Mocha kottai rice

Mocha kottai rice

You know the saying “Never try to buy the mother-in-law a gift”. Never try to buy the mother-in-law a surprise gift It’s something I forget from time to time, hopeful idiot that I am. I learnt long ago to keep the receipt intact whenever I am buying her a saree because she will one hundred percent want to go and exchange that. Somehow the one I’ve bought is the most wrong saree, the one saree she wouldn’t have picked from the entire store. She’ll take me along with her and ask my opinion on the saree she selects. By now I realize my role. I have to agree with her but pretend that it’s my opinion. I promise myself I will never buy her a saree for a gift, ever. I once buy her a saree and pitch it to her. I show her how it’s just like the one the woman wears in the advertisement, how it is a style and colour she doesn’t possess. She takes it and doesn’t ask to exchange it. I must be a natural at sales I begin to think. The next week, I see that her mother is wearing the saree I so neatly pitched. I promise again. For a recent birthday of hers, I take her to the saree shop and ask her to choose her gift. She chooses, I agree. She declares it’s one of the best sarees she’s received recently. I agree. You’d think I’d have everything sorted out now. It happens that I am a slow learner. Last week at the book store, I see a good collection of tamil books on alternative medicine. I immediately think of the maamiyaar, an avid acupuncture, reiki follower and pick up a couple of books on siddha medicine and home remedies. For a brief minute I see her enthusiastically taking the books and saying how useful they will be. I stand in line to pay for the books. I shake off my little reverie and see exactly what she’s going to say. I still go ahead and buy them. I tell myself that my intention is pure. I give her the books and I see zero surprise. I pretend to be unaffected and flip a few pages, pretending to read. I look down at the book and actually read a few home remedies because I don’t know what to say when I...
Paneer fried rice with kerala style matta rice

Paneer fried matta rice

You’ve woken up late, want to pee but you’re late, so you hold it in and wake up the kids pleading and threatening in turns, switching off the fan, rushing to the fridge and then to the kitchen, all the while shrieking to make sure the kids are in the bathroom, shifting from one foot to another, prepping the veggies, washing the dal, pouring batter into the idli plates, calling out to check that they’re bathing and not sleeping by the bucket or water-fighting, setting the pressure cooker on the stove and looking to steal a few mins to go to the bathroom but one of them demands to know the lunch and the other can’t find the tie and by the time you’ve sorted that, you need to check on the vegetables, you remove the hot idli plates from the gundaan and tie her ponytails while the idlis cool, you pack the lunch, give them a plate of idlis to share, change from the nighty into the shabbier three-fourth pants, slip on someone else’s slippers and walk across to the bus stop, help them into the school van, wave bye, walk back home, check the stove to make sure everything is switched off, go to the bathroom and lock yourself in and sit on the toilet, close your eyes in a kind of accomplished relief and you hear through the bathroom door – “Where is the towel”? It’s as if somebody has snatched my award-winning moment from me. I therefore believe mothers tend to have greater holding capacity. I also believe bathroom doors need to be sound proof. The bathroom is the last refuge, my me-time of the day, my meditation space and I want no interruption there. It’s my Mount Everest. “Every mommy needs a sound proof bathroom”   You’ll love this Healthy twist to fried rice – Paneer fried matta rice Everyone needs to make this paneer fried matta rice to believe how tasty matta rice can be. Kerala matta rice is a kind of red rice popular in Kerala and Karnataka. The uncooked rice grains are brown coloured. Once cooked they turn white with thin red streaks. They’re chewy, nutty and incredibly filling. This paneer fried matta rice is an ingenious way to include a healthy alternative rice into your diet. You get to relish your favourite paneer fried rice sans the guilt. This rice takes...
Paneer rice bowl

