Raita….the ubiquitous yogurt condiment

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Raita, which you will pretty much find on any Indian table setting is like a generous white canvas. You may find it, standing as a perfect dip for Kababs, or a dependable side dish to tame a fiery Biryani. It is so versatile and essential, you may as well call it the Little Black Dress of Indian cuisine! If you are like me, you will lose count—both for the LBDs in your closet and the combinations of Raitas you can conjure up with little imagination! And if you remember middle school Algebra (Permutations & Combinations), just for the sheer pleasure of it, crunch the numbers with the options I have listed here. I guarantee you will be amazed.

I believe the reason for Raita’s ubiquitous presence in India is because, it is perfect to cool off the spiciness and heat of Indian food, not to mention, to counter the oppressive heat in many parts of the country.

Raita is made with 3 basic ingredients– Yogurt, Onions, Salt. But as I said, that is only basic! See the options below to grasp the possibilities. Need I say it is a tasty way to get your dose of probiotics? By the way, it is funny how probiotics have been an integral part of Indian food from way before probiotics became the in-thing!

In place of Yogurt you can use,

Sour cream, slightly thinned

Mix of yogurt and sour cream

Mix of yogurt and Buttermilk

 

In place of Onions you can use,

Cucumbers

Tomatoes (regular ones deseeded and diced, or quartered Grape Tomatoes)

Onions and Tomatoes

Cucumber and Onions

Cucumber, Onions and Tomatoes Carrots, finely grated

Boondi (fried tiny Chickpea balls)

Pineapple chunks

Mango chunks

Kiwi Chunks

Grape halves/any tart fruit (preferably one that does not bleed color into yogurt)

Or any combination of the above (except for Onions and fruits together!!)

 

In addition to Salt, you can use,

Chaat Masala

Roasted Cumin powder

Kala Namak (Black salt)

Red Chilli powder

Black Pepper powder

Finely diced green chillies

Ginger (dry powder or grated/diced if fresh)

Mint (dry or fresh)

Cilantro

Pomegranate seeds

Or any combination of the above

 

Phew!!

I make all of the above variations depending on what it is served with. We love Mango Raita, but made very infrequently because finding a fresh and taut ripe Mango in Midwest is a rarity. I typically make fruit Raitas and Cucumber Raitas for spice/heat intolerant people to go along with Biryani or Pulav. I skip Cilantro for Fruit Raitas, but Mint and Chaat Masalas go very well with fruit. I particularly use chilies when serving Raita for heat loving folks. And sometimes even amp it up with a sprinkle of Red Chilli powder and Black Pepper powder for garnish.

 

So pick a favorite combination and mix it up. Here is an outline of Cucumber Raita with Dry Mint and Green Chillies. Perfect for serving at room temperature along with any spicy rice or stuffed parathas or Kababs.

 

What you need (Serves 4-6):

1 diced English Cucumber* or Regular Cucumber (about 1 cup)

1 1/2 cups Yogurt, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp Salt

1 tsp Mint (fresh or dry)

1 tsp Chaat Masala (optional)

1/2 Green Chilli finely diced (optional)

 

* I prefer English Cucumber which requires no peeling or deseeding. If using a regular Cucumber, there is still no need to peel if the skin and seeds are tender enough to your liking.

 

How to make it:

  • Into the yogurt, mix salt, Chaat Masala and Green Chillies, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add water if needed to reach your desired consistency
  • Fold in diced Cucumber
  • Garnish with a sprinkle of Mint and more Chaat Masala

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Shoyu Tamago….aka Soy Sauce Eggs

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Motherhood brings an enormous change in perspective, and lifestyle. It certainly did for me. Saying that life after kids was, hmm…is not simple, is a gross understatement! In pre-kids days I did not have to think about what is stocked in the fridge, or not. There were times when our fridge was milk-less or when a carton of milk, waaay past the use-by date, sat unnoticed because we never bothered to look at it! But now we have 3 different kinds of milk in the fridge and plenty of back up to avoid running to grocery store at night. Likewise, I never bothered to celebrate anniversaries (birthdays are an exception) or Indian festivals or US holidays before kids. But that changed too. With all the hype around Halloween, Christmas or Easter in US, it is hard not to get caught up. Especially, when kids enjoy them so much. Also my 4 year old is at an age where she can grasp the concept of different cultures. It’s a great time to introduce her to our Indian background. I want her to know what we did as kids and appreciate mom’s and dad’s roots. So I ventured into pumpkin carving during Halloween, lighting up Diyas for Diwali and decorating the Christmas tree. Now the latest on our hands is coloring eggs for Easter.

