Tag Archives: Indian

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
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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?

Women in My Family


My parents are in India. Surprise, surprise. My parents are out there in the world traveling some where. They’re living it up though! About 12 years ago, my dad, who is a professor of engineering, started teaching at a university in Germany. He would go during spring term and for three months he and my mom lived in a little apartment in Konstanz (southern most city in Germany). I even got to visit them over there one year and I completely fell in love with that city. I could see why they kept going back! I actually picture them retiring overseas. Anyway, this year my dad is teaching at a university in India so they’re there until July. The downside is that once again they’re going to be gone for three months and they will be in India during the worst months to visit: summer. The upside is that my mom will be able to visit family in India while my dad is teaching, which is always a win.

My family is huge and they’re all awesome! The women in my family are amazing. They’ve all been through so much in their lives, are very well educated and best of all: they’re amazing cooks.

With my mom in India for three months, and all my aunts living there already, there is something I miss that they all make: Mango pickle, also known to me and my sister as avakaya (ah-vah-ky-yah). It’s this amazing, spicy pickled fruit condiment that is usually served on the side of any dish, but I love to mix it with my yogurt and rice. You can buy jars of it at the Indian grocery store and it will last for months in the fridge and years in your pantry when unopened!

But my aunts and mom make some really, really good mango pickle. My sister told me she has memories of my aunt and mom making pickle in India and then putting the sealed jar out in the sun to help it break down faster. She told me it was weeks before she could eat any pickle, but then realized maybe it was only days and as a kid it only seems like it’s slower ;) Too cute.

Photo provided by my cousin K

This is my aunt. She’s not only a genuinely nice person, but she’s beautiful, an incredibly talented singer and of course, a phenomenal cook. She makes the spiciest and tangiest (and yes those combos can be done!) mango pickle there is. I don’t know how she does it, but I remember my parents bringing it home one year from India and it was wrapped in so many plastic bags to ensure the oil wouldn’t leak all over everything. And it was spicy! I remember everyone saying the spicier the better!

Photo by yours truly. It's one of my favorites of mi madre <3

This is my mom. She’s one of the most incredible and beautiful women I know. I see so much of my sister and I in her. Her mannerisms, her kindness, her need to please people (we definitely get that from her!), her temper and maybe one day, we’ll even adapt her cooking style.

She’s taught us well, though, don’t get me wrong! Our husbands are pretty happy with the Indian food we can make them and we owe that all to my mom and the aunts and cousins in our family. There’s nothing like the kind of home cooked food my mom makes. She also makes yummy pickles. She makes good mango pickle and lime pickle (the latter my sister absolutely loves!)

Well because my mom is overseas and most of my family is overseas, I figured it was time to be a grown up and figure out how to make mango pickle on my own. And that’s just what I did! Then when I made it, my uncle sent me my aunt’s recipe and I was so happy to see that what I made is exactly what she makes! Guess it runs in the family ;)

It’s very simple to make too!

Don’t let the list of ingredients scare you. This makes about 1 1/2 cups of pickle and the serving size is about 1 teaspoon…if that. Mine didn’t turn out quite as spicy as I would like, but as a first pass, I think it turned out pretty well!

I only had the spices in whole format, so I just ground up the seeds to make them a powder! I do have a grinder just for spices ;) Brown and proud. What can I say?

5.0 from 1 reviews

Mango Pickle (Avakaya)
Prep time
Cook time
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Serves: a lot
  • •1 raw (unripe) mango – very green and hard to the touch
  • •1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • •1/4 cup chili powder
  • •1/4 cup mustard powder
  • •1/4 cup fenugreek powder
  • •1/4 cup salt
  • •1/2 tablespoon turmeric
  1. Cut the mango up into little pieces and put into a large bowl. You can add more chili powder if you want more spice (just remember you can always put spice in, but you can’t take it out!)
  2. Add the oil and spices and give it a good stir.
  3. Put all the ingredients in an air tight jar, sealed, and place on the counter for 3-4 days.
  4. After three days stir around. It will seem VERY salty, but it’s supposed to be. It will continue to break down for another day.
  5. After the fourth day, give it a taste. It should be slightly salty, tangy and spicy! Tighten the jar again, place in the fridge and it’s ready to go whenever you need it. It should last a few weeks or even months when sealed in the fridge.

