May 29, 2009

Cooking Rajma (red kidney beans) in the cooker

I have to admit, all my attempts to make rajma in the past have been disastrous. It would either be a clumpy mess or so full of spices and ginger-garlic-onion paste that you couldn’t taste the yummy beans.
On my last visit to India, my mom made yummy rajma curry in the pressure cooker and her secret she told me was just onion, tomatoes and rajma masala.
I am not a stickler for following any recipe step by step, so of course I had to make my own modification. But the end result was worth it and I know my mom will be proud.
I used MDH Rajma masala that I found in our Indian grocery store but my mom tells me, Averest or Dash brands are also good for this recipe.
Since I have to do the dishes here instead of a maid coming twice a day in India, I try to use as little pots and pans as possible. This recipe works great if you have a 3 liter pressure cooker.


1 cup Rajma, soaked overnight in 3 cups of water
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp Rajma masala
1 tsp corrainder – cumin powder
½ tsp Red chilli powder

Heat the pressure cooker pan and sauté the onions in 1 tbsp of oil till they are soft and translucent. Add the Rajma masala and coriander-cumin powder. Sauté on low heat for a minute till the raw smell of the spices turns fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and let them soften on medium heat. Add some salt to release the juices. This should take about 7 – 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and transfer this mixture to a blender. Let it cool before you process it.
Meanwhile, cook the soaked rajma beans in the pressure cooker for about 4-5 whistles. Turn off the heat and wait for the pressure to cool off.
After opening the cooker, add the pureed onion-tomato paste to the beans and stir to mix. Put the lid back on for one more whistle.
As soon as you can open the lid, Rajma is ready.
Serve with rotis, naans or rice.
One word of caution though. Wait for a few minutes before you taste it to adjust salt. I tried to taste it the minute the cooker opened. A bean burst in my teeth and the steam burnt the roof of my mouth. But the curry was worth it.

Barter Cabinet

An elderly couple, Georjean and Harley, live down the street from us. They occasionally ask me to feed their dogs while they are visiting their daughter in California. I am more than happy to do it, not because I am a dog-person but because they are good neighbors who have helped us time and again.
Harley grew up on a farm and is very handy with tools and carpentry. He helped me put up shelves in the garage and taught Tushar how to install a fan in the guest bedroom.
Georjean loves to garage sale and if I need a particular piece of furniture for my house she keeps it in mind. Whenever I take care of their dogs for them she pays me back with one of her garage sale finds, all refurbished and polished. In the past she has found an excellent set of patio table and chairs and a dresser for me.
A couple of weeks ago they had again asked me to feed their dogs for 10 days or so. After their return, they came over for a visit last weekend and presented me with this beautiful cabinet I had admired at her house. I think it was a pretty good barter and I have found the perfect place for it in my home.

My Aaji’s (Grandmother) Pots

My Aaji couldn't find brass knobs so she had steel knobs fitted on the pots

As a child I had always admired my Aaji’s tea and sugar brass pots. They were a permanent fixture in her tiny kitchen as she bustled about making tea and snacks for her four daughters and sons-in-law.
My grandparents moved out of their small house and into an apartment (flat) a few years ago. The pots travelled with them and although I was too small to drink tea as a child, the pots somehow always reminded me of my good old days spent at my Aaji’s playing with my cousins and pulling pranks on each other.
On my last visit to India I found out that my grandparents had moved into a bigger flat so my recently widowed aunt could stay with them. However, the pots were not on her kitchen window sill. Instead, there were two shiny stainless steel pots next to the cooking stove.
Now, before this moment I had never told my grandmother how much I liked her brass pots. So imagine her surprise when I told her that I was sad she had got rid of her pots. After the initial surprise she started smiling, took me to her bedroom and there under her bed in a shoe box were the two brass pots. The knobs on the lids were missing they were slightly dinged, but apart from that they were in perfectly good condition. She was going to sell them to a brass shop but she was more than happy to give them to me.
Now, living thousands of miles away from my Aaji’s home, I am the proud owner of her pots, my memories of her and of my carefree childhood.