30-minute Paneer rice bowl

Do you know the “spoon in the fridge” trick? You keep a spoon hidden in the fridge so that when you are craving a spoon of bread halwa, gulab jamun or chocolate mousse you just grab your secret spoon that only you know of and dig in. Think that’s bullshit? OK, Picture this. You’re about to go to bed. You go around to switch off all the lights planning to scoff a tiny scoop of bread halwa. You see the dirty tumblers and coffee mugs and you gather them up. You also pick up the clothes from the floor to deposit in the laundry basket. Both your hands are full when you see the hot wheels car in your way. You push it to the corner with your leg and walk over to the laundry basket and almost drop the coffee mugs in but catch yourself at the last minute and drop in the clothes instead. You walk to the kitchen to deposit the tumblers and notice that the peace lily is drooping and you haven’t watered it. You put away the snack boxes on the counter back in the shelves. You come back out, see the plant and go back again to get a pitcher of water to water the peace lily. You go out to the balcony to water the other dying plant there, pick up the shoes there and put them away in the shoe rack, put away the newspaper, open the Amazon parcel on the table, check it out and then safely put it in one of the cupboards and promptly forget the location, shove the plastic covers flying around in the big bag of plastic covers, step on a lego piece, pick it up and put it away in the lego box, find 3 more lego pieces in the sofa crevices, trudge back to the toy cupboard and put them away and start switching off lights everywhere. You go to the fridge but realize you need to go back to your cutlery drawer, switch on the lights, walk to fridge, eat, close fridge, put away spoon and switch off lights. You decide that’s too much work and go back to bed. You walk past the folded clothes of the past 4 days, hop over the towel and lie down on the bed. You find a couple of pencils under your back. You shove it under...
Hyderbadi biryani

Hyderabadi Biryani

Yesterday I took the lift in my office. I thought “I’ve exercised today, I deserve a reward”. Today I took the lift. I thought “I didn’t exercise today. A break day has to be a total break.” I am not sure if secretly, deep inside I want to be fat. On the surface I don’t want to be. I also know that I should not say no to Biryani and Lasagna and molaga bajji. Saying no to biryani because I want to fit into an old pair of jeans seems quite shallow. After about two weeks of sincere exercise and painful diet control, I see that I weigh the same. Instead of breaking the weighing scale, I rebel. I don’t exercise for 3 days after that. I add a heaped spoon of sugar to my coffee instead of sugar-free. I make deep fried sweet corn cutlets. I make a rich, decadent, ghee laden Hyderabad biryani. I eat it for lunch and dinner. There, take that. I usually shy away from making the Hyderabadi style biryani because it is too much work. It involves lots of different components and takes the whole morning. But this time, I compressed and downsized the process to my lazy comfort level. There are just 3 components to my version – Marinated & cooked chicken, partially cooked rice with whole spices and fried onions. Just layer these three components and you’re done. Critical to a good hyderabadi biryani is the point to which you cook the rice initially. I would recommend not cooking the rice for more than 4-5 minutes. The partially cooked rice should be firm, not soft. Also important is the amount of liquid in the chicken masala before you do the layering. The chicken masala should be thickish, not runny. If your masala is runny, cook down the masala till it is nice and thick. This Hyderabadi biryani pairs beautifully with a simple raita and boiled eggs. Make a salan if you wish. But this Hyderabadi biryani is magnificent on its own. Rice in lovely ombre shades of yellow and orange dotted with succulent flavour packed chicken make this biryani a great dish to make for parties. This is the kind of biryani that stays in the mind long after you’ve scraped the last ladle from the handi. You can adapt this recipe to make a vegetable hyderabadi biryani or mutton hyderabadi biryani...
Chipotle style bowl

