Yogurt Rice or Thayir Choru

Following on from my previous post on South Indian food and Beetroot Thoran, I present Yogurt Rice or Thayir Choru which is the perfect accompaniment to the thoran and really delicious just on its own with a little pickle. Ammini Ramachandran, author of Grains Greens and Grated Coconuts, a fabulous book on the vegetarian food of Kerala, describes it as a taste of heaven and I’m inclined to agree. In another post, I had shared the recipe for my favourite comfort food, vegetable pillao, which I almost always eat with yogurt and pickle.

This dish is a great way to use leftover plain rice, even the one from the Chinese takeaway which is probably Jasmine Rice. Though Basmati would work best, do give it a try with whatever plain cooked rice you have to hand. I made it with cooked brown Basmati rice. This dish is traditionally served at room temperature or cold. I enjoyed it slightly warmer than room temperature. This recipe is slightly adapted from Ramachandran’s with peanuts instead of cashews.

Yogurt Rice – I could eat this everyday!

Yogurt Rice or Thayir Choru

Serves 6

Preparation Time (with cooked rice): 5 minutes


4 cups cooked rice

1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt or plain coconut milk yogurt with a a few squeezes of lemon for vegans

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons split urad dal (black gram)

1 1/2 teaspoons chana dal (bengal gram)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

15-20 fresh curry leaves (dried will have to do if you can’t find fresh)

2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced

2 tablespoons coarsely crushed peanuts

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil


In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice (at room temperature or briefly warmed in the microwave) with the yogurt and salt and put aside.

In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the urad and chana dals, and the peanuts. When the dals and peanuts start colouring, add the curry leaves, ginger and green chillies and stir for a minute or two.

Finally pour this mixture/tempering over the yogurt and rice, blend well and serve with some thoran, dal or simply some pickle.

Per Serving: Calories 243, Carbs 38g, Protein 8g, Fat 6g, Saturated Fat 1g, Fibre 1g

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It makes a tasty bed for the beetroot thoran or accompaniment of your choice

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Beetroot Thoran

Beetroot Thoran

This is my first foray into South Indian food on the blog, Kerala to be more specific. My first introduction to South Indian food was the marvelous masala dosa while on holiday in Delhi as a child. There was a travelling dosa-walla who would wheel his cart down the street behind my maasi’s house most evenings, calling out to us and tempting us all with the wonderful smells wafting off his cart (so much more exciting than an ice-cream van, even on a hot day), resistance was futile. While the sambar was simmering gently and the potato masala was kept warm on little gas stoves on the cart, he would make the thinnest and crispest dosas on a large cast iron tava with such speed and dexterity that we enjoyed watching the process almost as much as we did eating the dosas. I have tried making dosas with little success and I have much admiration for those who get it right, it takes a lot of practice to spread out the lentil and rice batter in quick  and accurate  enough circular motions to get a very large, thin and crispy pancake that holds together. I lived in Delhi between 2005 and 2006 while carrying out the fieldwork for my PhD, and I visited this excellent South Indian restaurant called Sarvana Bhavan in Connought Place, recommended by my South Indian brother-in-law, at least once a week at lunch time. The place was always so busy and you didn’t see many women dining on their own, especially Indian girls; I was often the only one. The slight awkwardness passed after the first couple of visits; nothing was going to keep me from their delicious thalis, idlis, dosas and gulab jamuns.  Since then, I’ve had all sorts of South Indian food in most of the places I’ve lived in, but nowhere more than London. I lived 10 minutes away from the Tooting Broadway and there were at least 10 South Indian restaurants on a 1km stretch of high street. They even have dosas at the food court in Selfridges in Central London, possibly the most expensive and least impressive ones I’ve tried. In Mombasa, where I live now, we have the excellent Bollywood Bites, offering both South and North Indian fare under one roof as well as near life size murals of Bollywood actors on the walls. I have never been to South India but I look forward to it very much.