May 26, 2009

Stupid things I have done in my life:

I have done a lot of stupid things in my life. The reason I have started this list is to remember and try not to repeat them. Also, last four days have been record breaking because three out of four days I have done something that could have been avoided if I was paying more attention, especially since two out of three of the following involve my son:
It all started on Saturday Morning:

1. Forgot to strap my son:

Almost every Saturday morning we take our train fanatic son for a train ride. This Saturday, riding back home, I looked around to check on my son and saw him standing on his knees, with his back to me, looking out the rearview window. My heart went to my mouth as I realized I had forgotten to strap him in his car seat. We were travelling on a highway and Tushar immediately took the next exit and pulled into the parking lot of a Denny’s. I hugged my son and then strapped him in tight before we headed home again. I could not believe I did that since I strap my son even in his wagon when I am walking 1 mile an hour. I just thank my lucky stars that he was safe and I found out he was unstrapped before something terrible happened.

This is the train ride we go for every weekend

2. Locked my car keys in the trunk:
Sunday went by without any incident. Monday morning was Memorial Day holiday. Tushar wanted to go to the Y; I wanted to go to Lowe’s to get some herbs. I decided to drop Tushar and my son at the Y, go to Lowes and pick them up 40 minutes later. By the time I finished shopping I realized it was time to go. I loaded my herbs, a rose bush and a pair of shears in my trunk, shut it and headed off to deposit the cart. It suddenly hit me - I had left my car keys in the trunk next to the rosemary. By that time it was way past 40 minutes. I called up Tushar to tell him what happened before getting a ride from a kind lady by the name Lorraine. She dropped me at the Y, which was about 5 miles, gave Tushar a ride back to Lowe’s so he could pick up the car with his keys. It was another half an hour, while I waited with my son at the Y, before we could go back home. So, Lorrain, if you are reading this, “Thank you for giving us the ride to and fro from Lowe’s”.
I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if this was the first time I had lost my keys. Before this I have left my car keys in a restaurant and once behind my son’s car seat while I looked for them high and low.
I hope I have learnt my lesson this time.

3. Almost lost my son at the library:

Today I was at the library with two of my friends whose kids are around the same age as my 3 year old. I asked them to look after him while I went to look for some books.
I wasn’t gone five minutes before I could hear my son crying “Mamma, mamma.” With so many kids in the library, at first I wasn’t sure if it was him but I decided to check anyways. And there he was, standing in the middle of the library floor, crying, with a terrified look on his face at having lost his mother.
I picked him up and walked back to the reading area (10 paces away) where my friends were busy chatting. They had no clue he was missing or looking for me. I will grant that one of them is going through a hard time in her personal life and the other one thought (she told me later) I only asked her to look after my purse.
If you have ever lost a child or almost lost track of your child, you can imagine what I must have been going through. If you have never gone through an experience like that, I pray you never have to.
The way I see it, it was stupid on my part to entrust my kid to my friends instead of looking after him myself. Never again.

Coming soon another list of more stupid things I have done in my life.

May 24, 2009

Blowing bubbles and jumping on the bed

It has been raining off and on since last night. Which is why I am glad we got so much outdoor stuff done yesterday. I did a little bit of garage sailing yesterday morning and scored a bookcase and a wooden swivel chair for Tushar's study. Both cost $10 each. 
Later in the morning we took our three year old for his ritual, weekend train ride. He loves trains to the point of being obsessed with them. I can see some of my obsessiveness in him and I try to imagine how much patience my mom must have had with me. 
Came back, took a nap and in the evening Tushar finished mowing the lawn just before the rains hit hard. 
While he was mowing, my son and I blew bubbles on the back patio. It was fun for about an hour after which I gave him a bath. That led to jumping on the bed and making mountains out of pillows. The mountains of course had to be demolished so the tracks could be laid for the train. 
The creativity and imagination of my boy never seizes to amaze me. I hope it stays with him for a long time and not get adulterated as he grows older. I am of course wishing for the impossible. But I have my fingers crossed.  


