Finally, cooking Indian for TV: Chana Dal Masala

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

I have a morning ritual of sorts that I like to follow, which include setting out a fresh pot of coffee to brew, catching up with my emails, and enjoying breakfast while reading through my favourite blogs. This little routine of mine almost always never changes. Except when something (delightfully!) unexpected happens. Like on Monday morning, for instance.

As I sipped on my last few drops of coffee, I received an email that instantly caught my eye. The subject simply said: The Mom Show, and its contents blew me away. I was asked if I would be available to do a cooking segment on Indian food for one of their upcoming episodes. They wanted me to show a few simple, kid-friendly recipes and discuss the best ways to introduce young kids to Indian food. Sweet! The catch? It would have to be taped the very next day in the afternoon. What could I say? Me, on TV, on The Mom Show, talking about Indian food? You bet I was available! Once things started to take shape (picking out the menu was a breeze!), and the timing and all other necessities confirmed, I set out to take care of another important task – my wardrobe! What followed, was a really looooong day of running from store to store looking for the perfect outfit, which might I had, didn’t quite exist as I had hoped! But whatever, I had a look at the clips after the shoot and think I looked pretty cute yapping away on the best ways to introduce kids to Indian food.

The taping took merely half an hour, but I was at the studio close to over three hours – prepping the food, and watching the taping of other segments being filmed. Needless to say, it was another long day but one I will never forget! By the time I got home, I was exhausted and the strain of the many hours spent shopping, prepping and finally shooting, made me crave for some homemade comfort food. And Dal-Chawal (lentils and rice) was what it just had to be for me! Trust me when I say this – no matter how tired you may be, the mere 10 minutes you’ll spend in prepping for this meal is truly worth it all the way. But why wait for the dreaded day when you feel that even lifting a finger could drive you to your grave? It tastes just as good when you’re your normal happy, active self. I can truly promise you that!
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Inspired by Serving Crazy with Curry: Baingan Patiala

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

Talk about being fashionably late, that too, to your very own event! Would it make it easier for you all to forgive me if I said I was busy celebrating my B’day (which just happened to be yesterday, yet the celebrations began 2 weeks in advance thanks to the ever wonderful Hubby Dear!)? I know, excuses, excuses! But still, I’m here now – with a killer recipe in tow!

I first spotted this book at the airport en route to Delhi many moons ago. The title caught my eye and I made a mental note to pick it up on my way back. Pick it up I did, but somehow never got around to reading it. That is of course until I announced it as the month’s pick for the Cook’s Book Club event. Although I thought it was well written, I was sorry to note that I didn’t quite enjoy it much. The story line started out with a bang, but kind of got a bit predictable for me. Nonetheless, I fell absolutely in love with the colourful characters! Set in an American Indian household, the book touches upon the troubled relationships within a family. And in the midst of it all, there is of course, food. After devastating events take place in her life, Devi, the story’s main character, goes into a trance and begins cooking. She cooks when she’s angry, she cooks when she’s sad, and she cooks when she’s happy. In short, her cooking was her way of communicating how she felt.

While I wouldn’t say I’m as dramatic as Devi when it comes to expressing my feelings, I can’t deny the fact that my cooking has many a time reflected my moods. Like the time I baked four large pizzas because I was feeling artistic and wanted to create a masterpiece, literally! Or when I bake a lusciously rich chocolate cake to give myself a pat on the back. Or even the time when I cooked an extravagant 5-course meal to thank Hubby Dear for a wonderful Valentine gift.

When I look back, I always seem to remember food as something that brought our family together. Whenever we were happy or had any big news to share, food would most definitely become the center of our attention. I remember most of our birthday celebrations not by the gifts we received, but by the feast my Mom made for us. Trips home from college during the summer were often preceded by many telephone calls of planning out the menu for the day I arrived. Most of our weekends were spent entertaining friends and family. I fondly remember my Mom working her way through a lavish meal irrespective of how many guests we were expecting. She would always say that it’s better to have food left over than let your guests leave feeling unfull. It should be noted that unless you eat till you almost drop, my Mom thinks you haven’t yet had enough. And so, it is from her that I have inherited this need to cook for my loved ones, and feed them till I know they can’t be fed anymore.

