Easy Instant Pot Paneer (Cottage Cheese) Pilaf

On weekdays when you are pressed for time, the Instant Pot is always a saviour. Just a bit of stirring and then let the @instantpotofficial do it’s magic.

For lunch today, I made a quick and easy paneer pilaf/ pulao which took less than 30 minutes to come together but was delicious nonetheless🤍

Ingredients (for 2 full servings):

200 g paneer (cottage cheese), cut in cubes

1 cup of basmati (or any long grained) rice, washed and drained

2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 bay leaves

1 black cardamom

4 green cardamoms

4 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

2-3 slit green chilies (or according to your heat tolerance)

1 cup chopped veggies of your choice ( I used carrots, green peas and long beans)

1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/2 tsp garam masala powder

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1 tbsp chopped mint leaves (optional)

Salt to taste

Method:

(You could do this in a pressure cooker as well, only the timing & settings may vary)

Before you start cooking, wash and drain 1 cup of basmati rice. Keep aside in a colander.

Put the instant pot on sauté mode and heat some ghee (clarified butter). Throw in whole spices like cumin seeds, bay leaves, black and green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and a few peppercorns.

Once fragrant, add thinly sliced onions, ginger-garlic paste, the slit green chilies and stir fry until the onions are golden and the raw smell of ginger-garlic goes away. Now add the chopped veggies of your choice and continue to fry.

For seasoning, add some salt, red chilli powder, garam masala powder and chopped coriander leaves. You could also add mint leaves if you have. Mix everything well.

Throw in the paneer and the washed rice and mix all until well combined. Add 11/2 cup of water and adjust the salt.

Press the keep warm/ cancel function and close the lid of the instant pot (make sure that the steam release handle is in the sealing position). Now press the manual button and let the pulao cook for 8-9 minutes. Let the pressure release on its own if you have time.

Serve hot with some chilled raita 🙂

The Ultimate Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) ~ Lost in the lanes of Vietnam

Xin chào các bạn 🙂

Juicy succulent chicken pieces simmered in an aromatic broth served over rice noodles with an assortment of fresh herbs and condiments- the mighty phở (pronounced Fuh) is probably the most famous food export of Vietnam.

I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t enjoy a fragrant bowl of warm phở on a cold winter night like today in Toronto. Although beef phở is more widely known, the chicken version is equally delicious and packed with complex yet delicate flavours.

I have always been fascinated by Vietnam and its culture, history, people and food. Ever since I read about the Vietnam War in my younger days, visiting the country was on my bucket list. This desire got stoked further on hearing stories from my dear Vietnamese friend Minh (my classmate from university days in Kuala Lumpur).

While visiting Hanoi, one of my favourite activities was to explore the local eateries and enjoy a bowl of phở. Other delicacies like bánh mì (savoury sandwich) or bún chả  (meatballs) were also sumptuous, but it was the humble phở which resonated with me the most.

Vietnamese food is all about simplicity and minimal use of spices. The fresh herbs really stand out in making each dish flavourful- whether it’s bún thịt nướng (cold rice-vermicelli noodles with grilled meat) , fresh spring rolls or bún bò xào (noodle salad).

The street-side stalls are often packed in the mornings with people sitting on plastic stools enjoying a comforting bowl of phở before work.

Although phở might look really simple, it’s a work of art in a bowl. Phở teaches you balance. The zing from lime, the piquant fish sauce, freshness of herbs, spicy kick from the red chilies and sriracha, everything is adjusted in the right proportion to create the perfectly balanced umami rich dish 🙂

Before I share the ultimate recipe of mouthwatering chicken phở, here are some precious snippets from my Hanoi and Halong Bay trip two years ago.

Dreamy lanes
Ho Van Văn Miếu ~ Confucian history and culture intrigues me, so I had to visit this ancient university built in 1070 which is dedicated to Confucius. So serene and picturesque!
Local artisanal craftwork
The stunning Hoàn Kiếm lake at night
It’s a busy day at work!
The famous book street
Sunset at the majestic Halong Bay
The gorgeous sunset view
Ethereal beauty
Maison Centrale ~ the prison for the Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POW during the Vietnam War
The sacrifices will never be forgotten
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre ~ an evening to remember!
Sung Sot Cave ~ the biggest and most beautiful cave in Halong Bay
Such an enormous limestone structure!
Random roadside cafes ~ so Insta-worthy
Towering limestone pillars and gorgeous emerald waters- Halong Bay is breathtaking!
Room with a view at Alisa Premier Cruise
Fairy lights on winter nights at Ho Van-Văn Miếu
Vietnamese Women’s Museum ~ dedicated to heroic women for their contribution to Vietnamese history, politics and culture. The stories about women who made a mark in Vietnam War were particularly impressive.

