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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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!

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.

Posted in Appetizers, International, Recipes, Snack, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Raita….the ubiquitous yogurt condiment


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,


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)


Pomegranate seeds

Or any combination of the above



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



Posted in Recipes, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Shoyu Tamago….aka Soy Sauce Eggs


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!



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.


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.


Posted in Appetizers, Recipes, Snack | 2 Comments

Qabuli Rice


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 Qabuli rice. It is one of the rice dishes that originated in or around Afghanistan. The recipe for Qabuli 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. Qabuli 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 the recipe for Qabuli rice for me. You should too.


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.


Posted in International, Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Ginger-Garlic Rice


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!!


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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