Tag Archives: indianfood

Do You Love Black Eyed Peas Too?

I told someone the other day that I had black-eyed peas for dinner. She gave me a funny look. It took me a few seconds to get why.

But seriously, I love black-eyed peas. The legume.

It was one of those evenings when I didn’t have very much on hand in the crisper. Just an avocado, some butter lettuce, a bit of cilantro and some green chilies. I also wanted something light that wouldn’t take too long to cook. Thankfully, I spied a can of black-eyed peas, just waiting to be opened. And of course, I knew exactly what I was going to make: Indomexican “tacos’ with a South Indian style curried black-eyed peas in corn tortillas or lettuce.

This dish is for those who want something fresh and tasty. And quick.

Oh and this dish happens to be gluten free, dairy free, soy free and is perfect for Meatless Mondays.

south indian tortillas with black eyed peas, coconut chutney, butter lettuce

A South Indian taco

Printer Friendly Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed
  • 2 small green chiles, chopped
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 5-10 curry leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Juice of ½ lime or lemon
  • 3 tablespoons shredded coconut
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Corn tortillas or lettuce (I used butter lettuce, but others will work too)
  • 1 avocado, sliced

Recipe

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. When you see ripples on the surface of the oil, drop in a mustard seed. If it sizzles, the oil is hot. Sizzle the mustard seeds and curry leaves for just 10 seconds. Be careful as the oil will splash.

Saute the onion and chiles until the onion is slightly brown, 5-10 minutes.

Add the black-eyed peas and mix well. Turn off heat.

Stir in the coconut, cilantro and lime juice.

Serve with coconut chutney, avocado slices and tortillas or lettuce. Wrap and enjoy.

Note to self: Need more black-eyed peas in my life. 

stone ground corn tortillas with a south indian black eyed peas filling

stone ground corn tortillas with a south indian black-eyed peas filling

lettuce tortillas with south indian black eyed peas filling

Lettuce tortillas with south indian black-eyed peas filling

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Filed under India, Mexico, Recipe

Cucumber sandwiches with spicy mint chutney and homemade tomato sauce

mint chutney and homemade ketchup tea sandwiches, backyard mint

graceful wisteria blossoms

It was a sunny evening a few days ago when I was wandering about the backyard that had come alive with colorful flowers. The rhubarb plants seemed to have sprung out of nowhere and the asparagus sprouts had become a bush! The wisteria blossoms hung gracefully from the roof of the garage. Our dining room looks out to the backyard and seeing this lush garden come alive always brings a smile to my face.

In my last post, I shared a recipe for almond breadcrumb fritters dipped in cardamom and vanilla honey syrup. It was divine. It was my sweet tribute to my mom and all moms. And thinking about my mom and food always reminds me of what she would make for my brother and I when we were kids. Sometimes I wonder if those memories glorify the food we ate as kids more so than they deserve. I don’t think so but they do say that memories are always rosier than reality.Every once in a while though, it feels great to relive the memories and cook something from your childhood. A couple of days ago, I did just this.

One of the traditions that Indians picked up from the British is that of afternoon tea. When we came back home from school, my mom would make us chai or bournvita with cookies (or biscuits as cookies are known in India). Every once in a while, she would have cucumber sandwiches as well. We always loved it when these simple treats showed up in our lunch boxes. They were also perfect for picnics, easy to make and carry and minimum mess to clean up. And I think I’m going to make these sandwiches again for brunch this weekend.

With my new found allergies, could I recreate this sandwich treat? And if I could, would they stand up to my childhood memories? I was excited to find that Udi’s makes gluten free, dairy free, and soy free breads. And I was pretty sure that I could make the green mint sauce and tomato ketchup that are essential in the cucumber sandwich.

The sauces were really easy to make. The bread was not too bad. You can’t compare it to wheat bread and you shouldn’t. I did find though that toasting the gluten free bread made it taste and hold up better. Obviously, if you are lucky enough to be able to eat gluten, go with your favorite bread. I will say, however, that these tea sandwiches are usually made with white bread, with the crust cut out.

