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...

The Best Macaroni and Cheese

One of the running themes on my blog apart from my fixation with tamil cinema, joint-family drama, maamiyaar stories, good food and good eating are my ‘weight-loss’ attempts. But this time I have decided to get down to business, to cut to the second half of the film, to get to the chase. Last weekend Hasini and I got on the merry-go-round at the beach, the mini-version of the giant wheel that has the cradle like hanging seats (the one that Kaipulla sits in in “Winner”). What was I thinking? At the beach and without the extended family around (by extended family, I mean the maamiyaar/mother-in-law) I fancy myself a little girl too. I help Jagan dig pits to get to wet sand, stuff myself with masala kadalai, bajji and ice cream and then when Hasini pleads to get on the vertical merry-go-round, I join her.  The merry-go-round guy eggs me on “Vaanga vanga, neenga kuda varalam” (You can get on it too). For a moment, I forget that I am notoriously woozy headed, that I am overweight, that the poor fellow might break his arm. But up we go, and every time he has to let people get on or off the wheel, he has to keep us up. He grunts, exerts his full strength and then realizes it is beyond him, shouts out to his friends for help. I expect his entire kuppam to come running, but a slender little teenager steps in from the neighbouring merry-go-round to give him a hand. When I finally get down, I vow to return a fit and svelte mom. It may be months before I bite into chocolate, lick mousse cups clean, eat biryani and bajji, order ghee roast or slurp basundhi. Now before I go on a diet, a diet that defies all things that I believe in life (and my belief in life can be summarized in two words “eating well”) I want one last cheesy, gooey fling. I want to go crazy. I make an over the top macaroni and cheese (courtesy: Food52), chock full of all my favourites – roasted cauliflower, sweet corn and chicken, all stirred into the most luscious béchamel sauce and loaded with grated cheddar, topped with breadcrumbs and baked to cheesy bubbly perfection. Amen!   Prep time: 20 mins (does not include cooking chicken, roasting/blanching vegetables)Cooking time: 40 minsServes: 5-6 Ingredients Macaroni –...

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:...

Beetroot Rice

Nobody will forget this beetroot rice at my house, ever. It will be part of family legend. Generations to come will talk about how some Jayanthi long back woke up one Monday morning blank and inspiration-less, stared at the vegetable drawer in the fridge for a full 5 minutes without registering anything, grabbed some beetroots, tomatoes and chillies, set out to make tomato rice and beetroot poriyal but along the way remembered She was a food blogger, She was making tomato rice every 4 days exactly and She owed it to the world to invent new food And then she made beetroot rice instead. And then all hell broke loose. No kidding. It didn’t help that I’d fallen asleep the previous night reading “GoodFood” magazine (No, even GoodFood didn’t come up with this ingenious recipe. GoodFood would never make “Beetroot rice”, they’d make arugula, bean sprouts & feta over couscous cooked in beetroot jus). If I ever write a book, you’ll read how this beetroot rice (almost) changed my life. For now I’ll just give you a hint – Joint family – new dish – cold shoulder – Kaboom!! Hey, before you think it sucks – this beetroot rice looks and tastes pretty. I had it for lunch and so did Hasini. Hasini liked it too. I chopped up the beetroots and cooked them in a spiced tomato puree which brought out the lovely colours – the pink of the beetroots and the red of the tomatoes coming together into a beautiful pink-red burst (whatever that’s called – Maroon? Coral?). I didn’t plan that really but I’ll take credit for it anyway. I cooked it down to a thickish curry that’ll coat the rice without being too runny. I’d suggest mixing up cooked (and cooled) rice and the beetroot mixture in small increments to attain your desired level of “mixing”. “Mixing” is as important for variety rices as it is for sarakku (alcohol). Too much curry mix can really kill the variety rice. Always tread on the lighter side. Serve the excess curry in a bowl for those who’d like to add more. And make sure to not cook the rice too soft. Since the beetroot rice shocker, I’ve not ventured past Idli-chutney, Idiyappam-soup and not to forget tomato rice-potato curry combinations restraining my creative side. It has been tough. What do you think of a ragu of fried onions...

