Saturday, September 10, 2016

Vegetable Biryani

You know how there are some recipes you don't try, because you have tasted the ultimate version and can never hope to get even close to that level of flavor and taste?   Am I the only one who feels this way?  I rarely attempt to make sambar/rasam powder or dosai milagai podi at home unless I am desperate, mainly because I can never get it be as great as my mom makes it.  Each year I go back home, I vow to watch her make it so that I can learn her technique, but invariably I end up just asking her to make enough for me until next time.

Well, this post is about one such dish.  Biryani.  I have tasted several biryanis – several that others rave about, but nothing can come close to the one Shabana’s mom makes. 

When we were in high school, every time we went for a party to Shabana’s house – especially for her birthday, auntie would make vegetable biryani.  She used to say that it is more time consuming than mutton or chicken biryani – because of the prep work for the veggies, but she would make it just for those of us who didn’t eat meat.

We would devour it – relishing the perfectly cooked rice and vegetables, with just the right blend of onions, tomatoes, and spices.  She would also pack tiffin boxes of leftover biryani so that our families could also get a taste.  My dad, who normally would not eat anything with garlic or “masalas”, would ask – “did Shabana’s mom send biryani?”

This year, long before my trip with my friends to Cambodia, and eventually to Chennai, I told Shabana that I was craving auntie’s biryani.  Could her mom please make it for us while we were in Chennai?   And auntie did.  Anu and I went to Shabana’s work.  She brought steaming hot cases filled with flavorful biryani.  We closed the door and ate like pigs.  I think the office smelled of biryani for the rest of Shabana’s trip – making anyone who entered her room salivate because of the tantalizing aromas!

I have tried in vain to get the recipe for this biryani from Auntie.  Shabana, on one of her visits to Colorado, did call her mom to get the recipe for me, but true to Shabana’s style, she wrote down only half the recipe, and what she wrote down, even she could not decipher later!

Anyway, thanks to my friend Leelu, and some improvising, I have a recipe for vegetable biryani, which while not in the same league as Shabana's mom's, comes out well enough to fool people who haven't tasted the original!

I make biryani only occasionally, because I feel like I keep falling short, but hey, sometimes, second best will have to do :)

It is a bit time consuming, but totally worth it.  I had such a difficult time taking pictures today - so don't make up your mind by looking at the pictures.

There are three distinct steps to making the biryani (four – if you are making your own spice blend).  Don’t attempt to make this on a day when you are rushed for time!

Biryani Masala:

I make my own masala – really easy to do, if you have all the ingredients.


Here is what you need:

  • 2” piece cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. black pepper corns
  • 7 – 8 green cardamom
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 2 spears mace
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. cloves
  • 2 tsp. poppy seeds (khus-khus)

Dry roast all the masala ingredients for a couple of minutes.  Let it cool.  Grind in a spice grinder to a fine powder.


  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • salt to taste
  • juice of half lemon

Wash and soak 4 cups of basmati rice for about 20 minutes.  Drain.
Bring 12 cups of water to boil in a pot.  Add oil, salt and lemon juice.  Add rice. Stir
Bring the water to a boil again.  Reduce heat and cook until rice is about 70% done.
You will know that the rice is ready if it is not crunchy, but not squishy either.  It will have a slightly chewy texture.  Do not overcook the rice!
Drain the water – saving about ½ cup for later use.
Spread the rice out gently on a large plate/tray and let it cool completely


Update: My friend Shabana says that her mom adds 1/2 kg of onions and 1/2 kg. of tomatoes for 1 kg. of rice.  She also adds 2 cups of yogurt. 
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 carrots, cut into diagonal slices
  • 10 – 12 green beans, cut into 1” length
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 Tbsp. oil (additional)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 – 3 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 – 3 green chilies, minced (I had chilies that packed a punch - you may need to add more)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 – 3 tsp. red chili powder
  • ½ cup chopped mint leaves
  • ½ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • juice of ½ lemon

Heat oil in a saucepan.  Add potatoes and fry on medium heat till the turn golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon.
In the same oil, fry carrots, beans, and cauliflower separately, each for a few minutes, removing with a slotted spoon.  Set aside.
Add the remaining oil.  Add onions and fry till they turn golden.
Add minced ginger and garlic.  Mix well.  Add tomatoes and green chilies.
 Sauté on medium hear for about 10 minutes or so, until oil starts separating from the side.  Add mint, coriander, biryani malasa powder, salt and chili powder.  Mix well
Let this cook for a couple of more minutes, taking care not to let the mixture burn on the bottom.
Turn off the heat and add the Greek yogurt.  Mix well.
Add the cooked vegetables to this mixture.  Add lemon juice.  Toss with a fork so that the vegetables are coated. 
Let this marinate for about 20 – 30 minutes.