Here’s the recipe and let’s hope this spell of wonderful weather in Seattle continues for a few months 🙂

cucumber sandwiches with mint chutney and homemade tomato sauce

Mint chutney, homemade tomato chutney, crisp slices of cucumber

Printer friendly recipe for cucumber sandwiches

Ingredients

White bread (how many ever slices you need – 2 slices will make 2 sandwiches)

1/2 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

For the spicy mint chutney

  • 3/4 cup of mint leaves (I harvested these from the mint plants that were all over the backyard!)
  • 1-2 thai green chili, optional
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to your taste)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime (feel free to substitute a lemon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground cumin (I used a mortar and pestle)
  • 3-5 pitted dates (more if you added 1 or more chilis)

For the fresh homemade tomato sauce

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilli or powder
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey

Recipe

Blend the mint chutney ingredients with the minimum amount of water needed, about 1/2 a cup. Taste and add more salt or lime juice as desired. If the chutney is too runny, add more mint leaves and blend.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan. Sizzle the cumin seeds and crushed red chili. Add the tomatoes, salt and honey and stir. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and blend. Taste and adjust the salt and honey as desired.

Toast the bread if you like. Spread the mint chutney on one side and the tomato chutney on another. Add a single layer of sliced cucumber pieces. I add 4. Cut out the crust if you like. Slice diagonally or in other fun shapes. Enjoy with a cup of tea or a glass of sparkling wine. This is also a great family friendly recipe since you can simply switch out with regular bread for those who can eat it. Also, you can get kids to help assemble the sandwiches!

And were the sandwiches as good as my mom’s? I realized that it almost didn’t matter. What did was the reliving of them. The sauces were yummy and I used them as a dip the next day for corn chips. The bread was really not too bad, especially toasted, but for me didn’t quite replace the taste of wheat bread. I’m pretty sure though that I will make these again.

homemade spicy mint and tomato sauces with gluten dairy and soy free bread

Toasted gluten free bread with cucumber, spicy mint and homemade tomato sauces

beautiful iris

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Filed under India, Recipe

An Afternoon with Sabudana

Meera Aunty teaching me how to make sabudana khichdi

Meera Handigol, my teacher for an afternoon!

It’s been months since I’ve been back from India, but all the wonderful food experiences that I had there, including this sabudana dish, are still fresh in my mind. And I’m slowly but surely getting around to sharing them here. My excuse is that my recent food allergies have thrown me for a bit of a loop disrupting my blogging plans. I’ve had to give up eating dairy, oats, gluten, soy, sugar, apples, pears, bananas, and raisins, at least for now. While I’m eagerly awaiting the allergy test results which are due back this Friday, I was very excited when I realized Sabudana Khichdi is something that I can eat!

Khichdi is a catchall term for comfort food that typically involve rice, lentils and spices all cooked in the same pot. This dish doesn’t involve rice or lentils but qualifies for the comfort food tag while tingling the tastebuds, in a pleasant way. Sabudana are sago pearls that when soaked and cooked, have a soft but springy texture. Honestly, anything with sabudana is hard to stop eating. It’s addictive. Seriously addictive.

Many people get sago and tapioca confused. Sago is the inner pith of the trunk of the sago palm. Tapioca comes from cassava which is a tuber, like sweet potato. Both sago and tapioca can be processed into small, medium or large pearls. Sabudana khichdi is made from large sago pearls which you should be able to get from most Indian or perhaps Asian grocery stores. Tapioca pearls are more commonly available but they are small pearls and are harder to work with. And I know this from having tried to make sabudana khichdi using small tapioca pearls. Twice. It’s very hard to prevent the tapioca pearls from getting gooey when cooked. I’ll keep trying though and will post a recipe if I achieve success. But that awesome consistency that I mentioned earlier comes through even with gooey tapioca. And before you know it, you’ll be staring at the empty bowl wondering where all that sabudana khichdi you made went.

Going back to my India trip, when I was in Bangalore, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Mrs Meera Handigol, a family friend who taught me the secrets of cooking with sabudana. She showed me how to make both the khichdi and the vadas (fritters). Meera Aunty is from my state of Karnataka (Bangalore is in Karnataka state) originally, but moved to the state of Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located) after getting married and became very familiar with the Maharashtrian cuisine. Maharashtra is just one state north of Karnataka in South India but there are many differences in the cuisines. For instance, very few people in Karnataka use sabudana.