Time for some food 😀

Fresh oysters and shrimp with onion sauce
Bánh Mì and phở
Fresh Grilled Fish
A local café
Spring Rolls and Fresh Salad
Best breakfast in Hanoi Meracus Hotel 2. Hundreds of great reviews made us choose this little gem 🙂
Traditional coffee
Some more phở

We all need a holiday after this Covid nightmare is over and hopefully we will all travel again soon. Till then keep planning and keep dreaming 🙂

Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) Recipe:

Ingredients (for 2 people):

Boiled rice noodles (for 2)

For the broth:

1 large onion, halved (unpeeled)

1 two-inch piece ginger (unpeeled)

1 large cinnamon stick

2 star anise

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

6 cloves

Few fresh coriander/ cilantro sprigs

3 tbsp fish sauce (you can add more if you like)

350-400g bone-in chicken

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

For the topping/ garnish (the quantities are according to my preference, you can adjust as per your taste):

3 tbsp crispy fried shallots (or onions)

1 sliced Thai red chilli

Few sprigs of fresh coriander/ cilantro

8-10 fresh Thai basil leaves (or normal basil leaves if you don’t have Thai basil)

2 tbsp lime juice (or lemon like I used)

2-3 tbsp chopped spring onions

2 tbsp bean sprouts

Sriracha sauce according to taste

Few important tips:

Always use bone-in chicken for maximum flavour.

Char the veggies welly well.

Remove scum from time to time gently.

Adjust the quantities of herbs and condiments according to your taste. There is no fixed rule.

Let the broth simmer for at least 1.5 hours or more. Don’t cover the lid completely. Initially partially covered, later on simmer uncovered.

Method:

Heat a deep bottomed pot and roast the onion and ginger face down on medium heat. Make sure you don’t peel them. Continue to turn them with a tong for even charring.

When they get slightly charred, add the cinnamon, star anise, fennel and coriander seeds. Dry roast them for some more time until the spices become fragrant and the onion and ginger pieces are nicely charred.

Take out the ginger and onion. Peel the outer skin of the onion and roughly chop in 3-4 pieces to release more flavour into the broth. Also chop the ginger into smaller size as shown below. Add them back in the pot.

Throw in the chicken pieces and add enough water in the pot to make a good broth for two. Add salt, sugar, fish sauce and coriander sprigs and let the broth simmer on low heat (partially covered) for at least 1.5 hours. The longer the better!

Scoop out the scum that rises to the surface with a ladle gently without disturbing the simmering broth, from time to time.

Make sure that every time you scoop out some scum, you dip the ladle into a bowl of clear water before scooping out again. This will ensure your broth doesn’t become cloudy.

Meanwhile prepare your rice noodles according to package instructions, but don’t cook it too far ahead in time as they tend to get sticky if left out for a long time.

Also prepare the crispy shallots by frying 3 finely chopped shallots on low-medium heat in a wok. Drain and keep aside on a paper towel.

After 1.5 hours, you will notice that the broth is mostly clear.

Now remove the chicken and let the broth continue to simmer. Once slightly cool, tear the chicken pieces with your hand roughly instead of chopping, for that rustic street-side feel.

Strain the broth and adjust the seasoning. Remember to keep the broth slightly on the saltier side because it will eventually get diluted when noodles are added.

Time to assemble the phở !

In a bowl, take some of the boiled rice noodles, top it up with chicken and some chopped spring onions. Add enough broth so that it covers almost the entire bowl.

Throw in basil leaves, coriander leaves, chopped Thai red chilies, fried shallots, bean sprouts, a generous squeeze of lime and a squirt of sriracha*.

*Adding sriracha in the phở is often debated because it was never really used traditionally. But eateries now serve dollops of sriracha and hoisin sauce on a small flat dish to be used to flavour the meat and herbs for the phở. I personally don’t mind a small squirt of the hot sauce in my pho as it brings out all the flavours beautifully and elevates the taste but you may skip using it. Just keep some with you on a small plate and use as you please.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Instant Rava (Semolina) Masala Uttapams with 2 Epic Chutneys

What do you do when you crave something spicy yet nothing unhealthy? Because the last few weeks were only about cookies, cakes and calorie rich food!

You quickly rustle up some masala uttapams😋

For the uninitiated, uttapams are thick savoury pancakes made of either rice and lentils or sooji/ semolina, topped with chopped veggies and traditionally served as a breakfast meal in southern India.

Instant uttapams are undoubtedly one of the easiest things to make and are very flavourful and delicious with some homemade peanut chutney. As the name suggests- instant uttapams don’t need to be fermented for a long time, making them the perfect option for a quick yet scrumptious weeknight dinner when you don’t want to toil in the kitchen after a long day. Phew!

