Category Archives: lentils

Garlicky Herbed Lentil & Carrot Pilaf:

I hate negativity, I’d much rather spend my time in the Lab doing what I love best, running my experiments, taking measurements,  analyzing & visually recording  the results. Or, in blogger-speak, create a recipe, clear my kitchen counters,  prepare the dish, take photographs & then tuck into my creation. I’d rather not have written up my last post, my response to Martha Stewart, but there was something so smug about her tone in the interview, non verbal, that my pre-frontal cortex just had to sit back and support my lower brain in lashing out. It was not easy, for every 2 sentences I put down, I had to erase one. It was a learning experience, one that made me determined to never let my self imposed guard down when it came to to the quality of the recipes I post and never be stingy on listing references & inspiration, however insignificant or indirect.

 Today’s recipe was both an example of something hurriedly cobbled together into a one pot dish that had a healthy proportion of carbohydrates, protein & vegetables, as well as a dish inspired by someone else’s recipe. The combination of herbs was the brainchild of Liz Larkin, a.k.a The scone lady. and it was for a recipe of Pan fried Fragrant Cauliflowers that I discovered on Food52.

The flavoring from this ‘masala paste’ left such an imprint that it begged to be tried again, despite the obvious lack of a resident cauliflower, in fact, the lack of any other convenient vegetable, except for a bag of bunny food,viz carrots. Combined with some lentils (I have 1/2 a dozen varieties sitting in my pantry, neatly labeled) & cooked Basmati, The two dishes, compared side by side, have no relation to each other, and yet, the root flavoring is the same.

Since I had hurriedly cobbled up the first batch and the family polished off every morsel of it, I went back & recreated the dish before the combination of spices & tastes slipped out my my brain & food memory. The results were identical the second time around as well. the combination of lentils & rice is reminiscent of the Middle Eastern dish Mujaddara, accompaniment of choice for Mujaddara is yogurt, and the same works perfectly for the ‘carrotty’ version as well.

Garlicky Herbed Lentil & Carrot Pilaf:

You need:
2 cups Basmati rice
4 cups boiling water
1/2 cup whole lentils (I used the green French Puy lentils)
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 dried bay leaves,
 Salt to taste.

For the paste:
2 heaped tablespoons minced or chopped ginger.
2 serrano chiles, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnishing

Rinse the lentils in plenty of water. add to a saucepan along with 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and allow the lentils to cook until soft, retaining their shapes and not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Rinse the Basmati rice until the water runs clear. In a heavy bottom pan, add 2 tablespoons of ghee, and ‘toast’ the rice until the grains begin to turn opaque. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt along with 4 cups of boiling water. Stir to dislodge all the grains sticking to the bottom of the pan, cover and lower the heat to the lowest setting. allow the rice to cook until all the water is absorbed. Uncover, allow to cool slightly & fluff with a fork to separate the grains.

Combine the cilantro, serrano chile, garlic and ginger and blend to a paste.  I used a Mexican mortar & Pestle, the molcajete, just so that I could have some irregular texture in my blend. (plus there’s something so relaxing in using manual tools, just builds a connection to your food.)

Slice the carrots into thick ‘coins’ at a diagonal angle. Then stack up 3-4 of these  coins and cut into little ‘sticks.

Heat the remaining ghee and the oil in a large skillet once the oil/ghee mix gets hot, add the nigella and fennel seeds along with the bay leaves. (No particular reason for adding these spices, Mrs. Larkins recipe doesn’t use ANY spices for the cauliflower. I just happen to love the nigella fennel combination). Add the cilantro/chile/ /ginger/garlic paste to the tempering and fry until the paste begins emitting a divine aroma. Add the carrots and saute until the carrot softens slightly (they should still retain a ‘crunch’) and then toss in the  cooked lentils.

Season with salt (remember the Basmati already is salted, so adjust accordingly), allow any remaining moisture to dry up.

Add the lentil mixture to the rice and fold in until the carrots and lentils are evenly dispersed. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve warm.

 with a side of yogurt, Raita or Tzaziki.

Bon appetit!


Adapting from Classic Recipes: Israeli couscous & Beluga Lentil ‘Khichdi’

 This has probably been the longest gap between posts for me. A Kitchen renovation project that stretched over 3 weeks and the consequent restocking which took longer than I had imagined. How I managed with ingredients stored in plastic bags & the packaging it came with, I have no idea. I had to make many multiple trips to pick out bottles, containers and little organizing shelves in order to accommodate all the ingredients that have become pantry staples. but in the end the effort was well worth it. The last count, I had about 60 different herbs, spices & blends, but that’s for another blog post!

