Cookbook Challenge #2 – Quinoa Pilaf


I brought Isa Chandra’s Appetite for Reduction cookbook to work with me and read through it as I had my morning cup of coffee. I ended up looking at her recipe for cranberry-cashew biryani and knew I needed to make it.


However, as much as I love her recipes and love that in this cookbook everything is 400 calories or less per serving, I wanted to change the recipe to fit my taste buds better.


My sister and I were emailing each other all day talking about recipes, our mom’s recipes, cooking and planning my visit to Chicago in March (hooray!). I told her about this recipe and how I wanted to change it to fit my dietary needs. She reminded me that “biryani” is actually all spice. It does not usually have dried fruit in it, and I wanted to use some kind of dried fruit. So we both realized what I wanted to make, was really a pulao or pilaf.

The biggest changes I made were the cooking process in general, using quinoa over Basmati rice to help keep it low-carb for me, and using dried apricots instead of cranberries.


garam masala made fresh

If you didn’t know, apricots and cumin are two of the most yummy flavors when combined. Next time you make a curry dish with cumin, add a little dried apricot in there – your world will change completely.

This dish turned out amazing. How do I know that? When REB got home from class and had it for dinner, he said, and I quote, “Whole Foods should have this in their hot bar.”


This is how I know this recipe is a keeper. And how I know he’s a keeper too ;)

Quinoa Pilaf
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A low-carb twist on classic Vegetable Pulao that uses Indian spices, mixed vegetables and dried fruit. Adapted from Isa Chandra (and my mom)!
Recipe type: vegan, vegetarian, main dish
Cuisine: Indian, vegetarian, vegan
Serves: 4
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1½ cups frozen mixed vegetable blend (my blend has carrots, peas, green beans and corn kernels)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (I make mine fresh, but you can use store bought)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup unsalted whole cashews, toasted
  • Cilantro (optional garnish)
  1. In a rice cooker or medium pot, cook quinoa according to packaging instructions. I used ¾ cup quinoa, with 1½ cups water in my rice cooker.
  2. Add the chopped dried apricots directly to the quinoa so they cook together — the quinoa took about 20-25 minutes to cook in the cooker. May take longer on stovetop.
  3. When the quinoa is cooked, pour into a bowl and set aside
  4. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil.
  5. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, cover the pot with a lid and let the seeds start to pop.
  6. Next add the minced garlic and grated ginger and cook for one minute.
  7. Add the frozen mixed vegetables, garam masala, turmeric, salt, red pepper flakes and stir well for one minute.
  8. Add the tomato paste and water and stir.
  9. Cover the dish and let it come to a boil and reduce so the curry is slightly thickened and most of the water is gone- about 3-5 minutes.
  10. While the curry is boiling away, toast the cashews in a small, dry pan until golden
  11. When the curry has reduced, add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir well to combine all the flavors. Give it a taste and adjust your spices if needed.
  12. Toss in the toasted cashews.
  13. Serve immediately with pickle, chutney or additional curry dish.
  14. Optional garnish: chopped cilantro


After doing the math, I found that this recipe was only 229 calories per serving, almost 5g of fiber and almost 8g of protein. I think next time I might add some garbanzo beans or mushrooms to up the ante on the protein.

What are some of your favorite cookbook recipes?

10 thoughts on “Cookbook Challenge #2 – Quinoa Pilaf

    1. Aparna B. Post author

      I hope you like it! I like taking things from online or a cookbook and re-vamping it for me and my hubby. It’s been working so far! Some recipes are just disasters and I make them how they should be after that hahaha.

  1. Lawyer Loves Lunch

    I remain super duper impressed at your fresh garam masala in a flash cooking style. I am using a bottled blend that may or may not be past its prime :) You already know of my deep love for quick, flavorful recipes and I’m so glad to add this one to my list (albeit, with bottled garam masala) :)

    1. Aparna B. Post author

      Haha. I’m a huge culprit for using really old garam masala past its prime. I would have done that here too, I’m sure. I just didn’t have any in the pantry (blasphemy) so I made it quickly :)

  2. Soni

    Oh great minds think alike :) Being on a Quinoa kick is definitely good for us :) Very eager to try out apricots with cumin as you said..sounds delicious!!

    1. Aparna B. Post author

      YES! I noticed you are on quinoa kick too. I love it :) I’m getting inspired by your blog, too!! Do try the apricot/cumin combo – it’s delish!

  3. Cook Snap Savour

    This recipe looks fantastic! I’m definitely saving it! I agree with you, a little bit of sweetness added from the apricots would take the dish to another level! By the way, what spices do you use and how much when you make your garam masala fresh?

    My fave cookbook recipe so far is the lemon souffle from Gordon Ramsay’s Family Fare book!

    1. Aparna B. Post author

      Thanks for the comment! I have a recipe here on the blog about how to make garam masala. That recipe makes a lot though. Whenever I make it fresh, I use 1 1/2 whole dried red chilies, 1 cinnamon stick and then pinches of the rest of the ingredients :) This still usually makes more than just 1 teaspoon or however much I need for the recipe, but I can put the rest in an airtight container and use later on in the week. Enjoy!


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