Egg Puffs

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Egg Puffs, as these puff pastry purses nestling a hardboiled egg are popularly known in Hyderabad, are widely available in every ‘bakery store’. Bakery stores are common in cities big and small back home, where baking is not an everyday activity. Its uncommon having ovens in homes. Sure, Tandoors (Indian clay ovens which are typically outdoors) are seen here and there, but mostly they are restricted to restaurants and communal cooking in Northern India. Plus, Tandoor is not conducive to make cakes or other baked goods other than Naans (flat bread). So needless to say, most of the baked treats are store bought. Even most stores are not equipped with a full-fledged kitchen or oven. All baked items are sourced from a central location. So wherever you buy them the city, they taste the same. They sell out like hot cakes (no pun intended)…hence them sitting there and getting stale is out of question….also known as safe-to-eat without worrying about tummy upsets!!

Puffs come in many varieties–egg puffs, chicken puffs, mutton puffs or vegetarian (curry) puffs. Typically the shape indicated what was in the puff. I guess this evolved to avoid confusion between vegetarian and non-vegetarian, lest a chicken puff lands on a vegetarian’s table. It could be tantamount to sacrilege! Curry puffs were rectangular, chicken puffs were square, and mutton puffs were round. Egg puffs came in a unique shape with the corners of a rectangle folded over and a glorious baked egg peeking through.

Making egg puffs cannot be simpler than boiling eggs and baking. Of course, if you use store bought puff pastry. In fact, I personally attest this is the simplest baked appetizer e.v.e.r. Although I call it appetizer, it is more common as a tea-time snack at home. Nostalgic!

I slightly complicated this (I had to, it’s my obsessive compulsion to mess with everything) by adding caramelized onions tossed in a pinch of garam masala for some zing. It certainly is a pleasant surprise to anyone who ate plain puffs before. Sometimes I just add a pinch of chat masala to deliver the same surprise but with lesser effort. Either way you do it, it will be a hit. I guarantee.

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What you need (makes 12 puffs):

3 hardboiled eggs, quartered lengthwise

1 Puff pastry sheet (store bought ones come folded thrice, just unfold and cut along the fold. Then cut each fold into 4 equal pieces)

1 cup caramelized onions with garam masala

Variations: Instead of caramelized onions you can use a pinch of Chaat Masala or some salt & ground black pepper (or red chili flakes).

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How to make it:

  • In each rectangular puff pastry piece, along the diagonal add a teaspoonful of caramelized onions and put the egg quarter on it and close the opposite ends with a dab of water. Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (non-stick preferably).
  • Bake in 380 F oven for 20 minutes, until puff pastry turns golden brown. Serve with hot chai.

Egg Puffs

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Masala Aloo Bajjis (Fried & Stuffed Potato Dumplings)

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I am glad to be back from the unplanned hiatus from this blog. I would think of this blog every day, but just did not have the time or mojo to pen down the thoughts and words that were swirling in my head. I am definitely happy that I got my mojo back with—Masala Aloo Bajjis, one of my favorite and reliable quick-fixes for snack emergencies. Aloo (potato) Bajjis can be described as deep fried potato dumplings where potatoes are sliced into thick rounds and then simply dipped in batter made out of chickpea flour (besan) with a pinch of this and that and deep fried to pillowy perfection. You can leave it like that, as humble comfort food or jazz it up per your mood, time, or whim. Once you try this, don’t blame me for any ideas that may pop up in your head to do this with anything in sight-sliced sweet potatoes or egg plants or onion or anything that can hold a round shape. Consider yourself warned!! Now that I am done with disclaimers, I will tell you my favorite way to jazz them up.

I have vivid childhood memories of eating copious amounts of ‘Masala’ Aloo Bajjis whenever we visited my grandmother’s house for summer vacations. Those vacations were so much fun. Free from school, pampered by grandparents, spending the day with no rush and no agenda. As sweltering heat would start to cool off, kids, sweaty from mid-day power outages and incessant play and fights would be shoved into evening baths. While we tidied up, my grandmother would buy fresh jasmine flowers from street hawkers and string them into long garlands. Then the girls and moms and aunts decked those insanely fragrant garlands in their braided hair. We would fight for how long a garland we need, not mindful if the braid or pigtails can hold all that weight. As this was going on, one of the maids would make a run to the street corner, for the Bajjis cart at the temple entrance. The Bajji vendor be making fresh Bajjis on order at lightning speed. There would be Aloo Bajjis, Onion Bajjis, Raw-banana Bajjis and Beetle leaf Bajjis. I suspect if he was not stationed close to the temple, he would have even sold egg Bajjis (any eggs or meats near a temple are usually a no-no). My vote was always for Masala Aloo Bajji, where the Bajjis are slit open to stuff the masala. He had this magic stuffing mix-which looked and tasted fiery and fresh and unstoppable at one or four. It had onions, fried peanuts, cilantro, green chilies all tossed in a bit of lemon juice and some type of red sauce. It was just divine. So nostalgic, that I always remember those moments when I mix mine up. I cheat with Maggi tomato ketchup, and get that taste, nearly.

