Lemon Rice

Lemon rice is the warhorse of packed lunches, our family’s (every south-indian family’s) saviour during morning rush-hour cooking and a regular in the weekly menu. Simply because, lemon rice is super quick to make, keeps well and tastes great at room temperature. I remember when I was young, Lemon rice was the number one item to take during travelling. We’d just buy a huge packet of potato chips to eat it along with and what a lovely combination it was. Fresh, zesty lemon rice and crunchy potato chips – simple yet delicious! However diverse our joint familyis, if there’s one thing everybody agrees on, it is lemon rice. Everybody enjoys lemon rice including the kids. So if you’re travelling, are rushed for time or just feeling lazy (check out my somberi series,specially for somberis) – make lemon rice and serve with potato chips and a hot varuval (yam/karunai kizhangu fry or Arbi/seppankezhangu fry). Perfect! Coriander leaves not pictured here. Cannot believe I photographed without them. But trust me, they’re crucial. Prep time: 5 minsCooking time: 5 minsServes: 5 Ingredients Lemon juice – from 2 large lemonsCooked Rice – 4 cupsTurmeric powder – ½ tspMinced ginger – 1 tbspCurry leaves – 2 stemsGreen chillies – 3 slit lengthwisePeanuts – a handfulMustard seeds – ½ tspJeera/Seeragam/Cumin seeds – 1 tspSunflower Oil – 3 tbspSalt to tasteCoriander leaves – a handful chopped for garnishing Method 1.      Cook rice and let cool completely. 2.      In a small pan, add oil and when hot, add the mustard seeds. Let them splutter. Then add the cumin and fry for half a minute. Add the minced ginger, curry leaves and slit green chillies and peanuts and fry for 2 minutes. Add turmeric powder and salt and mix well. Switch off after a minute. Pour in the freshly squeezed lemon juice and mix well. 3.      Pour this lemon mixture over the rice and gently mix it up till all the rice is evenly coated and you see no white grains of rice. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve with a hot curry and potato chips or appalam. Notes 1.      Make sure rice is totally cool before mixing in the lemon mixture or the rice will break. 2.      Always switch off before pouring in the lemon juice or it can taste bitter. 3.      You can substitute cashew nuts for the peanuts. 4.      The fresh coriander adds wonderful crunch...

Vazhai thandu Pulav | Banana Stem Pulav

I find the title (Banana stem Pulav) a little awkward but I guess that’s what it’s called. For those who don’t know how Vazhaithandu looks, these are ivory coloured cylindrical things that are usually cut into foot-long pieces and sold in vegetable stores. Preparing the vazhai thandu is a slight pain, it’s as fibrous as a coconut on the outside. Well not so much but a little bit. But the good thing about it is that it is great for your health. It helps prevent kidney stones and also detoxifies your body. This Vazhai thandu pulav is a great way, most importantly a delicious way to include Vazhai thandu in your diet. The very first time I tasted this pulav I had no idea it had Vazhai thandu in it (I was so used to eating it as a kootu till then). I loved the pulav. It was lovely – delicately flavoured and the vazhai thandu adds a subtle almost buttery note to it. I served this Vazhai thandu pulav alongside spicy Yam Erissery (recipe coming up soon). Serve this pulav alongside a spicy curry for a complete meal.  Prep time: 20 minsCooking time: 15 minsServes: 4 Ingredients Vazhai thandu/Banana stem – 1 about a foot in lengthRice – 2 cups (regular rice or Basmati rice)Onion – 1 medium chopped fineCoconut milk – 2 cupsGreen chillies – 3 slit lengthwiseCloves – 3Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceBay Leaf – 1Fennel seeds – ½ tspCurry leaves – 1 stemGhee – 2 tbspOil – 1 tbspSalt to tasteWater as necessary Method 1.      Rinse rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak rice in water for half an hour to 1 hour. 2.      To prepare the vazhai thandu, stand it vertically on your cutting board and peel away the thick outer layers using a knife. Lay it down and slice into thin rounds. While cutting the rounds, you’ll have to combat lots of thin fibres (“Naaru”) that you’ll need to discard. Then cut the rounds into tiny pieces. Set aside. 3.      In a pressure cooker, heat oil and ghee together. When hot drop in the whole spices – cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and fennel seeds. Fry till fragrant. Then add in the chopped onions and curry leaves and fry till the onions turn translucent. Then add in the chopped vazhai thandu and slit green chillies. Give it a good stir and sauté...