May 22, 2009

Pretty Peas Pulao (Spiced Rice with green peas)

My mom makes this pulao in a 3 ltr pressure cooker but for reason I can’t remember I started making it in a Cuisneart pan I got as a wedding present. The pan is wide and shallow and it has a tight fitting glass lid. The recipe is easy, does not require too many ingredients and you can add vegetables of your choice (potatoes, green beans, carrots, corn kernels) if you don’t like peas. I use store bought pulao masala but you can use garam masala or curry powder instead. Also, the flavors are best if you use Basmati Rice or any other long grained rice.

Onions, tomatoes, peas and rice simmering in the spices before water is added


1 cup rice
1 onion, chopped fine
1 big tomato, chopped
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
4-5 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp pulao masala/ garam masala
2 ½ cups water
Salt to taste

Except for the additional prep time, if cooked on medium heat, the rice will take about 30 mins from start to finish.
Heat the oil and add turmeric and cumin seeds. As they start crackling, add the onions and chopped garlic cloves. Saute till they are translucent.
Add the masala and chilli powder. Saute for 2-3 mins till the smell of raw spices turns fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and some salt. The salt helps the tomatoes release all their juices. Add the peas, stir and put the lid on.
The tomatoes will get tender in a few mins. To this add the washed rice, salt and stir to mix well.
Add 2 ½ cups of water and stir once more before putting the lid back on.
At this point I set the kitchen timer to 20 mins and walk away. I chop the onions and green chili for Tushar’s omelet. Yep, he grew up eating omelet with khichdi and pulao.
Once the timer goes off, turn off the heat and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with plain yogurt or a salad or in Tushar’s case with an omelet.

This recipe goes to Meeta's Monthly Mingle hosted by Nags . The theme is Ravishing Rice.

The girl with the no-green-thumb

I do not claim to have a green thumb. I am not disciplined enough to take care of potted plants and therefore plant everything in the ground. The plants are taken care by the sprinklers and the occasional rain we get all year round in Texas. Inspite of it my plants seem to do really good. The only reason I can think of is the kitchen scraps (vege peels and rotten fruits) I bury next to them from time to time. My neighbor, Liz (who has a green thumb), tells me the scraps turn into compost for the plants and act as a fertillizer. The only other reason could be LUCK.

Because of my lack of green thumb, I try to plant vegetation that is either evergreen or the kind that comes back in spring. Right now, my flower bed in the front has an assortment of chrysanthamums, winter sage, salvia, sedum and day lilies.
I have to say they are looking pretty good right now. Not too shabby for a girl with no green thumb.

May 20, 2009

Refreshing Lassi / Yogurt Smoothie

In India lassi is the official drink of hot summer months. A tall glass of icy cool lassi refreshes the body and spirit and gives relief from the hot winds and an even hotter sun.
Lassi is usually made with full fat yogurt but I make my yogurt with 1% milk. I don't think it alters the taste very much but there is no doubt the full fat yougurt lassi tastes better. Of course it is also not as thick. A friend living in Haryana tells me the milk and yogurt there is the best in the world.
Like all things Indian, the method of preparing lassi also varies from state to state and family to family. Some prefer meethi (sweet) lassi, some charkhi (salty) lassi. Some like it so thick you have to scoop it with a spoon. Some prefer a thiner version you can gulp down.
My aunt in Bombay puts crushed ice and vanilla essence in it. My mom always made it with roasted cumin powder, black salt and sugar.
For a spicier version she would add a green chilli and a piece of ginger. One may contest that at this point it stops being lassi and becomes mattha (buttermilk). But as the bard put it so precisely -- "what's in a name? Lassi by any other name is still lassi." And tastes as good.
So here is to tall refreshing glasses of lassi to tide us over the summer months. Cheers!


1 cup of yogurt
1/2 cup of cold water
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder
pinch of black salt (optional)
pinch of salt

Blend all the ingredients in a blender for two mins or till frothy. Sprinkle cumin powder on top.

For charkhi lassi

Add 1 green chilli and 1/2 " inch of ginger root

Blend all the ingredients in a blender.

Veggie Burger Sandwich

When I am pressed for time and need to fix some thing fast I turn to frozen veggie burgers. The only other ingredients you need are bread (i prefer sour dough), cheese, lettuce and some pesto or chutney in your fridge.