It’s literally that simple! It might not be exactly like my aunt’s or moms, but it will definitely work in the mean time. I actually took it to work and some of the Indian ladies there told me it turned out really well; one of the best pickles they had.

So I guess the women of my family taught me well. And maybe one day in the far, far, far, far far future if and when REB and I have kids, I can pass some of those recipes onto them too.

Is there someone in your family who inspires you in the kitchen?

Spicy Paneer Tikka Masala

After making the tandoori masala yesterday, I wanted to make paneer tikka masala so I could actually use the mixture. The last time REB and I went out for Indian food, he ordered this dish and it was incredibly delicious and not too spicy. I decided to try making it based on what I remembered tasting and also looking at a few recipes online. I went a little overboard on the spices and it was a lot more spicy than it probably should be, hence the name I gave the dish ;)

I must say, I kind of prefer it this way. I think REB does too since he had a bit of it tonight! Be warned: this is incredibly spicy and if that isn’t your cup of tea, take it down a notch! I think I’ll probably change a few things when I make this again, but I’m pretty pleased with the overall outcome. Serve it up with some naan or rice and enjoy!

Spicy Paneer Tikka Masala

•12 oz. paneer, cut into 1-inch cubes
•3 Roma tomatoes, pureed
•1/2 cup red onion, chopped
•4 cloves garlic – 3 finely minced, 1 to grate over the dish
•2 tablespoons grated ginger
•3 tablespoons plain, nonfat yogurt (they didn’t have regular yogurt, so I grabbed some Greek. It worked fine)
•1 teaspoon coriander powder
•1 green chili, finely minced
•1/2 a 14.5-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
•3 tablespoons heavy cream
•1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
•1 tablespoon tandoori masala
•1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
•1/2 teaspoon chili powder
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•1/2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
•Salt to taste
•Cilantro for garnish

The first step to making this is to marinate the paneer. I know that sounds funny, but it helps keep it moist and spicy!
Combine the yogurt, coriander and 1 tablespoon of grated ginger in a bowl with the paneer. Stir and cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat a large, deep skillet with some oil and wait until it is hot. Add the paneer cubes one at a time and pan-fry them until golden brown on all sides. Be careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Once you’ve cooked all the paneer, transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same skillet add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent.  Add the turmeric and stir. Then add the 3 chopped garlic cloves and green chili and stir to cook through. Add the pureed tomato and cook for 10 minutes until cooked and slightly thickened. Add the other tablespoon of ginger, grate the other clove of garlic, add the chili powder, garam masala and tandoori masala. Continue cooking over medium-high heat for another 5 minutes. Next add the 1/2 can of crushed tomatoes. You may need to add more garam masala because the crushed tomatoes tend to be a little bland. You could just add the salt at this point (more or less depending how it tastes). Add in the cream, stir it all together, cover and let it simmer for 10-12 minutes. The gravy should start to thicken nicely.

Add the paneer back in, careful not to break it apart, and let the whole thing cook for another 5 minutes or just until the paneer is warmed up again. Add in the chopped cilantro and stir. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with whole cilantro. Enjoy with rice or naan!

Makes 6 servings

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Tandoori Masala

So I was on a bit of a hiatus. I didn’t realize I hadn’t updated this thing since the holidays! That’s totally my bad. Things have been pretty crazy between traveling for work and wedding planning. We’re almost all done with the planning, but I’m still traveling a lot, which means not being able to cook my man some good food. Since I’m home for another three days, I took advantage of our rest day from working out to make some good Indian food!

I had written a post on how to make garam masala before, but there was another masala mixture I wanted to try to make: tandoori masala. It’s mostly used for, you guessed it, tandoori chicken. Since we don’t eat chicken in this household, it can be used in things like chicken tikka masala or any tikka masala. And I wanted to make paneer tikka masala, so I made the spice mixture. It was pretty easy too!

Yeah, it made a lot, mostly because I eye-balled all the ingredients. Whoops. That’s half the fun though, right?! It made a ton of masala – about 1/4 cup or so, which should last me a few weeks. The most important part of Indian cooking is that spice and making it is just as easy as buying it pre-made!

Tandoori Masala
•2 teaspoons ground cloves
•1 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons cumin powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
•1 teaspoon ground ginger
•1 teaspoon garlic powder
•1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Like I said, I eye-balled a lot of this. I had to grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom to a powder since those aren’t powders already. Use your judgment. You can make it as smokey or spicy as you want.

