Cauliflower Potato Cold Salad with Middle-Eastern Flavours

Summer is upon us. As usual, the desire to heat piping hot food has evaporated in the heat. Cold salads, smoothies, seasonal fruits and lots of yogurt are all that I'm craving for.

While I love to make (and eat) Tandoori Cauliflower where partly blanched florets are marinated in a onion-tomato-ginger-garlic-spices paste and baked off in oven for 20 minutes, even that is no incentive to turn on the oven in this kind of weather. So the plan took a turn from Tandoori to cold Middle Eastern Salad.

The bottle of Tahini and the spices like sumac, za'taar, dried mint were calling out to me and the idea of tossing just tender cauliflower and potatoes in a Middle Eastern dressing and spices was too appealing.
It's another quick recipe that doesn't need you slaving near the stove for anywhere more than 5-10 minutes.

Aloo Palak Biryani - The Express Way

Things have been kinda quiet around this blog. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might know the reason for the silence on the food blogging front. The husband became the first Indian to run the Atacama Desert. The Atacama Crossing happened between 6 -12 March in Chile. Here's the blog where I have captured all the details of his run, and the links to photos and videos. Although, I couldn't be there personally at the finish line to cheer him, the updates from the organisers and the tons of pictures kept me clued in as to how the husband and the other runners were faring.

Also, I have started a personal tumblog for recording the non-food feelings. From the great response the blog has received, I see that people enjoy reading snippets from others' lives and also identify with a whole of things. It becomes a platform to share thoughts with like minded people who also leave words of empathy and useful advice.
Do read the two recent posts on it and let me know your thoughts.

Coming back to food, last evening was one of those times where I got totally stuck on what to cook for dinner. Having picked up fresh spinach on the way back from my run and I wanted to use it up. I was inspired by the Chhole-Biryani my dad made us one day for lunch when they were here, so I decided to use a similar method and spices to prepare this spinach and potato biryani.

Let me add a disclaimer that this is not made in authentic biryani style such as layering the curry with rice and then cooking under dum, etc. I choose to call this biryani, but if you are too much of a purist, then call this pulao or vegetable rice or by any other name you please. I can promise you this will taste as good. While it took me just around 25 minutes from start to finish because I use the pressure cooker for everything and it speeds up my cooking, if you choose to pan cook the potatoes and rice, this will take somewhat longer.

I loved this fragrant, spicy rice dinner. Paired with raita, it makes a complete meal.

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Recipe for Aloo-Palak Biryani
Spinach and potato rice
Serves 3 people generously
Time taken - Under half hour

1 tbsp oil and ghee
Dry spices
2 cinnamon sticks
1 piece of mace
4-5 cloves
1 black cardamom
1/2 tsp shahjeera (caraway seeds)
1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 large onion, sliced thin
3 cups of shredded spinach
2 tsps of Chhole masala ( I use Goldiee, see notes)
1.5 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup crumbled paneer, optional
2 large potatoes, cut into big pieces
1 cup basmati rice
5-6 strand of saffron in 3 tbsp of warm milk


In a pressure cooker, place the washed rice with 2 cups water and pinch of salt. Cover this vessel with a dish and place the large potato cubes on this. Pressure cook for one whistle, keep on sim for 3-5 minutes and switch off the flame. We want both the rice and potatoes to be just done and not mashed.

In a large kadai, heat ghee. Add pinch of asafoetida, all the dry spices. Stir for a few seconds, then add the sliced onions, ginger-garlic paste. Saute on medium heat for 3 -5 minutes, adding the shredded spinach after that. Allow spinach to wilt on high heat.

Once the cooker is cool enough to be opened, remove the potato cubes. Remove the rice onto a large dish, gently separate with fork and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Add the potato cubes to the onion-spinach mix along with the spice powders and salt. Toss gently to coat the potato with spices, let this cook on low heat for 5 minutes with occasional turning, adding the crumbled paneer towards the end.

Add the nearly cooled rice to the mix in the kadai, toss gently till evenly mixed along with saffron-milk.
Cover this with a tight light and let the flavours come together on low heat for 5 more minutes.