Ambur Biryani

On your way to Bangalore (from Chennai), there’s one stop you need to make and that is in Ambur. Make sure you’re there in Ambur by lunch time or dinner time because Ambur Biryani is world famous. It’s one biryani that should feature on every biryani lover’s bucket list. Ambur biryani is fiery hot, headily aromatic and absolutely lip-smacking. It is usually made with Seeraga Samba rice (but I’ve used Basmati Rice in the recipe). Whenever we’re returning to Chennai, we stop at Ambur for dinner and buy parcels for those at home. The biryani is so intoxicatingly fragrant, Mahindra Scorpio suddenly feels like a huge biryani Deksa. The secret to the Ambur biryani is the whole dry red chillies that are soaked in hot water and ground to a paste before being added to the biryani. No chilli powder in this biryani. The biryani gets its heat from this chilli paste. Freshly ground cinnamon powder is the other magic ingredient. Together the chilli paste and cinnamon powder fashion a masterful biryani. I marinated the chicken in the masala before cooking it and the chicken turned out unbelievably soft, juicy and most importantly was as wonderfully flavoured as the biryani. Usually the meat in biryanis is a stranger to the biryani it sits in, it doesn’t soak up the masala and it usually tastes bland. But not this one. So people, please marinate the meat. Always do. Follow these steps and you have my word, you will have wonderful Ambur Biryani in your own house. Your house will smell heavenly, i.e. like a Biryani kadai type of heaven, be prepared for it. Here’s a handy list of other biryani recipes:Chettinad Chicken BiryaniHome-style Chicken BiryaniChicken biryani cooked in coconut milk Prep time: 30 minsCooking time: 30 minsServes: 5-6   Ingredients Chicken – 750 gmBasmati Rice – 4 cups rinsed and soaked for a minimum of 1 hourOnions – 3 large chopped fineTomatoes – 3 large chopped fineGreen chillies – 2 kept whole Yogurt – 100 gmCloves – 4Cinnamon stick – 2 inch pieceMarathi Moggu – 2Bay Leaf – 2Mace – 2 piecesCinnamon sticks – 2 powdered (makes about 1 heaped tbsp.)Turmeric powder – 1 tspCoriander leaves – 1/2 cup choppedWater as necessarySalt to tasteGhee – 4 tbspOil – 4 tbsp Masala paste Ginger – 5 tbsp choppedGarlic – 1 entire head peeledWhole Dry Red chillies – 15-18 (I used the long...

Baby Corn & Peas pulav

I love pulav because it’s a no-fuss, easy one-pot meal that is ready in just under half an hour. No sambar, rasam and a dozen other accompaniments. I made this baby corn and peas pulav with Seeraga Samba rice which is the rice they use in Thalapakatti biryani. It’s not as long as the basmati rice but it has wonderful flavour and aroma which makes it a great choice for biryanis and pulavs. I served this pulav along with roasted baby potatoes. I am sending this to Blogging Marathon #33 for the theme Fiction with Food. Pulavs and biryanis are nowadays my go-to dishes for weekend lunches. But I once made a biryani, a horrendous biryani that my friends would remember even now. The story today is the making of that horrendous biryani. I’d not cooked for large numbers (around 7-8 people is not large at all now, but it was then) before and I’d never made biryani before. We were in Bangalore then and we had invited our friends over for lunch. This was during my early married days. Among the friends was a vegetarian as well. My menu was this – Carrot Halwa, Vegetable biryani, Aloo Jeera, Chicken biryani, raita and boiled eggs. Everything went wrong that day. We started late and we had only the dessert ready by the time our friends arrived. So we served the carrot halwa first. Carrot Halwa was fantastic though. While my friends chatted away wondering if I’d serve lunch for dinner, I struggled with the biryani. I was all the while on the phone clarifying measurements with my mom. Instead of doing the whole thing in a pressure cooker, I’d chosen to boil the rice halfway through and then mix it with the masala. As I’d feared, I’d overcooked the rice and when I combined the hot rice with the masala I was left with biryani bisibele bath. My hungry friends had no choice but to eat it but they had a hearty laugh. I’d managed to screw up the eggs as well. They were misshapen and overcooked. My friend asked me which chicken had laid such strange eggs. They’d have a mild heart attack if they knew I am writing a food blog now. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 5-7 Ingredients Baby Corn – 200 gm chopped into bite sized oblong piecesPeas – 200 gmSeeraga Samba Rice/Basmati rice/Long...

