Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Paneer Vegetable Pulao / Cottage Cheese Vegetable Pilaf

I was supposed to be baking and packing homemade edible gifts this month, but I am taking it slowly as time is a big constraint for me this month.  Like I mentioned in my last post, my first batch of Kerala Plum cake was baked, but it didn't last for long.  The cake was served during Christmas caroling.  My kids and hubby asked me to bake another cake.  I am planning to share some cookie recipes too.  Meantime I want to share something simple that can be prepared in a jiffy, but it surely looks festive enough for the season.  Yes it has the red and green color.  But it’s not a dessert and it’s not restrained to X'Mas season, you can make it anytime when your tummy calls for it.

Today's post is a simple Pulao/Pilaf.  Basmati rice is cooked to grain perfection with a blend of whole spices and ghee.  Then the aromatic rice is mixed with lightly seasoned vegetables cooked separately.  I prefer cooking the vegetables separately to retain their shape and color rather than cooking along with the rice.  The star ingredient in this recipe is the paneer/Indian cottage cheese cut into cubes.  I prefer homemade paneer as I like to season them while making it.  It’s so easy to make paneer at home and I am sure once you start making it your own, you will like it.  If you don't want to make paneer, you can very well buy it.  I will post the homemade paneer recipe sometime soon as I didn't take enough pictures of paneer when I made it. Pictures matters to me…you know me…so I assure that I will do a separate post soon.

I mainly follow 3 methods to cook basmati.  They are: 
  1. Boiling method - Simply boil the washed rice with excess water and drain the excess water after the rice is cooked using a strainer.  I use this method to make half a batch of rice when making Biriyani.  You will lose starch content and any nutrition while following this method though.  But you can get the perfect grains if you drain the water out when the rice is 95% cooked.
  2. Pressure Cooker method - It’s tricky to get non-sticky rice.  Soaking time, cooking time and cooling time is very important in this method to get non-sticky rice.  But it’s a very easy and quick method.
  3. Stove top pan method.  In this method you cook the soaked rice with double the amount of rice - 1/2 cup of water in a non stick pan with the lid on and cook for 15-20 minutes till the water is completely absorbed by the rice.  This is the fool proof method anyone can try.  This method works perfectly for Pulao/Pilaf and it retains the flavor and texture of the rice.

2 1/2 cups - Basmati rice
1/2 tsp - ginger garlic paste
4 1/2 cups - water
salt to taste

Whole spices
4 - cloves
4 - green cardamom
1 - small piece of cinnamon
1 - star anise
1 - bay leaf
1/2 tsp - black peppercorn
1 tbsp - ghee/butter

1/4 cup - red bell pepper cut into small pieces
1/2 cup - green peas
1/2 cup - carrots cut into small cubes
2 cups - paneer cut into cubes
1/2 tsp - ginger garlic paste
1/4 cup - chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp - freshly ground garam masala
1/2 tsp - freshly ground pepper powder
1 tbsp - ghee/butter
salt to taste

chopped cilantro to garnish


  • Soak Basmati rice in water for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes drain the water and keep the basmati rice aside.
  • Take a big wide mouth non stick pan with a tight lid.  Melt 1 tbsp of butter in the pan.  Add the paneer pieces and fry till golden brown.  If using store bought paneer sprinkle some salt over it.  Transfer the paneer pieces into a plate.
  • Now add 1/2 tsp of ginger garlic paste to the pan with the left over ghee/butter.  Cook till raw smell is gone.  Add the carrots and bell pepper; adjust the salt and cook on medium heat for 3 - 5 minutes.  Add garam masla powder, pepper powder and cook for another minute.  Finally add the green peas and toss well.  Cook for a minute and turn off the flame.  Add chopped cilantro to the veggie mix, stir well and transfer the veggie mix into the fried paneer plate.
  • Melt 1 tbsp of ghee/butter in the same pan.  Fry the whole spices for couple of minutes and add ginger garlic paste.  Let it cook till the raw smell is gone.  Add the soaked rice into the pan and fry for a minute.  Add salt and 4 1/2 cup water.  Adjust the salt at this step.  Cook on high flame till the water comes to a rolling boil.  Lower the flame to medium heat and cover the pan with the lid.  Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes.  Open the lid and give a stir.  Lower the flame again and cover the lid.  Cook for another 6-8 minutes till the water is completely absorbed by the rice or till rice is cooked completely.  Turn off the flame and let the rice sit for 5 minutes.  Use a fork to fluff the grains, they will not be sticking to each other.
  • Add the paneer veggie mix to the rice and gently mix using a wooden spoon without breaking the rice grains.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and enjoy the Pulao with your favorite curry.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Kerala Style Aval Vilayichathu / Kerala Style Sweetened Beaten Rice Flakes

