What to Cook: Quick Dinner Ideas with Indian Food?

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Many of us grew up with daily Indian meals that consisted of a Dal, a Sabzi or two, some Rotis, Rice and a Salad on the side. Top this off with some yogurt and Indian pickle, and the standard Indian meal was complete. In todays busy lifestyle that a majority of us lead, a meal like this not only requires immense planning and prep work ahead of time, but also a lot of patience and dedication to clean up afterwords. I’ve always been a strong advocate of quick Indian food recipes and I truly believe that you DO NOT have spend an eternity in the kitchen to churn out tasty and comforting Indian food.

If you walk into our home at dinner time, you’ll notice that we enjoy Indian food at least 3-4 times a week. Our meals are simple, most often quick and rarely consist of more than two dishes at a time. There is always a protein and vegetables, and some form of carbs to balance if all. I love giving new twists to traditional recipes and enjoy the challenge of revamping slow-cooking recipes to adapt them for a quick fix meal. Here are some of the tricks I use to make cooking Indian food a breeze when time is short on hand:

Plan Ahead: Every morning, as I sit down with my cup of coffee, I take a quick look at my planner and jot out my to do list. This gives me a good idea of what I have in store for the day and also lets me plan my dinner accordingly. I love doing this early in the day since it allows me enough of time to do any prep work that may be required for the meal I’ve planned. This may include soaking beans or lentils, taking out anything that needs to defrost from the freezer, or even prepping a few vegetables like boiling potatoes, to cut down on my cooking time. If I decide to make rotis/parathas for dinner on a given night, then I also take this time to make the dough. This allows the dough to rest a few hours before rolling which always ensures soft rotis in the end.

Create and Use Shortcuts: My weeknight Indian cooking is always restricted to quick curries or stir-frys and I save the slow simmering delicacies for a Sunday afternoon when I can take my time and enjoy the process. That said, I use simple short cuts to quicken a lot of things even further. For example, I always have my freezer stocked with portion-sized bags of pre-boiled chickpeas, kidney beans and toor dal. Along with that, I also keep a steady stock of ready-to-use frozen vegetables like peas, corn, chopped carrots, beans and spinach. I portion out my meat and freeze them as soon as I’m back from to store, which allows me to quickly thaw out just enough that I need for a meal.

Use Time-Saving Appliances: No Indian kitchen in complete without a pressure cooker, and duly so. It’s my secret weapon to shorten the time it takes to cook beans and meat. I also use my blender/mini food processor a lot to blend ginger, garlic and onions instead of chopping them for starting quick curries.

Cook Extra and Appreciate Leftovers: Hubby Dear and I have always been in the habit of eating leftovers for lunch the next day. So, I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of cooking more than I need and packing up the rest in the fridge. If I know that we won’t be eating it in the next day or two, then I’ll freeze the leftovers for a day when we need a quick fix and I need a break. To me, it simply make no sense to cook a tasty dinner for just one meal when you can easily double up the recipe and enjoy it another time.

Give Yourself a Break: Nobody said that home cooked meals had to be 100% home cooked from scratch. Make it easy on yourself and pair up freshly made meals something from the frozen aisle in the store to make your like easier. Making rotis everyday is not possible for me, so I find no shame in warming up frozen parathas and naans and serving them alongside the delicious curry I just cooked with love.

Over the past 10 years since I’ve been cooking daily dinners, I’ve come to realize that there are a few recipes that find their way into my dinner rotation every few days. These recipes are great starting points to experiment with and can easily be jazzed up to create new tasty versions of themselves. My trick is to mix and match from the various categories to map out a well-balanced meal. I almost always multitask and cook them either at tandem, or start on one while I prep for the other. Then, if need be, I add in a salad and some yogurt on the side and call it a prefect desi meal.

Dal: Lentils are a staple in Indian meals and great way for vegetarians to up their protein intake. Dals are also a comfort food on cold nights, and paired with some warm, fragrant Basmati rice makes it a classic combination. I love to add a veggie or two to my Dals to increase in nutritional value. My favourites include spinach and fresh fenugreek leaves. I often change up the Dal I cook and serve up a variety during the week.