There is so much more to South Indian food than dosas, idli, coconut chutney and potato bondas. I became more interested in how they prepared other vegetables and someone recommended Ammini Ramachandran’s Grains Greens and Grated Coconuts, a vegetarian cookbook specialising in the food of Kerala. It’s a wonderfully intense read in which the author educates us about the history and culinary traditions of Kerala, much of it through personal memoir. I have tried her dosa, idli and oothapam recipes with much success (notwithstanding my own lack of skill in making the dosa) but my favourite recipes so far are the yogurt or curd rice and the thorans, or stir fried vegetables. Curry leaves, split lentils, mustard seeds, and dried chillies are key ingredients in the tempering of most vegetable, lentil and rice dishes in Keralan food. Fresh grated coconut is also often added. Powdered spices like cumin, coriander and garam masala are rarely if ever used. The result is more subtle and gentle flavours and varying textures, like the crispness of the curry leaves and the satisfying crunch provided by the split lentils alongside the relative softness of the rice or vegetables. It’s light, fresh and tasty. I adapted the green beans thoran recipe from the book for a delicious beetroot version and added a twist or two of my own to add a little more punch. I did not precook the beetroot as I wanted a crisper texture, but you may prefer to, in which case boil the whole unpeeled beetroot for 35-40 minutes or pressure cook for 10-15 minutes. You can also buy precooked versions in most supermarkets.

Beetroot Thoran (stir fried Beetroot, Kerala style) (Serves 4 as a light main or side dish)

Preparation Time: 10 Minutes, Cooking Time: 10-12 minutes


3 medium size beetroots, peeled and coarsely grated (200g after peeling and grating)

2 small green chillies, seeds removed if you prefer less heat, thinly sliced

2 medium dried red chillies, left whole or sliced in half

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon split urad dal (black gram)

1 teaspoon chana dal (bengal gram)

6-8 fresh curry leaves (dried will have to do if you can’t get them fresh)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (my own addition – it takes the flavours up a notch) or lemon juice

4 tablespoons fresh or frozen grated coconut, or 3 tablespoons desiccated coconut (try to get the more coarsely grated version if you can)

2 teaspoons olive or sunflower oil

From left to right: fresh curry leaves, split urad dal, chana dal, and mustard seeds


Combine the grated beetroot, salt and turmeric well and put it aside.

Grated beetroot, turmeric and sea salt

Heat the oil on medium heat in a non-stick wok or heavy skillet. Add the mustard seeds.

When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the urad dal, chana dal, curry leaves, and red chilli. Fry until the dals start to turn golden brown (this way they will be crisp and easier to eat).

Awaiting the gloriously purple beetroot.

Add the beetroot, turn the heat down slightly and let the beetroot cook, covered, for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, grated coconut and green chillies. Give it a final taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve with either plain rice, a pilaf or with this delicious yogurt rice.

Per Serving: Calories 114, Carbs 10g, Protein 2g, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 5g, Fibre 3g

This recipe is off to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend May 24th-28th.

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Beetroot thoran and yogurt rice

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Desi Spinach Pancakes

Can you count 7 pancakes?

A few weeks ago I made fluffy American pancakes for Sunday brunch. They got me thinking about savoury pancakes, which then got me thinking about Indian spiced pancakes for the blog…and here we are. It’s a wonderful thing when an idea materialises into something delicious on your plate…and on your Facebook wall with your friends telling you how hungry you are making them! I love the whole process: the research for the recipe and the drafting of it, the shopping for the ingredients, the initial testing, the tweaking, the retesting, the styling of the photo shoot, the shoot itself (yesterday I spent most of it shooing the cats away as they kept trying to leap onto my lovely green pancakes), being able to call it a photo shoot :),  finally eating it, writing about it all and then sharing it with you. It’s a joy!