Paneer Biryani – Family approved One-pot Meal

Paneer Biryani it was for last weekend’s lunch and it was a great full family-approved dish. There are very few dishes that my entire family unanimously likes and this is one of those few along with idli, idiyappam and chicken anything. This biryani is everything a good biryani should be – fragrant, flavour packed, nice, long and fluffy rice with tender vegetables and paneer. You can cook for vegetarians. You can cook for non-vegetarians too. But cooking for a combination of vegetarians and non-vegetarians is a pain. Our already chock full fridge is even more stuffed now with a vegetarian version of everything. My Maamiyaar has turned vegetarian recently for the 3rd time in 1 year and our fridge is bearing the brunt of the change. Everybody thankfully likes paneer and Paneer is vegetarian though not vegan. So I made this Paneer biryani for Saturday lunch and it went down really well with the entire family. Even the kids liked it. Serve this alongside cucumber or onion raita and a crispy vegetable for a complete meal. I wanted the fragrance of the wedding biryanis, so I tried adding a dash of biryani essence this time. The biryani was aromatic but I don’t know how much the essence added on top of the already fragrant whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, Kalpaasi). This Paneer biryani is an easy one-pot meal that is ready from cutting board to dining table in about 40 minutes if you exclude the soaking time of the rice and is fitting enough for a dinner party with friends. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 6 Ingredients Basmati Rice/Long grain rice – 3 cups soaked in water for 1 hourPaneer – 200 gm cut into cubesCauliflower – 1 cup cut into small floretsCarrot – 2 chopped fineGreen beans – 1/2 cup chopped fineOnions – 2 large chopped fineTomatoes – 2 large chopped fineFresh Yogurt – ½ cupRed chilli powder – 2 tbspTurmeric powder – ½ tspSalt to tasteKalpaasi/seaweed – ½ tspCinnamon – 1 inch stickCloves – 3Cardamom – 1Bay leaf – 1Biryani Essence – 1 tsp (optional)Oil – 3 tbspGhee – 2 tbsp Masala Paste Ingredients Ginger – 2 inch piece peeled and chopped roughlyGarlic – 7 cloves peeledGreen chillies – 2Cardamom – 1Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceFennel seeds/Sombu/Saunf – 1/2 tsp Method 1.     Rinse rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak in water for...

Sweet Corn Fried rice

Sweet corn fried rice is a kid-favourite rice dish that is easy to put together (if you forget the vegetable chopping part for a minute) and would make a great main dish for a kid’s get-together. The adults will enjoy it just as much. The best thing about fried rice is that you can put in just about anything you fancy – mushrooms, peas, paneer, bean sprouts, shredded chicken, chopped up fried eggs or anything else and it’ll rarely disappoint you. When you are making fried rice in big batches like I did here, it is best to switch off the stove, combine the rice and vegetables and then heat through for a few minutes to avoid the rice sticking to the bottom of the pan and lots of scraping and stirring which would again break the rice. If you are doing in small batches, you can do this real time in a wok and even toss them around like they do in the fast food joints which would render that nice smoky flavour. A wok with a long handle is on my wish-list for some-time now. If I did get one I don’t know where I’d put it. The kitchen is already bursting at its seams with pots, kadais, sattis and gundaans. The kadais are already piled one atop another, masala dabbas in 3 lines and a another line stacked on top, the microwave oven stowed away in the loft and my convection oven and baking paraphernalia moved to a separate room. I think we should start using up the head room like they do in airplanes and trains (upper, middle and lower berths). Lower berth is full, middle is where we operate and half the counter is anyway occupied already. Upper berth is what we should target going forward. Prep time: 20 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 6-7 Ingredients Sweet corn – 300 gmLong grained rice/basmati rice – 3 cupsCarrots – 2 finely choppedGreen beans – 200 gm finely choppedGreen Capsicum – 1 finely choppedYellow capsicum – 1 finely choppedOnions – 2 large finely choppedGarlic – 6 cloves – finely mincedSpring onions – 3-4 chopped fine – whites and greens separatedSoy sauce – 2 tbspSugar – 1 tspWhite pepper powder/Black pepper powder – 2 tbsp (adjust)Salt to tasteOil – 2 tbsp + 3 tbsp Method 1.      Rinse the rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear....