  • few strands of saffron
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 2 – 3 tsp. ghee
  • chopped mint and coriander leaves for garnish
  • caramelized onions

Soak saffron strands in warm milk.
Preheat oven to 300°F
Take a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot with an oven-safe lid.  Grease the bottom with oil. 
Layer the bottom with the marinated vegetables.
Spread the rice evenly on top. 
Melt ghee. Pour this on top of the rice
Pour the saved water (this helps keep the rice moist without drying out)
Pour the saffron milk
Sprinkle the caramelized onions, mint and coriander leaves
Cover this pot with aluminum foil.  Place the lid on top.
Put this in the oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes.
Let it sit covered for 10 more minutes.

To serve:

Gently fluff the biryani with a fork so that the vegetables and rice get mixed well – taking care not to mash the rice or the veggies.

Serve with raita of your choice

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tomato Rice with left over rice and sprouted masoor dal

We’ve been really busy, with beginning of school year, soccer tryouts, new schedules, and finishing up minor projects that we started over summer.

I had my back-to-school night on Janmashtami.  I rushed home from school and painted little Krishna feet in my house, but had to rush back to meet the parents of my students this year.  I did not get home till around 8:30 p.m.  So my family decided to do a take-out from the local Indian restaurant.

Tajmahal, the closest Indian restaurant to our house, is also one of our favorites.  While the fare is similar to so many other north Indian restaurants everywhere, Ali knows us well and customizes our order to suit our palate.  This makes the food seem more homemade.  He also gives my husband a bottle of Indian beer on the house, every time.  I am told that he does this with all his regulars.

Anyway, each entrée comes with basmati rice.  He always gives us too much rice and this sits in our fridge for about a week or so, before we realize it is there.  This time, I remembered that we had about 3 cups of cooked rice and used it to make tomato rice.


Here is what you need:

  • 2 – 3 cups cooked rice (leftovers work really well)
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ medium red onion, slivered
  • few curry leaves
  • 1 green chili, diced
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup masoor dal, sprouted
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • salt to taste
 Note:  You may use 2 tsp. rasam powder instead of the cumin and coriander powder 


Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  Add cumin seeds. 
  2. When the cumin seeds change color, add garlic and fry for about 30 seconds, till the garlic gets golden brown.  Add curry leaves, onions, and green chilies.
  3. Fry onions on medium heat for a couple of minutes.  Add tomatoes.
  4. Cover and cook on medium heat till the tomatoes get pulpy.  Add sprouted masoor dal.
  5. Cover and cook on low heat till the dal is cooked (about 8 minutes).  Add all the spice powders and salt.  Mix well.
  6. Add the rice, making sure that the grains are separate.  Mix well.
  7. Heat on low flame till for a few minutes till the rice is mixed well and heated through.

Serve with raita and salad

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Red Bell Pepper Chutney

I first tasted this chutney 17 years ago in Philadelphia.  My friend, Harini, had made it and I loved it!  We traveled to the east coast when my youngest was about 3 – 4 months old and my older son, 4 years old.  My husband had some work in Boston and we tagged along and made it a family trip.  We visited several friends and also squeezed in a trip to New York and Washington D.C.

It was tough traveling with young kids, but since we did not have an agenda or a checklist of things to see and do, it was not too stressful.

The highlight of this trip was meeting friends and family – Harini, Venkat, and Vinay; Anand and Latha (Samyukt was born a few weeks after our trip); Vara and Roopa; and Krithika

We went to Harini and Venkat’s place for dinner.  She had made an amazing vegetable pulao and this red bell pepper chutney.  I don’t know if she still makes this, but it is definitely my go-to recipe for entertaining.