When I discussed the idea of Indian pancakes with my mum, she immediately suggested Pudas, also known as Pudlas or Chillas. The French also have a version called Socca crepes. These are all made with chickpea flour/gram flour/Besan. Indians sometimes call them eggless omelettes. The French Socca crepes are usually not spiced and are larger and crispier. My dad also chimed in and said that his mum used to make the best Pudas, with chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and coriander which he enjoyed with pickle, yogurt and garam garam (hot hot) masala chai! They have all the flavour of pakodas or bhajis but over 95% less fat! I just had to make them! Wanting to put my own twist on them and because I love spinach pakodas, I made them very green! These are vegan and gluten-free. Feel free to experiment with your favourite vegetables, but make sure they are finely chopped/thinly sliced. The next time I make these I will make them with caramelised onions!

Desi Spinach Pancakes.

Desi Spinach Pancakes

Makes 12 5″ Pancakes, enough for 6 people

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes (depends on how many you’re making)


1 1/2 cups (190g) Besan/gram flour/chickpea flour

250g fresh spinach (this yielded 170g or 1 cup of spinach after wilting, squeezing most of the water out and chopping)

1 medium red onion (110g), finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 fat garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin powder

1 1/2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup for vegans

1 teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste

2 cups water/buttermilk/thin yogurt – I used water

Sunflower/olive oil for brushing the pan, I used about 2 teaspoons, or an oil spray would be perfect here.


Start by wilting the spinach. Wash the spinach. Put a large pot on medium heat. Add the spinach to the pot and move it around a bit as it wilts. The water that clings to the spinach from the washing should be enough to wilt it.

The spinach, just before wilting

The spinach, wilted into submission!

When the spinach is wilted, drain it, let it cool, squeeze most of the water out and then finely chop it and put it aside.

Drained, squeezed and finely chopped spinach

Sift the Besan/gram flour into a large bowl and add the spinach and all the remaining ingredients, except the water and oil. Mix all the ingredients together and gradually add the water (or buttermilk/thin yogurt) until it is slightly runnier than a pancake batter. If you would like your pancakes thicker than mine then add a little less. My dad found my pancakes too thin, but they were fine for me. Taste the batter or make a small test pancake and adjust seasoning to your liking.

The pancake/Puda batter

Heat a small non-stick frying pan on low-medium heat. Brush it/spray it with oil. Add 1/4 cup full of batter and spread it out with a ladle until it is about 5″ in diameter and 5mm thick. It should take about 2 minutes for the bottom to get golden brown, then flip it over and let it get the same colour on the other side.

I flipped this pancake over a little too soon, it should be a dark golden brown colour around the edges, as in the pictures of the ready pancakes. No harm done, I just flipped it back!

You can also use a larger frying pan and do a few pancakes at a time. If not eating immediately, keep them wrapped in foil in a 120C/250F/Gas Mark 1/2 oven.

There are so many ways to serve these pancakes. I dipped mine in this chilli tomato chutney. My mum had them with a dollop of low-fat Greek Yogurt and mango pickle. My dad had them with a little ketchup! Our house help Julie had them with dall instead of chapatis and the cats gobbled them up just as they were. I think some low-fat sour cream/cream cheese would also go really well with these. Washing them down with masala tea/chai tea is a must!

Per Pancake (if you make 12): Calories 82, Protein 4g, Carbohydrate 12g, Sugars 3g, Fat 2g, Saturates 0g, Fibre 2g. A good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium and Copper, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Folate and Manganese.

This recipe is being submitted to Wellness Weekend, April 26-30th, 2012

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Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with a Yogurt-Tahini-Herb dressing