Curry: Curries are great way to combine more than one main ingredient and cut down on the number of sides you may need to complete a meal. I love adding in potatoes, carrots and beans to my already quick Chicken Curry. Rajma and Chana work well for quick cooking if you use pre-cooked or canned version of the beans. Paneer, Fish and Shrimp curries literally take minutes to cook and always a treat in the middle of the week. When all else fails, my go-to is always a lip-smacking Egg Curry.

Sabzi: Vegetable dishes for us generally take center stage on most nights. While many people see them as a side option, I sometimes like to skip the Dal and cook 2-3 Sabzis for my main meal. When doing so, I like to pair to curried vegetable dish like this Methi Matar with a much drier dish like Achari Mushroom.

Pulao: Pulaos are the perfect vehicle for one pot meals that can be laden with meat, veggies and beans. They are simple to cook and rarely need  to be paired with anything other than Raita to make a scrumptious meal. The Mushroom & Peas Pulao and Minty Paneer Pulao are some of my favourites to cook up on short notice and are always a huge crowd pleaser!

To help get you all started off on the right foot, here are a few ideas from the archives that might make dinner time a little easier this coming week:

  1. Kadhi, Baingan Patiala and Rice
  2. Chana Masala, Jeera Alu and store-bought Naans
  3. Palak Paneer, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  4. Chana Dal Masala, Dahi Bhindi and Rice
  5. Methi-Anda Curry, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  6. Coconut Chicken Curry, Jeera Pulao and a Salad
  7. Matar Paneer, Alu Palak and Rice

MORE POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

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What to Cook: Confused Cook

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

Here is an email I received a few weeks ago that got me thinking, testing and dreaming recipes. Until last night, when I finally saw the table clearly laid out in mind waiting for hungry mouths to dig in, I was seeing ginger, garlic and onions everywhere! I tell you people, the things I do for the love of cooking!

Dear Meena,

I have a co-worker from India who is Jain. I’d like to invite him and his wife to dinner one of these days. Now the problem is I have no idea how to make anything without onion, ginger, potato etc! They are very strict about their food. Help! I want to serve at least three entrees and rice and/or roti. Can you give me suggestions and/or recipes?

- Confused Cook

Dear Confused Cook,

Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to cook Jain food, much less ever had a chance to eat it. So the scary thought of creating a menu for you without any ginger, garlic and onions, without which my kitchen would seem barren and in need of a desperate makeover, turned me into a mad woman that surprised even sweet little Hubby Dear. Ever little thing I cooked and ate over the past few days was scrutinized in hopes of finding a way to recreate it without the bare essentials of my cooking. But as they say, prespiration gives way to perfection (I can swear I heard that somewhere!), and I’m happy to note that your very first Jain dinner party will soon take shape.

- Meena

The menu I designed for this dinner includes the classic favourites like Pulao, Dal, and Rotis. The vegetable dishes I’ve picked for this menu are either traditionally cooked without onions and garlic, or can easily be made without them, without compromising much on flavour.

  • Dal: Cook your choice of Dal in the normal way, omitting the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
  • Kadhi-Pakodi: This wonderful dish, prepared from yoghurt and gram flour is a personal favourite of mine. While in most cases onions are used in the end as a tempering with dried chillies, it can easily be avoided to accommodate a Jain diet. Bring a mixture of 2 tbsp gram flour, I cup yoghurt and 2 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps. Season with salt, turmeric and chili powder. Add in pakodas made with vegetables of choice, and stir in a tempering of cumin seeds, dried red chillies and a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves for added flavour.
  • Paneer Tak-a-tak: recipe follows
  • Dahi Bhindi: Follow the recipe avoiding the addition of onions and ginger powder.
  • Fried Baingan
  • Peas Pulao: Again, omit the addition of onions.
  • Plain Rotis and/or Puris

Add in a Raita, salad and Papad, and there you have it CC, a wonderful, Jain accommodated hearty meal! For dessert I suggest the usual favourites, kheer, gulab jamun or halwa.