My selfish reason to love Easter is for the eggs. I can eat an egg in any form as long as it is not raw. Somewhere on the top of that list sits a hardboiled egg. Quartered hardboiled eggs with just salt and pepper are perfect for a snack. But here, I upped the ante with Shoyu Tamago, literally Soy Sauce Eggs. These are so fancy looking that it is hard to believe that they are incredibly easy to make. If you think deviled eggs are easy, these are even easier. And, they are equally fancy and unique for presentation. You don’t even have to scoop out the yolks as in deviled eggs! I topped some with a pinch of Chaat Masala and Cilantro and some with Curry Powder and Cilantro. But you can add whatever you like, and these won’t judge you. They will most gracefully comply with your wish! So here it goes…perfect as an appetizer for your Easter party or just for you to eat up the colored eggs!

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What you need:

6 hardboiled eggs

2 tbsp of Light Soy sauce

1 tsp of Dark Soy sauce* (optional)

1 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar (optional)

1/2 tsp Sugar (optional)

1 tsp Chat Masala or Curry powder

Cilantro for garnish.

 

*I used Dark Soy sauce to get a deeper color. Taste does not change much. Eggs develop deeper color as they sit longer.

Adding Rice Wine Vinegar and Sugar adds a multi-dimensional flavor. Many times, I only use Soy sauce.

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How to make it:

  • Heat a small non-stick sauce pan on medium. Add the Soy sauce(s), Rice Wine Vinegar and Sugar, if using.
  • Once sugar is dissolved add the boiled eggs. Toss and swirl the eggs until well coated. Keep tossing until the liquid evaporates and the coating is even (about 2-3 minutes)
  • Remove eggs and cut into halves. Sprinkle with Chaat Masala or Curry powder.
  • Garnish with Cilantro and serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.

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Posted in Appetizers, Recipes, Snack | 2 Comments

Qubali Rice

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Do you have childhood memories of food, something you have tasted or smelled as a child that are so vividly etched in your memory that you can feel the smell or taste anywhere? I have quite a few. My dad used to bring these Chocolate Pastries when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old from a bakery in Hyderabad, which has long been closed. They were dense and almost fudge like balls and topped with Chocolate ganache, I think. I clearly remember the texture and taste, but for the life of me, could not recreate it even after several attempts. They remain a mystery.

Another such memory, but not a mystery, is Qubali rice. It is one of the rice dishes that originated in or around Afghanistan. The recipe for Qubali rice was printed in a Sunday magazine probably 20 years ago. My mom made it upon my request. We all liked it, but somehow it was relegated to the back burner for a long time until it was totally forgotten. But it distinctly remained in my memory.

Recently when we were having some friends over, I was planning for a vegetarian one-pot rice. I did not want to make my usual rice items. I wanted it to be unique and something different from everyday fare. Qubali rice perfectly filled the bill. I scrambled up the recipe from my memory, because even my mom did not exactly remember it! The end result was splendid and left the guests raving and wanting seconds and thirds. I loved it so much that I decided this will be my the recipe for Qubali rice. You should too.

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What you need (Serves 4 as side, or 3 as main):

1 1/2 cup of Basmati rice, washed

1 cup of Chana Dal* (also known as Bengal Gram)

2 tbsp of Ginger-Garlic paste

1 large Onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp red Chilli Powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp Turmeric powder

2 Chillies, slit lengthwise

1 tbsp Garam Masala

2 cups of Yogurt, beaten

1/2 cup Mint, finely chopped

1/2 cup Corriander, finely chopped

1/2 lemon

1/4 cup oil

2 tbsp of Ghee (clarified butter), optional

* Chana Dal or Bengal Gram is nothing but dried, skin-less, split Chickpeas. It is commonly available in Indian grocery store or International sections of a regular grocery store. If you don’t find this, you can substitute Brown Lentils (Puy Letils) or Green Lentils that are more commonly available. Cooking times may vary. Just make sure that they are cooked al-dente and do not get too soft. The color of these lentils will contrast with the rice and turmeric giving a jewel studded look to the rice.