Tomato Pulav

This tomato Pulav is a simple aromatic one-pot meal perfect for week-days, lunch boxes or for lazy vegetarian Saturday lunches as well. I used regular par-boiled rice instead of basmati rice which is just as well; it’s healthier and easier on the tummy. I make it in a pressure cooker, so it is done in minutes. The rice cooks in a lovely coconut milk broth scented by ghee roasted fennel seeds and soft tomatoes. Finish by garnishing with a generous amount of freshly chopped coriander. I served this alongside Vazhapoo vadai (coming soon). You could serve this pulav with any raita or spicy gravy. At home we cycle through this Tomato Pulav once a week and it is a firm lunch box favourite as it is dry and keeps well. It’s a great option for kids as it is tasty and flavourful without being too hot or spicy. It’s the coconut milk that does the trick. I love using coconut milk in pulavs, biryanis and gravies. It is a magic ingredient that lends a lovely mellow flavour to the dish. We use coconuts almost daily in our cooking (No, we’re not from Kerala) and we happen to have coconut trees in our backyard. We’ve never bought coconuts from stores; we always had our own coconuts. If you have coconut trees at home, you’ve probably had those little disputes every year with your neighbours complaining about the falling coconuts. We have these disputes every year even though we have them picked quite regularly. It’s a small price to pay for all the wonderful things you can make out of coconut. If you don’t have coconut trees, plant a sapling today. Just make sure to have the coconuts picked every half year or so and you’re good. You’ll have a lifetime of free coconuts and ready ammunition for pesky neighbours. Even without coconut trees, my father never gets along with any of his neighbours. So I gave him a couple of coconut tree saplings. He can now spite his annoying neighbours and leave the coconuts unpicked all year round. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 15 minsServes: 4-5 Ingredients Par-boiled rice or raw rice – 2 cups soaked in water for 1 hourCoconut milk – extracted from 1 whole coconut (about 2-3 cups)Tomatoes – 3 choppedOnions – 2 medium chopped fineFennel seeds – 1 tspGreen chilli – 2 slit lengthwiseGround Masala – 1...

Chettinad style Chicken Biryani

This chettinad style chicken biryani comes close to the Thalapakatti style biryani in terms of flavour and taste. The freshly roasted and ground masala powder adds wonderful aroma and beautiful flavour to the biryani. The core of this biryani is this masala powder. It is a heady masala combination which just cannot fail – hot, aromatic and lip-smacking. Red chillies, whole black peppercorns, fennel, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon – you could try using this masala powder for your chicken gravies and kormas and I’ll tell you it is absolutely fantastic. Serve this biryani with chilled raita and boiled eggs for a perfect weekend meal. My husband a very picky eater gave the thumbs up to this biryani and my dad, a very conservative eater (he hates experimentation) finished off the biryani in no time, which all means it really is good. I was worried I had made too much biryani and that I’d have to do the refrigerate-reheat-refrigerate routine the next day but guess what, there was no biryani left over. If every family had to have a family dish (like a family song), biryani would be our family dish. Dosai would also be a strong competitor though. Biryani defines our family – grandiose, masala rich and extra large. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 30 minsServes: 6-7 Ingredients Chicken – 1 kiloBasmati rice – 3 – 1/2 cupsCurd/Yogurt – 1 cupOnions – 2 large chopped fineTomatoes -2 large chopped fineGreen chillies – 2 slit lengthwiseRed chilli powder – 1 tbspTurmeric powder – 1 tspFennel seeds/Saunf/Sombu – 1 tbspSeaweed/Kalpaasi – 1/2 tspMarathi moggu – 1Cinnamon – 2 inch pieceCloves – 3Ghee – 3 tbspOil – 4 tbspSalt to taste Dry masala powder Whole dry red chillies (long variety) – 5Whole black pepper corns – 1-1/2 tspFennel seeds/Saunf/Sombu – 1 tspCoriander seeds/Dhania – 2 tspCumin – 1/2 tspGreen Cardamom – 2Cloves -2Cinnamon – 1 inch piece Paste Ginger – 4 inch piece peeledGarlic – 10 clovesCoriander leaves – a handful Marinade Ginger-garlic-coriander paste – 1 tbsp (from above)Curd – 2 tbspTurmeric powder – 1/2 tspRed chilli powder – 1 heaped tbsp.Salt to taste Method 1.      Wash and clean the chicken and cut into fairly large pieces. Marinate the chicken pieces with the ingredients called for under marinade for 20 minutes or more. 2.      Rinse Basmati rice/long grain rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak basmati rice in...