I first really noticed butternut squash when I was living in the UK. It is enormously popular in soups and sometimes in curries although I had never eaten it or cooked with it due to a lifelong aversion to any vegetable in the squash family. Feeling that I should act like a grown-up and give it another chance, I made one of Ottolenghi’s fabulous recipes, a smashing winter couscous that called for roasted butternut squash with some lovely Moroccan spices like rose Harissa. It was amazing! Butternut squash is also an excellent substitute for pumpkin in the American classic, pumpkin pie, something else I really enjoy on special occasions. Mombasa has a lot of butternut squash (something I found a little odd initially as it is known as a winter squash and Mombasa is very tropical but they are actually annual plants best cultivated in warmer climes!) and the second time I cooked with it was for a delicious squash and kale stir fry, which will be in the Cook to Jhoom book. Butternut Squash is low in calories, just 45 calories per 100g; it has many vital poly phenolic anti-oxidants and vitamins like Vitamin A, and the B-complex group of vitamins like folate, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamine, and pantothenic acid. Like pumpkin, it contains good levels of iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.  Moreover, squash seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that are good for the heart and they are also very high in protein.

Butternut Squash is delicious in curries. The slight sweetness marries very well with spices like turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and  coriander. I have thought about making a roasted butternut squash salad for a while now and yesterday I finally got round to it. I wasn’t sure about the dressing at first. Something tangy like a red wine or balsamic vinaigrette would go really well with the spicy and sweet squash but I wanted something more Eastern and got my inspiration from Lebanese Tahini. The roasted nuttiness of the sesame seeds, with garlic, lime juice, herbs and cooling yogurt worked so well with squash I wanted to eat a massive bowl full. This salad is full of good nutrition: fibrous carbohydrates, good fats from the olive oil and light tahini and a good amount of protein.I regularly cook with butternut squash now, it is nutritious, delicious and so versatile, and the seeds can be roasted for a yummy snack or as a crunchy addition to salads, which I also did yesterday.

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with a Yogurt-Tahini-Herb dressing

Serves 4

Preparation  and Cooking Time: 45 minutes


For the roasted butternut squash

1 medium butternut squash (850g raw weight, 700g after peeling and de-seeding), sliced in half lengthways, then again into quarters lengthways, and then into 1cm thick wedges, see photo below

1 large onion (150g), quartered and then sliced into wedges, see photo below

Butternut squash and onion wedges, before cooking

1  1/2 teaspoons cumin powder

1  1/2 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder (or crush the seeds of 8 green cardamoms)

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Yogurt-Tahini-Herb dressing (makes 3 Tbsps of dressing per person)

1 cup (230g) low-fat yogurt or coconut yogurt for vegans

2 tablespoons (40g) light Tahini

Juice of 1 1/2 limes (lemons will also do)

1 fat clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup for vegans

2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons water

Salt and pepper to taste

Other salad ingredients (do experiment with other vegetables  and legumes like avocados, chickpeas, broad beans, cucumber, artichokes, courgettes, mangetout – I used what I had in the fridge)

150g mixed salad greens (lettuce, baby spinach, rocket, cress etc…)

1 cup (150g) cherry tomatoes, halved or left whole if really tiny

1 large yellow pepper, thinly sliced (180g)

1 cup (150g) chopped beetroot (that has been boiled/roasted – readily available in most supermarkets)

4 tablespoons roasted pumpkin/squash seeds, see photo below (this was to add crunch and protein to the salad; you can also add nuts like walnuts and pecans for a more indulgent crunch or whole-wheat croutons/pita chips)

Pumpkin/Squash seeds are readily available in most supermarkets but as I couldn’t find any I made my own by washing the butternut squash seeds, drying them in a hot pan and then dry toasting them in the pan with very little oil, stirring constantly until they started to get some colour and pop. They’re delicious!


Preheat oven to 200C/180 fan-assisted/Gas Mark 6

Start with the squash. In a large bowl, blend the oil and spices into a paste and then throw in the chopped butternut squash and onion wedges. Add some salt and toss together so that the vegetables are well coated.

Spread them out on a baking tray and roast on the middle shelf of the oven for 15-20 minutes, the squash should be fork tender and starting to brown. Take them out and let them cool to room temperature.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the dressing by whisking together the yogurt, tahini, honey, lime juice, water and minced garlic. Add the chopped herbs and some salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning/sourness to your liking. Put aside while you prepare the rest of your salad ingredients as suggested above.

