Category Archives: Rice

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!


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.
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‘Flavors First’ by Vikas Khanna, – A review.

 I'm going through one of those phases where I have a million ideas for recipes buzzing in my head,
and in a contradictory way, that IS the problem ,since I'm at a loss to decide on what to make, when to make it and trying to figure out what it was about the set of ingredients that drew me to it in the first place. ..Net result.. Bury myself browsing through the Internet searching away,  for something I cannot even  quite define. Simply had to take a week's  break to get back into a routine.

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Gatte ke pulao – Sahara Desert version

Q. How do you know when you’ve completely morphed into a true full blooded Foodie?
A. When you look forward to making something from your native Indian cuisine as a special treat, and when you begin, you can’t, just cannot refrain from reaching for those spices that normally have no connection with Indian food.

My traditional Friday evenings for the longest time, have involved making dinner from different cuisines and in the process, its been a great way to master some favorite classics from all over the world. Of late, its become pretty ingrained to whip up Thai curry rice or a Mediterranean Pasta with such ease that I’ve had to pause & think when it comes to traditional Indian  food . So when the other half suggested North Indian, I set out resolutely to make some traditional Rajasthani dishes. Determined to keep it authentic, I decided on making Gatte ke pulao (using a link from the late Jayashri Satish’s blog Kailas Kitchen ) & a ‘launji’ from bell peppers.

My attempts at ‘mise en place’ (every thing measured & set in place) began with the chickpea flour…
and ended with it.  Dinner was technically Gatte ke pulao, a classic rice dish made with deep fried chickpea nuggets blended with rice & caramelized onions from the Thar desert. &  the spicing?? definitely arid origins, but from a continent away, from the Sahara Desert!

Gattas are steamed & fried nuggets made from spiced chickpea/garbanzo flour bound with sour yogurt. In the arid regions of the Thar desert, fresh vegetables are a rarity, and hence the regional cuisine relies a lot on dried beans & legumes as a valuable source of protein. These steamed nuggets can be dried & stored for long term use and revived simply by frying them in hot oil.

The spicing I chose for my version was  the Algerian spice blend Ras el Hanout, traditionally used to season cous cous. Combined with a Harissa spiced blend used to season the rice, the final dish is exquisitely delicious, and leaves you surprised at the difference in flavors while reveling in the familiarity of a comfort food.

Gatte ke Pulao, Sahara desert version (technique adapted from Tarla Dalal, via Kailas Kitchen)

You need:

2 cups Chickpea flour (Besan)
2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout spice blend
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2/3 cup greek yogurt
juice of 1/2 a lemon
A Large pot of  boiling water
3 cups olive or canola oil  for deep frying

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the  ingredients except the yogurt & thyme and combine well using a whisk. add the thyme mix to distribute evenly and add the yogurt and lemon juice. Fold in & knead to make a stiff dough. Divide into golf ball sized portions. using a smear of oil to grease your palms roll out each portion into a ‘snake’ about 1/2 inch in diameter.

Bring the water to a rolling boil and add the ropes of dough. Boil for about 10-12 minutes. Remove and place on paper towels to cool completely. Once cooled, cut into small pieces as shown below.

Heat the oil in a  cast iron pan. When the oil is smoking hot, fry these nuggets in batches until golden brown. remove and place on paper towels to absorb any extra oil. Set aside. (you’re forgiven if you succumb to popping a couple or more of these down the hatch. they’re delicious!)

For the Rice

2 cups cooked Basmati Rice, fluffed to separate the grains
2 large onions
1 tablespoon cumin
4 tablespoons Olive oil
Salt to taste
1 table spoon Tomato paste
1 large knob of fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Harissa spice blend
2 cloves garlic
2-3 shallots
2-3 sprigs finely chopped flat leaf Parsley for garnishing

Combine the ginger, garlic, shallots,  and the Harissa spice blend and blend to make a smooth paste. Set aside.