When I arrived, Meera Aunty had all the ingredients already prepped in her spotless kitchen. She had also prepared a sweet coconut chutney to dip the vadas in. With her practiced hand, it took us less than an hour to make both dishes, and take photos. That left plenty of time for eating and chatting later! The sabudana khichdi was simply delightful and light. The vadas were crispy and irresistible.

Here is the sabudana khichdi recipe. I’ll leave the vada for another day. There are relatively few ingredients and both the prep and the cooking steps are simple. Since the sabudana pearls need to be soaked for 4 hours, this is an ideal brunch or lunch dish for weekends. Please note that soaking longer may result in that gooey sabudana that I mentioned earlier. So I recommend practicing this dish a couple of times before serving to guests.

Click here for printer friendly recipe

Sago pearls with potatoes, lightly roasted with cumin seeds and garnished with grated coconut

Sago pearls with potatoes, lightly roasted with cumin seeds and garnished with grated coconut

  • 2 cups large sago or sabudana pearls, rinsed 3 times and then soaked in water for 4 hours
  • 1-2 white or yukon gold potato (enough to yield roughly 1 cup when diced)
  • 1/3 cup peanuts (substitute with cashews if allergic)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  •  2 green chilis, chopped (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 5 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated coconut to garnish (if using frozen, bring down to room temperature)

Peel, boil the potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Dice into 1/2 inch cubes or slices. You can also parboil potatoes ahead of time to reduce the prep work.

Roast the peanuts on medium-low heat for 3 minutes while stirring frequently. Allow to air dry to crisp up. Crush in a mortar and pestle or use a spice blender to make a coarse powder but with some chunks. The powder is necessary to soak up excess water from the sabudana while the chunks add a lovely crunch.

Drain the sabudana completely and mix in the crushed peanuts, potatoes, cilantro, lime juice and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

After all the prep work is complete, heat the oil in a pot large enough to comfortably hold all the sabudana. Use medium-low heat and add a cumin seed when you see ripples in the surface of the oil. If the seed sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Roast the remaining cumin seeds, curry leaves and green chilis for 10 seconds. Reduce heat to low and add the turmeric. Stir.

Add the sabudana mix into the pot while gently folding it in to get an even coating of oil. Do not stir too much or roughly as the sabudana pearls will tend to stick together with anything more than the gentlest of touches.

Cover the pot and cook till the sabudana pearls are translucent. Remove from heat right away.

Taste for salt and garnish with grated coconut before serving.

 

sabudana khichdi

Sabudana Khichdi

 

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A Crunchy Salad for Summer

kosambri or mung bean cucumber salad

Kosambri or mung bean cucumber salad

A couple of months ago, we took a friend who was visiting Seattle, to see some of the iconic sights. After a stroll along the Olympic Sculpture Gardens and navigating the crowds outside Pike Place market, we went inside to see the fishmongers.  It was there, opposite the famous fish stall and next to the flowers, that my hay fever allergy started. I’d never had allergies before so I thought I was coming down with something until the food allergies also kicked in. For the first time in my life, eating an apple made my lips swell up and my throat burn. And oatmeal (at least I think it is oatmeal) made me feel ill.

So my list of Things That I Cannot Eat grew from just dairy to include gluten, sugar, oatmeal, apple, pear, alcohol and some nuts among other things.  I’d already been on a cleanse so while it wasn’t as hard as you might think, I’d sometimes scratch my head in despair trying to figure out what to cook. This has all been a bit of a bizarre experience especially since I ate pretty healthy to begin with. The allergy test results will be back in a few weeks and I’m crossing my fingers that some of those foods will come off the list.

I’m taking this as a challenge and an exercise in creativity. While I miss some familiar things like rotis, naans and chapatis, I can still make ragi rottis. Instead of white rice, I’ve switched completely over to brown and red rices and don’t miss white rice at all. Desserts? I’d given up sweets a long time ago anyway. What do I miss? Granola. Oatmeal with banana. A glass of wine with dinner. Samosas. Pasta. Parmigiano. The simple things in life really.

BUT there are still so many things that I can eat. For instance, I had slices of avocado with freshly ground pepper, Thai style egg curry with Sri Lankan rice, and this lovely mung bean salad from South India for lunch today. While my food needs to nourish my body, it still needs to taste good to nourish my soul. And this lunch hit the spot. It is crunchy, full of flavor, filling, and allergen free!

