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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I always get asked by other moms how and when I introduced Baby Dear to spicy food through Indian cooking. The truth is, I never did. It is widely known in our family and friends circle that Baby Dear shies away from spicy food. It is also understood, however, that the kid will eat anything that’s tasty. Anything. Even if does happen to fall on the hotter side.

Pic for Egg Biryani taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

This kind of erratic behavior of his reminds me of this one particular incident back when I was in college. It was the peak of summer, and although our classes were out, some of us still went in to work on the various projects we had to complete before the school year ended. I, of course, was one of them. On this particular day, I had planned to spend the entire day at the lab and told my mom that I wouldn’t be coming home for lunch. But one thing led to another, and I surprised her at the door with my sweaty, irritated-with-the-sweltering-heat, and absolutely-famished-dying-of-hunger self.

Since Mom wasn’t expecting me to share the meal, she had made it extra spicy – being the chilli fanatic that most true bred Malays are known to be! Needless to say, lunch for me was unbearable. My mouth felt like it was in flames and I filled myself with jugs of water. Even more irritated, and being the spoilt brat that I was, I stomped off into my room and went to nap. My Mom felt so bad, that she woke me up a while later, and handing me some money, asked me to go out and get myself a boat load of chaat from down the street. Now for those that know me personally, can vouch for the fact that I can eat chaat anytime, anywhere, no matter how spicy! And spicy I did eat. One sniff of my plate had my mom reeling in anger. Of course, the chaat was way spicier than the lunch she had cooked. I’m still reminded of this incident every time I question her on how many chillies she’s added to her curry.

Like they often say, the apple doesn’t fall too far away from the tree. It’s the same with Baby Dear and his Biryani. A platter of the spiciest Biryani from the nearby Pakistani joint gets devoured with glasses of water. But heaven forbid he sees a couple of deseeded pieces of chilli floating in my Dal, he runs miles away, never to even attempt to eat it again!

This Biryani recipe is something that Mom and I created together when she was visiting. My Mom makes one of the best Biryanis I’ve ever had, but her method is a tedious and long one. We wanted to come up with something quick and simple that would make it easy to give into Baby Dear’s frequent craving.

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Hubby Dear and me are huge fans of kebabs, the chicken kebab being our favourite. These bite-sized succulent chunks of meat, delicately spiced and dunked into some chutney or even simply ketchup, can make us swoon and forgo a 6-course meal altogether. Hence, it comes as no surprise that while I was pregnant with Baby Dear we ate kebabs quite often. There was a running joke that whenever either one of us would say the word kebab, Baby Dear would do a somersault. Which we kinda believed to be true since the mere mention of the word would invite some movement from the wee one nestled inside me!

Pic for Chicken Kebabs taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Because it was the peak of summer, we relied out our BBQ grill a lot. Almost every weekend, we’d have friends over. They’d bring the sides, and we’d serve up a generous platter of kebabs. It was never too much trouble really; I would marinate the meat in a blend of yogurt and a mix of spices in the morning, set it to cool and soak in the flavours in the fridge throughout the day, and slap them on the grill come party time. Our guests were happy, and I hardly spent more than mere minutes prepping the meal. Win-Win for all.

Although this worked out extremely well and produced the most tender, succulent and juicy kebabs I’ve made, I would secretly wish that I’d made a platter of keema kebabs as well, to munch on. Keema kebabs are the bite-sized patties made mainly with ground meat. They really are not that hard to prep for a party, and I do it quite often now. But for a heavily pregnant me, who hated to be on her feet for too long, frying these babies up for a large hungry group seemed like such a daunting task. But not anymore! I tend to buy my meats in bulk for a few weeks at a time, and I always reserve a portion of ground chicken for us to indulge in these.

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Here is a recent email I received from a reader:

Hi Meena,

I’m a vegan and have recently started trying my hand at cooking Indian food at home. I love the aromas and flavours that Indian cooking offers and it’s also one of the best cuisines I’ve enjoyed since becoming a vegan 3 years ago. I enjoy eating most vegetables, but potatoes just happen to be my absolute favourite. I will anything if there is even a slight trace of potato in it. I was wondering if you could share a few vegetable recipes that also include potatoes in them. Thanks in advance and keep those delicious recipes coming!

– Donna

Pic for Alu Beans taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Hey Donna! I completely agree with you that Indian food is definitely one of the best cuisines for a vegan/vegetarian to enjoy. The flavours are robust, varied and you have a million options to choose from! To be honest, I generally feel that potatoes often take the cake in Indian vegetarian cooking. It’s one of the cheapest vegetables found in India, and is a sure staple in many homes. It’s usually hard to find an Indian who does not enjoy the spud in some form or the other. So aren’t you in luck!

Since potatoes are great in taking on any flavorings added to them, you can easily get away with throwing in a few pieces to almost any dish that you cook. They work great when cooked with peas, carrots, cauliflower or any kind of greens that you fancy. This Alu Palak recipe is one such example. Below, is another quick recipe that works great as a side to some Dal and Rotis/Rice.

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The year I turned 15, my Mom decided it was time I learnt the basics of cooking. If nothing else, she figured I could at least make myself breakfast without having to yell for her when I was hungry. Like many Malay moms of her generation, she believed that to equip one’s offspring with the knowledge of how to cook an egg in at least three different ways would enable them to overcome all of life’s challenges. According to her, if you have eggs and a bowl of rice, you’re all set to have a hearty, somewhat nutritious meal even in the hardest of times. Hence, it was the dreaded egg that I was made to master before I could even think of trying my hand out with other ingredients.

Recipe for Indian Masala Omelette taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I kid you not when I say that during that one month, our daily consumption of eggs grew 10-fold. Not because we ate them all. Quite the contrary. Most of them landed on the floor, by my feet or on my clothes. Some however, did manage to make it into the mixing bowl – but not without a ton of crushed shell mixed in. You see, no matter how hard I tried, I could never manage to crack the egg without completely destroying it. In hindsight, I think the actual problem was that I was trying too hard – I literally banged the egg with all my might on the edge of the bowl instead of lightly tapping it. Well, in my defense, my light tap hardly ever caused a crack on the shell, so I tapped harder – which of course, led to disaster. Each. And. Every. Time.

It was a moment of triumph not just for me, but my mom as well, when I finally managed to crack the egg just right and break it open onto a hot pan. The sound of that sizzle meant that she didn’t have to set aside a separate budget for eggs anymore. I still look fondly to that very day when I fried an egg on my own. Since then, there was no stopping me; and although I didn’t actually begin to really start to cook until much, much later, eggs were something I knew I could make a delicious meal out of!

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