Cut the onions into half and then further into thin slices.

 In a  large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil and add the onions. Fry until soft and almost caramelized. Set aside. Wash the skillet and return to the stove, adding the remaining oil.

When the oil begins ‘shimmering’, add the cumin, when the seeds sizzle & split, add the paste and fry on a low flame until the water evaporates. Add salt and the tomato paste and cook down until the paste loses its ‘raw’ smell (you may sprinkle some water to de-glaze if the pan gets too dry.). Add the caramelized onions along with the fried nuggets. Add the rice and fold to combine all the ingredients well.

Transfer to a serving dish and  garnish with chopped parsley.

Serve warm with a side of cucumber mint raita.

  Cucumber – Mint Raita.

 You need:

2 cups Greek Yogurt
1 cup shredded English cucumber (water squeezed out)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves.
1 small green chili, finely minced.
 Salt & pepper to taste.
1/4 teaspoon dried pomegranate powder.

Combine all the ingredients well. sprinkle with the pomegranate powder. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bon appetit

(Sharing this recipe with Girlichef and the well seasoned cook as part of the MLLA (My Legume Love Affair) event # 45.)

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!

Walking the Turmeric Trail

‘The Turmeric Trail’ by Raghavan Iyer is one cook book I’d love to get my hands on. except, its no longer in print & the only available copies are sold online at black market rates, which I will not pay(its not the price, its the principle!). But the title endures, in another avatar, as the brand name for a set of spices launched last month.

Turmeric Trail is the brainchild of Chef Raghavan Iyer and focuses on 4 spices representing 4 distinct regions of India. Garam Masala, the predominant spice blend used in the Northern states,  Madras Masala, A heady mix of toasted split  dal & spices, thats a mainstay of the signature South Indian stew ‘Sambhar’, Mumbai Masala, a vibrant mix with dried coconut & sesame, and Chai Masala, a blend of 5 spices, with a potential to sizzle up 50 different dishes, from tea, to hot chocolate to cookies. They’re packaged beautifully in natural looking brown boxes tied  with raffia grass and it is quite understandable if you want to keep the USPS package carton, it smells divine even after you’ve removed the contents!

Image Credit: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

 I ordered the Mumbai masala & the Chai masala  since I make my own blend of Sambhar powder (I can almost imagine my late mother scolding me if I were to even contemplate using a commercial variety, This is one spice blend which I can’t ever imagine using anything else other than my mothers recipe, no offense meant! ). As for the Garam Masala, I’m still working my way through the William Sonoma jar that Monica Bhide had sent me as part of the prize package for winning  the spicy cocktail contest. I’m not for keeping large quantities of ground spices around, they tend to  have a finite half life.

Mumbai Masala

The Mumbai Masala, you simply HAVE to try this. In addition to adding it traditional curries & stews, it makes for a great marinade seasoning for roasted squash, which I combined with plain basmati rice for a flavorful one pot meal. The Chai Masala, (of course I would not be blogging about it if I just made myself a cuppa tea).. a teaspoon of this went into a spiced shortbread which pairs wonderfully with a warm mug of …Cafe au lait.

To order your set of spices, simply follow this link.

Delicata squash is a winter variety of squash, unique in the sense that it has  a thin & perfectly edible skin (in contrast to other squashes such as the butter nut which require the use use of a cleaver to peel them!). When roasted or baked, the flesh is very sweet, almost raisin ‘ish’. I believe it’s also known as ‘sweet potato’ squash for this reason.

‘Mumbai masala’ spiced Roasted Delicata Squash with Basmati Rice.

You need:

1 medium sized Delicata squash
1 large onion.
1/4 cup Olive oil or Canola oil
1 Tablespoon  Turmeric Trail’s Mumbai Masala
Salt to taste.
2 cups cooked Basmati rice
Juice of 1 lime
Chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut the squash, remove the inner webbing and the seeds. Cut into 1/4 inch thick rings & then cut each ring into quarters. Cut the onions to a similar size.

Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl, along with the oil, salt and the Mumbai masala. toss & allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with Aluminum foil. Place into oven & allow to roast for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the squash turns golden with tiny brown spots and yields completely when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven & allow to cool.

Return to the mixing bowl along with the cooked Basmati rice and the lime juice. Fold the rice into the roasted vegetables, taking care not to break the grains of cooked rice. Serve with a side of Raita.

Chai Masala spiced Shortbread:

You need:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Turmeric Trails Chai Masala

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a  baking sheet with Parchment paper.
Toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light reddish brown color and starts emitting a ‘coconutty’ aroma.

Set aside to cool, and combine with the toasted sesame seeds. Add these to the flour and combine to disperse the sesame & coconut uniformly.
Cream the sugar & butter till light & fluffy, Add the Chai Masala and combine well.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and work into a ball of dough, just until it all comes together. Wrap in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for ~ 1 hr
Remove the dough and roll it into a 1/4 in thick sheet.

That ancient rolling pin is probably over 80 yrs old!

Using either a pastry wheel or a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-14 minutes till the edges begin to appear brown. Remove from the oven & allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

 Bon Appetit!


Spiced Vegetable rice

Its always thrilling to win something in a giveaway, even more so if its a reward for a winning entry in a contest (that way you know you’ve earned it & the satisfaction is that much more sweeter).

It may or may not be a surprise that lot of native Tamil speaking individuals from madras (present day Chennai) have probably never heard of or ever used this spice blend  in their cooking,  never mind what the marketing gurus claim! and it most definitely is never called as Madras curry powder. You’ll be hard pressed to find this blend used daily  in many Chennai households!

This blend probably results from an amalgamation of spice ideas that kind of got ‘optimized’ (for lack of a better word) for an Anglo/British palate keeping in mind typical English food that discovered a new twist when it was saucily spiced up by native spices. The other blend that comes to mind is the Vadouvan blend that was developed in neighboring Pondicherry by les Francaise (Pondicherry was a French territory in the midst of a British ruled South India).

The combination of fenugreek & mustard give it an unmistakable aroma that is so reminiscent of South Indian dishes (Fenugreek & mustard are mandatory ingredients in most south Indian Pickles, as well as classic gravies such as Sambhar & kuzhambu).

 The spice blend is primarily used to flavor meat dishes such as chicken & lamb, but also find application in vegetarian gravy dishes. These entrees are usually paired with plain rice which is the carb staple of choice in the Southern Indian states.

I owe a vote of thanks to Ms. Monica  Bhide for organizing the ‘build-us-a-spicy-cocktail’ contest and Williams-Sonoma for sponsoring some of the prizes, including this jar of Madras curry powder I incorporated into this dish.

Spiced Vegetable Rice

You need:

3 cups cooked Basmati rice
1/2 cup Diced or julienned carrots
1/2 cup Frozen green peas (I used sugar snap peas)
1/3 cup finely julienned sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup sliced red onions
2 tablespoons Ghee
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper powder (optional)
Salt to taste
1 – 1.5 tablespoon Williams Sonoma Madras Curry powder
1/3 cup Finely chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Heat the ghee in a skillet and add the onions to saute. When they begin turning translucent and a light shade of pink, add the salt, the (optional ) cayenne pepper powder, carrots, peas & the sun-dried tomatoes. Saute on medium heat till the vegetables are soft. Add the madras Curry powder, mix to blend the spice blend with the vegetables, switch off the heat & cover (you do not want the spices to get cooked. The heat from the vegetables is sufficient to warm it & release the flavors).

Ladle the warm rice onto a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetables & fold into the rice, rotating the mixing bowl around for uniformity. To finish, drizzle with the lemon juice.
 Transfer to a serving dish, ad garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm accompanied with a raita of your choice on the side.