Take for instance this lovely dish of eggplant. I remembered eating something like it a few years ago at a friend’s home. A bunch of us were getting together for a game night and she made an elaborate meal to kick off the evening. Then, a couple of days ago, we invited a few close friends over for an evening of cards. As I was halfway into the book and still immersed in Devi’s character, I wanted to make a meal reminiscent of game night. That’s how this recipe came into being.
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What to Cook: Book Club Menu

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I love getting emails from readers asking for menu ideas when hosting an Indian-themed party. Here’s one I received from Jen a couple of days ago:

Dear Meena,

I’m hosting our monthly book club and my selection is Interpreter of Maladies – a series of short stories that I absolutely love.  We try to coordinate our meeting’s food with our book’s subject – usually just appetizers & dessert, but occasionally a full meal.

I’d love to make some great Indian dishes for our group to sample – and to have as much as possible prepared in advance so I don’t miss out on the fun.  Even some spiced nuts or snacks would be great. Any ideas?

Many, many thanks,

Jen

I love putting casual buffet menus together where guests can just sit and chat while nibbling on some delicious food. For a book club meet, it’s always best to serve food that can be easily picked up with one hand and eaten while you use the other hand to navigate through your favourite passages and pages in the book. Here is what I think would go well at this particular meeting. Most of the items can be prepared up to a few days in advanced, stored in the freezer or fridge till D-day, and kept warm in the oven till it’s ready to serve. I hope you and your friends will enjoy this menu as much as the the party Jen! Happy hosting!

  • Potato Parcels – prepare the parcels in advance and freeze them without frying. When ready to serve, either fry them up or simply bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes till golden. For a slightly simpler, less effortless version, use large puff pastry sheets. They puff up like tiny pillows when done and look and taste marvellous!
  • Tandoori Chicken Pops – Let the chicken marinate in the fridge overnight, and when ready to serve, simply grill in an oven instead of frying.
  • Corn Chaat (recipe included) – Quick and simple to prepare, and delicious to the very last morsel! For an added flair, serve in mini tortilla cups.
  • Shakkarpare – A perfect sweet treat that can be made many days in advance and stores well in an air-tight jar.
  • Masala Chai – The perfect ending to a fun evening.

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The girl and her peas: Mushroom & Peas Pulao

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

Let me tell you all a little story. Once upon a time, there was a pretty little girl who absolutely loved peas. She loved them so much that she would even unquestioningly eat steamed broccoli if it was served with a side of peas. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Nothing, not even serving them with deliciously sweet peas would make her eat broccoli, least of all if it was steamed! She would simply devour all the luscious peas and probably slip the broccoli chunks under her seat when no one was watching. Yes, that’s undoubtedly what she would do. But nonetheless, let’s get back to the story shall we?

So yes, this girl loved her peas. She begged her Mom to add them into anything and everything they could possibly be added to. And if it weren’t for her two evil green pea loathing siblings, her Mom might have even given in to some of her hideously bizarre ideas. But then, like every fairy tale, good things started to happen to her. She grew up, moved out of home away from the evil siblings (okay, they’re not all that evil, but they do bug her some all of the time!), and began to cook for herself. Like the ugly frog who turned into a handsome prince on the very first kiss, her peas lusciously flavoured her food. They graced every dish they were added into and touched it with their sweetness.

On days like today, when the clouds darken the sky, and drops of rain fall helplessly on the ground, all she can think of cooking for dinner is a one pot comforting meal comprising of rice, mushrooms, and oh yes, most definitely, peas. The meal was a breeze to make, and the girl and her peas continue to live happily ever after, much to the chagrin of Hubby Dear. If only there was a law forbidding one to hate peas!
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Pantry Cooking: Mixed Bean Soup

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At any given time, my pantry shelves are decked with at least 5 different kinds of lentils, 3 different kinds of beans, 5 kinds of pasta, noodles and rice, and a basket full of spice mixes and sauces. Having such an elaborate pantry enables me to throw dinner on the table at the drop of hat when I’m in no position to shop for fresh supplies. I recently talked about my love for menu planning, and I honestly believe that having a well-stocked pantry (which, in this case, I refer to my kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer) makes the task a whole lot simpler and hence, possible to follow through.

Many people I know start out with making extravagant menu plans for their weeknight dinners, only to find themselves unable to keep up with it after the second day. The trick is to plan your weeknight meals in such a way, that you remove the stress out of making the meal entirely. And if that means I’m serving soup made out of pre-prepared ingredients, then so be it!

Although I would love to cook my daily meals, from scratch from the freshest produce available, I would only be kidding myself if I believed it could ever be possible. After a long day of work, the last thing on my mind is the need to spend gruelling hours chopping, dicing, slicing, pureeing and mashing ingredients for my dinner. Instead, I try and make use of my pantry items to complete my meal. However, I always try and ensure that I have at least one fresh vegetable on the table, even if it is a mere salad. But some times, as we all know, life decides to take its toll and even a simple bowl of sliced cucumbers seem highly unlikely.

