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

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

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

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

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

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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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 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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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 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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If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, that I’d have to be lying. Truth be told, I seldom ever cook something that would have me whisking away for hours on end. Except of course, when I have company coming! Now that’s a whole different story altogether. Even then, I’m not spending all those hours on one single dish, but instead, I’m actually going nuts fussing over a minimum of five main courses. Yes, I get like that while entertaining. But the diligent licking of everyone’s fingertips and perplexed weight-watching souls worrying over whether to go in for seconds (thirds, actually) more than makes up for all the effort.

Recipe for Baingan Bharta taken from

When it comes to feeding family, I like to go more easy on myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy feeding loved ones with rich palate pleasing favourites, but I’d rather spend my time with them enjoying simple, yet equally delightful food made in minutes. A recent email from one of my readers posed a question I have been subjected to many a times. This compelled me to come all out talk about my regular at-home meals. She writes,

All your recipes appear as if they leaped out of glossy magazines. While many them are quite easy to follow, it’s hard to imagine myself cooking lavish meals every night. Do you really cook all these wonderful looking food on a daily basis?

Well, dear reader, all I can say is yes. Well almost. You see, most of my recipes, no matter how elegantly sounding, are actually very simple and wholesome; and ones that I turn to on a weekly basis. While it may seem daunting to someone not so in tune with Indian cuisine, it’s not at all that hard. Most dishes can be made in a matter of minutes, whereas others, that seem to call for buckets full of spices, may just take a tad bit more time. But yes, sometimes even an adventurous cook like myself, wants to take a break and reach out to the nearest pack of instant noodles. And it’s often in times like these that I faithfully turn to my repertoire of quick fixes. And these, I assure you dear reader, can be whipped up real quick. Literally in minutes!

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Hubby Dear and me have always believed that sleeping is a sport, and ever since we got married, we have tried to outdo the other on how long we can sleep in over the weekends. Well, that was, of course, until Baby Dear was born. What can I say, the kid HATES to sleep – always did, and continues to do so. So while our entire neighbourhood wakes up leisurely on a Saturday morning and slowly begins their day pouring a glass of cold orange juice from the fridge, the three of us would be in the midst of planning out our lunch.

Recipe for Sukhe Kaale Chane, taken from

Baby Dear wakes up beady eyed at the crack of dawn, jumps out of his bed and sprints to our room yelling, ‘Weekend’s here!’. And then THUD! He plops himself comfortably under our covers, rubs his tummy and asks the dreaded question, ‘What’s for breakfast guys?’

Breakfast has never been my thing. I wake up each morning with the desire of only a freshly brewed warm cup of coffee, and I’m roaring to go. Weekends, on the other hand, are slightly different. The three of us love starting our Saturdays with a big breakfast. Almost every other week, we find ourselves at some quaint little café digging into buttered toasts and eggs or warm maple syrup poured over pancakes, with copious amounts of coffee for us and milk or fresh juice for Baby Dear. Treating ourselves to breakfast out is definitely something we look forward to and cherish.

But on days like this past weekend, where the slow pitter-patter of raindrops splashed on our window and the gloomy weather made us want to put on warm fuzzy socks and snuggle on the couch, I love digging into my repertoire of special hot Indian breakfasts. Breakfast in India is always a big deal – be it any day of the week, and there is no dearth of options when it comes to a plate of piping hot healthy meals to start the day with. One of our family favourites  is this spicy stir-fry of tiny brown chickpeas, quite different in taste and texture from their larger white counterpart.

This is a perfect dish to make ahead and keeps well in the fridge for about a week or the freezer for a month. When ready to eat, simply heat it up and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Add your favourite hot beverage of choice, surround yourself with your favourite people, and you have a wonderful start to the perfect weekend!

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The Indian festive season has begun, and kitchens all over the country have been buzzing with activity. Mine is no different. I’ve spent the past few days planning and re-planning our menus. I remember a time when not too many years ago when Hubby Dear and I would throw lavish Diwali parties. We’d have an extensive menu which would have me begin the cooking process a day or two in advance. Those were the days!

Recipe for Paneer Methi Matar, taken from

For the last few years however, we’ve both seem to have wanted to slow down a bit during the holidays. It’s not that we do not make a big deal about celebrating, we just prefer to have it low-key with family and some of our closest friends. But does this mean we skimp on the food? Of course not! I could never live with myself if I did. The cooking still continues in full swing. We generally tend to have a very light breakfast, and I cook up a storm for our Diwali lunch. Dinner will typically vary between different kinds of snacky or finger food while we all sit down to a competitive game of cards.

Last year I went a bit nuts in trying to create a buffet of various Indian street food. Although I turned into a headless chicken trying to get a dozen things on the table at the same time, each piping hot and ready to serve, it sure was fun experience. On the menu, we had Samosas, Corn Chaat, Dal Kachoris with Chana Masala, Ragda Tikkis and Dahi Puris to simply name a few. (Yes, there was much more than this on our table. Much, much more.)

This year, I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of having everyone huddled around the buffet table, I want us all to sit down to a nice, homely, festive family meal. So on our Diwali menu this year will be: Methi Matar Malai (recipe follows), Dal Makhani, Bharwaan Bhindi, Baingan Patiala, Jeera Pulao, Garlic Naan, Beetroot Raita and Salad. Simple, wholesome, and absolutely delicious! So… what’s on your Diwali menu this year?

Here’s wishing all my wonderful readers a very happy and tasty festive season!

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