Alu Bajjis

What do you need (makes 10-12 depending on the potato):

1 large potato, peeled and sliced into rounds as if you are making potato gratin

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1/2 tsp salt or to taste

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp red chili powder

1/4 tsp cumin powder (optional)

1/4 tsp coriander /cilantro powder (optional)

Oil for deep frying

Masala stuffing:

1 small red onion, finely diced

1 green chili, finely chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

¼ tsp Chaat Masala (found in Indian grocery stores). If not available, use Garam Masala

2 tbsp Maggi ketchup (Hot & Sweet type you get in Asian stores) OR add 1 tsp hot sauce like Sriracha to 2 tbsp of regular tomato ketchup. Play with the taste to see what works best for you.

1/4 cup fried peanuts, roughly chopped

Squeeze of lemon

Few sprigs of mint

How to make it:

  • Sift the flour, salt, chili powder, baking soda and cumin & cilantro powders if using and add enough water to make a pancake like batter. It should be dippable for potatoes.
  • Heat enough oil for deep frying on medium high and add potato slices dipped in the batter. Fry till golden brown on both sides and drain on paper towels.
  • To make the masala stuffing, mix all the listed ingredients to combine well. Once the Bajjis are done, and reasonably cool enough to handle with bare hands, take a paring knife and cut the dumpling skin to make a small pocket. You can cut across or cut the top 1/4 along the edge. Insert the knife between the potato slice and skin to create a gap to stuff some masala.
  • Over stuffing is perfectly ok! It takes this snack from kid-friendly to grown up and rustic-gourmet.
  • Enjoy 4 or more with hot chai or cold beer. I am speaking from personal experience!!
Alu Bajjis
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Watermelon Basil Martini (or Cooler…if you wish)

Watermelon basil martini

Watermelon Basil Martini

July is a bittersweet month for me. It is smack in the beginning of Summer. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part is that it also reminds me the days of Summer are numbered. My novice garden which is thriving by now (despite my black thumb) reminds me how it will barren in just a few months until life comes back again in Spring. I could focus on that, but guess what–I am a realist (which unfortunately is interpreted as being pessimistic). Don’t you agree Spring and Summer deserve more holidays than any other season? Anyway to forget those blues I do what I do best…eat and drink! Today’s emphasis is on the second one. I bet you will agree once you taste these Watermelon Basil martinis!

This July we did not travel. After 14 days of traveling in Barcelona, Madrid, London and Paris (with a 5 yr old & 2 yr old–GASP!!!) we were happy to stay put. But we kept having a stream of friends over so there was no shortage of fun and excitement. In those times, Watermelon Basil martinis became a staple. I did not plan on these. It was out of the necessity to make room in the fridge to store some make-ahead dishes I prepared. I had two ginormous chunks of watermelon stealing all the real estate in my fridge. And if not consumed soon, they would be past their prime. So I juiced the watermelon, added some lime juice, blended some basil leaves, sugar and salt to balance the flavors. And voila!…painful watermelon turned into a delectable watermelon cooler. Kids drank it straight up. While grown-ups did the grown-up thing…added some booze and called it a martini. All are happy. At least until next holiday hits in September. And Summer is really gone by then. But I will find an appropriate Fall/Winter drink. See I am  an optimist!

What you need for Watermelon Basil Cooler (makes about 6-8 cups. Quantities are not precise–go by your taste):

8-10 cups of watermelon cubes (about 1/2-3/4 of a big watermelon)

1 Lime, juiced

2-4 tbsps of sugar (depends on how sweet your watermelon is)

1/2 tsp Salt

10-12 Basil leaves

More basil leaves & sliced limes for garnish

How to make it:

  • Blend all ingredients until uniformly juiced.
  • Taste and adjust to your preference (you may need more sugar if your watermelon is not sweet or add a bit more lime juice if your prefer a sour note)
  • Strain through a fine mesh sieve (some patience required!) and chill
  • Before serving, stir (juice will settle), pour in glasses and garnish with lime wedges and basil. (If you are serving it straight up, don’t add ice as it dilutes the juice flavor)

Watermelon Basil Martini (makes 1 medium strength drink):

4 oz Watermelon Basil cooler, as made above

1 1/2 oz Vodka

1/2 oz Contreau (or Triple Sec)

A dash of grenadine (optional–makes it sweeter and intensifies the color)

Lemon wedge, basil leaves for garnish

Shake them all in a cocktail shaker with ice, and pour into glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and Basil leaf. Sit back and enjoy!!