A few days ago, I found myself scurrying from my office (even if it just a mere 10 feet away from my kitchen!) all starved and ready to shove the first thing edible I could lay my hands on. I’d had a long day, and yet the work was far from done. I only had just enough time to fix something quick and shove it in me before I would have to get back to my laptop. This soup is what kept me sane and gave me the extra boost of energy I needed. It was simple, quick and delicious, served with crusty warm garlic bread. All thanks to a well stocked pantry!

MIXED BEAN SOUP
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 large can mixed beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups chicken/vegetable stock
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste
fresh coriander leaves and lemon wedges, for garnish

Directions:

Heat oil in a large non-stick pot and saute chopped onions and garlic till tender.

Add in tomatoes, spices, and beans, and cook for few minutes to blend in spices. Stir in chicken stock and corn, and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Season with salt, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and lemon.



Eating Lunch with Rachael Ray: Curry Noodle Bowl

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

It had come to my notice a few days ago that I was spending a lot more time cooking than actually eating. This is not to say that I have been burdening myself with tedious and slow-cooking meals. In fact, it was quite the contrary. While my meals have been loaded with quick and simple salads, soups and the occasional sandwich, it seemed strange to me that I was eating in less than half the time I took to prepare the meal at hand.

I have recently begun to have lunch at my desk, if only to try and get as much work done as I possibly could cram int my day. With my food sitting on my right and my laptop on the left, it’s almost impossible for me to sit back and actually take a moment to even look at my plate, let alone enjoy it. And this, my dear friends has been bugging me since the time I started doing it.

There are piles of emails flagged for responses, a ton of article ideas bookmarked for research, a growing tower of books (which I now use as a side table to hold my morning cup of coffee) for review, and the odd request or two for help with a menu plan, that are all screaming for my undivided attention. Well, what can I say but that it’s hard trying to balance your work and hobby at the same time. Even harder when they both are interlinked, like in my case. That was until I found Rachael Ray.

I was first introduced to the great RR a few years ago with her show 30-Minute Meals. Like many, I thought she was too perky to be sane. I thought it was crazy of her to bang pots and pans to flatten meat, and create acronyms like EVOO and GB (which I must add is a wonderful trick I learnt from her!). But what I did admire was her penchant to get real creative in the kitchen and make everyday food seem exotic and exciting.

A few days ago, as I got ready to take my lunch into my home office, I had the sudden urge to stop and see what was on TV. A quick scan and I found myself taking a seat with The Rachael Ray Show. She was just as I remembered her: quirky, overly excited and bubbly. But even then, I found myself grinning at her silly jokes. She passed around the ‘snack of the day’ to her audience as I took the first bite of my lunch. By the end of the episode, I had polished my plate, relishing every bite and enjoying what I ate. I tried doing the same the next day. And the day after. And the day after that.

It’s been more than a week since, and my lunches, though take hardly any time to cook, seem to take a whole hour to be eaten. And not to mention, enjoyed. All thanks to the Queen of Quick!
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Potato passion: Potato Parcels

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

Me and Hubby Dear are what some might call munchers. You know, the kinds that could live on finger foods alone. Yes, now that I think back a little, we most certainly are one of those kinds.

The first time we went out, ever, we unsuccesfully tried to share a plate of french fries. I say we tried, because truly, I was was the one trying my best to get my fork into the plate while Hubby Dear conviniently walked at a much faster pace covering it with his arms. (Walking, since unlike the tradional way of going out to dinner for a first date, we chose to spend a day at the CNE.) Yes, the guy does like his fries, sometimes, I believe, even more than his pretty little wife. We spent the rest of the day bouncing between samosas, popcorn and fiery wings.

When we’re not having friends over, our Friday nights usually turn out the same each week – a bunch of movies enjoyed over a platter of assorted mini treats. As much as our choice of movies may differ, the only variable constant to our evening would be the finger food. Constant, because they mostly always find themselves to be potato-based. And variable, because they almost never taste the same.

I love experimenting with different flavours, and what better way to try a new flavour than to toss it over a bowl of plain boiled and mashed potatoes. From chat masala to chipotle-lime, the list of flavourings is endless, and the combinations one can come up with is overwhelming. We made this a couple of weeks ago. We, because while I fried, Hubby Dear ate, much to the dismay of his burning tongue. The things men do for food, or should I say, potatoes!