Chipotle inspired chicken bowl

I was walking to the T station in Boston, after Happy hour, feeling friendly with the world. I saw the people at the traffic light waiting to cross the road looking straight ahead, the old man in the wheelchair who seemed to be talking to everybody passing by, the office goers briskly walking by, joggers and tourists in hats. I was smiling, humming a Tamil song softly. Nobody seemed to know that I was new, that I wasn’t from here. I kind of fit in. “Chipotle, Hey Chipotle!” a young man called to me as he walked past me, laughing loudly. I turned to look if he was referring to someone else. He wasn’t. I felt my cheeks flush. I realized he meant to insult me but I didn’t understand. I liked Chipotle. Why was Chipotle funny or low? And I wasn’t Chipotle. I was idli, sambar, biryani, idiyappam, maanga oorukai, adhirasam, upma, full meals, molaga bajji!   “Who you? Sandwich? ” – I didn’t ask. I sat in the train wondering. Back home, people were more informed. They’d learn your caste, sub-caste, sect and division and then call you that – “ Iyer $%&*, mudaliar $%^#, &*@# Nadar …” This guy had mixed up entire countries. I realized that these guys didn’t know and didn’t care if I was Mexican or Indian or Pakistani or Egyptian. They knew they were white. Black and all shades of brown were lower. I checked myself in the train window. I thought I looked exotic among my fellow passengers – brown skin, long hair, kohl lined eyes, kurta and salwar. It could have been the alcohol. I plugged in my i-pod and chose the most Tamil song I could think of. I made a mental note to eat at Chipotle the next day. I made a Chipotle inspired rice bowl a couple of days back. This is to the guy who thought he insulted me by calling me “Chipotle”. I am not insulted.  It is super easy, if you skip most of the toppings you find at Chipotle. I dare say we loved the simple version. No Guacamole, no sour cream, no lettuce and no chips. If you have all of these, by all means pile them on. I had some leftover grilled chicken I cut up and sautéed with onions and spices. I cooked some basmati rice and made the simplest beans...

Biryani Collection

I am surprised I haven’t posted a biryani compilation before. I really am. Not that I have tried all of the biryanis out there. I still have a long biryani bucket list that I am yet to explore. But it is just one of those things you thought you would have done and long back. It is like realizing that I don’t have a little black dress (called LBD, I learnt when I read the magazine at the parlour). But I don’t. It is like when someone asked me incredulously “You haven’t watched Sound of music?”  I haven’t. But I’ve watched “Thillana Mohanambal”. Have you? So it is with biryani. After all it is how we identify ourselves – biryani lovers. I haven’t met a biryani I didn’t want to try. Jagan will compulsorily order biryani everywhere he goes. At Hard Rock Cafe he’d leaf through the menu a few extra times as if looking for something. We may miss a relative’s wedding but never a Muslim friend’s. My kids took to biryani long before they tried rice. Like adventure seekers, storm chasers, I, a true biryani lover have set myself the lofty goal of eating through and cooking up all the different biryanis in the world. Should I go crowd fund myself? If you have a spectacular biryani recipe, will you please share it with me? Here are mine: Thalapakatti biryani: It tastes much like Thalapakatti’s signature biryani – spicy, heady, aromatic, ghee laden seeraga samba rice biryani. No tomatoes in this biryani. The magic is in the ground spice paste. Ambur Biryani: Reminiscent of the fiery hot Ambur biryani, this one will blow your pants off. Flavour bursting, heady and super hot. Chettinad style Chicken Biryani: Freshly roasted and ground whole spices lend this biryani a wonderful punch. Biryani cooked in coconut milk – My mother’s version, this is a delightfully mellow biryani. Simple home-style biryani – My mamiyaar’s version, this one is loaded with ginger and whole spices but isn’t too hot. Super quick and easy. Keep watching this space for more lip-smacking biryani recipes.