It’s not quite summer yet but I’m sure most of you are eagerly awaiting it. I know I am. I can’t wait to trade in boots for sandals and to stop carrying around an umbrella. In the meantime, I’m declaring it summer at home.

So here’s my recipe for Kosambri or mung bean and cucumber salad from Karnataka. I’m sorry to say that there is no more salad left. The husband couldn’t get enough of it last night which made me very happy.

Print mung bean and cucumber salad recipe

Ingredients

The ratio of ingredients is approximate. Feel free to vary to your taste.

  • 1 cup mung beans, rinsed and soaked for 2 days or till it sprouts.
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 green chilis, sliced lengthwise (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Recipe

Mix together all the ingredients except for the salt and toss well. Add salt to taste just before serving so that the cucumber stays crunchy.

Notes

I used whole mung beans although the original version of this salad uses split mung beans. Sprouted beans have more nutrition and are easier to digest. Plus I love how mung beans look.

I defrosted frozen grated coconut. If you don’t have access to an Indian store, you can sometimes find dessicated unsweetened coconut flakes in regular grocery stores. Rehydrate the flakes in warm water for 10 minutes.

mung bean cucumber salad

Kosambri

Kosambri salad

kosambri

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Filed under India, Recipe

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry

spicy pineapple curry

Ah the memories! Pineapple Curry from Udupi.

By the time the train pulled into the station in Mangalore, it was past 9 in the evening. I’d already lugged my black suitcase from below the seat in front of me to the carriage door, ready to disembark in seconds. This was my first time traveling alone by train in India. After a 7 hour ride in a full carriage, and some uncomfortable stares from people silently questioning what a decent looking young woman was doing traveling by herself, I was more than ready to get off.

But no matter, I was in Mangalore! And I was looking forward to meeting my old neighbors and to a couple of days of world famous Udupi food. If you’ve ever been to a South Indian restaurant outside of India, there’s a 50% chance it is called Udupi after the seaside town that is some forty miles north of Mangalore on the west coast of India. The Tulu community, of this region spread to other parts of India especially around the time of WW1 and WW2 escaping food rations and disease. Wherever they went, the Tulus opened restaurants serving Udupi cuisine. Over time, the restaurants served the most popular dishes like Dosas (crispy lentil and rice crepes), Idlis (steamed rice cakes), and Vadas (savory doughnuts).

And so I came to this epicenter of good food with high expectations and lots of childhood memories. My cousin who studied in the area had introduced my brother and I to Udupi fish fry back in 1996 on one of our first trips back to India. So while I could always eat a good dosa or idli, it was this fish fry, red from the spices it’s fried with, that I had a hankering for.

I was also craving Dodda’s mango curry. The grandmother of my old neighbors in Bangalore, affectionately known as Dodda, had passed away many years ago. She was from the Udupi area and the mango curry she made was not something people in Bangalore, where I grew up, knew how to make. I hadn’t had this mango curry in maybe twelve years

Gadbad ice cream, a dessert where layers of various ice cream flavors are alternated with dry fruits, fresh fruits and nuts, is a recent but iconic Mangalore ‘food’. One summer when my cousins and I were kids, we spent our summer vacation in Mangalore while my grandfather recovered from surgery. This was our treat of choice and we indulged regularly! The Gadbad ice cream was the only thing still available everywhere in Mangalore and Udupi.

None of those other dishes I’d reminisced about over the years were served anywhere I went. All the restaurants had the same standard menu that was to be found in Udupi restaurants elsewhere in the world. The difference was they also served North Indian and Chinese food. If you’ve had a different experience and know of great restaurants in Udupi, please share in the comments!

Who the hell goes to Udupi for Chinese food, I complained bitterly to myself. My only consolation of having traveled far to get to Mangalore was to visit those old neighbors who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. So, imagine my joy, when, after having returned to Bangalore, I was offered a cooking lesson with a family friend who is from Mangalore! Susheela Aunty, the family friend who gave me the lesson is an expert in making pineapple curry, a very close relative of the mango curry of my youth.