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Sometimes, you need a change: Bok Choy in Coconut Milk

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

Every once in a while I like to take a vacation. Correction: I need a vacation. But a busy schedule make it an almost impossible desire. Instead, I take time to “zone out.” I take these mini-holidays on any particular day and when I think I most deserve it. I leave everything behind and pretend I’m on an adventure. Anything to spice up my routine lifestyle.I wear my favourite pair of comfortable pants, put on my comfy walking shoes, and armed with a camera and a few bare necessities, I set out on an exploration.

The streets by my home are lined with vintage stores filled with pretty little things. There’s a cafe on the corner of the street that serves the best chocolate eclair I’ve ever had. As I walk down that road, filled with the hustle and bustle of people walking their dogs and moms dragging their kids from the ice-cream shop, it gives me a sense of vacationing. You know, the feeling you get when you experience a place for the first time. It’s curious how enriching it can be just to take in all the sights and sounds and see things from a new perspective. It helps me. It helps me forget deadlines, and to-do lists. It helps to open up my mind to new avenues of thinking. Some I never even knew were embedded somewhere in my head.

I walk the extra mile to a nearby lake. I turn towards my favourite bench overlooking the horizon and I enjoy my eclair. My camera captures things that I see along the way and want to keep imprinted on my mind. These also become inspiration for the rest of the week; sometimes even the month! What is most exhilarating, is the feeling of being free. It gives me a chance to see things around me in a new light.

With food, I often feel the same way too. Sometimes, you just want something different. It doesn’t have to be exotic or even back-breakingly elegant. Just different enough to take your palate on a holiday. I try and keep atleast one day of the week where I try out something different. I create or recreate a recipe from my fancy. Sometimes, it’s the ingredients that are new to me, and most times, the flavours that follow along. This dish is one such feat. With an open mind to create vegetable dishes that I would enjoy and always come back to, I decided to play around with a bunch of fresh Bok Choy I picked up a few days ago. It resulted in what has now become one of my favourite comfort dishes. Yes, it really is that good that I promise you won’t even know that NO oil was use in its creation.

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Intro to Indian Food, Part 3 – Pickles and Chutneys: Green Chutney

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It’s often believed that no Indian meal is complete without a good helping of tangy chutney and a touch of spicy pickle on the side. Delicately spiced, these Indian condiments range in taste, texture and colour to suit every palate, be it hot, sour, salty or sweet. Since chutneys and pickles hold a very prominent place on every thali, a large round steel tray traditional used to serve a selection of different dishes, including rice, lentils, vegetables, rotis and a sweet dish, I couldn’t help but dedicate a section to highlight its importance in Indian food.

Pickles

Unlike the classic dill pickle found in almost every refrigerator in every home in North America, Indian pickles are fiery hot condiments that are often eaten in minute quantities. They can be seen as preserves, with salt being the most common preservative and can be stored up to many months. While most Indian pickles tend to be sour, you can also find a good range in the sweet varieties. Earlier pickles were most commonly made from mangoes that are available in abundance throughout, but now one can easily find a jar of pickle of any vegetable desired, or even a combination of them.

Most pickles are made by sun drying the fruits and vegetables, and then storing them in a jar of salt over a period of time. Mixed in oil and spices and they are then flavoured, some even simmered for hours. Over the hot summer months, it’s very common to find a family gathered out on the patios or terraces, sitting in a circle preparing the ingredients for pickling, while at the same time sharing in idle gossip. Each family prides in its own secret recipe passed on from generations, making this a family event to look forward to.

Chutneys

Chutneys can be classified in two basic categories. The fresh chutneys, those that are blended with fresh ingredients and spices, and require no cooking whatsoever, and the cooked chutneys, that are simmered over a low heat till all the flavours are blended well. While chutneys are enjoyed and eaten in almost every home throughout the country, it is as diverse in its flavour as the number of hands that make it everyday.

Some of the most popular chutneys include:

Coconut Chutney: A favourite accompaniment to the spicy Masala Dosa, this fresh chutney is made by blending freshly grated coconut with generous amounts of green chillies, fresh ginger, curry leaves, Urad dal and mustard seeds.

Tomato Chutney: This refreshingly sweet chutney is made by slowing cooking fresh tomatoes with an added flavour of curry leaves, ginger and spices. Eaten hot or cold it brings a wonderful additional dose of flavour to any simple meal.