Mexican style rice

For all the serial whatsappers and facebook addicts, I believe many of you would have come across touching stories in your newsfeed that “will make you cry, leave you stunned, will make your day” where the husband/wife/friend/son/daughter realized they’re missing real conversations with real people because they’re staring at their phones all day. I bet you have liked and shared these stories too. And? Am I the only emotional nut taking forwards seriously? I once turned a vegetarian because I read a forwarded message on how foie gras was made. I couldn’t keep it up too long  though because I couldn’t subsist on nothing. Our family was an exclusive non-vegetarian group then. But shortly after I gave up, my maamiyaar turned vegetarian and now we’re a very inclusive group. Timing. Not one of my strong points and never on my side. The little fella is missing for 20 minutes but everything is silent. They’re not fighting, nothing is broken, none of them have run up crying and the TV is not on. All of this can mean only one thing. Look for your phone. It’s gone. So is the grandmother’s phone. Hasini and Yuvi are curled up on the bed with a smartphone each playing games and colouring pictures. Everybody is staring at a screen. No one to talk to. Not even little Yuvi. Best time to try something in the kitchen. Maybe some Mexican style rice. I rinse the rice and beans, heat up the oil, peel the onions and start chopping the garlic. At that point when I am committed, when I am more in than out, when the oil is hot and when I’ve just thrown in the garlic, Yuvi shouts out to me “Ammaaaaaaaaaaaa“. Timing. Never on my side. Prep Time: 10 mins Cooking time: 20 mins Serves: 4  Ingredients – Mexican style rice Long grain rice/Basmati rice – 2 cupsTomato puree – 3/4 cupGarlic – 4 cloves chopped fineOnion – 1 medium chopped fineGreen peas – 1/2 cupFresh red beans – ½ cup (substitute with butter beans or other quick cooking fresh beans of your choice)Green chillies – 4 slit lengthwiseCinnamon – 1 inch stickWater as necessarySalt to tasteOil – 3 tbsp Ingredients – Salsa Chopped tomato – ½ cupChopped green capsicum – ½ cupCoriander leaves – a handful choppedLemon juice – 2 tspSalt to tasteSugar – 1 pinch Method 1.       Rinse rice well in 2-3...

Thalapakatti style biryani

You know you’ve reached the steady state when you make an online money transfer to your husband for his birthday present and he in turn checks out your Amazon cart for your birthday present. Win-win. No more guessing if the shirt will fit, no more aspirational “for your good, for us” gifts he never unwraps, no surprise awkward spa experience that makes him blush. Who would think of getting a Quad copter drone for a 33 year old’s birthday present? I wouldn’t. He wanted just that. We are now seasoned enough to appreciate that we don’t know each other’s areas of interest, that it is not necessary or easy to know and it is best to ask. I was the surprise junkie, going for the surprise factor, for difference, extrapolating from my head to his. Not anymore. Now, we discuss, I put forth my ideas, he rejects them all, I agree to buy what he decides, find that it doesn’t fit in my mental make-up (flying toy for $50!) and agree to transfer money instead to avoid the hassle. Cool! I still bake his birthday cake and I decide what to make. I cannot be making a sponge cake or chocolate cake. I have a blog to write for. I cannot be making reruns. I have my bucket list of cakes I want to make in life. Sorry! But there is one thing that we both agree on, one thing we both love, that we’re both passionate about – biryani. I had to make one of his favourite biryanis for his birthday. After all it is his birthday. So Thalapakatti style biryani it was. It tastes much like Thalapakatti’s signature biryani – spicy, heady, aromatic, ghee laden seeraga samba rice biryani. No tomatoes in this biryani. The magic is in the ground spice paste. I went with 12 green chillies. It is hot but we like it that way. Feel free to reduce it to your taste. I marinated the chicken the previous night and ground up the masala too the previous night. I was making it on a weekday morning before school. I needed to pre-make as much as I could. That is all there is to it actually. This Thalapakatti style biryani is among the easiest I have made in recent times and I am going to be making it many more times. One more biryani crossed out...
Honey mustard grilled chicken & bamboo fried rice