Butternut squash and onion wedges, after roasting

When the butternut squash and onions have cooled, lay then on a bed of salad greens and the remaining salad ingredients, except the seeds. Scatter the seeds on top of the butternut squash and serve the dressing on the side. This salad is gorgeous – to look at and in taste!

Per serving (with 3 tablespoons of  dressing with regular yogurt): Calories 338, Protein 11g, Carbohydrate 44g, Sugars 15g, Fat 16g, Saturates 2g, Fibre 7g. A good source of Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

For the regular yogurt dressing alone, per 3 tablespoon serving: Calories 106, Protein 5g, Carbohydrate 6g, Sugars 5g, Fat 7g, Saturates 1g, Fibre 0g. A good source of Calcium and Magnesium.

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This recipe is off to Ricki’s fabulous Wellness Weekend May 31-June 12th, 2012 and Slightly Indulgent Tuesday 5/29/12

A feast for all the senses!

Posted in Main Course, Recipe | 12 Comments

How to make light, fluffy brown rice, a pictorial

I will confess to being a little lazy when it comes to cooking brown rice. I don’t eat rice, brown or white, often enough to justify owning a rice cooker, I’d much rather save the counter space for other gadgets like a coffee grinder for my spices, a blender for my smoothies and soups and 2 different sizes of food processor (mini one for chutneys and mincing onions/garlic/ginger and a larger one for so many other things). I long for a bright red Kitchen Aid stand mixer…don’t so many of us? So when I do eat rice, it’s almost always white basmati, which is so quick and easy to make.

Since starting work on the Cook to Jhoom book, I’ve become a lot more aware of eating more wholesome, nutritious food. When it comes to bread, chapatis, and pasta, I always eat the wholegrain variety and have done so for many years. Brown rice, however, is something I’ve only just come round to as I have always been put off, not only by the longer cooking time but also by the the terrible results I have had by following the directions on the packet. Mine always turned into a gloopy, mushy mess that went straight into the bin. After some research on the interweb and testing a few of the recipes I had bookmarked, I found an excellent one that worked perfectly when I made it twice this week.

What exactly is brown rice? It is whole grain rice, with only the husk (the outer layer) removed in the milling process. The fibre and germ, where most of the nutrients lie, are intact. In the case of white rice, after the hull is removed, the bran and most of the germ are also removed, eliminating much of the fibre and nutrients and it is then polished to remove the remaining layer of germ (called the  aleurone layer) where the essential oils are. Brown rice has considerably more manganese, phosphorus of white, iron, and Vitamin B3, B1 and B6 than white rice. Something to remember with brown rice is that, because it contains essential oils, it goes rancid after 6 months. Store it in the refrigerator if you want to double the shelf life. If you eat it often enough, however, you won’t have to worry about that!

Find the original recipe here, a wonderful website called pinchmysalt.com.  This is the stove top method and it didn’t take that long at all (about 45 minutes, certainly not long enough to put me off making it). You just let it cook while you make one of the main dishes from my book to go with it.  If you have any brown rice left over, it freezes really well. This is how I made it, in pictures. Scroll down for the text-only version.

Measure out 1 cup of brown Basmati and 4 cups of water. Serves 4

Wash rice under cold running water for 30 seconds.

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil

Stir in the rice, let it all come to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a low-medium.

Let it cook, uncovered, on low-medium heat for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, drain the rice over the sink for about 10 seconds.

With the heat off, put the rice back in the pot, cover tightly and let it steam for at least 10 minutes.

Uncover the pot, add some salt and fluff up the rice with a fork. Et voila, light, fluffy brown rice. I’m going to have mine with Kadhi tonight!

Here is the text-only version of the recipe, the ingredients are in bold:

Preparation and Cooking Time: 45 minutes

For 4 people, measure out 1 cup of brown rice and 4 cups of water. I used brown Basmati.

Rinse the rice in a colander under cold running water for 30 seconds or so.

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat.