I made this recently for a party.  My menu: medhu vadai, coconut chutney, red bell pepper chutney, regular idlis, kancheepuram idlis, sambar, coconut sevai, lemon sevai, black-eyed peas curry,  lauki kootu, parathas, yogurt rice, and ras malai

My friends brought 4 types of potato curry (my husband was in heaven), carrot salad, raitha, and watermelon

We had all done a tough hike that morning and so no one felt guilty about gorging on all the food at the party.


Here is what you need:

  • 2 – 3 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 4 – 5 dry red chilies
  • 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. split urad dal
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
  • salt to taste
  • 2 – 3 green chilies
  • 2 tsp. tamarind pulp
  • ½ cup cilantro


Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  Add mustard seeds.  When they sputter, add hing, and after a few seconds, the dried red chilies
  2. When the chilies start getting brown, add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and urad dal.
  3. Fry on medium flame till the urad dal starts turning reddish brown.  Add the red bell pepper strips.
  4. Cook covered on low flame for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times, till the red bell pepper is soft.  Let it cool.
  5. In a blender, add the red bell pepper mixture and all the other ingredients and grind to a slightly coarse paste.

Serve chutney with pakodas, vadais, idli, dosai, pongal, rotis, puri – or rice.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dal Tadka – Masoor Dal (red lentils)

It has been a while since I posted a recipe.  I have been away on a trip with my friends.  3 weeks went by in a blur.  We visited some amazing temples - built over 1,000 years ago, celebrated a special birthday, spent time just lazing around and being pampered, spent some short but invaluable time with family, before coming back to our routine.

My family managed really well without me – I think the only thing they missed was the food that “magically appeared” every meal.  

Anyway, I missed my kitchen too and it is good to be back!  I have been busy cooking and cleaning and sorting and organizing!  Summer is a great time for me to do “spring” cleaning because I have a lot of time on my hands and don’t have school work to worry about.  I have cleaned out my closet and am in the process of organizing 20 + years worth of photographs.  I am also determined to clean out my pantry. 

This means that other than fresh vegetables, I am not going to buy pantry staples until I have used up most of the supplies I have hoarded in my pantry! 

I have so many lentils and grains, I decided to start by using the easiest one to cook with – red masoor dal.  Red masoor requires very little time to cook and can be made in 20 minutes from start to finish.

I also made a dry aloo dum and pooris for lunch last weekend.


Here is what you need:

  • 1 cup (masoor dal) red lentils
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • ¼ tsp hing (asafetida)
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 coves garlic, minced
  • 2 green chilies, slit
  • 1 roma or ½ beefsteak tomato, diced
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro for garnish

For tadka (tempering):

  • 2 tsp. ghee
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 red chilies
  • ½” ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • few curry leaves


Here is how I made it:

  1. Wash the red lentils in several changes of water.  Put these in a pot with water (add about 2 – 3 cups of water) and bring it to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium - low and simmer uncovered till the dal is cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat oil.  Add onions and sauté till translucent. 
  4. Add hing, garlic, and green chilies.  Fry for a couple of minutes
  5. Add tomatoes, turmeric powder and salt. Mix well.
  6. Sauté on medium heat till the tomatoes turn pulpy.  Add this mixture to the cooked lentils.
  7. Bring the lentil mixture to a boil again and turn the heat to low.
  8. Heat ghee in a small pan.  Add the mustard seeds.  When the mustard seeds sputter, add the cumin seeds and red chilies.  When the red chilies start browning, add ginger and curry leaves.  After 30 seconds, add the red chili powder.  Turn off the heat
  9. Pour the tempering over the dal.  Garnish with cilantro

Serve hot with rotis or rice.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vegetarian Mexican rice

When my son comes back home after his semester ends, he normally asks me to make Indian food, hopefully involving paneer.

This time, when I asked him what he would like, he said, “can we have pizza or Mexican?  It has been ages since I had those”.  He was coming back from a semester abroad.  He had plenty of access to Indian food at my brother’s house, as well as Asian cuisine everywhere he went.

So it was pizza on the day he came back (I did have to make rasam, keerai, and aloo curry for my husband, who was flying back the same day from an office trip), and a Mexican fiesta that weekend, when we had some friends over to meet him.

I have already posted the recipe for tamales that I had made as part of that dinner.

This recipe for Mexican rice is simple to make and tastes great.  It is a great side to have for a build-your-own taco or burrito bar.