Serve hot with raita and papad.

I highly recommend Goldiee Chhole Ka Masala. After using this for the last 3 years, I can tell you, no other masala comes close. While it is manufactured in Kanpur, most of it is exported to Gulf countries, I believe. My friend who's relatives own this company, is always generous to send me a few boxes of this masala each year which i treasure dearly. All you hing fans, Goldiee Heera Hing is strong and fragrant like NO OTHER. Use it to believe it. And no, I am not getting paid to promote this! Check their website for more details.

All you Aloo-Methi lovers can substitute the spinach with fresh methi (fenugreek) leaves for a delicious variation.

Featured in Femina Online

This was in October and I can be so procrastinating at times.

Read the entire story on the Femina website

Many thanks to Rajani Mani for this, and she has a gorgeous food blog herself! Check it out.

Chettinad Style Senai (Elephant Yam) Curry

Elephant Yam / Senai / Sooran is one of those vegetables that my mom always gets home from the market. The whole sooran weighs around 3 kilos, with a rough muddy exterior and smooth pink interior.

Simple yam curry with a sprinkle of fresh coconut is their comfort food with rasam sadam (rasam-rice). However, my skin gets all red and itchy if I happen to touch this in the raw form, which is why I can never buy it from a market, where a piece is cut off the large vegetable and sold by weight.
In supermarkets, it is a different deal. Cut pieces are neatly wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap.
I have seen yam peeled and cubed, sold frozen in some Indian stores in the US.

Here, when I get home this itchy vegetable, it is usually the plastic wrapped variety from the supermarket, which my househelp cleans and cuts into cubes, ready to be used. If you are handling yam for the first time, make sure you wear sturdy gloves because a large number of people I know have skin allergy to the raw vegetable. Some experience itchy tongue and throat after eating the cooked vegetable too.

Yam like any other starchy vegetable, when pressure cooked without its skin, can turn into a mush pretty quickly and in a closed cooker it is a process that can easily get out of control. Which is why, although i am a big advocate of pressure cooking, I make an exception here, to boil the pieces in water with salt and turmeric, remove them when they are just tender and proceed with the curry.

In a traditional Tambram style, once the pieces are cooked in salted water, they are drained. Mustard seeds, asafoetida, udad dal and dried chillies are tempered in hot oil and then the boiled yam cubes added with any required salt and a little bit of sambar powder for taste. It is finished off with a light garnish of freshly scraped coconut.

The Chettinad style is slightly spicier and more fragrant because of use of fennel seeds (saunf/sombu). You can also add crushed garlic to the tempering for more punch, which I have avoided.
This is a very simple recipe, the only thing is to get the yam cubes boiled to the right degree, so it does not turn mushy and pasty.

Recipe for Chettinad Style Senai Curry
Serves 2-3 
Time taken: Under 20 minutes

250 grams yam, skinned and cut into roughly 2 cm cubes
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of turmeric powder

1/2-1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tsp of desiccated or fresh coconut
Handful of mint leaves (optional)

For tempering
2 tsp oil
Pinch of asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
3 dried red chillies, broken
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp chana dal
1 tsp udad dal

In a vessel, place 2 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt and pinch of turmeric powder. Bring it to a rapid boil.
Add the cubed yam to this, cover with a lid, leaving a small opening for the steam to escape.
Check with a knife to see when it is nearly tender. This should take around 6-8 minutes depending on the variety of yam.
Remove this in a colander / sieve and allow to drain well.
Meanwhile, prepare the tempering. Heat the oil in a non stick kadai (wok). Add all tempering ingredients one after the other, and stir on medium flame till the udad dal and chana dal turn golden brown.
To this add the drained yam cubes, red chilli powder, coriander powder, coconut and mint leaves. Toss gently to coat well. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt as per taste. On a low flame, let this crisp up a bit.
Serve hot with roti or with any sambar or mor kozhambu and rice.

Most starchy vegetables like colocassia (seppankizhangu), potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains (vazhakkaai) or a mix of these can be prepared in this manner.
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