During my years spent in Bangalore, a bunch of us would often hit the local café right by our college on Saturday mornings to gorge on a hearty breakfast of Masala Dosas and South Indian filter coffee. These Dosas, as I remember them, were delightfully thin and crispy, slathered on the inside with a spicy chutney, loaded with generous helping of perfectly seasoned mashed potatoes and folded into a triangle. The Sambhar that accompanied it had the perfect balance of sweet and tangy flavours. The combination of the Masala Dosa and filter coffee was a treat to my palate, and to date, remains one of my all time favourite ways to begin my day.

Recipe for Sambhar, taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

For the uninitiated, a Masala Dosa is an Indian crepe made by blending rice and lentils in to a smooth paste. The crepe is fried to a crisp, and often served with an array of sides ranging from Sambhar, spiced potatoes and various chutneys. While Dosas require expert technique (in my opinion, since I have tried and failed in multiple attempts at making them!), Sambhar on the other hand is child’s play. Good quality Sambhar masala is readily available these days and the dish hardly takes any effort to make.

Sambhar is a South Indian spiced lentil stew with a chock full of fresh veggies, and can make for a quick, lip-smacking, hearty dinner on a chilly weeknight. Although it isn’t quite as cold as I’d like it to be currently, the rains definitely have me craving for a bowl of soup. So in I went into the kitchen, and 30 minutes later, I was warming my hands with a big bowl of this deliciously thick soup.

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Every couple of weeks or so, a few of us mommies get together over coffee. As with any group of women, our discussions vary from current events, fashion, things-husbands-do-to-annoy-us, food, and almost always, our kids and their eating habits. One such discussion last week led to the topic of our kids’ lunchboxes. A few of the moms confessed that they were completely lost when it came to packing something wholesome and nutritious for their kids’ lunchbox that was tasty enough to eat and would not invite any sort of whining from the little ones.

Pic for Spinach & Beet Cutlets taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

When we first enrolled Baby Dear at school, I was giddy with excitement over the opportunity to pack him a lunchbox everyday. My head buzzed with ideas on tiny portions of homemade gourmet meals all wrapped up and sent off with love. Alas, that was never to happen. As luck would have it, Baby Dear goes to a school that prides itself in serving healthy, well-balanced meals to every student on a daily basis. And I can’t complain really, since his lunches on most days seem to be even better than mine. Spinach Lasagna, anyone? Or maybe some Butter Chicken? How about Veggie Lo Mein with some Broccoli on the side?

Needless to say, the meals provided at his school are mom-approved, and he seems to enjoy them as well. But I can’t stop myself from imagining packing him a lunch every now and then. I often challenge myself to come up with recipes that are quick and simple to whip up. So when a few of my friends complained to have run out of ideas, I enthusiastically jumped into in the discussion with a bagful of my own!

I always find that small portion sizes like finger foods work best for kids. It makes it easier for them to eat and tend to be less messier as well. Cutlets, or Patties are perfect for this reason. You can literally make them out of anything, even leftovers, and they always turn out lip-smacking good! Today’s recipe that I want to share, is a favourite snack in our home. You can change up the veggies, adding in anything you like, but the idea remains the same. I like making them into two-bite sizes, but you can also make them slightly bigger to be sandwiched between buns as a burger or sorts.

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Long before we were married, Hubby Dear and I were in a long distance relationship for a couple of years. We lived a good 2 hours drive away from each other, and would alternate the travel each weekend to meet up. The days in between however, would be filled with super long phone conversations. Our talks ranged from how our day went, what classes we had, what we ate, and pretty much anything in between.

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

On one of those evenings when we were discussing what we were planning on having for dinner, I was slightly irritated on hearing that Hubby Dear had a box of frozen food ready to plunk into the microwave. It was one of those packed frozen Indian curries, that’s quite readily available in any supermarket. Personally, I find them quite tasteless and unappetizing, and so, decided to help him out.

On rummaging his bachelor fridge and pantry, he managed to gather the quintessential ingredients in most Indian kitchens – onions, tomatoes and potatoes! Bonus points to him for also being in possession of garlic, peppers, and a can of tomato paste. The basic spices were already there, and there was nothing that could stop him (or me, for that matter) from cooking up a quick and tasty dinner.

I coached him through the process while he had me on speaker as he prepped, chopped and finally got the dish together. Although we spoke every day for long hours and about everything under the sun, this truly is one of the few conversations of ours during that time that I remember. It taught us both something that day – he learnt that a quick and simple home cooked meal would always taste a million times better, and I learnt that it’s never too hard to get your man cooking!