Stir in the rice, let it come to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to low-medium.

Let it cook, uncovered, on low-medium heat for 30 minutes.

After 30 mins, strain the rice in a colander over a sink for about 10 seconds.

Put the rice back in the pot, with the heat off. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Mine was a rather loose one, so I used a tea towel to help create a tight fit. Leave the rice to steam for at least 10 minutes, a little longer if you can.

Uncover the pot, add salt to taste and fluff up the rice. You should have light and fluffy brown rice with just a little crunch and a deeper, more satisfying flavour than white rice, not to mention much better nutritional value!

Per serving: Calories 171, Protein 4g, Carbohydrate 36g, Sugars 0g, Fat 1g, Saturates 0g, Fibre 2g.

This is off to Ricki’s fabulous Wellness Weekend June 7th-11th.

Posted in Accompaniments, Recipe | 2 Comments

More progress with the Cook to Jhoom book….and my favourite comfort food.

The cookbook has gone to the publishers! A few weeks ago I had a final read through of the manuscript which Shalini brought in person when she came to Kenya and did her first ever Just Jhoom! class on African soil to rave reviews (you can read about it here). The food photos had been completed months ago; the photo of me for the back cover was the only thing left to do. I finally got round to it after constructing a makeshift tripod and some wrangling with the self-timer mechanism on the camera. I expect that they are putting it all together as I write this…I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Many of the recipes in the cookbook are healthier or more wholesome versions of classic recipes. By healthier I mean lower in fat, salt, and sugar and incorporating more vegetables, legumes, greens and leaner cuts of meat than their curry house counterparts (home Indian cooking is healthy for the most part, yes, even Punjabis don’t drown their food in ghee and butter on a day-to-day basis as is the popular misconception). I want to emphasise that this is not a diet or weight loss cookbook, although most of the recipes can be incorporated into a realistic and safe weight loss program. I do not believe in fat-free and sugar-free, or demonising any food for that matter. We all need a moderate amount of fat in our diet and some fats are better for you than others, just like raw cane sugar and honey are better for you than processed white sugar.  Diets don’t work in the long term, practising moderation and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle with regular exercise does. All the recipes in the book can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle and, most importantly, I have provided the key nutritional information for each recipe so that you are informed about what is in your food and can decide for yourselves or consult a nutritionist if you have to. For example, I have 2 Paneer dishes in the cookbook. Paneer is a full fat, unprocessed, curd cheese. Some may say that Paneer does not belong in a healthy cookbook due to the fat content. I disagree, for several reasons. Paneer is a good source of protein. A portion of my Paneer Tikka or Karahi Paneer contains only half the daily recommended amount of fat and saturated fat (you can plan your breakfast and lunch accordingly). Both dishes contain a lot of vegetables and I have recommended that they be enjoyed with whole wheat chapatis or pitas and some raw salad for a meal that is well-balanced in terms of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other vitamins and minerals. Not to mention very tasty! I must feel that I have enjoyed my meal in order to feel satisfied and, as a result, I am much less likely to reach for the crisps and chocolate. And I mean every meal. When I make my oatmeal in the morning I use semi-skimmed milk, 1 teaspoon of honey, slivered almonds, and some cardamom powder – it is so delicious and makes me feel like I’m eating kheer (Indian rice pudding). Because I enjoy it so much and it feels like a comforting treat, I am satisfied until lunch time. Healthy, tasty comfort food is the best kind!

