 4
Dry coconut gratings -1 tbsp.
String beans - 12
Shelled peas -1 small cup.
Potatoes - 1.
Onion - 1.
Mustard seeds -1/4 tsp
Curry leaves -a few.
Cashew nuts or ground nuts - a little.
Step I - Wash the rice and set it aside.
Step II- Roast the tuvar dal in 1/4 tsp of ghee until you get a pleasant aroma.
Step III- Set the rice, dal and turmeric powder in a vessel with 3/4 lit. of water in the pressure cooker
Step IV- Dice the onions and keep them aside.
Step V-Skin, peel and dice all other vegetables and set them in another separator of the pressure cooker and place it on top of the rice dal vessel.
Step VI - Fill a very small cup with water, drop in the tamarind ball, and place it in a corner of the vegetable separator.
Step VII -Pressure cook as usual.
PREPARATION OF SPICE POWDER
Step I- Heat 1/4 tsp of cooking oil in a pan and roast asafoetida, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom . When you get a pleasant aroma, add the rest of the spices and roast until they become golden in colour.
Step II- Dry grind the roasted ingredients into a fine powder. Add the dry coconut gratings and run the mixer for a few more minutes.
PREPARATION OF BISI BELE BATH /SAMBAR RICE
Step I- Heat 1 tbsp of cooking oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds to it. When it splutters add curry leaves and diced onions.
Step II- Open the cooker take out the tamarind and extract the juice.
Step III - Pour the juice into the pan with 2 glasses of water.
Step IV- Add salt and the cooked vegetables and bring it to a boil.
Step V- Add the cooked rice and dal mixture and stir well. Add more water for a porridge like consistency.
Step VI - Make a paste of the powdered spice and water. Add this paste to the rice and blend well.
Step VII- Cook for two more minutes until the spice blends with the rice-dal vegetable mixture.
Step VIII- Add 1 tbsp of ghee and immediately remove from the fire.
Step IX- Roast the nuts in the remaining ghee and garnish.
Enjoy the hot hot Bisi Bele Bath with Potato chips.