Do you have any trouble planning a menu or fixing a meal? I’m only a few lines away

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What to Cook: Quick, Healthy Weeknight Meal

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

So… in my last post I had asked you all to come clean and tell me what you’d like me to write/change/do on the blog; and I loved reading all the comments and personal emails that I received from you. A lot of you (almost everyone that wrote in, actually) said that you’d like to see more frequent posts from me. And boy did I hear ya! I had just received my new Erin Condren planner a few days prior, and immediately set to work on my blog editorial calendar. I mapped out posts I have stockpiled as drafts, and dedicated days to developing, cooking and testing new recipes. So keep those emails and comments coming in and let me know what kind of recipes you’d like me to dish out. One of the emails I received came from Supriya, who had this to say:

Hi Meena, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and have enjoyed a ton of your recipes. Many of them appear on my dinner table on a weekly basis and have become family favourites. Although I’m proud that my kids enjoy and readily eat almost anything I put on their plates, they’ve recently started to get a bit fussy when it comes to dinner. They’ve been requesting pasta a lot lately, and while I do indulge them most times, I’m not too happy about serving them a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs each week. I’d like to try something more whole with a ton of veggies. They do enjoy eggplant and spinach lasagna, but frankly I need something that is quick, simple and delicious! Can you help? An over-worked mom, Supriya

Well Supriya, first off, let me congratulate you on having such good eaters as kids. If your kids will readily relish a helping of eggplant and spinach lasagna – that’s half the battle won! Personally, I love having pasta on my weekly meal rotation as well. Let’s face it – it’s fast, easy, and with a little creativity, can be made wholesome as well. I made this recipe sometime ago for a surprise b’day party I threw Hubby Dear. It was one of the sides with the main Eggplant Parmesan dish I made. The crowd loved it, and needless to say, Hubby and Baby Dear as well! It’s quite easy to prep and can be enjoyed either warm or cold. I’ve made with various pasta shapes (macaroni being Baby Dear’s favourite, and rotini or penne, ours), and whatever veggies I have on hand. Give it a try, and I’m sure you and your family will keep asking for more!

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What to Cook: Quick, Simple Family Dinner

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I love getting emails from all of you, especially ones that request help with planning a menu. I’m a big advocate of hosting regular family-style dinner parties, and love to see others do the same. Here is an email I received from Dana a few days ago:

Hi Meena,

I have been following your blog for quite some while now and absolutely love it. You delight my foodie heart! :)

I am hosting a family party this weekend (there are around 6-7 of us) and I can’t think of a suitable menu. I’m keen on doing an Indian themed dinner, since we’re all into Indian food big time! I would prefer it to be healthy (with possibly, one “unhealthy” item) and without any naans/parathas/ rotis. I don’t want to sweat it out in the kitchen in this hot weather. If you any suggestions, they are very much welcome. Please help!!

Thanks so  much!

- Dana

Well Dana, what can I say. You spoke to my heart! Whenever I plan a meal for my closest friends or family, I always go for recipes that are simple, wholesome and delicious. Comfort food is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not to mention pretty easy on the cook too, in most cases. 6 is a nice intimate number for a dinner party, and here is what I suggest:

For appetizers, you can never go wrong by laying out a platter of bite-sized treats. I would pick an assortment of Alu Dahi Puri, Corn Chaat, and Potato Parcels. If you’d like to keep it really simple however, then a tray full of piping hot Samosas served with Chutney will definitely please your guests. Most of these recipes are fairly easy to prepare and the Potato Parcels and Samosas can even be prepped a few days ahead, frozen, and fried fresh to serve. Just remember to thaw them out in the refrigerator overnight though.

For the main course, lay out a buffet to served family-style. My go-to combination always consists of one main curry like, Coconut-Lime Chicken Curry (recipe follows), or Lamb & Potato Curry, or Hot & Sour Fish Curry. Again, all these dishes are a breeze to cook and taste even better a day later. So they are all perfect candidates for cooking a day in advance!