I think this is more a Tex-Mex version of rice than what people typically make at home in Mexico, but I love the flavors of this rice.

Here is what you need:

  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) organic diced tomatoes (you can use fresh juicy tomatoes instead) 
  • ½ large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 - 3 tsp. oil
  • 1 – 2 jalapeno peppers diced (depending on how spicy you want it)
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice 

Here is how I made it:

  1. Place the tomatoes and onions in a blender and puree till smooth.
  2. Heat oil in a pot.  Add the jalapenos and garlic. Fry for a few seconds, till the garlic turns slightly golden.
  3. Add washed and drained rice to this and sauté, stirring it frequently, till the rice is lightly toasted.
  4. Measure the tomato puree and supplement with vegetable stock so that you have about 4 cups of liquid.
  5. Add this to the rice along with salt and cumin powder.  Remember that the vegetable stock may have salt already in it. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to low.  Cover and cook until rice is done – about 20 minutes.
  7. Fluff it gently with a fork

Serve as part of a Mexican Fiesta

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Vegetarian Green Chile Tamales

A bit of background information:

We got married in 1994.  My husband left Chennai a couple of days after the wedding, because he had exhausted all his vacation.  I joined him in Colorado a couple of months later.  Boulder was a great place – several Indian and Nepali restaurants, and overall very vegetarian friendly.

Since my husband had no time off, we traveled as much as we could on weekends.  Our first trip – Manitou Springs, about an hour and a half south of Boulder.  Definitely not vegetarian friendly!  My husband ended up getting me bean burritos from Taco Bell for dinner.  I still tease him about it – honeymoon dinner from Taco Bell :)


On one of our many trips, we went to Taos, New Mexico.  I love Taos. The town boasts several art galleries, and Native American culture is evident in the food, music, and architecture

It was in Taos that I first tasted tamales.  These were the days before Yelp! and Urbanspoon.  We had to find restaurants that served vegetarian food the old fashioned way – by looking them up in the yellow pages.

I ordered vegetarian tamales at this small place we found.  They were so delicious!  Little did I know that I had stumbled upon one of the few places that served vegetarian tamales.  Most places use lard to make the masa.

With fond memories of my experience, we tried to find this place again on our next trip to Taos, only to find out that it had closed.

Now, back to the present:

I have made tamales a few times at home.  They are a bit time consuming to make, and I normally don't make them for parties.  But my son was coming back home after a semester abroad and was craving Mexican food.  We were going to have a few close friends over for dinner.  And since it wasn’t a big crowd, I made tamales. 

I also had a vegetarian soup, a taco bar, Mexican rice, couple of types of homemade salsas, and fajita vegetables.  My friends brought guacamole, corn bread and dessert

Here is what you need (makes about 25 - 28 tamales):

  • 4 cups masa (I used Tamal masa – you can also use Masa harina)
  • ½ cup butter at room temperature (I used Smart Balance Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spread)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp. red chili powder 
  • 4+ cups organic vegetable stock
  • one packet of corn husks
  • about 20 oz. flame roasted green chile
  • 10 oz. queso fresco

Corn husks before soaking

Here is how I made it:

  • Take hot water in a big pot and soak the corn husks in it for a couple of hours. You may have to weigh the husks down with something so that they don’t float out of the water.
  • In a big bowl, take the butter and beat well with a rubber spatula till it is smooth
  • In another bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.  Add the stock and mix well.
  • I used a little more than 4 cups of vegetable stock.  The batter should be thicker than pancake batter.
  • Add this to the butter and mix well.
  • Drain out the water from the corn husks.

  • Lay a corn husk out on a plate
  • Spread a couple of heaping teaspoons full of masa on to the husk as shown in the picture
  • Top this with about a teaspoon full of green chili and a little crumbled queso.
  • Fold the bottom of the husk up and then the sides.
  • Tie with a strip of cornhusk (tear one of the soaked cornhusks into strips)

  • Once you have all of them done, place them in a steamer  (I used my pressure cooker)
  • Steam tamales for about 20 – 25 minutes

Serve hot with Mexican rice and salsa

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Anu’s mom’s crispy potato curry

Lunch used to be a big deal in high school.   By the time we reached high school, the lunch we brought from home was no longer ours.  We use to bring food so that our friends could eat our food and we could eat theirs.