My all time favourite comfort food is vegetable pillao or biriyani with a little yogurt and some sweet lime or mango pickle. Growing up, my mum rarely cooked on weekends as that was her time off. Friday night was barbecue night at the Mombasa Sports Club, Saturdays was swimming, squash and tennis at the Nyali Golf Club (and steak sandwiches and chips with lots of vinegar) and Sundays was usually lunch at the Chini Club or a Karoga at the Shamba (farm). When my mum did cook on a Saturday it was usually a vegetable pillao made in coconut milk – so simple and so good. After I left home and wherever I lived, I would make a version of this on Saturdays, as much for the memories and sense of comfort it evoked as for its relative simplicity and tastiness. This version is healthier because of the balance of vegetables and rice and the addition of some protein in the red kidney beans. This is still a carbohydrate heavy dish but you can always compensate by having a high protein low-carb breakfast/dinner. I haven’t used coconut milk because I want to keep it low-fat. Feel free to use any vegetables you like, I used what I had in the vegetable crisper. I have made this using white basmati rice. Brown rice is healthier but I will confess to being inexperienced with cooking brown rice. The kind I have come across takes a long time to cook and ends up quite mushy. I should teach myself to do it properly and share the results here. I’m sure this Pillao can be made with brown rice although you may have to precook the brown rice three-quarters of the way through before adding it to the tomato and vegetable mixture and then letting it cook all the way through. I only eat rice once a week and it’s almost always white basmati.

A rather rustic presentation of the Vegetable Pillao

Vegetable Pillao (Vegetable Pullao)

Serves 4

Preparation Time : 20-25 minutes

 Cooking Time: 28-30 minutes


1 cup (185g) white long-grain rice, I use Basmati

1 large onion (130g), cut into half and then thinly sliced

300g tomato passata or crushed tomatoes

1 cup (150g) cauliflower florets

1 medium green pepper (120g), halved and thinly sliced

1 medium carrot (70g), quartered and diced

1 cup (150g) cooked kidney beans, canned are fine (drain and rinse them)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons (28g) raisins

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cloves

1 bay leaf

1 rounded teaspoon coriander powder

1 rounded teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

4 green cardamoms, seeds crushed to powder or 1/2 teaspoon of ready ground cardamoms powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

1 1/2 cups (340ml) water

The chopped vegetables


Firstly, wash the rice in several changes of water until the water runs quite clear and let it soak while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat the oil on medium heat, add the bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick and the onions and let the onions cook for 4-5 minutes, until they brown and caramelise slightly. Do add a few tablespoons of water from time to time to help soften the onions and prevent them from burning.

The caramelised onions and whole spices

Add the tomato passata/crushed tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, green peppers, kidney beans, ginger, garlic, raisins, cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, cardamom powder, and salt. Stir well and then cover the pot and let this cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes before adding the rice which has been soaking (remember to drain all the water first) and the fresh coriander. Stir again and add the  1 1/2 cups of water.

Let the water come to a boil, then lower the heat to the lowest setting, a very low simmer, and let the Pillao cook slowly. Mine took about 16 minutes. Check that the water has dried up and that the rice is cooked to your liking. Even if the Pillao seems a little wet but the rice is cooked, switch off the heat and let it sit for 10 mins, the moisture will dry up. This Pillao is a complete meal in its own! Just a little yogurt and pickle made the ideal accompaniments.

Per serving: Calories 351, Protein 10g, Carbohydrate 66g, Sugars 8g, Fat 6g, Saturates 1g, Fibre 8g. Low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol.  A good source of Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

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Do experiment with veggies and legumes: courgettes, french beans, mushrooms, spinach, peas, corn, chick peas, borlotti beans, butter beans to name just a few alternatives.

Posted in Main Course, Recipe | 5 Comments

Happy New Year! Cookbook update and delicious Jeera Alu!