Pasta Arabiata with braised Chicken and Mushroom

Restaurant style Pasta Arabiata is really quite simple if you pay attention to the details. All it takes is good quality pasta, plenty of ripe tomatoes and a little time. You’ll never turn to those ready-to-eat gummy, over-seasoned “Paste-a” once you’ve had this home-made pasta. This home-made Pasta Arabiata is the real thing. Perfectly cooked pasta tossed in freshly made tomato sauce, golden brown mushrooms and tender braised chicken topped with grated parmesan. The dish is even more luscious than the description makes it sound. It is a complete meal in itself but you could serve it alongside crisp garlic bread, a little bit of crunch to cut all the cheesy goodness. This pasta is a wonderfully kid-pleaser too.  Prep Time: 20 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 3-4 Ingredients Pasta – 2 cups (any variety) I used a mix of Penne and FusiliChicken – 1 cup bite sized boneless piecesMushroom – 3/4 cup rinsed and chopped Tomatoes – 6-7 large blanched, skinned, deseeded and chopped roughlyWater – 1-2 cupsWhite onion – 1 small chopped fineGarlic – 2-3 cloves chopped fineOregano – 2 tspBasil – 1 tspBlack Pepper powder – 1 tspSalt to tasteGrated Parmesan Cheese – ½ cupOlive Oil – 3 tsp + 2 tsp (or sunflower oil if olive oil is not available) Method 1.      Cook Pasta till al dente (firm, but not totally soft). To do this, in a large kadai or pan bring around 5 cups of salted water to a boil. Then drop in the pasta and let cook. Use a fork to test doneness or bite into a piece to check. Once done, drain the water and toss the pasta in 1-2 tsp of oil. Set aside. 2.      To blanch the tomatoes, in a broad pan bring water to a boil. Drop in the tomatoes. Switch off after 3-5 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl containing cold or room temperature water. When the tomatoes have cooled enough to handle by hand, peel away the skin, halve them, remove the seeds and then chop roughly. 3.      In a medium pan, heat 1 tsp of oil and drop in the mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes till the mushrooms start browning. When the mushrooms have browned nicely, remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan add 1 tsp of oil and sauté the chicken pieces for 1-2 minutes. Then add water (just enough to cover...

Chicken Biryani cooked in Coconut milk

This is yet another biryani variant. Here we cook the rice and marinated chicken in coconut milk and whole spices which yields a delightfully mellow, aromatic biryani and perfectly seasoned, succulent chicken that has soaked up all the wonderful masala. This biryani tastes great with raita, boiled eggs and a hot spicy gravy. I used only half the chilli powder that I’ve specified in the recipe so that my kids don’t find it too hot. But feel free to adjust it as per your taste. Biryani is the firm favourite of the entire family and we make it at-least once in 2 weeks. My kids are so fond of biryani and they’re so familiar with the usual party menus that embarrassingly enough every time we go to a party, my kids loudly demand biryani and that even before the buffet is open. Vegetable biryani or pulav is also biryani to them. Every home has its own biryani recipe and biryani is always made in that way and in no other way. I’d strongly recommend that you try a new biryani recipe every time you make biryani. Really, there are so many ways to make biryani, that you may find a recipe that’s even better than your standard recipe. I can safely say that this won’t be the last variant that I am posting. Preparation time: 20 minsCooking time: 15 minsServes: 5-6 Ingredients Chicken – 1/2 kiloBasmati Rice – 3 cupsCoconut milk – extracted from 1 medium coconut – roughly 2 cupsOnions – 2 large sliced thinlyTomatoes – 2 large choppedCloves – 3Cinnamon – 2 inch pieceStar anise – 1Marathi Moggu – 1 inch pieceGreen Cardamom – 2Fennel seeds – 1 tspKalpaasi/Sea weed – a big pinch, roughly 1/2 tspRed chilli powder – 1 tbspTurmeric – 1/2 tspGaram Masala powder – ½ tsp (optional)Oil – 4 tbspGhee – 4 tbsp + 1 tbspCoriander leaves – a handful chopped for garnishSalt to taste Marinade Ginger – 2 inch pieceGarlic – 6-8 clovesGreen chillies – 3 choppedFennel seeds/Sombu – 1 tspRed chilli powder – 1 tbspTurmeric – 1/2 tspSalt to taste Method 1.      Rinse basmati rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak the rinsed rice in water. Set aside. 2.      Wash and clean chicken, cut into big pieces and set aside. 3.      Grind together the ingredients called for under marinade except the spice powders to a smooth paste. Dump...

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