Watermelon basil cooler

Watermelon Basil Cooler

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Hummus

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Are you warming up to Fall yet? Or are you in denial and still sporting open toed shoes and capris? I am in the second camp, but I cannot hold on anymore. The morning temps are hitting mid to low 40s and I have come to accept that not just Fall is here, but we are in the thick of it. And Winter is just around the corner. Yikes!! Each Winter somehow seems much worse than the ones before. My first Winter in America was in Upper Michigan. Imagine the delight of a gal from South India, who has never seen snow before, landing in a place where there is record amounts of it. But I landed there in Summer, when everything was gorgeous. When Fall came, I could not get enough of the Fall Colors of Keweenaw Peninsula set against gorgeous Lake Superior. Enter Winter, I was fascinated by snow. It always looked pristine and post-card perfect. I took enough pictures to send home, posing in front of the of the snow clad pine trees, cars buried in a pile of snow, and the huge snow banks. And then my delight fizzled out but the never ending winter kept going. My fascination for snow lasted for, well…about 4 weeks. And I was in a place buried under snow for about 5-6 months.

I graduated and moved. To Michigan. Yes, from Upper Michigan to Lower Michigan. While I did not get any respite from snow, it only got worse as the pristine beauty of Upper Michigan was practically non-existent here. But I was offered other exciting avenues in culinary world. With a large population of Lebanese in Dearborn, I had access to the best Lebanese food in the country. Seriously! I was addicted to hummus, majadra, shawarma just to name a few. I had withdrawals after moving from Michigan. Store bought hummus did nothing to improve it, but under the circumstances I have accepted it. After figuring out how to make better hummus at home, there was no looking back. But I still miss hopping into my favorite restaurant at the drop of a hat and wolfing down hummus and shawarma, without lifting a finger.

My go to recipe is of course an amalgamation from different sources as well as intuition and adaptation to my taste buds. Ottolenghi’s hummus is wildly popular on the internet because it has tips on how to achieve a smooth consistency while keeping the chickpeas skin on. I was frankly surprised that the ‘trick’ to use baking soda was not a known fact to many. Using a pinch of baking soda and pressure cooking chickpeas is like next to adding salt to a dish to anyone who is raised in India and cooks. So I have always had great results in the consistency, especially when I use my ‘Indian Blender’ that I normally use for making chutneys and batters. I made hummus in food processor too, but could not achieve the store-bought smoothness. It nevertheless tasted so fresh and pure. While you can modify the ingredients to your taste, please, oh please, do not use canned chickpeas. Start with dry chickpeas and soak them overnight and cook. This alone will make a world of a difference. Trust me on this one!

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What you need (serves 8-10):
1 cup dry chick peas, soaked overnight (yields about 3 cups after soaked)
½ tsp baking soda
1/2 cup Tahini
1 tsp salt
1 lemon, juiced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed (or made into a paste with a pinch of salt and the back of your knife)
½ cup of cold water (or more as you need)
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for garnish)
1 pinch of Sumac (optional) for garnish
Other garnishes could be: Crushed Red pepper, Za’atar spice, lemon zest, fresh parsley, roasted red pepper, Chili-Garlic sauce, roasted garlic, chopped black olives

How to make it:
• Cook the soaked chickpeas with baking powder in pressure cooker with 5 cups of water for 5 minutes on high. Let it cool. If not using pressure cooker, cook them with baking soda and enough water until they are almost mushy, about 20-30 minutes on medium high. Skins will be coming loose at this point. Drain the chickpeas after cooling.
• Put the drained chickpeas in a blender and add salt, crushed garlic, lemon juice and cold water and blend until almost smooth.
• Add Tahini and blend until smooth to your liking. Taste and adjust seasonings. If needed, add a tablespoon of water to run the blender.
• Serve it drizzled with Olive Oil and Sumac or any other garnish of your choice, along with warm pita or any rustic bread or raw vegetables. It also makes a great spread for sandwiches and toasts.

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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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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 , , | 7 Comments