Combine all the ingredients and sift through a sieve to get out the lumps. Then store in an air tight jar or container. It should keep for 3-4 weeks!

Mango burfi

Indian sweets are really sweet. I don’t care for a lot of them, but there are some I absolutely I can’t resist. I did a recipe earlier this year for kheer (Indian rice pudding), which is REB’s absolute favorite.

Yesterday, my awesome sister showed me how to make mango burfi. Burfi is basically a solid mixture of sugar, condensed milk and spices until it solidifies. It’s sweet and has a nice, soft texture. There are many variations: plain, pistachio, cashew, etc. What we made was mango, because face it, mangoes are delicious.

Here’s what you’ll need:
•2 cups ricotta cheese
•2 tablespoons butter
•3 cups dry milk powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
•2 cups mango pulp (Canned)
•1 pinch ground nutmeg

Start by toasting the ricotta cheese in a saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes. You need to stir it the entire time.
Once it starts drying out, add the butter and the dry milk powder and stir.
Once that’s incorporated and starts drying out, add the mango pulp.

Stir for 15 minutes then add the cardamom and the nutmeg. Taste the mixture to see if you need to add more sugar. Mango pulp is relatively sweet, so you shouldn’t need a lot of added sugar.  However, as I said, Indian desserts are sickeningly sweet, so feel free to add sugar to taste! Stir and cook this mixture until it starts pulling away from the sides of the saucepan, or until it starts taking shape. Oh! Another note: you’re stirring this the entire time, so use a spoon that won’t cramp up your hands.

To test it, take a little bit of the mixture and drop it on a plate. If you can touch the mixture without it sticking to your fingers, it’s done. You don’t want it to be sticky.

Pour the mixture into a greased pie pan or sheet pan and spread into an even layer. Cover and put it in the fridge to harden for 2-3 hours.

Optional garnishes are slivered almonds, crushed pistachios or edible foil.
Cut into squares and serve.

Baked samosas

I love samosas. They’re probably my favorite appetizer in all of Indian cuisine. And while they’re so delicious, they’re also oily because they’re usually deep fried. I knew there had to be a way to make them so they weren’t as unhealthy and when I saw my new favorite Food Network star prepare them with puff pastry, I knew I had to try it!

I considered using phyllo dough, but the problem I have with that is that it’s too delicate and I thought it might be too hard to roll up. That and they’d be TOO flaky and I’m not big on the flaky. I’m not the biggest fan of Spanikopita, so puff pastry it is!

It took some time to make, but it was well worth it.

Here’s what you’ll need:
•2 sheets puff pastry – let them thaw completely
•2-3 Russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
•1/4 cup frozen peas
•1 teaspoon garam masala
•1 teaspoon cumin seeds
•1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
•1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
•1/2 teaspoon chili powder
•1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
•1/2 tablespoon ginger, grated
•2 tablespoons water
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•Salt to taste

Cut, peel and boil the potatoes until fork tender, then drain them. Return them to the pot and mash them a little. Heat up olive oil in a large, deep skillet and wait for it to heat up. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and red pepper flakes and let them heat up in the oil. Add the potatoes and stir well. Add the turmeric, garam masala, chili powder and salt. Grate the ginger over top, then stir and if it looks too dry, you can add the water. Let it cook about 5-8 minutes and then add the frozen peas.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF and spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

Once the potato filling has cooled a bit, you’re ready to build the samosas! Roll out one puff pastry sheet and then using a medium-size bowl (about 6 inches in diameter) cut a circle into the pastry sheet. Then cut the circle in half so you have two semi-circles.

Lay one of the semi-circles down so the curved part is nearest you. Water the edges of the puff pastry with your finger (this will help seal it). Take about a tablespoon or so of filling and place in the center of the circle-half. Grab one end and fold it over and then the other end and fold it over that, so it forms a little triangle. Grab the bottom and fold it up so it will help seal it. Seal all the edges and using a fork or your fingers, crimp them so they stay shut.

Continue doing this until you get about 8-10 samosas. You can brush them with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water), sprinkle with salt on top and then bake for 15 minutes at 425ºF. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375º and bake another 5 minutes.

Serve hot with your favorite chutney (mint and coriander, or tamarind chutneys are my favorite), or eat it plain! Bottom line, is that it’s flaky but not overwhelming, and extremely flavorful and delicious!