How to make it:

  • In a wide pan, add 2 tbsps of oil and once hot add the sliced onion and green chillies. Sauté for 5 minutes on medium, until the onions are golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, red chilli powder, Garam Masala and salt. Sauté for another 2 minutes.
  • In the meantime, in a deep pot bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add a big pinch of salt and lentils. Cook until the lentils are cooked al-dente (takes about 7-8 minutes on high). They should be just cooked and still have a bite in the center. Strain out the lentils and set them aside. The same pot and water can be used to cook rice.
  • Add yogurt and lemon juice to the cooked lentils. Mix well to incorporate everything. Set aside. This can be made up to 3 days in advance.
  • Bring the water back to boil and add cleaned Basmati rice to it. If needed add another cup of water and a bit more salt. There should be enough water for the rice to swirl freely. This will help the grain to elongate the most and avoid clumping. Cook rice in boiling water for 8 minutes. Rice will be about 3/4th cooked. Drain in a colander and set aside.
  • In the same deep pot, after wiping off any moisture, add 2 tbsps of oil, to coat the bottom. Add 1/2 of the rice and spread to cover the bottom. Add 1/2 the lentil mix and spread over the rice. Add the remaining rice and lentils to create layers. If your pot is wide, then you may end up with just one layer of rice and one layer of lentils, which is perfectly fine. Dot the top with Ghee, if using.
  • Sprinkle the top with mint and cilantro and put a tight lid to trap the steam (or most of it). You can tie a clean kitchen towel on the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook on low for 20 minutes. Check a grain of rice. If it needs more cooking, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of water and replace the lid and cook on low for another 5-6 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and lightly mix the layers. Do NOT over mix, the appeal is in the carelessly tumbled look.
  • Tumble it into a wide serving dish. Scrape the bottom if any rice is stuck. The crunchy bits are the best parts.
  • Garnish with roughly torn Mint and Cilantro and serve hot with Cucumber Raita.

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Posted in International, Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Ginger-Garlic Rice

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I did not realize while growing up, but my mom was a magician in the kitchen. Every single day before sending me and my sister off to school by 8 AM and our Dad to work around the same time, she would have made breakfast and lunch to pack. And breakfast did not mean cereal or something out of a box. It was food made the old fashioned way. Made fresh from scratch with absolutely no processed ingredients. It was not a conscious effort to avoid processed foods, but that was how our lifestyle was back then. My mom would make a 3 course meal (lunch) that we would sometimes eat in the place of a breakfast and grab breakfast in our lunch boxes, as it was more manageable to eat on the go. Unknowingly, we followed heavy breakfast, light lunch rule!

Me, being immune to behind-the-scenes chaos, and being a picky (ahem, discerning) eater, would fuss that I did not like anything she made on that day to be boxed for lunch. Sometimes it was truly true. There were some vegetables I hated, some breakfasts I did not like. Sometimes I would just down it without fussing and sometimes I would not. My Mom would insist that I should eat them, and sometimes would not. When she would not, she either had extra few minutes or was sorry to see my fuss. She would whip up this simple rice with Ginger, Garlic and Cumin seeds, which I would eat for breakfast and happily also pack the same for lunch. It is so flavorful that it did not need any sides or embellishments. I could eat that alone f.o.r.e.v.e.r. I would even be looking forward to eat any leftovers as after school snack…..and also for dinner if Mom allowed!

If you already have cooked rice, this can be whipped up in 5 minutes. Mark my words!!

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What you need (serves 3-4, or 1 if you are eating like me):

4 cups cooked rice*

1/4 Onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste (or pound 3 cloves of Garlic and about 1 inch piece of Ginger into coarse paste)

1 tsp Shah Jeera** (or Cumin seeds)

2 Green Chillies, slit lengthwise

1/2 tsp Salt, or to taste

2 tbsp Oil

Handful of Cilantro for garnish

* Any type of cooked rice (white or brown) will do. If you want to make it fancier, use cooked Basmati rice.

** Shah Jeera (literally means ‘King of Cumin’) is finer, darker and daintier looking than regular Cumin. It also has a subtler taste than regular Cumin.

