South Indian Rice with Lentils (Bisi Bele Bhath)

One-pot meals are the bee’s knees, wouldn’t you agree?

The prep time is minimal, ingredients are simple, your kitchen doesn’t get all messy, and dinner is ready in under an hour. I like that.

If that’s not enough, one-pot meals leave you with leftovers; and from the feedback you’ve left on the meal planning giveaway post, you love leftovers just as much as me!

I’m glad we see eye to eye on leftovers… I think we’d make great real-life friends.

Okay, so now that I’ve sold you on the whole one-pot meal idea, let’s get right to it.

Today’s one-pot wonder comes all the way from India. Surprise, surprise!

Indian cooking is heavily reliant on one-pot meals. The flavors are bold, the ingredients are simple, and the result is jaw-droppingly awesome. Yes, jaw-droppingly.

The kitchens I visited in the South were very basic – many of them only had one or two pots and pans, a cutting knife, cast-iron grill for their breads, eating utensils, and metal trays. As a result, Indians have mastered the art of one-pot cooking.

The meals I enjoyed during my time there were hands down some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. They had less than 10 ingredients, were made with love, and many of them were created using just one-pot!

In today’s one-dish wonder, we’re whipping up a batch of Indian rice and lentils, also known as bisi bele bhath. The direct translation of bisi bele bhath meals hot lentil rice. The name says it all, really. It’s naturally gluten-free, vegan, inexpensive, and delicious.

The traditional preparation of this dish involves the use of spicy masala, toor dal (a type of lentil that I wasn’t able to find at the grocery store) and vegetables. Spices like nutmeg, curry leaves and tamarind pulp (another ingredient that’s hard to find so I replaced it with date syrup) contribute to the unique flavor and taste of this dish.

It is served hot and sometimes eaten alongside salad, papad or potato chips. For a healthier potato chip option, try pan-frying cubed potato in some coconut oil for about 15 minutes and dropping over top of your individual portion. So good.

Instead of using store-bought masala, I opted to make my own and was happily pleased with just how easy it was. I also threw in some dehydrated coconut for good measure, South India style.

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South Indian Rice with Lentils (Bisi Bele Bhath)
Recipe type: Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Yeast-free, Corn-free, Nut-free
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
One-pot meal of spicy south Indian rice with lentils and homemade coconut masala.
Coconut masala
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1-3 red chili's (optional) *see note
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2" stick of cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves or 8 whole cloves
  • 8 white peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
Main event
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil
  • 6 curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 cup diced red onion onion
  • 1¼ teaspoon Himalayan rock salt
  • ¼ cup diced french beans
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup diced potatoes
  • ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
  • ½ cup cubed eggplant
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed well
  • ½ cup moong dal, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed well
  • 6 cup water
  • 1-2 tablespoon date syrup if chilis were used in the masala
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  1. Melt coconut oil in a large cast iron pan on medium-high heat. Add curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cumin seed. Cook until cumin seeds are brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add onion and salt, stir to combine and continue to cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add beans, carrots, potatoes, red pepper and eggplant to the mix and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Transfer vegetable mixture into a large saucepan. Add rice, lentils and water. Cover and bring to a boil on high heat.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until rice is tender.
  5. Meanwhile, place all masala ingredients in a small cast iron pan. Cook on medium high heat until coconut has browned, about 3 minutes. Grind in a coffee grinder or small processor and set aside.
  6. Add homemade coconut masala and date syrup if chili's were used in the masala. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat, stir in fresh cilantro and serve.
! don't handle my spice well, so I made the first batch with no chili at all. It was good, but lacked the kick! For the second batch, I tried it with 1 chili and it was perfect. Feel free to go up to using 3 chili's if you're the adventurous type. I'm pretty sure I'd burn my face off if I tried it.

Soaking the rice and lentils made a huge impact on the digestibility of this dish. I couldn’t believe how easy it was on my tummy. Major win in my books!