This recipe is perfect for those days when your fridge is almost empty or when you don’t want to fuss with too many ingredients. Serve this along side some warm rice and a dollop of yogurt, or wrap it in a tortilla or paratha for a quick meal on the go.

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The first summer in our new home, a little over 4 years ago, I decided to take on a project that surprised my family as much as it did me. Growing up, I was one of those few kids who hated running on freshly wet grass barefoot (still do!), who NEVER chased after snails and colourful bugs, and who somehow managed to escape being an active part of the school garden project where the entire class planted seeds in tiny colourful pots.

Recipe and photo for Basil Fried Rice taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

Truth be told, I as never a fan of touching mud and getting my hands dirty. So much so, that the only kinds of greenery that you will find inside my home are jars filled with bamboo, supported by water. Nothing else. Not a single pot with a speck of mud. But that summer of 2011, I had this sudden urge to create a veggie patch of my own in our tiny, badly maintained back yard. I had somehow convinced myself that this was what I really wanted to do, all by myself, and as soon as possible. So while the rest of my clan looked at me like I had lost it, the ever supportive Hubby Dear ran to start the car and we dashed off to a nearby nursery with Baby Dear in tow.

A couple of hours later we were back, arms loaded with stuff and heads loaded with knowledge and tips. We had decided to try our hand at container gardening, and I knew I wanted to begin with  cherry tomatoes, basil and cilantro. I guess I really surprised myself and everyone else, because every summer since, we’ve been buying more planters to add to the mix. This past summer we had an abundance of 2 kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of chillies, 2 kinds of peppers, lettuce, cilantro, mint, Thai and Italian basil. It’s been a fun learning process and not to mention, a complete joy to have Baby Dear dash off outside with my basket to pick fresh tomatoes and herbs around dinnertime. And for those wondering, I still don’t get my hands dirty with mud – the kind lady I met the nursery on that first visit convinced me that a good pair of gardening gloves was just as important for me to embark on my project as the best kind of organic soil was. And boy was she right!

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A few days ago, as it poured cats and dogs through the afternoon, I had the intense desire to cook up some hearty comfort food. That’s when I thought of pasta. Pasta always seems to come to the rescue at our house when quick comfort is what we crave. As I started to get my cooking gear in order and set the pasta to boil, I decided to test an idea I had brewing ever since I was contacted by the wonderful folks at Coconut DREAM Yogurt to create a recipe using their non-dairy yogurt. Although testing out the usual curries would have been the expected way to go, I wanted to try out something completely different.

Recipe for Creamy Spicy Pasta, taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

We have a few friends with kids who are dairy free, and I’ve always wanted to test out a creamy pasta recipe for when Baby Dear has them over for a play date. I’m happy to say that this worked out extremely well! I’ve made this recipe on the spicier side, since it was just Hubby Dear and me for dinner that night. But please, feel free to cut down the spice level when cooking for kids. Add more veggies/meat of you’d like. Go ahead, test, experiment and throw caution to the wind. After all, what’s the point of cooking for your loved ones when you can’t have some fun yourself!

Below is a little more information about the non-dairy yogurts:

The DREAM™ Brand recently launched a line of Coconut Dream® Non-Dairy Yogurt to join their popular Almond Dream® Non-Dairy Yogurt line. Coconut Dream® Non-Dairy Yogurt line was created in consideration of customers with food sensitivities, but it is so delicious that dairy lovers eat it also! Dream Non-Dairy Yogurts are made from real almonds and coconuts. Both lines are vegan, and free of gluten, lactose and soy, so fans with dietary restrictions can enjoy. It’s a great non-dairy alternative because it’s also Non-GMO and low in sodium.

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It’s been many, many years since I first started my Indian Cooking 101 series and to date, it’s been one of my most popular set of posts on this blog. I still get frequent emails and comments with tons of questions from people just starting out with cooking Indian food. Although I try to respond to as many as I can, as often as I can, I think it would be best to continue this series and add all that information in one place that will be easily accessible to anyone.

Recipe for Paanch Phoron Dal, taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

I recently received quite a few queries on how to cut down the cooking time and hasten the process when it comes to Indian cooking. Rustling up an Indian meal on a busy weeknight can be a daunting task for a newbie, and compared to boiling up a batch of pasta and pouring on jarred tomato sauce, can take a bit more time in the kitchen. But that does not mean that it’s impossible to do! Take a look at my weekly meal plans, and you’ll get a sense that I serve up an Indian meal at least 2-3 times a week.

I like to leave the deep, rich curries mostly for the weekends, when I have the luxury of time to let them simmer and slow cook to enhance the depths of flavour. For weeknights, I stick to recipes that do not need much babysitting and combined with a few of my quick cooking tips and tricks, I’m confident to plate up a delicious, wholesome dinner.