Milagu Rice

To tell you the truth, variety rices make me angry. They’re depressing, especially if you carry packed lunches every day to school or office. At our home, Lemon rice will most definitely make an appearance every week, mostly Mondays when we’re rushed and unprepared for the work week. Rest of the days I find myself staring at Tamarind rice, Tomato rice or Karuveppillai rice in my lunch box. Variety rices may be okay on a couple of conditions (3 conditions, but anything more than one we call “a couple”). 1.      Either the side dishes are stellar enough to punch above the weight of the variety rice (what happens when you try to be a food-blogger and work full-time? – you use bullshit phrases in your writing and jot menu notes/ideas during calls) OR 2.      You’ve got potato chips (or my potato vathals). Anything tastes good with potato chips. OR 3.      You’ve got some variety in your variety rice. What I’ve got for you today is Milagu rice – a variety rice that is simple, super quick and tastes great. I love eggs. So I paired the Milagu rice with fried hard-boiled eggs and a mild beetroot poriyal. So there you have it – a little varied variety rice along with a solid side dish – my favourite fried hard-boiled eggs and a mild poriyal to complement the spice and heat. For dessert, I snucked in a few chunks of “Cadbury’s Dairy Milk” into my lunch box. There, much better than lemon rice and potato thokku. I am linking this milagu rice to my ongoing “lunch box” event. I am sure you have your own lunch box favourites too. Link them to the “Lunch box” event and you could win a pretty dual tone Tupperware lunch box giveaway! Prep time: 5 mins Cooking time: 10 mins Serves: 4 Ingredients Rice – 3 cups cooked Whole black peppercorns – 1 tsp Black gram/Urad dal – 3 tbsp Whole dry red chillies – 3-4 Salt to taste Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp Curry leaves – 2 stems Peanuts – 2 tsp (optional) Oil – 3 tbsp Ghee – 1 tsp Method 1.      Fluff up cooked rice and set aside to cool. 2.      Dry roast whole black peppercorns, urad dal and whole dry red chillies on low heat till the urad dal colours. Remove from heat and cool. 3.      Grind the roasted ingredients to a...

Potato Biryani and Vegetable Kofta – Kid’s Lunch Series

This month’s lunch box series is really close to my heart. I love packing lunches and I take it very seriously. Whenever I pack Jagan’s lunch I make sure to not repeat, to not pack wet food (that sounds like dog food but I actually meant – sambar rice, kuzhambu rice and the likes), to not include exotic non-veg food (to not hurt the noses and sensibilities of his vegetarian friends), to include a dessert or a drink and to pack them tightly. There was still the one time when his Lassi spilled all over his lunch bag and he reeked of yogurt. But mostly I am careful. With so many donts to packed lunches, it is a daunting task planning lunch every day. And to think that come June (Hasini would start carrying lunch to school), I’d have to get everything cooked, packed and ready to go by 7:00 am (that’s when I wake up, nowadays it is even worse), I’d have to be super-efficient and extraordinarily prepared. If I do manage it pull it off, it will be a new chapter in my life – The chapter where I finally wake up early, where I am on time for things. My kids enjoy biryanis and potatoes. They’re children of this “mass biryani everywhere for everything” generation. They’re disappointed if a banquet doesn’t include biryani. At weddings, birthdays, Hasini asks the waiter why biryani is not there. I made a potato biryani a couple of weeks back but used Seeraga Samba rice for a change instead of the regular Basmati rice. Seeraga Samba is short grained, thin and aromatic and is used in the popular Thalappakattu Biryanis. I made vegetable koftas to go with the potato biryani. Vegetable koftas are not the kind of things you’d want to do on a weekday morning. Just prepare ahead. I like to boil, mash vegetables, season them, shape into balls and roll them in bread crumbs and then refrigerate them the night before. Meaning I just don’t fry them but ready them to that stage. The next morning I just shallow fry them and they’re done. I tried to get creative, sticking in a couple of cloves for eyes and making ketchup smiles for the kofta balls to make them look like little chickens sitting on a bed of coriander leaves. They found it  amusing. I will stop when Hasini or Yuvi...