Feel free to mix and match your veggies for this recipe. I’ve added zucchini, celery, green peppers, fennel, Chinese eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower to the mix and all of it was downright delicious.

Sauteing the garlic and ginger with the several spices is my favorite part about making most Indian meals. The spices are so fragrant!

Once all of your veggies are coated in the turmeric mix, throw everything in a pot and let it cook away for 30 minutes.

While your dinner is busy simmering, you can get started on the masala. I was intimidated to try making masala from scratch but it turned out to  be really easy!

You want to brown the spices to release as much as the flavor as possible. The cumin seeds will begin to bounce on the bottom of the pan, and the coconut will turn brown and release just the perfect amount of oil to prevent everything from burning.

After 30 minutes of simmering, remove the lid and check on the texture of the rice. It should be soft and perfect!

Add your homemade masala, stir, and return to the stove for 5 minutes. The longer you heat the masala, the spicier the dish will be.

Add some cilantro, and you’re set.

If you’re lucky like me and your boyfriend is now tired of eating Indian food, you’ve successfully prepared 6 whole meals for yourself.

Hurrah for leftovers!

Do you have a favorite one-pot meal?


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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. Hey there, me again :) I made this recently and my family and I agreed that it was a bit lackluster. I ended adding more pepper flakes and some garam masala.
    I’m not trying to bash or anything because it was great with the family but next time I make this, I would replace some of the water with coconut milk. I think that’s what was missing.

    And thanks for going to India and coming back with recipes. I acquired a love for Indian food when I was in Singapore but can never understand the menu so I never know what I’m ordering.

    • Hi Linda – hope you’re having a good weekend! Thanks for your feedback on the recipe, I’m wondering if the quality of the herbs you used resulted in a different taste. Many of the herbs I used in this recipe were purchased in India and had LOADS of flavor. Sorry it was missing something for you. The times I’ve made it, it’s been bang on. Now that I’m out of all those spices, I’ll make this again and keep your coconut milk recommendation in mind.

      I never knew what I was ordering in India either!

  2. Ever since you posted about the dosa, I have been madly craving Indian food for the past two weeks. We are finally going to an Indian restaurant tonight, but this recipe has me thinking…maybe I can MAKE something just as wonderful at home :) I will be trying this as soon as I make it over to my favorite grocery store, they have each country’s foods and seasonings, categorized by aisle. Hope they have curry leaves! Also, can I use black pepper, does it make a difference from the white?

    • Enjoy your meal out on the town! Sounds lovely, Tiffany. Black or white pepper, it’ll still taste great! I whipped up another batch of this recipe last night and didn’t use curry leaves. It made a difference, but only slightly so if you can’t find them, no worries.

  3. Hello!
    This looks amazing! I can’t wait to make it…. only thing is I don’t see a measurement for the lentils? Am I overlooking something?

    • Hi Sarah – the lentils are listed as moong dal in the recipe, 1/2 cup. Enjoy!

  4. WOW LEANNE! These are some seriously nice pictures! Mouth watering, makes me want to grab a bite right off my screen even though I don’t really care much for Indian food. Absolutely incredible set right here. You’ve really outdone yourself. I am simply blown away!
    And I must admit that the dish does look very yummy! I might be tempted to give it a try when I’m in the mood for a little bit of Indian! :)

    • Aw thanks, Sonia. Coming from you, that means a whole lot!

  5. Being Indian I eat this way too much but if mum was making your recipe, I doubt I would say that – it looks incredible :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  6. I love how you will be supporting my current Indian kick! This looks fabulous and I think I will love that coconut masala. I recently made a mango curry with toor dal and a coconut garam masala from 660 Curries and it was so incredibly delicious. Will definitely give this a go as well. :)

  7. How long do you soak the lentils and rice for? I love lentils, but my digestive track does not love them!

    • The rice and lentils were both soaked for 2 hours, then rinsed and drained. All the instructions are in the recipe too, just in case.

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