It is now my pleasure to share this recipe with you. Cooking this in rainy Seattle brings back not only the memories of my recent trip to India a couple of months ago, but also all those childhood memories that seem tied to food in one way or another.

This dish is slightly more complicated than most other recipes that I share on this blog. There are a few more ingredients and cooking steps. But I hope that you will find the time and patience to try this dish. It is truly worth it.

Click here for a video version of the pineapple curry recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced (or 2 cans unsweetened pineapple chunks)
  • 1 cup mild (byadige) dry red chilis (you could substitute 2-4 of a hotter variety)
  • 2 teaspoons urud dal or dehusked split black lentils
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek
  • 3 whole curry leaves stems
  • 10-15 curry leaves
  • Pinch asafetida
  • 3/4 cup grated fresh coconut (you can substitute frozen or dessicated, unsweetened coconut*)
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup jaggery or brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Salt to taste ~1 teaspoon

* If using frozen coconut, thaw before using. If using dessicated coconut, rehydrate in warm water for 10 minutes.

Roast dry red chilis in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove the chilis and in the same pan, saute urud dal,  coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, curry leaf stems or 2-3 curry leaves, and asafetida for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

Add the grated coconut and roasted chilies. Saute for another 2 minutes on medium heat. Remove and put aside to cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat in the same pan or another big enough to hold all the pineapple pieces and water When you see oil ripples on the surface, throw in a mustard seed. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.  Add the black mustard seeds and the curry leaves and fry for 15 seconds.

Add and bring to a gentle boil 2 cups of water, jaggery and turmeric.

Add the diced pineapple. Bring again to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes till the pineapple can be easily pinched. Canned pineapple may cook faster.

While waiting on the pineapple, grind the roasted spices and coconut with 1cup of water or as little as needed to make the flavor base or “masala”. I use my blender for this.

Add the ground ‘masala’ to the cooked pineapple. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes adding a bit more water if the curry starts sticking to the pan. Add salt to taste.

Serve over rice or with rotis chapatis, idlis or dosas.

fresh whole pineapple

Cutting up a whole fresh pineapple

Cooking the diced pineapple

Cooking the diced pineapple with mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric and jaggery

pineapple curry from udupi or mangalore

Udupi Pineapple Curry

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Swiss Chard and Yogurt Curry Sauce

cut-swiss-chard

Swiss Chard

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe. Not that I haven’t been cooking. Just that when I do, it’s in the evening and the light is terrible here in cloudy/rainy Seattle. Anyone else ready for some sun? I know I am and not just so I can take pictures in the evening.

I know many of you are too busy to be able to cook much during the week. Or you are so tired that ordering in feels like an infinitely better plan than cooking and worse, cleaning up. I know the feeling.

Since I don’t like eating out too much, I end up cooking simple dinners most of the time. This recipe is a great example. It is also a tasty way of using up greens that may not last till the weekend. It’s kind of like the pesto of South Indian food.

The dish is called Thambli and is typically made with garlic, South Indian red chilies (byadige), cumin, fenugreek and yogurt. Thambli is normally one of the first sides served in a thali meal in Mangalorean cuisine. But the recipe is versatile and can be used with greens like spinach and swiss chard. You could probably also use mustard greens or kale though you would have to sauté it longer or braise before blending.

Thambli is always made with yogurt. I haven’t tried it without yogurt but I imagine you could blend with avocado or coconut milk to make it dairy free. Have you made it this way? I’d love to hear from you!

Swiss Chard Thambli – Serves 2

  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 long dry red chilis (optional), stalks removed
  • 1/2 – 1 bunch swiss chard, cut into 1 inch wide threads
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup yogurt
  • Salt to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot or skillet large enough to accommodate the swiss chard. When the surface of the oil start shimmering, add the cumin, fenugreek, garlic and chilis. Let sizzle for 15 seconds while stirring occasionally to prevent the garlic from burning.

Saute the swiss chard till it softens. You don’t need to completely wilt it.

Allow to cool.

In a food processor or blender, blend the sautéed swiss chard with 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more yogurt or salt as necessary.