Here are some of the steps I take that allow me to cook up a complete Indian meal in under 45 minutes from start to finish. Follow these tips, and you’ll never find yourself reaching for that Indian food take-out menu during the week again!

Use that Pressure Cooker:

It goes without saying that the Pressure Cooker is one of the most prized possessions in any Indian kitchen. Beans and lentils go from rock-hard to melt-in-your-mouth in a matter of minutes, and meat and poultry become so tender that they literally fall off the bone. It’s no wonder that in any Indian city, at any given time, you will hear the hissing of the pressure cooker during the few hours prior to lunch and dinner times.

Take the help of your Freezer:

One of the first things I do to meal prep for the week, is to pre cook a few varieties of lentils and beans and freeze them for later use. For kidney beans and chickpeas, I simply soak them overnight and pressure cook them in water till tender. I then set them to drain and cool, before portioning them into baggies and throwing them in my freezer. This allows me to almost cut the cooking time in half for dishes like Rajma or Chana Masala, by simply making a quick curry base. For lentils, I like to cook them till they are soft to the touch but still retain their shape and are not mushy. This way, I have the option to use them up in salads, rice dishes and other things instead of the regular Dal. I also never add any salt or seasoning to the beans/lentils before freezing. That way they are ready to be spiced up in any flavour and way I fancy.

I also always make sure that I have a steady stock of frozen veggies like peas, carrots, beans, corn, cauliflower and even sprouted beans/lentils in the freezer. These are great for a quick stir-fry, tossing into a salad or even to bump up the nutrition in a simple Pulao.

Keep the Rice ready:

I rarely ever make rotis during the week, unless I know I will have plently of time. So rice, and savoury Indian crepes made with a quick-mix batter of lentils and/or chickpea flour often accompany our main dishes. I can’t stress enough on the benefits of always cooking up more rice that you’ll need. Rice freezes extremely well and can be a life saver when you have hungry mouths to feed. Fried rice with a mix of veggies, protein and spices is always a crowd-pleaser, or simply fry up an egg and serve the warmed up plain rice with a side salad or some Indian pickle for a satisfying meal.

Make use of Spice Mixes:

Most nights, instead of reaching for my Masala Dabba and adding in pinches of this or dashes of that, I like to rely on my collection of various spices mixes. Most of these are store-bought, and range from Sambhar Masala, Tandoori Masala, Kitchen King Masala and many, many more. They never fail to jazz up any vegetable I have in the pan and can even take the humble scrambled egg to new heights!

Save the Leftovers:

A smart move in the kitchen is to always cook some extra and freeze the leftovers for a rainy day. Dals, Rajma and Chana cooked in an onion-tomato base freeze extremely well and often stay good for a few weeks when frozen. Even leftover idlis and cutlets/kebabs taste great re-heated.

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Disclaimer: Philips provided me with an Airfryer to experience and review at no cost to myself. Opinions are my own and completely unbiased and honest. Click here for a full review and giveaway!

I remember being introduced to Spicy Stuffed Peppers many years ago while I was renting a room in a family home during my college years. We had worked out a deal wherein the lady of the house would provide me dinner every night for a very nominal fee. My breakfasts and lunches (let’s be honest, most times it was just brunch) would often be something quick and cheap that I grabbed from the cafeteria – for lack of both, money and time. So it was simply wonderful to come back after a  long day of lectures and lab work to a freshly made home-cooked meal.

Recipe for Bharwaan Mirchi (Spicy Stuffed Peppers), taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Being strictly vegetarian, and a typical Indian mom of that generation, the meal would often comprise of some kind of lentil/bean preparation (like dal, rajma or chana), a vegetable or two, some rice and rotis. There was also always a generous helping of her homemade mango pickle, which to this day makes me salivate just thinking about it! Most nights, dinner was quite simple and wholesome. But there were days in between when she would feel indulgent, and there would be a feast waiting for me. My favourites were when she would make an array of chaat (popular Indian street food) or serve me a plate of crispy veggie stuffed parathas.

She wasn’t a great cook, but she was definitely creative and found some wonderful ways to jazz up some not-no-fun-to-eat vegetables. This Spicy Stuffed Peppers was one such recipe and is completely inspired by her creation. At the time, I wouldn’t be caught dead looking at such a spicy pepper, let alone eat it. But the way she served it to me along side some melt-in-your-mouth whole wheat parathas and a mung bean salad, made me want to dive right. And I haven’t looked back since!

Normally, I would cooked the Stuffed Peppers in a bit of oil in a wide Non-stick Wok, covered on low heat, turning them at intervals. However, since I’ve been dying to bust out the Airfryer, this seemed like the perfect recipe to begin with!

