Grits, polenta, Cream of Wheat, risotto, bulgur, oats, wheat berries, barley -- every culture has their way to transform an innocent little grain into something sublime, but it's the South Indian Khara Bath that steals my heart. Last Fall, we were traveling in Karnataka, a Southwestern State in India, and we ordered a serving of Khara Bath just about every morning for breakfast. It was usually plopped onto a banana leaf and accompanied by a sweet lassi, a delectable combination. We found the best versions of this dish were served in the mess-hall style restaurants in Bangalore. Typically, a young man with buckets of Khara Bath and a small bowl of chutney would walk around the restaurant, giving each diner a healthy portion to start the meal. And that was just the beginning! It's a good thing that my Indian traveling philosophy was, leave no curry, idli, papadam, chutney, dosa, bath or thali behind!
Now that we're back Stateside, and the Autumn weather has set into the Pacific Northwest (rain, sprinkles and more rain), I find myself craving the savory comfort dish I so adored this time last year. Its earthy, savory flavors are perfect for tucking into with a little mango chutney, fresh cilantro and cashews. After a few recipe tests, I'm amazed that such a good version can be attained at home.
Khara Bath can be found all over South India, with slight variations from each state, restaurant, chef and home cook. Think of the Rava (hulled wheat kernel, similar to Cream of Wheat or "Semolina" as they sometimes call it in India), as a blank canvas to paint any sort of flavor ideas upon. Use this recipe as a guide, then modify it to your spice and ingredient preferences -- that's how they do it on the Sub Continent! Now if you make Khara and Kesari Bath, and serve them side by side, you'll have "Chow Chow Bath." It's a delicious pairing worthy of it's delightful name.
1 cup cooked mixed vegetables (I used a combination of carrot, green peas and tomatoes)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small white onion, roughly chopped
5-6 curry leaves
One 1-inch piece of ginger, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small green chili, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of saffron
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Rava (or Cream of Wheat cereal or even Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Farina will work)
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter or vegan butter-spread
Pepper to taste
First sauté or boil the vegetables you're using, until softened. This is especially important if you're using a carrot, as the rest of the dish comes together pretty quickly, and you want the veggies tender before going into the Bath. Set boiled veggies aside.
Put the oil into a large pot, over high heat. Then put the cumin and mustard seeds into the pot, in the hot oil. After about 10 seconds, the seeds will begin to pop and sputter, that's how you know it's time to put the rest of the spices into the pot. Add the onion, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric, saffron and salt to the pot and sauté about 2 minutes, until onions begin to go transparent and the spices are vey aromatic.
Now, add the Rava (or Cream of Wheat if using) and water to the pot. Cook on high heat, about 5 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed and grain is cooked through. Mix in the butter or vegan butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with toasted cashew pieces, cilantro and mango chutney.
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)