I come from a family where food & life are delicately woven. Like most Indians, we love to cook food & eat. Every little occasion of life is a celebration of food, while a large part of eating habits are driven by simple cravings, most of it has to do with the excitement satisfaction which eating brings along. I have seen some of the best cooks in my family- women who can turn a boring summer squash into a delicacy just by choice of their spices. My Mom made meals one after the other but before sitting to eat, we hardly cared what she has cooked.The only hype was about the Sunday lunch, which usually Papa cooked, & we turned little sous chefs for a few hours. The only thing I still dislike about the set up being that women spend way too much of their life in the kitchen & feel happy about it too. I tell this to mom quite often & she chooses to disagree–long story, maybe we ll discuss some other time.
However, when I got married, I saw a different angle of food – love at my in-laws.Here food was supposed to bring a lot “more” comfort than usual, people enjoyed discussing it day & night & were wired to concept of live to eat! Discussing ingredients all day, meal after meal was the best way to kill time. How does a loaded breakfast at 6 in the morning sound when “normal” people drink tea or are still in the bed? Some of the relatives being asked about “what they would like to eat” to bring them out of the boredom of day..relatives asking each other ”what will be for lunch” while still at the breakfast table… so much so that once dinner has been ordered at a restaurant, next morning’s breakfast became a vivid topic of discussion with active participation from elderly to kids. Enquiring about menu beforehand visiting someone’s house or eating an extra piece of mithai (indian sweet) to do away life’s despair was normal. I spent few weeks there before coming here but it looked as if life is all about cooking, eating and feeding others.If you consider yourself “normal” when it comes to love for eating & feeding others, association with food is likely to be much more complicated here than you realize. It not just sheer joy or cravings..its LIFE!
Luckily or unluckily, when I came here after marriage to live with P, within few weeks I realized that unlike his family, he is not into those long discussions about of food. Some relief there! For him grocery shopping is the most boring thing in life & he doesn’t want to discuss lunch or dinner menu for more than 2 minutes..gets really irritated. When asked about it, he brags about how staying away from home since the age of 15 has changed him. If I were to think of a single food which he is bonkers about- its steamed rice with lentils. From my little knowledge of him in the few years of marriage, the “ONLY” food in this whole world, which can bring ecstasy to him, is rice! No kidding when I say this coz I have even cooked rice at midnight when he had cravings. He can eat, drink, smile and live rice. If there were some theory stating that our earliest associations with food, which we end up retaining for whole life ahead, are formed during childhood, I would say that it is mirrored in rice – love as far as my husband is concerned.
This is a very easy but flavorful basmati rice pilaf that I created last week. Or lemma brag that it is my own recipe. no reference or cookbooks. Long grain, aromatic basmati rice is cooked in a lemon & ginger flavored broth with hints of aromatic indian spices. I wanted the pilaf to look “summery”, so I chose to avoid reddish look from red chilies powder or yellowish look from haldi (turmeric). The chicken balls are green & succulent with lots of cilantro, mint, and garlic and loaded with the magical garam masala. The flavors are subtle but classic – citrusy, soul warming & comforting. All in all best served as a side along with tempered raita (yogurt) or any curry /dalor eat on its own as a light summer meal.
Ingredients: – Serves 4
For the Chicken balls: [Makes 20-25 balls of the size shown]
- 1lb ground chicken (don’t use ground chicken breast, use a mince which has good ratio of dark meat & fat, also take care that the mince is not too fine if you are getting it from the butcher]
- 4 garlic cloves, grated
- 1.5 cups finely chopped, fresh cilantro, stems & leaves (substitute with parsley)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint, leaves only
- 4-5 Thai green chilies, finely chopped (Adjust to taste, with this quantity, balls will be on the spicy side)
- 1.5 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp oil
- 2 tsp salt
- Oil for rubbing on palms
- You can use the same recipe to make this curry. Just mix in some minced ginger with the chicken & adjust cooking time.
- For a vegetarian version, you can add dal wadi (lentil drops), soya chunks, paneer cubes, any kind of beans or an assorted vegetables (slightly steamed) of choice. Drop the step where we cook the chicken balls in the method below and proceed.
For the Pilaf: -
- 1.5 cups Basmati rice
- 1/4 cup mustard/canola/olive/vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup sliced onions (use any variety you like, don’t use sweet onions)
- 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, grated (can be avoided)
- 4 Thai green chilies, slit lengthwise
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- One 2″ cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 7-8 cloves
- 6 green cardamom pods (hari elaichi)
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 6 tbsp fresh lemon juice (adjust to taste)
- 2.5 cups water /stock (Depends on rice variety, adjust as per package instructions)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
- Cilantro, Lemon wedges etc for garnish
Pick the rice and wash under 2-3 streams of water.Let soak for 30 minutes. In a cheesecloth/muslin, wrap tightly the black peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, and cardamom pods. In a bowl, add all the ingredients under the heading “For the Chicken Balls”. Mix gently with hands to combine well. Do not apply too much pressure while mixing else the mix will become sticky. Once mixed, apply some oil on your hands and make balls of the size you wish. Dont make too big balls, coz after cooking, these swell up. Line the balls on a plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
While the chicken balls are refrigerating, to a heavy bottomed pot with lid, add the oil and heat on high high. If using mustard oil, heat the oil to smoking point to do away the raw smell. Reduce heat to medium and add the sliced onions to the pot and sauté them till they turn light brown. At this point add the slit green chilies, grated garlic (if using) & ginger, bay leaf, cumin and cinnamon stick to the pot and sauté for 30 secs. Next add 2.5 cups of water/stock to the pot. Tip in the cheesecloth wrapped spices into the water, add 1 tsp salt and let the water come to a boil.About 8 minutes.
Once boiling, add the refrigerated chicken balls to the pot. Start by adding a single ball, if it does not spread, add all of them one by one in a single layer. If balls are spreading, mash them down & add a binding agent like cornstarch or egg. Let the balls cook for 5-8 minutes in boiling water till they are 95% (almost) cooked. Do not overcook else they will become rock hard. Strain the balls out of the pot in a plate and set aside. (This cooking time will depend on size of your balls)
Measure out the stock in the pot to whatever quantity is required to cook your variety of rice.The basmati variety I use takes 2 cups stock to 1 cup of rice to cook. Return the measured stock to the pot. Add the soaked, drained rice to the pot along with ground nutmeg & lemon juice. Check the seasoning again and adjust if required.
Cover the pot & bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, and let cook for 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat, open the lid, and add the chicken balls & melted butter gently mix with a wooden spoon & leave to steam on the stove for another 5-8 minutes.Pick out the spices wrapped in cheesecloth & discard. Garnish the rice with chopped cilantro & lime wedges. Serve with tempered raita.
To make Tempered Raita: – Beat 1 cup of cold, plain Greek yogurt in a bowl. To this add any thing you like from tomatoes, boiled potatoes, grated cucumbers chopped onion, boondi etc as long it pairs with yogurt.I am not giving any quantity here coz there are no measurements as such. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.To temper, just before serving to a small saucepan, add 1 tbsp of oil and let it heat on high. Once heated, add 1 tsp each of cumin seeds & black mustard and let crackle. You can add some chopped green chilies too. Once crackling, remove from heat and let cool off for 2-3 minutes. Add salt to yogurt along with tempering and mix well. Serve.
Enjoy & Have a Fun Weekend Everyone!