Tamarind Chutney:A slow simmering chutney of tamarind pulp, jaggery (unrefined sugar) and a mix of spices, this tangy chutney is always a welcome companion to many Indian snacks. It is a wonderful blend of sweet and sour flavours with a hint of spice and adds that much needed zing to many popular street foods.

Mango Chutney:This chutney is easily made by sautéing diced mangoes with an array of different spices and lemon juice. As much as it is enjoyed with a traditional Indian meal, it also serves as a great topping for any regular sandwich.

Onion Chutney:A personal favourite, onion chutney is a quick two-step process. First, sliced onions are sautéed in a skillet with red chillies. Then, once cooled, it is blended to a touch of tamarind and sugar to a smooth fine paste. A perfect blend of spicy, sweet and sour, this delicious relish is good enough to enjoy on its own.

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Intro to Indian Food, Part 2: A Lesson in Lentils

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

When I started out to try and impart what I know of Indian cooking, I had a few things in mind that I knew I just had to talk about. I did not want to make this series all about the simplicity in the recipes, but instead, I wanted to discuss the essence of Indian food right from the basics. When one thinks of Indian food, the first few things that come to mind definitely include spice, curries, and Butter Chicken. While these may somewhat play key roles when introducing someone to Indian cuisine, its hard to leave out the other factors that contribute to the rising popularity of Indian food.Picking up from where I last left off with an introduction to the most basic spices found in almost every Indian home, let me go a step further and bring you into the whole new wonderful world of lentils. Lentils, or Dal, as they are most often known in the Indian menu, are a staple at almost every Indian meal. Ranging from the most basic cooking method of simply boiling it with a dash of salt and adding a robust tempering right before serving, to a more tedious method of sautéing it various spices and vegetables, lentils have come a long from where we first knew it to be.

Lentils are basically legumes and have somewhat of a rich nutty flavour. They are usually sold pre-packaged in bags or boxes, but can also be bought in bulk. When shopping for lentils, it is most important to note how much of an effort you are actually willing to spend in their cooking process. When storing lentils, it is best to keep them in large air-tight containers in a cool spot. Right next to where you store your pasta, is probably also the best spot to display your lentil collection.

Lentils come in varied sizes, shapes and colours, each equipped with its own distinct flavour and commendable cooking times. Many of them cooked be cooked in similar ways, but don’t let the difference in tastes of each of them surprise you. That’s what’s so special about including Dals in your meal plans. Not much of an effort where the cooking is concerned, and yet you can have variety in your meals simply by alternating the kinds of lentils you use.

Some of the most common lentils are:

MASOOR (red lentils): The red split Masoor lentils are most commonly used in many homes. They take the shortest time to cook and require no pre-soaking whatsoever. This type of lentils is usually found in everyday meals and make a quick go-to dish when you’re running short of time.

TOOR/ARHAR (yellow lentils): The Toor Dal, is dull yellow in colour and is most often the base for many South Indian specialities like Sambhar. They need to soak for a few hours before cooking, and take longer to boil down to a soft edible center. A quick way to overcome the long cooking process would be to use a pressure cooker. On the contrary, they are perfect for a slow cooker if you’re in need to let a meal do its own thing while you go about your own.

CHANA (split-pea lentils): The Chana Dal, or split-pea lentils have a deep yellow colour and look like the halves of a chick-pea, only in a smaller size. They take the longest to cook and are extremely compatible with both, the pressure cooker as well as a slow cooker. They often take center stage in special dishes, and are a favourite to serve at dinner parties.

MOONG (green lentils): Being green in colour and taking the shape of tiny bean is probably what sets this Dal apart from its various counterparts. The Moong Dal is rarely used in preparing everyday meals, but gets its fame as the star of a widely loved dessert call Moong Dal Halwa.

An everyday Indian meal usually comprises of some rice, a few Rotis, a Dal and a vegetable, accompanied with some yogurt, pickle and a light salad. When you’re in no mood to go the whole mile, Dals are best enjoyed with simply rice and a dash of pickle. In many Indian households, a different Dal is cooked each day, accompanied with a complimenting vegetable. Dals are also used in many non-vegetarian preparations, the most popular known being the Dhansak. A gift from the Parsis, Dhansak is a slow cooked stew of meat, vegetables and lentils, all simmering in rich, robust spicy flavours.

With its chockfull of proteins, lentils are great addition to a vegetarian diet. Add a handful to your stews and soups for that extra burst of nutrition. Lentils can easily take on varied flavours and add richness to your daily meals. So go ahead, and give it a try.

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