Honey Mustard grilled chicken and Fried Bamboo rice

When I teeter between eating that last ladle of biryani and finding a dabba, transferring the last of the biryani into the dabba and putting it in the fridge I usually elect to eat it. It is so much simpler. While eating the extra biryani, I imagine myself determinedly jogging round after round the next morning burning away all those extra calories. When (if) I am jogging the next morning, I am panting like a crazy dog halfway through the first round and I stop and walk the rest of the way I imagine myself thoughtfully taking tiny bites off an un-buttered slice of toast. In short my life. Could bamboo rice be the redemption for all the biryani excesses? I doubt. But I gave it a shot anyway. Jagan bought a pack of bamboo rice while on our vacation in Kerala. We bought it in a small souvenir shop in Wayanad. The bamboo rice came in simple plain plastic packing. It was un-branded and un-processed. For the first time in nearly 2 decades, I transferred the rice onto a moram and sat outside in the portico to pick out stones from the rice. The last I saw someone doing this was my ammamma who’d take the rice in a moram and pick out stones and grit from the rice, everyday. I felt all nostalgic, got carried away and spent about half an hour going through the rice. This ain’t the green rice (rice that is infused with bamboo juices) that is popularly called bamboo rice in the west. This is the real deal. Bamboo rice looks almost like wheat. It takes much longer to cook than white rice. It is chewier and has a grassy, nutty undernote. I was sceptical if it’d taste good as fried rice. I was surprised that it actually tasted better in fried rice form.  We grilled the chicken on our barbecue. But you can grill it in your oven too. We loved the combination of hot, sweet and tangy flavours. I served the grilled chicken on the fried bamboo rice. Jagan was smitten with the combination and the kids ate with great gusto. Overall – big success. And to think it was healthy too. I am surprised it went down so well. Prep time: 15 mins (grilled chicken) + 25 mins (fried bamboo rice)Cooking time: 20-30 mins (grilled chicken) + 25 mins (fried bamboo...

Paneer Pasanda with Ghee Pulav

Today while we were walking to Hasini’s class in the morning because we were uncharacteristically and shockingly early and the gates were still open, Hasini’s buddy joined us. Hasini’s buddy: “Hasini didn’t finish her oothappams yesterday” Me:  “Yeah, she didn’t. She doesn’t finish her lunch, keeps bringing back leftovers these days. She shouldn’t right?” Hasini’s buddy: “Maybe you should make what she likes” (Palaar – slap sound) Me: “Bae.. Bae – ” (thinking Who have you been talking to? My Maamiyaar?) After this most humbling conversation I felt grateful that I had packed Hasini Vegetable fried rice and Chinese style hot and sweet potatoes today. In my defence, Hasini likes oothappams and I had exactly 27 minutes that morning to pack lunch, make breakfast, bathe the kids and ready them for school. That I got up late is besides the point. I had to somehow make do in 27 minutes. And you wouldn’t believe but every time we go to a Saravana Bhavan or Vasanta Bhavan Hasini orders the seven taste oothappam ever since she tried it during a trip. She wouldn’t trust us that they’re out of oothappams. She likes to confirm with the waiter herself. But yesterday, the little rascal wasn’t in the mood for oothappams it seems. My fundamental principle, the absolute core of my faith is that children need to appreciate all kinds of food. I don’t want them turning up their noses to Upma, away from Adai and kanji or being reluctant to try Lasagna or Risotto. I want them to give everything a try. So In-spite of that most chastening advice from Hasini’s friend (and domestic cold wars nothwithstanding), I’ll still send Hasini the beetroot rice or cabbage stuffed parantha or Thinai Kichadi. I do make it a point to mix it up with some of her favorites. Like this Paneer Pasandha and ghee pulav (She loves paneer). She polished off her lunch that day and had the leftover Paneer Pasandha for dinner too. She licked her fingers clean. If you’ve always been frying paneer cubes and tossing them into gravies, then you’ve got to try this one. You’ll want to make it for guests, for dinner parties. It is lovely. All said and done, Oothappam smeared with milagai podi and gingelly oil is a perfectly acceptable lunch, don’t you think. That’s what I thought for very many years. Prep time: 20 minsCooking time:...
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