How to make it:

  • Heat a wide bottom pan with oil on medium-high heat and add Shah Jeera (or Cumin) and let them splutter, about few seconds.
  • Add Onions and Green Chillies and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes
  • Add Ginger Garlic paste and sauté for a minute, until fragrant
  • Add cooked rice, sprinkle salt and mix well to combine and break any clumps
  • Garnish with Cilantro and serve. There, under 5 minutes!

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Chicken Korma

Chicken Korma

One of the classics of Mughlai Cuisine, which my home town Hyderabad is famous for, is Korma. It was brought to India by the Mughal rulers from Persia in mid 16th century. Once it reached India, it amalgamated with local influences and developed a style and taste of its own. Korma is also spelled as Khurma, Qurma, Qorma depending on the region or cultural background of the person you are talking to. It is made with Chicken or Goat or Lamb or Beef or just all vegetarian. Even a sweet variant exists, called Sheer Korma! All this variety speaks volumes about its versatility. So naturally, there is no one single recipe for Korma. Rather, it is a technique of using some of the classic but common ingredients and spices.

Korma requires marinating the meat overnight in spices, and browning it before simmering in a rich and flavorful yogurt based sauce. The usual suspects of Indian cuisine, such as Cloves, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Ginger and Garlic are present. To add a depth of richness, a combination of nut pastes (Cashew, Almonds and Chironji) is used. Poppy seeds are also used, and are essential to impart the unique flavor and texture typical of Korma.

Korma recipe varies from region to region as does any age old recipe. Here I have the ‘standard’ recipe using Chicken. You can simply substitute any meat you prefer. If you don’t want any meat, use Paneer (Indian cheese) instead, and follow the same process. One unique ingredient which may be hard to find is Chironji nuts. They look like puffed up hulled watermelon seeds, and taste like nothing else I can compare it with! It is perfectly alright to omit them, instead of buying a bag to just use a spoonful. Having said that, I do not recommend substituting Garam Masala for other spices here, because Garam Masala does not have enough Cardamom and has a wider variety of spices which are not required in Korma. But if you must, I won’t stop you! Just add a few Cardamom pods to it. The goal is to create a flavorful gravy to pair with Naan or Rotis or mildly flavored rice.

Korma Ingredients

What you need (Serves 6-8 comfortably):

2 lbs bone-in or boneless Chicken (I prefer boneless mix of breast and thighs)

1 large Onion, quartered

8 Cashews

8 Almonds, skinless

1 Tbsp Chironji nuts (omit if not available)

1 Tbsp Poppy seeds roasted

6 Cardamom pods

3 Cloves

1/2 inch piece of Cinnamon

3 Green Chillies, slit lengthwise

2 tsp Salt (or to taste)

1 cup Yogurt, beaten (low fat Greek is great)

1/2 cup Sour Cream*, beaten (low fat or fat free)

1/2 cup water (or more)

1 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste (approximately 2 cloves Garlic and 1/2 inch piece of ginger)

1 tsp Red Chilli Powder (or to taste)

1/2 tsp Turmeric powder

1/2 Lemon, juiced

Handful Mint leaves, finely chopped

Handful Cilantro finely chopped

3-4 tbsp Oil

* Traditionally only yogurt (homemade) is used. I find that homemade yogurt has a slight tang, which store bought yogurts lack. So I use a bit of Sour Cream which imparts a perfect sour note and consistency, and also prevents yogurt from ‘breaking’ if left on high heat.

 

How to make it:

  • Marinate Chicken with Turmeric, Salt, Red chilli powder, Ginger-Garlic paste and Lemon juice mixture for an hour. Or even better overnight.
  • Heat a wide non-stick pan on medium and add 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot, add Chicken and brown the pieces. Remove and set aside. Chicken need not cook completely at this stage.
  • In the same pan, add a teaspoon of oil and roast the onions. Once onions are lightly browned, add Cloves, Cinnamon, Cashews, Almonds, Chironji and Poppy Seeds, Ginger-Garlic paste. Roast them all for another 2-3 minutes. Cool and make a fine paste adding 1-2 tbsp of water as necessary.
  • In the same pan, add remaining oil and once hot add slit Green chillies and Onion-Nut paste and cook on medium until oil separates, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Add the browned chicken pieces and about 1/2 cup water and cook on medium for 15 minutes.
  • Drop the heat to low and add beaten Yogurt and Sour Cream. Mix well and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Check and adjust salt. Add more red Chilli Powder if needed. Add more water if thinner gravy is desired.
  • Remove from heat and garnish with Mint and Cilantro. Serve hot with Naan or Rice.
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Onion-Tomato Salad