I don't own a toaster because I like to toast my bread on a skillet with some olive oil drizzled on top. Add pepper jack cheese to one toasted slice and garlic basil pesto to the other. Heat (in the microwave) and toast (on the skillet) the veggie burger.
Position salad greens and the burger between the two slices. Today, I had some lettuce my neighbor gave me from her vegetable garden.

Cut off the edges (optional) from the sandwich.

Plate it with some tomato ketchup and fruit. I had strawberries and blackberries in the fridge today.

Wash it down with a tall glass of lassi (yogurt smoothie) or the beverage of your choice.

May 17, 2009

Khichdi in a pot (spiced rice and lentils)

I have yet to know of an Indian household where khichdi is not cooked. It is not only easy to cook but nutritious and yummy. Because it is easy to digest khichdi is one of the first solid foods given to kids as well as to people recovering from fever or surgery. It is a staple in my house when I am too tired to cook or want something simple and filling. My DH, Tushar, likes to eat it with an egg omelet. My son and I eat it with a dollop of ghee and some milk. Of course, a majority of Indian households eat it with pappad and pickle.
In Tushar’s home it is always made with washed yellow moong dhal and I have grown to like the way it tastes. However, I grew up with the green moong dhal khichdi. Both taste good but there is a middle ground. In the Kroger store you can get Kohinoor brand basmati rice and lentil blend. It takes the guess work out of measuring rice and lentils separately. It also contains both kinds of lentils so you don’t have to worry about which kind to chose.


½ cup rice
½ cup + 2 tbsp moong dhal
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp asafetida
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
2 cups of water

Wash the rice and lentils 2-3 times and soak with water to cover.
Heat a 3-ltr pressure cooker or a heavy bottom pan with a tight fitting lid.
Add ½ tbsp oil and when it heats up add the mustard seeds.
Once the mustard seeds crackle add asafetida and the soaked rice-lentile mix.
Stir to coat and add red chilli, garam masala, salt and sugar. Stir and over for two min while the mixture comes to a boil.
Add the 2 cups of water and put the lid on the cooker. Wait for two whistles before turning off the heat.
If you are using a heavy bottom pan, it will take about 20 min on medium flame for the khichdi to cook (make sure the lid is on). Just check in between to make sure the rice and lentils are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Khichdi is done when the lentils and rice are tender.

Note: You can add additional 1/2 water to the 2 cups of water to make the khichdi softer and runny.

Golden Ghee (Clarified Butter)

I have a confession. I never liked making ghee back home in India. It was an elaborate process that took 2 hours of a Sunday morning. The preparation started two weeks before that. My mom would carefully skim the layer of cream off the hot milk and put it in a designated pot in the fridge. When the pot was almost full she would add a tablespoon of yogurt to the cream pile. The yogurt helped separate the milk solids and water.
Once the pot was full, it was my job to run it through the food processer or the blender till the cream was formed into delicious lumps of butter floating in the whey. The whey then had to be separated from the butter and the butter washed three times in water. It was a sticky, messy affair.
Once the butter was washed and clean, my mom would put it on a low flame on the gas to melt and turn into delicious golden ghee. The whole house would smell of the melting butter and our neighbors would know we were making ghee.
Here in the States, making ghee is as easy as put the unsalted butter in the pot, turn on the heat and 25 minutes later you got delicious, golden ghee.


16 oz or four sticks of unsalted butter
1 heavy bottom pan
1 sieve

Cut the butter into small squares. Place a heavy bottomed pan on low heat and add the butter to it.
The butter will start frothing and bubbling in the next 5-10 minutes. In the next 10 minutes it will start turning golden brown and clear.
My mom’s simple test to know for sure if the ghee was done was to sprinkle a few drops of water on it. If the ghee was done, it would spatter and sizzle. If not, keep it on for a few more mins.
Once the ghee is done turn off the heat and take the pot off the gas. The ghee at this point is so delicate that even the residual heat on the burners can burn it.
Once it is cooled, strain and transfer to a heat proof pot. Ghee will keep at room temperature for a month and for a very long time in the refrigerator.

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