You can then pick any dried vegetarian dish like, PaneerTak-a-Tak, Baingan Patiala, Masala Mushrooms, or Alu Palak; a lentil/bean dish like, Chana Dal Masala or Chana Masala; and top that off with a side of rice like, Mushroom & Peas Pulao.

Dessert can always be plain good ‘ol ice cream, or something fancier like, Gajar Halwa.

Hope this helps you Dana. I’d love to hear details on your party planning process. Happy cooking!

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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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What to Cook: Distressed over Dinner

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Every now and then I emails from readers requesting me for a particular recipe. Some I’m quite familiar with and readily try and post about. Then are those requests of dishes that for the life of me, I had no idea even existed. I especially love these email where I get a chance to learn about something new. And then there are a few mails wherein I’m asked to help plan a party, with a fully designed menu. Now these are mails that I especially enjoy! That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate those lovely thank you notes I get from fabulous readers who’ve tried my recipes and taken the time to send me feedback. You all have a special place in my heart, so keep ‘em coming folks! And just in case you have this silly notion that I don’t value what you have to say since I haven’t responded to your email/comment, then please don’t think that way. All I can say is that it’s hard for me to juggle all the things I tend to do at the same time. Most times I have more on my plate than I can conviniently handle, due to which I have to miss out on responding to your lovely words.Now, getting back to those emails on menu planning, yes, I just love those! Part of the excitement must come from my obessively complusive behaviour to always host the perfect party, and the rest I’m sure derives itself from my need to entertain on a regular basis. Yes, as Hubby Dear has time and again stated, I have a disease. And the only way to live with it is to accept the fact that I need to have frends and family over on a regular basis who I can feed and smother with goodies from my kitchen.

One such request arrived a few days ago from a regular reader of mine. This young lady always has something smart to discuss on food, and I’ve always enjoyed the conversations that we cultivated through our web correspondence. So I was highly surprised to see this frantic email from her sitting in my inbox:

Dear Meena,

Me and my girlfriends get together every month for our Book Club Meeting. Each month, the selected host designs a meal inspired by the book we are currently reading. This month, the task of hosting the dinner has come on me. We have been reading Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss, and I’d really love to serve a simple meal of everyday Indian food that you would serve to family and friends on a regular basis. While I’m used to making the customary party food like Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka, this time I wanted to go for something more wholesome and comforting. I’ve promised the girls a meal they’ll remember forever and now I’m practically kicking myself for doing that. The meeting is in a week’s time, and I have no clue where to begin. HELP!

- Distressed over Dinner

 

Dear Distressed over Dinner,

I know sometimes cooking a simple meal for friends may seem appalling. No matter how hard we try, we always seem to go a bit overboard when entertaining our dearest friends. Maybe it’s the desire to impress them and keep them coming for more. Or maybe it’s our need to show a little flair and style that’s easily missed in our everyday meals. But that surely doesn’t mean that we have to torture ourselves over the stove, cooking a 3-course meal. Sometimes, the simplest food can also be the best and most appreciated. I’ve designed for you a menu which I think would simply floor your guests. Each dish is simple to prepare and a delight to eat. Trust me, lay all this out on the table and watch them lick their fingers. And I promise, the next time you host a party, they’ll surely want to be a part of it.

- Meena

The menu I’ve designed for this Book Club Meeting consists some of the classic favourites of every Indian home. The preparation methods are simple, cooking times are quick, and most if not all of them can easily be done a few days ahead of time. I’d suggest leaving the rice for the very last minute to ensure a wonderful aroma to fill your home, but of course, you could always have it ready before hand and re-heat in the microwave.

There you go DD, hope your friends will love this one! I would definitely go very light on appetizers, maybe just chips and dips, since you’ll want to save enough of space for the main meal. For dessert I’d suggest a tub of traditional Indian ice cream called Kulfi, which can be easily picked up at any Indian grocery store, and from what I recently noticed, many of our regular ones as well.

Anyone else out there need help planning a fabulous Indo-inspired meal? Well then, what are you waiting for, drop me a line!

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