I’m relieved 2011 is over. As grateful as I am for all the good things that happened last year – working on the Cook to Jhoom book (especially the food photography and writing this blog), being able to spend lots of quality time with my parents after moving back to Mombasa, and beginning a running program (which has suffered a temporary setback due to a very severe and lingering chest infection (caused by my drinking cold water after a run, according to my mum), but fear not, I will be pounding the pavement again in no time) –  I experienced a fair amount of emotional instability – primarily self-inflicted – as I adjusted to my new life in Mombasa. Leaving London in February 2011 was ever so difficult and I’m afraid I spent a lot of time pining for my old life rather than accepting the reality of my new one in Kenya. I’ve wasted a lot of time. I love you London and I’ve left some really special people behind but it’s time to let go and move on and pay attention to all that I have here. In my defense, a large part of the difficulty in adjusting to life in Mombasa has been trying to find a space for myself here, vocationally. Should I throw myself into a career in food (my enduring passion) or follow on from the PhD I worked so hard to achieve by (re)establishing an academic career in this entirely new environment? Or go for a whole new career in the international public sector and wildlife conservation? Or plot yet another escape? In all honesty, I’m still not sure (no escaping, though) but I am determined to figure it out and soon. I have so much to be grateful for, so I will focus on counting my blessings while carving out my space here in Kenya. I am hoping that acceptance will be followed by enjoyment and enthusiasm.

During this time of transition, The Cook to Jhoom book has been the one steady, shining beacon. When I’m in the kitchen, it doesn’t matter where I am geographically, the outside world just fades away; I’m fully present and fully engaged – I think it’s called being in the zone. In one of my earlier blogs I had mentioned that the book would be out in September of last year. It has been delayed with good reason. Just Jhoom! is growing fast and in various different directions; there is so much in the pipeline that was unforeseen that we were, in hindsight, rather ambitious about the release date of the book. Things are now moving along very well and we are aiming for a March publication. I am well excited! In the meantime, I will continue to share new recipes, and occasionally get a little personal, in this blog.

This morning around 10am, I hadn’t had breakfast and was in no way willing to wait until lunch, when I had a craving for some spicy breakfast potatoes. My favourite are Jeera Alu – or cumin potatoes. They are usually made with a fair amount of oil but I found a way to add flavour and moisture while cutting down on the fat. I had them with grilled tomatoes. I enjoyed them so much I might have them again tomorrow. Oh wait, I can’t. I’m on a flight to Nairobi early tomorrow morning because I am going for a close friend’s wedding in which I am a bridesmaid! I’m tanked with antibiotics, antihistamines, and steroids to make sure I enjoy myself during this wedding and, more importantly, don’t disrupt the wedding vows with a coughing fit – how mortifying would that be? Back to the Jeera Alu, do try this quick, easy and very tasty recipe.

Jeera Alu

Jeera Alu            

Serves 4

Preparation and Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes


6 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-1½ cm cubes (750g raw weight, 600 peeled weight)

1-2 medium tomatoes (120g), peeled and finely chopped

1½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1½ teaspoons cumin powder (roast the seeds in a pan and then crush them for the best flavour)

1 teaspoon anardana (dried pomegranate seed) powder OR amchoor (dried mango) powder OR 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon soft brown sugar or coconut sugar

½ teaspoon chilli powder or chilli flakes

Fine sea salt to taste

6 tablespoons water

Chopped coriander or chives for garnish (optional)

1 tablespoon sunflower/olive oil


Bring a pan of salted water to the boil (enough to cover the diced potatoes), add the potatoes and boil on medium heat for 5-6 minutes, they should be easily pierced with a knife but still retain a firm texture. Drain and keep aside.

While the potatoes are cooking heat the oil on medium heat in a non-stick pan, and then add the chopped tomatoes, cumin seeds, cumin powder, anardana/amchoor/lemon juice, sugar, chilli powder/flakes, salt to taste and the water. Let this cook for 2-3 minutes and then taste the mixture and adjust seasoning. It should be like a thick sauce and it should taste boldly of cumin, with some sourness and a hint of sweetness.

Add the boiled potatoes and stir carefully so that they are nicely coated. Take off the heat, garnish and enjoy!

Per serving: Calories 160, Protein 4g, Carbohydrate 31g, Sugars 3g, Fat 4g, Saturates 0g, Fibre 4g. A good source of Vitamin B6 and Potassium, and a very good source of Vitamin C.

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This is off to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend June 14th-18th, 2012

Brunch (part of it anyway)

Posted in Breakfast/Brunch, Recipe | 4 Comments