I made some for dinner yesterday and also whipped up two lip smacking chutneys that go well with these uttapams. I also have a bonus spicy potatoes (dry) recipe for you, which you can use either as a filling for masala dosas, grilled sandwiches or as a side with these savoury pancakes. Go ahead and enjoy 😉

And yes! before I forget, here’s wishing all of you a wonderful 2021. May god bless you all with good health & happiness 🙂

Ingredients:

For the uttapams (4 medium sized):

1 cup rava/ sooji/ semolina

1/2 cup yogurt

1 cup (approx) water

1/2 tsp baking soda

Salt to taste

Finely chopped coriander, green chilies, tomatoes and onions for topping

Red chili powder/ paprika for topping

For spicy potatoes

6-7 medium potatoes boiled and chopped into 4 pieces

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

A large pinch of asafetida (Heeng)

2 dry red chilies

1 tsp black mustard seeds

10-12 curry leaves

1/2 tsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chili powder (I always use Kashmiri red chili powder as it’s very mild but rich in colour)

2 tbsp oil (any white oil)

Salt to taste

For peanut chutney

3/4 cup peanuts

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3 dried red chilies

1 fat clove of garlic

1 small piece of tamarind

10-12 curry leaves

A pinch of asafetida (heeng)

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp white oil

1 tsp black/ urad lentil seeds (I used ‘matar’/ yellow split pea lentil)

Salt to taste

For spicy tomato chutney

1 large dried red chili

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 inch ginger, roughly sliced

Method:

Peanut chutney

Heat a frying pan with a tbsp of oil and throw in the peanuts. Roast for a while until you get the lovely aroma. Now add 1 dried red chili and desiccated coconut and keep stir frying on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or until the coconut bits are lightly browned.

Add the garlic clove and mix everything for another 30 seconds to a minute. Transfer the mixture in a blending jar and keep it aside to let it cool down a bit. Now throw in the tamarind piece, little water, salt to taste and blend to a smooth paste.

For tempering, heat some oil in a small tempering pan/ tadka pan. When hot, add a pinch of asafetida and mustard seeds. When the seeds start spluttering, add the curry leaves, 2 dried red chilies and the lentil seeds. After 20-30 seconds, gently (carefully) pour the flavoured oil on the peanut paste. Mix well and serve.

Spicy tomato chutney

Heat a frying pan with oil and throw in all the ingredients listed under ‘tomato chutney’ and stir fry for 4-5 minutes. Now let it cool for a while and then transfer to a blender to be blitzed to a smooth paste. Voila! It’s that simple.

You can use both the chutneys in multiple ways- pakodas, fritters, chips, and fries.

Spicy dry potatoes

Heat the same frying pan with oil and temper it with asafetida, mustard seeds and dried red chilies. When the seeds start spluttering like before, add in the curry leaves, grated ginger and onion slices. Mix everything well and now throw in the boiled potatoes, red chili powder and turmeric powder. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes and then sprinkle some water and cover and cook on medium heat for another 2-3 minutes. It’s ready to be served!

Masala uttapams

In a bowl add the sooji/ semolina, yogurt, water, salt and baking soda. Combine everything well to form a batter & leave aside for 5 mins. Now heat a tava/ flat pan on high until smoking hot and add a tsp of oil. Turn the flame on medium now and pour a big ladle of the batter into the center of the tava and spread well using the back of the round-ish ladle.

Add some finely chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies & coriander on top & sprinkle red chilli powder/ paprika. After a minute or so, flip over the uttapam and cook on the other side until golden brownish.

You can even grate some paneer or cheese on top. Serve hot with the chutneys or even ketchup/ sauce if you wish!

Gluten-free Besan Cheela (Savoury Pancakes with Chickpea Flour & Spices)

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Since last few days, S & I have been eating out a lot, mostly junk and calorie rich stuff because let’s just admit that best things in life are always fattening 😀 But as much as we love eating out, we also ensure that we eat clean most of the time. So I keep coming back to wholesome nutritious food and this New Year, I made a resolution to cut out processed food from my life and embrace real food.

The cheelas/ pancakes I made for lunch today were delightfully tasty and very healthy too. Chickpea flour, also known as besan/ gram flour, is gluten free. It is highly nutritious as it’s packed with protein, iron and fiber. For a guilt free indulgence, chickpea flour is definitely one of the best options and in India we use it to cook both savoury and sweet dishes.

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I will share healthy and tasty recipes from time to time. For now, note down the ingredients and method of making besan cheelas.

Ingredients (for 4-5 pancakes):

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • 2-3 green chilies, finely chopped (depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 1 inch ginger piece, grated
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • For the batter:
  • 2 cups chickpea flour
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (or any white oil would do)
  • Water to make a runny batter
  • Following spices to be added:
  • 1 tsp carom seeds/ ajwain
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds/ jeera
  • ½ tsp asafetida/ heeng
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilly powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of sugar

Method:

In a large bowl, take 2 cups of chickpea flour. Add in all the spices listed above. Mix well with a balloon whisk. Now throw in all the veggies into the bowl before adding water.

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This is done so that the flour absorbs all the moisture from the veggies, making it easy for us to understand the amount of water needed for the batter. Now slowly add water, until you get a runny batter. Mix well. Keep aside for 15-20 minutes.

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Heat oil in a tawa/ griddle. Pour some batter in the center of the griddle and spread evenly with a spatula or the back of a large spoon. Make sure that the pancake is not very thick. Let it cook for at least a minute or until you see the sides becoming brown and bubbles forming on top.

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Now drizzle some oil on the top and flip the pancake over. Drizzle oil on the sides and let it again cook for another 2 minutes. Keep flipping from time to time for a crispy finish.

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Serve hot with green chutney/ ketchup or some yogurt for a simple and nourishing meal 🙂

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