Since my students have apparently started reading my blog, I won’t go in to details, but for reasons that will remain unsaid, Supriya and I were moved to a different section, to “separate” us from our friends.  Little did our teachers know that this was a futile endeavor!

Anyway – due to this “separation”, recess and lunch became all too important in my life.  Supriya and I would wait for the bell to ring and would run to meet our friends as though we haven’t seen each other in years.  We would sit around in a circle and wait for everyone to open their lunch boxes - more interested in what some one else has brought than what was in ours.

One of my favorites was Anu’s avakkai sadam (pickle rice) and potato curry.  I don’t miss the avakkai as much – because Anu’s mom still makes it for all of us.  But I do miss her potato curry. 

When Tambrams make potato curry, we always temper it with mustard seeds.  Anu’s mom’s potato curry had no tempering and was crisp even after a few hours in a stainless steel lunch box!

After trying out a few recipes, I think I have one that reminds me of hers.

Here is what you need:

  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 3 – 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder (optional)


Here is how you make it

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  When the oil is hot add diced potatoes.
  2. Keep tossing potatoes on high heat till they become golden brown – you need to stay with the pan - don't try to multitask while making this because your potatoes will get burned!
  3. Reduce heat a bit.  Add salt and chili powder (and coriander powder if you are adding it).  Toss to coat well
  4. Reduce heat to low and let the potatoes cook through (5 minutes or so)– uncovered.
  5. Increase heat to high again and let the potatoes get crispy (for a couple of minutes)

That’s it!  Serve with rotis or rice.  I served these with my karuvappillai kuzhambu, rasam, and rice.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Karuvepillai Kuzhambu - Curry leaves kuzhambu

Be warned my friends and fellow foodies  - if you have a low tolerance for spicy food, this is not a post for you. 

My son was out for pretty much the whole day on Saturday.  First he had volunteering at an event at CU (Univ or Colorado) and then a soccer game.   He wasn’t going to be home till 4 p.m.

So after feeding him and packing lunch his lunch, I looked in the fridge and saw a ton of beans that needed to be used and a couple of sad looking tomatoes.  And of course I had some potatoes in my pantry.  Don’t judge me – I haven’t been grocery shopping in a couple of weeks!

Anyway – I did have a bunch of curry leaves and remembered that I used to make this fantastic kuzhambu with them. 

So I turned on my Bluetooth speaker – and with music blaring (thanks Sujata for starting those music groups on FB), I made karuveppilai kuzambu, beans curry, potato curry, rasam, and sutta appalam.

My husband’s comment at the end of the meal “nothing beats the taste of this kuzhambu, mixed with thayir sadam (yogurt rice) and aloo curry” :)

Our friend Ramesh gave me a cook book over 20 + years ago – Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan.  I first saw the kuzhambu recipe in this book.  I have made it several times, and now, this is the recipe that works for me.

Here is what you need:

For the masala powder: 
  • 5 – 6 red chilies
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. channa dal
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • 1 ½ tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp rice
  • 20 – 30 curry leaves
  • a tiny bit of tamarind (soaked in water to soften it up a bit)

For the kuzhambu:
  • 2 – 3 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp. asafetida
  • 1 red chili
  • lime size ball of tamarind, soaked in warm water
  • salt to taste

Here is how I made it:

  1. Dry roast all the ingredients for the masala powder except the curry leaves and tamarind.
  2. Let this cool.  Grind it to a fine paste with curry leaves, tamarind and a little bit of water.  Set aside
  3. Squeeze out the pulp from the tamarind and extract a thick juice. I added about 2 – 2 ½ cups of water.
  4. Heat oil in a cast iron kadai.  Add mustard seeds
  5. When they sputter, add hing.  Add the ground masala after a few seconds. Mix well.
  6. Gently pour the thick tamarind extract.  Add salt.
  7. Let this simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes until the raw tamarind smell is gone.
  8. You can add a little more sesame oil to this at this point – just before turning off the heat.

Serve with steaming hot rice, drizzled with sesame oil and sutta appalam (fire roasted papad), or with pongal.  Remember - it is spicy!  You only need a tiny bit.  It stays fresh in the fridge for 7 - 10 days

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