I cannot believe that we are already in the month of December.  It is the time of the year I go on a baking and shopping spree.  This year I am trying to cut down the shopping.  I already baked my Kerala Plum cake and its sitting in the dark to mature the flavors. Meantime I thought to make something traditional to kick start my December post.  I wouldn't be exaggerating if I say that I love my Mom's 'Aval Vilayichathu' the best out of what I had so far.  Of course anyone would feel the same about this Mom's food, right?  But I can assure you that you will fall in love with this 'Aval Vilayichathu' if you try it your own.

  Traditionally it’s served with small type of Indian banana ('Poovan' pazhum).  Since it’s not readily available where I live, I enjoy them with the regular banana.  Each time I visit my parents, my Mom makes a batch as my hubby is an ardent fan of 'Aval Vilayichathu'.  And I have a confession to make to my readers that I was so spoiled by Mom by getting bags of this snack each time that I never tried making it my own.  Since my parents are on vacation trip to India, I had no choice other than making it by myself.  I had asked my Mom for this recipe several times and I never bothered to jot it down each time she explained it to me as I knew that she will make it for me.  But I had to call my Mom to get the recipe and my Mom was like 'Really you don't know this!! I had given you this recipe 100 times'.....hehe....that me.  There are lots of traditional snacks she used to make when we were young and I haven't even tried at least 10% of what she knows.


Let’s come back to 'Aval Vilayichathu'.  It’s simple and nothing tricky.  It takes only 30 minutes to prepare this delicious snack/dessert.  All you need is to get the right ingredients from your Indian grocery store and you are all set.  Make sure to pick the darkest jaggery blocks/balls you can get.  It gives the nice traditional dark color to the 'Aval'.  You can very well adjust the types of nuts you add to the 'Aval'.  Traditionally you don't add Vanilla and raisins, but my Mom adds that and it gives a nice flavor and chewy bite to the 'Aval'.  Also make sure to use the brown rice (Matta) flakes as it tastes better than the regular rice flakes.  Thin Poha will not work for this recipe.  You have to use the Kerala style beaten rice for this recipe.  You can find it in any Indian store that carries Kerala grocery.  Hope you will try this recipe during this Christmas time.

500 gm/6 cups - beaten rice flakes/Aval
4 cups - grated dark palm jaggery (2 big dark jaggery balls)
3/4 cup - water
4 cups - grated coconut
2 tbsp - ghee/butter

To fry
1/4 cup - raw peanuts
20 - cashew nuts
1/4 cup - dark and golden raisin mix
1/4 cup - fresh coconut pieces
3 tbsp - ghee/butter

To flavor
1/2 tsp - roasted cumin seeds/jeera
8 - good quality green cardamom
1/2 inch - dry ginger piece
1 tsp - vanilla extract


  • Melt the grated jaggery in 3/4 cup of water in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Turn off the flame and strain the liquid to remove any impurities.  The jaggery syrup should be boiled just enough to melt the grated jaggery during this step.
  • Powder the ingredients under the 'To Flavor' list using a pestle & mortar or in a coffee grinder and keep it aside.
  • Melt 3 tbsp of ghee in a non stick pan and roast the cashews first.  Remove them  and roast the peanuts, coconut pieces and finally the raisins.  Turn off the flame and keep the roasted items aside.
  • Check the beaten rice flakes for any rice husk and remove them.
  • Take a heavy bottom non-stick pan or 'Urili' ( the authentic Copper pan) and add the strained jaggery syrup.  Turn on the flame and let it come to boil.  Add the grated coconut and 2 tbsp of butter and mix well.  Let it cook till the syrup gets half its quantity.  When tested the syrup should be little sticky when pressed between your fingers.  Turn off the flame and add vanilla extract and mix well.  Now add the cleaned rice flakes in batches and keep stirring till the coconut jaggery syrup is completely soaked by the rice flakes. 
  • Add the powdered ginger, cardamom and cumin followed by the roasted nuts, coconut and raisins and mix the 'Aval' well.
  • Let it cool down and absorb all the flavors and moisture for at least 4 to 8 hrs in the same pan.
  • Enjoy them the next day with banana.  The left over can be stored in the air tight container for a week outside or in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
  • The best way to enjoy the Aval Vilayichathu is by warming it up in the microwave for 30 seconds and mix with banana.

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