During the BlogHer Food 13 meet, I had the chance to meet professionals from a number of food companies, one of them being Adam Shapiro of the Peanut Butter & Co. During the course of discussing how Peanut butter figured in Indian cooking, he told me about this spicy variety that they were introducing and offered to send me a sample. When I received a jar of ‘The heat is on‘ a couple of weeks later,  I was hooked onto the spicy taste. It was hard to wait till I had a working kitchen to start creating dishes with this absolutely delightful ingredient.


The fresh peanut flavor combined with the heat from Cayenne pepper & chili powder is rather addictive. Although the ingredients listed include vinegar, there was hardly any trace of it even to my vinegar averse sensitive palate, and I almost longed for a tangy complement to the flavor. When it came to looking for dishes to incorporate the peanut butter in , I realized that a number of recipes from the western Indian state of Maharashtra use roasted & crushed peanuts as a finishing ingredients. And thus came about my brunch earlier today, a twist on the classic Sabudana (Sago/tapioca pearl) Khichdi. The tapioca pearls have been substituted with Israeli Couscous (or Fregola).

 Israeli Couscous & Beluga Lentil ‘Khichdi’

You need:

1 cup Israeli couscous
1/2 cup beluga Lentils (feel free to substitute  any regular whole lentils)
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 a jalapeno chili deseeded and diced
1/2 cup diced red onions or shallots
7-8 fingerling potatoes
salt to taste
2 heaped tablespoon PB & Co’s spicy peanut butter OR
1 heaped tablespoon each of the crunchy peanut butter and the spicy variety.
Chopped cilantro for garnish.
Juice of 1 lime

Fill a saucepan with cold water and add the lentils along with the fingerling potato. Bring the water to a boil and cook the lentils for about 15 minutes until soft. (the fingerling potatoes should be done  in this time as well). Drain the water, peel the potatoes and cut into 2 pieces each. Set aside.

Refill the same pan with more water, add salt and bring the water to a boil. Add the Israeli couscous and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the water and set aside.

In a  large skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. Once the mustard sputters and the cumin ‘splits’ add the deseeded jalapeno and the onion. Saute until the onion turns translucent.

 Add the lentils and the potatoes, lower heat and saute for about 5 minutes.

 once the potatoes begin to turn golden, lower the heat (you  want the peanut butter to stick to the lentils & potatoes, not to the bottom of the skillet!) and add the couscous along with the peanut butter (adding a mix of the spicy and the crunchy varieties ensures that the heat is balanced and there are bits of nuts to bite into for a texture variation). Stir to coat the lentils,couscous and the potatoes evenly. At this time taste and adjust the amount of salt according your personal preference. Cover with a lid, turn the heat to the lowest level and allow the flavors to combine.Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with chopped cilantro and finish by drizzling the lime juice as per your preference.

Bon appetit!

Arancini – Iyer / Iyengar style!

When I was about 6 years old,  I once remember asking my mother for fried rice. It must have around 1975,  the first time I heard about new dishes  such as Falafel (which my dad, fresh from a 2 month posting to Kuwait, pronounced as 'Filafil' ) and Fried rice. Amma's repertoire of recipes at the time was restricted to traditional South Indian dishes with the odd Punjabi choley & Alu Mutter thrown in.
Read more »

Dinner and a story. – Birbal ki Khichdee at the Masala Farm

For those of you unfamiliar with the name Birbal, here’s a quick primer.

Stories of the third Moghul Emperor Akbar & his grand vizier Birbal are the stuff of legends, and almost every kid growing up in India will have heard at least one or  two of these delightful folktales. Birbal’s sense of fairness & justice brought him the undying faith & trust of his Emperor along with jealousy & intrigue from the other courtiers who envied his proximity to Akbar. The Khichdee story illustrates Birbals quiet quick witted way of getting his point across to Akbar.

During the Winter season in Delhi, Akbar was strolling along the banks of the Yamuna river, when he noticed how bone chilling cold the water was, and wondered if anyone would dare spend the night standing in the river. When Birbal responded that if the reward was good enough, someone who needed the money would step up. Sure enough, the announcement (and a reward of a 1000 gold coins) was made, and an impoverished priest accepted the challenge. He stood chest high in the chilly waters, watched over by a couple of Akbar’s sentries. The next morning, the priest went to the court to claim his reward. But, just as Akbar was about to hand the bag of coins to him, a jealous courtier interjected and asked the priest how he achieved this feat. The naive priest responded that he kept his gaze focused on the palace lights in the horizon and this kept him motivated. The courtier then claimed that the priest had derived warmth from the palace lights & hence was not eligible to claim the reward. Akbar reluctantly demurred to this, while Birbal resolved to find a way to give the poor man his rightful due.