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With the hot weather we’ve been having these past few weeks, I find that when thinking up dinner ideas, my cravings for rice has increased tremendously. Maybe its the quick comfort that comes from a big bowl of rice, or the fact that I’d rather eat raw wheat that knead and mould it into rotis, waiting for them to puff over a burning stove, I really don’t know. So it comes as no surprise that I find myself cooking more varieties of rice-based dishes in summers as compared to the colder months.

Recipe for Peas Pulao, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

There’s an unsaid rule when it comes to cooking rice, that’s followed in many kitchens throughout Asia – when cooking rice, NEVER cook just enough! You always make sure there’s plenty left over. And I completely agree – rice is just great to use as leftovers. It freezes perfectly, can easily be revamped into an amazingly tasty dish in a matter of minutes, and not to mention, tastes divine when simply warmed up and served along side a fried egg and some Indian pickle!

Often, I make a big batch of plain rice over the weekend, and spruce it up during the week. Of the many variations of rice dishes I make from (purposely) left-over rice, some of my all-time easy-breezy favourites can be seen here, here and here, all quick, simple and delicious dinner ideas.

When I decided to make dinner last night, I knew I would once again be cooking what else, but rice. So I settled for a recipe that was simple and so delicious – Pulao or as some call it, Pilaf. Pulao is very common in the North Indian cuisine. It is often served as a side to exotic curries and salads. I served mine simply with a big bowl of mixed veggie Raita and some Papad.

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Cooking during the summer months is a whole new ball game for me. I’ve never been a big fan of summer, and honestly, having a birthday in a month that sort of inaugurates this season is a bummer. I’m the kind of person who breaks into a sweaty mess even at the slightest glow of the sun, so being outdoors in the heat just simply does not appeal to me.

Recipe for Coconut Shrimp Curry, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Since the kitchen can often turn into a furnace with the stove running, our everyday meals tend to change up quite a bit. The oven is almost never turned on. Slow simmering soups, stews and curries give way to quick stir-fries, one pot meals and fresh, crisp salads and sandwiches. In short, summer is the time when I spend the least time in my kitchen and a whole lot more time buried in books with the AC cranked up pretty high!

Although gorging on quick and light meals is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity, there are evenings when we do crave a big hearty bowl of some curry drowned rice. And during these times, I will always bring out some of my best creations – a quick curry made with readily available pantry staples. These recipes are tucked away in my back pocket ready to be dished out in times of need. They are simple, quick and delicious, and perfect for a busy weeknight.

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As a kid growing up in Kuwait, I remember eating mangoes in abundance during the summer months. For the entire months of April-June, our king-sized fridge would have a whole shelf dedicated to this princely fruit. My Dad would buy them by the boxes at the beginning of each week, and we just could never get enough of them.

Pic for Spicy Mango Salsa taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Unlike kids in India, we only had access to the Alphonso mango, a variety considered to be one of the best in sweetness and taste. So it came as a big surprise to me when I was introduced to the many other varieties of mango in the couple of years we stayed in India during the 1st Gulf War. I had no idea that this delicious fruit came in many different sizes, shapes, colour and most importantly, flavour. Mangoes in India are a treasured fruit, and used extensively and creatively in both sweet and savoury ways. I have to admit that even after all these years, and after all the varieties I’ve tried and tasted, the Alphonso still happens to be my favourite.

I couldn’t help myself a few weeks ago when I spotted them on my weekly grocery trip. Although the season was just beginning and they almost cost me a small fortune, I knew I HAD to have them. I picked a dozen of the most sweet-smelling and juicy-feeling ones that I could find and rushed home, eager to chill them for a couple of hours. For those not in the know, a sweet luscious mango is best enjoyed cold. Once our lunch was done, I pulled out three from my fridge, peeled and chopped them into slices and placed the platter in front of Hubby and Baby Dear. The plate was cleared in seconds! It was our way of realizing that summer was almost here.

A few days ago, I received an email from Naina, a long-time reader asking me for a recipe using mangoes. I knew instantly that this Mango Salsa was what I needed to share. It’s been our staple snack almost every evening since the last few days. I first made it on a whim last summer when we had friends coming over for a playdate and dinner. I had asked Hubby Dear to have a taste of it, as is noted in his job description of in-house taste-tester, and he loved it. So much so, that we ended up eating the whole bowl and I had to put up salsa instead with the chips when our friends arrived. Since then, this recipe is a sure shot every time I have mangoes in the fridge. We like it spicy, but if you don’t then simply leave out the jalapenos. It’s lip-smacking good either way!

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