Serve over hot rice with a side of pickle or pappadum. And hopefully you can get your spouse to clean the kitchen 🙂

thambli blender

Blending the swiss chard, spices and yogurt

swiss chard thambli

Swiss Chard Thambli, simple and unassuming but yummy and fulfilling

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Eating Indian food Indian style

Ever see anyone eat sushi with a fork and knife? I did once. At a Japanese restaurant. He didn’t even want to try. I know it takes practice – it took me months of diligent practice before I could eat somewhat gracefully without half my stir fry falling on the floor. As much as a fork and knife feel out of place in an Asian restaurant, chopsticks feel alien at a steak restaurant. So if table manners are contextual, why do I see so many people at Indian restaurants eating with implements? And does it matter?

Honestly, I love that Indian food is so popular in many countries outside of India. I’m proud of my heritage and I think it’s great that people enjoy their chicken curry and rotis in their own way. Still, I do wish that people would try. It’s fun to tear off a piece of the bread and use that to spoon some curry into their mouths. As my dad says (and if he hasn’t said it, it’s what he would say), it just tastes better that way. Like eating on a banana leaf. But I digress.

So instead of just bitching about it, I thought I’d be the Indian friend who shows you how. I hope this helps you get started!

So the next time you’re at an Indian restaurant, go ‘native’ and impress your date! Just make sure you’ve washed up first.

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Bell Peppers with Aloo Gobi Stuffing

[This was originally written on 11/21/11 for a guest post on the Gnaana blog.]

One of my favorite things about Fall is Thanksgiving and one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is stuffing! And I was eager to create a new stuffing recipe based on the popular Indian vegetable dish – Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower cooked and sautéed with onions and warm spices). But apparently there is a shortage of organic cauliflower around these parts and my neighborhood grocery store was out of this vegetable.

My eyes spied the Romanesco Broccoli also called the Romanesco Cauliflower. Being fractal lovers, I knew my husband and I would appreciate it in our stuffing. But it does have a slightly sharper taste than cauliflower. Should I continue my search for cauliflower or would the Romanesco Broccoli work well with my recipe and would others like it? There was only one way to find out. I bought it!

Just one shelf down from the Romanesco Broccoli was brightly colored bell peppers, just calling out to me. My recipe took another turn in that moment and I decided to stuff them with my aloo ‘gobi’ stuffing.

Sometimes when I experiment like this or make too many changes to a recipe, the dish doesn’t turn out too well. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. The bell peppers with aloo gobi stuffing were a visual and tasty treat.

So if you’re looking for an Indian twist this Thanksgiving, here’s a fabulous recipe for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gorgeous fall colors and the beautiful romanesco broccoli

Bell pepper 'cups' with aloo gobi stuffing

A vegetarian feast

 

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Filed under America, Holiday, India

For a Twist on Thanksgiving

All geared up for the big day tomorrow? If you’re like me, then you’re doing the last minute scramble and the to do list is still a mile long. Yikes! For those looking for a vegetarian alternative to the traditional thanksgiving meal or just an interesting take on the classics, there are lots of recipes. Gnaana, an Indian parenting resource, will be publishing my recipe, a fusion of the classic Indian Aloo Gobi with Thanksgiving stuffing, tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are a couple of recipes I published on the blog last thanksgiving (after the photo).

Fall bounty for a vegetarian pumpkin curry

Green Beans South Indian Style

Pumpkin Curry

Happy Gobble Gobble!

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A Biryani (almost) fit for the Nizam

Chicken biryani with brown basmati rice

The last Nizam of the former princely state of Hyderabad in South India was the richest man in the world in his time. Accounting for inflation, his fortune still ranks as one of the world’s all time highest. The Nizam was no mere ‘His Highness’ but rather ‘His Exalted Highness’. For all his wealth, the last Nizam is said to be a miser, eccentric in many ways. He was even on the cover of Time magazine in 1937.

As the Nizams before him, he too expected only the best food to be served at his royal table. These rulers of Hyderabad, had between the 15th and 19th century, perfected the art of cooking. They took the princely Mughlai cuisine and blended it with the spicier South Indian fare. Their rendition of the Persian dish really resulted in the birth of biryani as we know it today. While most of the restaurant biryanis on offer all taste more or less the same, there are in fact many kinds of biryanis. The chefs of the Nizam are reputed to have 49 biryani dishes, the recipes for which were closely guarded.