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I thought twice when I decided to post Onion-Tomato salad, because there is no ‘recipe’ involved. It is nothing fanciful. And may not be ‘socially acceptable’…with all that onion, yikes! But it makes a frequent appearance on my table despite all the flaws. It would only be injustice if I don’t share it with you. I am not exaggerating when I say that you would find practically no street food stall in India without this. Onions in this are not as vengeful. Lemon juice tames them. They just have enough pungency that I find very appealing with spicy food. If so much onion sounds overwhelming, it can be substituted fully or partially with sliced Cucumber.

I prefer Red Onions for the color, but any onions will do. Cilantro and Mint are optional. I can’t live without them.

What you need:

1 small Red Onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 medium Tomatoes deseeded, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 Lemon/Lime

1 pinch of Salt

1 pinch of coarsely ground Black pepper (optional)

Cliantro, few sprigs, roughly torn

Mint, few sprigs, roughly torn

 

How to make it:

  • Toss the Onions and Tomatoes in a big bowl with squeeze of Lemon or Lime.
  • Sprinkle Salt and coarsely ground Black Pepper and toss again.
  • Sprinkle Cilantro and Mint.

Can be eaten right away as a side or topping, or can sit for some time. If left out for too long, it becomes soggy as Onions release water in the presence of salt.

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Paneer Butter Masala

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Often times, I am disappointed or frustrated when I go to an Indian restaurants in US. Disappointed because virtually all gravy bases taste the same (and some restaurants do use the same base for ALL–fact obtained from a friend who worked in the kitchen of an Indian Restaurant in Michigan). Frustrated because they are often served in tiny portions fit for a squirrel. My frustration only magnifies when, on rare occasions, I actually like the stuff–which only makes the serving size look appropriate for a baby squirrel.

Case in point is Paneer Butter Masala (PBM for short). This is a staple in virtually any Indian restaurant. But many restaurants in US demonstrate the perfect ways to ruin it–chewy Paneer (aka stale paneer), watered down gravy with nothing but cream and tomato paste. I could go on and on. If you have ever tasted PBM in a restaurant in India, you know exactly what I am talking about. PBM is so commonly available on Indian restaurant menus, that you would have already come across it, where ever in the world you are. And quite likely you have tasted the sub-optimal one. No worries, as here I present you an easy version which is quick on time but not short on taste.

Also, the best part is you can make the base and freeze it for at least up to 3 months. Once you thaw it, all you need to do is add Paneer and cook it for 10-15 minutes. Much better option than a take-out.

What you need (makes 6-8 servings):

1 cup Cashews dry roasted

2 cups Milk (low fat or zero fat)

250 gm Paneer, cubed

4 tbsp Butter

1 tbsp Garam masala

3 tbsp Tomato paste

1 tbsp Tomato Ketchup

1/2 tsp Red Chilli Powder (or to taste)

1 tsp Salt (or to taste)

1/4 cup water, as needed

1 tsp Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves)

Pinch of hulled Pumpkin or Watermelon seeds for garnish (optional)

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How to make it:

  • Blend the Cashew nuts with 1 cup of milk, until smooth. Make sure that there are no Cashew pieces left. If needed you can strain the mix in a big meshed sieve or cheese cloth to catch any pieces. We need a silky smooth paste
  • Add Garam Masala to the blended mix and combine well
  • Heat a deep sauce pan on medium and add Butter. Once melted add the Tomato Paste and cook until the raw smell of tomatoes goes away, about 4-5 minutes
  • Add the Cashew paste to the pan and mix thoroughly
  • Add the remaining Milk, Salt, Red Chilli powder, and Tomato Ketchup and cook on simmer for 5-7 minutes
  • Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary (you don’t want to stir the gravy too much after adding Paneer). If you need thinner consistency, add a bit of water. This is the stage whee you can freeze for later use
  • Add Paneer cubes and mix gently to coat
  • Crush Kasoori Methi in your palm and add to the gravy. Gently mix to incorporate
  • Cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes
  • Garnish with Pumpkin/Watermelon seeds and serve hot with Naan or Peas Pulav

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Posted in International, Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 2 Comments