A few days later Birbal invited the Emperor & the other courtiers for a feast at his home. Since Birbal’s table was reputed for its excellent gastronomical fare, especially his khichdee, everyone eagerly accepted & arrived at the appointed hour.. They waited,.. and waited, … and waited. Finally, Akbar, losing his patience,  demanded to know where the food was. Birbal politely led him to the backyard where there was a huge roaring fire and a pot of khichdee … suspended about 6 feet above the flames. When the enraged courtiers demanded to know how the dish would heat up enough to cook, Birbal quietly replied, ” The same way that poor man got his warmth while standing in the river all night”. Needless to say, the man got his reward the very next day.

The take home message about the dish.. It needs a lot of love & time to cook to perfection.

A Khichdee is typically a dish that is quickly cobbled with rice, lentils (typically mung) & whatever vegetables are on hand.  Down in the southern states, its called a Pongal (boil over), & is typically seasoned with a tempering of cumin, crushed peppercorn & curry leaves. The difference in taste is primarily in the temperings that are used to season the rice/lentil mix and this varies from area to area.

I’m still in the process of recovering from the sheer delight of reading Chef Suvir Saran’s latest book ‘Masala Farm’. As is my style, I’ll finish the book and promptly go back to the beginning..a couple of times. It’ll take some time for me to get objective enough to post a review, but in the meantime, I’ve already zeroed in a number of vegetarian recipes that I crave to make & relish. The first one in the list was the ‘Birbal kee Kichdee’ (which I can now officially ‘check’ off ).

The first glance at the recipe can be intimidating, since there are 4 different sections in the list of ingredients. but reading through the recipe as one does an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure, that’s the ‘lab rat’ in me talking), it all beautifully falls into place. The basic rice,lentil & vegetable mixture is seasoned with an onion/tomato reduction, finished with a traditional ‘tadka’ & garnished with caramelized onions, cilantro, ginger & lime. In the interest of full disclosure, I did deviate from the prescribed technique by a. ) Using a pressure cooker & b.) Shuffling the order of following the steps, which did not deviate from the end results. (and cut down on the amount of carrots since its not really a favorite vegetable in the cooked form in the family! )

The key spice blend that gives the dish its unique character is the ‘Panch Phoran‘, a blend of five spices,
Cumin, Nigella, Fenugreek, Mustard and Fennel mixed in equal proportion.

To make Panch Phoran: Combine 1 teaspoon each of Cumin, Nigella, Fenugreek, Mustard and Fennel seeds.

Birbal Ki Khichdee (From Masala Farm, by Suvir Saran):

You need:

A. For the Khichdee;

1 cup split dehusked yellow mung dal
2 tablespoon ghee
10 whole cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
2 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ‘Panch Phoran’
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/8 tsp asafetida
1 cup Basmati rice, cleaned & rinsed well
1/2 a medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 medium potato diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium carrots peeled & diced
7 + 3 cups water (YES, 10 cups!)
1 cup frozen peas

Toast the mung dal over medium heat until its fragrant and turns a golden brown. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pan (or the pan of a traditional Indian pressure cooker), heat the ghee and add the cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, panch phoran. Fry until the spices are fragrant and then add the turmeric and asafetida.

Add the rice, toasted dal, cauliflower, potato and carrots and stir until the rice turns translucent and the cauliflower just begins to soften.
Add 7 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the frozen peas, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 20 min (If using a pressure cooker, shut the pan with the lid, fit the weight and allow for 2 – 3 whistles.).
Once the rice & dal have cooked,  mash the mixture to a semi smooth consistency (as per your preference), using a potato masher.

B. Tomato/Onion seasoning;

2 tablespoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon panch phoran
1/2 large onion  sliced thin
1.5 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 large tomatoes diced fine
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (up this slightly if you prefer a spicier dish)

In a large skillet, heat the ghee and add the panch phoran. when the cumin begins to brown, add the salt & onion and cook till the onion just begins to brown.
Add the coriander, stir in, and then add the tomatoes along with the cayenne powder.
Cook down on a medium low flame until the tomatoes are cooked to a ‘jammy’ consistency.
Remove from heat and add this mixture to the rice/dal blend.
Add the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, simmering for about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Your basic khichdee is ready.

 C. Tempering;

2 tablespoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A pinch of asafetida

In a skillet, heat the ghee for the tempering, add the cumin seeds until they sputter and then add the cayenne powder & asafetida. Stir in this sizzling mix into the khichdee.

D. Garnish

1 large red onion thinly sliced
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 in piece fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks or diced very fine
1 green chilli, minced finely
1 tablespoon fresh lime.
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Heat the oil, add the sliced onion, and cook down until the onion caramelizes almost to a crisp.

Transfer the  onion onto paper towels to absorb excess oil. Combine the cilantro, ginger, chili & lime juice into a relish.

Serving suggestions:

Dish out generous dollops of the Khichdee into serving bowls. Garnish with the cilantro, ginger & lime relish & top with caramelized onions. Add a pinch of garam masala to the dish just prior to serving. Serve with a toasted lentil papad.

Bon appetit!