With this historical background in mind, I felt audacious taking this popular dish and remaking it to fit my dietary needs (brown rice instead of white) and to ease the prep work in my decidedly non-royal kitchen. I also used chicken instead of the more authentic goat meat just because it is so much easier to find. The method that I used to cook biryani is a mash-up of the slow cooking Hyderabad style and the get-it-done already Lucknow style, another place in India famous for its biryani. Even still, this is likely one of the more complicated recipes on my blog. If you have questions, please post them as comments. I’ll try my best to answer them.

One layer each of chicken, rice and garnishes later

Preparing the saffron

I'm hungry!

Recipe – serves 6

Rice

  • 2 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed (Please use Indian/Pakistani brown basmati rice. American Lundburg Basmati or Texmati don’t behave like true Basmati rice)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To marinate

  • 2 lbs chicken breast, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp garam masala (tandoori + saag)
  • 1 tsp coriander pwd
  • 1 tsp cumin pwd
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint, chopped

Garnish

  • 2 large yellow or sweet onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • ¼ cup water

Base

  • 3 tablespoons ghee or high heat oil
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Put rice to soak in a steel pot for at least 1 hour. Don’t forget to add the salt.

Mix the marinade ingredients together except for the chicken. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Mix in the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes till ready to use.

Prepare the onion garnish. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet (or wok). Saute onion over medium-low heat till brown and nicely caramelized. Adding a big pinch of salt with the onions helps reduce the cooking time. Stir occasionally to prevent uneven cooking. This whole process should take about 20 minutes. The longer the time the onions take to cook, the better the flavor. Place the cooked onion in a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

When the rice has soaked for an hour, heat the pot over high heat. Once the water starts coming to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 8 minutes. Cover the pot while simmering. Once the timer goes off, remove from heat, strain the rice and put aside. The rice should be half cooked. You could also start the next step in parallel while waiting for the rice to cook.

Next prepare the base. Heat the ghee or oil in a large thick bottomed pot over medium high heat till a cumin seed thrown in the oil sizzles. (You can use the same pot to bring the whole dish together at the end and reduce your cleaning!) Fry all the whole spices for 10 seconds or till you smell the aroma of the cumin seeds. Immediately add the chicken with all the marinade. Give everything a quick stir and reduce heat to medium. Have a lid handy in case of splattering.

Let the chicken sauté for 3 minutes or till all the pieces are slightly cooked (opaque) on the outside. If you cut open a piece, it should still be pink on the inside. Remove from heat immediately.

At the point, you should have a pot of half cooked brown rice and a pot of half cooked chicken. Now comes the fun part! Remove 1/3 of the chicken and put aside. Into the same pot as the chicken, add half the rice as a layer above the chicken. On top of the rice, sprinkle part of the cilantro, mint and caramelized onion. Add the rest of the chicken as a fourth layer. Make a second layer of rice on top of the chicken. For the last layer, add the rest of the onion, cilantro and mint, saving a little bit to use as fresh garnish before serving.

Now your pot with all the layers is ready for its final step. Cover the pot immediately with a tight fitting lid. If you don’t have a tight fitting lid, cover the pot with a thin towel and then with the lid to form a tighter seal. This is important since the chicken and rice need steam to finish cooking.

Turn on the heat to a very low setting. I use ‘1’. Let your stove come up to heat and then place the pot on it. Turn on the timer to 30 minutes. Both the chicken and the rice should be perfectly cooked.

Notes

Tue Indian basmati rice means a trek to the Indian or Asian grocery store. You’re probably wondering why you can’t substitute another brown rice or use American brown basmati rice. The true basmati rice has an amazing flavor and when cooked, stays fluffy and elongates. None of this is true of the ‘American’ basmati which really should not be allowed to use the name basmati. So you *can* use a different rice but if you do, please be warned that cooking times will vary. Your biryani will still be edible but it won’t be quite as good. I know because I’ve tried it with brown basmati rice from Whole Foods and Indian brown basmati rice. Huge difference.

I highly recommend using ghee rather than oil in preparing the base. Or at least a mix of the two.

Many recipes call for red coloring. I refuse to use artificial flavors and colors in my cooking (or in my recipe kits) and prefer to make food look pretty with garnishes or natural dyes like turmeric or saffron.

Yummy brown basmati rice Biryani

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