Varahadi Masale Bhaat – Maharashtra rice dish

On to Maharashtra, I made this one-pot rice and vegetable Bhaat which along with a simple raita would make a wonderful meal. The Varahadi Masale Bhaat is rich and well rounded. I chose to make this Bhaat because I loved the masala that went into it – fried onions, coconut, ginger, garlic and jaggery. Don’t worry, the Varahadi Masale Bhaat is not sweet. The jaggery and fried onion paste add a subtle sweetness that balances the heat from the red chilli powder but without making the dish sweet. I know a majority of us don’t like to mix spicy and sweet tones in a single dish. We use both in this Bhaat but in balanced proportions and the result is a wonderful aromatic one-pot rice dish. My kids enjoyed it a lot. Do adjust the red chilli powder and jaggery slightly to your requirements. Maharashtra on the western coast on India is one of the largest and one of the most populous states in India. Choosing a single dish to make from Maharashtra was a huge task. It is such a treasure trove of food. Choosing one was really difficult. I finally chose to make this slightly lesser known Varahadi Masale Bhaat (from here) especially because it was lesser known. I would love to make their misal pav, usal pav and batata vadas someday. Prep time:  15 minsCooking time: 25 minsServes: 4-5 Ingredients Basmati Rice/Long grain rice – 1-1/2 cupsOnion – 1 medium chopped finePotatoes – 1 large peeled and cubedCarrots – 2 scraped and dicedGreen Beans – a handful choppedGreen Peas – ½ cupGhee – 2 tbspStar anise – 1Bay leaf – 1Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceCloves – 3Green cardamom – 2Black cardamom -1Cumin seeds – ¼ tspRed chilli powder – 1 tspGaram Masala powder – 1-2 tspSalt to tasteYogurt – 3 tbspJaggery – 1 tbspOil – 2 tsp Ingredients – Masala Paste Onions – 1 medium chopped roughlyGrated coconut – ½ cupGinger – 1 inch piece choppedGarlic – 5-7 pods peeled Method: 1.      Rinse basmati rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak rice in water for half an hour. 2.      Heat a pressure cooker or a wide, thick bottomed pan. Add the 2 tsp oil and the 1 roughly chopped onion. Fry till it turns nice and golden. Remove the fried onions with a slotted spoon to a plate. Set aside. 3.      To the same...

Bisi Bele Bath – Karnataka one-pot rice, lentil and vegetable medley

As the campaign trail hots up, so does the state-wise blogging marathon. We’ve already cooked our way through a dozen states and are now at Karnataka, our very friendly neighbour. The best Bisi bele bath and Vangi bath that I’ve tasted were in Bangalore. You have to give it to the Kannadigas. They really have a way with these rice dishes. I love their curry podis and I like their sambar as well, all laced with a subtle sweetness. I’ve lived in Bangalore for roughly 3 years and I managed to NOT pick up a single full sentence in Kannada. I have a great appreciation for their food though. Although I call it a one-pot medley, it is made in several pots and pans and involves multiple steps but is worth every minute. I enjoy the Bisi bele bath served in weddings here in Chennai with sambar onions and potatoes and everything else that is traditionally never a part of Bisi bele bath. Jagan likes Bisi Bele Bath too – one of the few vegetarian rice dishes that he approves of. Although I’ve made Bisi bele bath several times before, I wanted to try the authentic Karnataka version this time. I relied heavily on the Bisi bele bath recipe at veggiebelly and it is more of a thesis on Bisi Bele Bath than a post – Stunning photographs, minute detailed instructions and a beautiful recipe. I like it that she says “Don’t open the ground up spice powder until you’re ready to add it to the bath or you’ll lose the aroma”. I love that kind of meticulousness. The Bisi bele bath turned out fabulous. I’ll definitely be making it again. I would just be cautious while adding the spice mix towards the end, adding it in in small increments and tasting it as it is very easy to go overboard and I really do like my Bisi bele bath with a little less masala. The best accompaniment to Bisi Bele bath is potato chips. Make this for a weekend lunch and serve hot drizzled with ghee alongside potato chips. Don’t bother making anything else. It’s a complete meal unto itself. And rememer that bisi bele bath has everything in it – rice, lentils and vegetables. It will be very filling. Less is more. Always use smaller quantity of rice for your bisi bele bath than you usually would if...

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