kheer/indian rice pudding

Kheer | A Brown Table

Diwali is the festival of lights and perhaps one of my favorite holidays that I got to spend with my dad's side of the family. The celebrations were never over the top but there would be little oil lamps lit up in the evening and tasty food served. I looked forward to the huge feast that was to follow and all the desserts. Delicious desserts, in all sorts of shapes and sizes that are amazing! Every year when Diwali arrives, my cravings start to kick in, perhaps because they bring back fun memories or because I've somehow ingrained the thought that certain foods should be associated with specific events. Either way, I make the most of this special festival.

Kheer | A Brown Table

There are lots of delicious desserts that are prepared to celebrate this bright festival. From sweet cashew pastries to rich milk desserts and one of my favorites to eat on Diwali, is a humble rice pudding called kheer (though I'll make it at other times of the year, if I can find an excuse). Kheer is a rather simple and easy dessert to prepare, milk and fragrant basmati rice and lots of lovely dried fruit. There's something comforting in sticking a spoon into a bowl of rice and milk lightly scented with cardamom and eating all those delicious sweet dried fruit. 

Kheer | A Brown TableKheer | A Brown Table

To make kheer at home here are some of my kitchen tips, 

  • Use whole milk or low-fat milk. It will make a creamier base.
  • I only use green cardamom to infuse the milk, however I have tasted some versions with ground cinnamon. I'm not a huge fan of cinnamon and cardamom together in kheer because of the contrasting warm and cool notes of each spice, they can get quite pronounced when it's just the two of them together.
  • Use basmati rice, it brings a lovely aromatic flavor to the kheer. 
Kheer | A Brown Table

Here are some of my favorite reads that I'm drooling over this week,

Kheer | A Brown Table

kheer/ indian rice pudding

yields: 4-6 generous servings

ingredients

1 cup basmati rice

2 1/2 cups water

1/2 gallon whole milk

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon rice flour

2 tablespoons water

4 green cardamom pods, cracked and gently crushed

1/2 cup mixed raisins (use different colored raisins if possible) + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/2 cup dried medjool dates, chopped + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/4 cup chopped pistachios, lightly toasted + 1 teaspoon to garnish

2 tablespoons rose water (optional)

1. Wash the rice thoroughly under cold running tap water. Place in a thick bottomed stock pot with the water and bring the water to a boil on a high flame, then immediately reduce to a medium-low and cook until the rice is tender and soft. Most of the water will have evaporated at this point.

2. Once the rice is tender, stir in the milk and sugar. Whisk the rice flour and water together in a small bowl to form a slurry and add it to the milk. Fold in the cardamom, raisins and dates. Cook over low heat until the milk reduces to half its original volume and the mixture begins to thicken. This will take about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

3. Once the milk has thickened, remove from the stove and stir in the almonds and pistachios. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours until chilled before serving. If the kheer is too thick in consistency, add a little more milk to thin it out. Taste and adjust sweetness if necessary. Sprinkle the rose water over the kheer and garnish with the extra raisins, dates, almonds and pistachios.

dosas and uttapams

Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table

I love dosas and uttapams, they are one of the tastiest savory crêpes and pancakes from the Southern states of India. Since they are made from ground lentils and rice, they are also gluten-free and vegan but either way they are good! One of my closest friends from grad school is of South Indian origin, every time, I visit her family in New Orleans, dosas are the first thing I ask for because her mom makes them the best. 

Several years ago, I tried making dosas and uttapams at home, the uttapams were easy but the dosas tricky. The dosas would rip while I tried to spread the batter over the pan and since a dosa should be thin and crisp (I still need a lot more practice making them crisp), these were not ideal. I finally turned to my friend's mom and asked her for help. This version is based on her recipe which she was extremely kind to share. Before we get into more details, let me just start by saying that this is the way, I make them at home. It is highly simplified from the traditional method of letting the batter rest and allowing it to ferment for a few days.

Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
  • Black gram/black lentil/urad dal in most Indian stores and you should be able to find them at any International market. There are enzymes in this lentil that help break down the structure of the starch in the rice that are critical to producing this batter and forming the characteristic dosa and uttapam shapes. I've also noticed a lot of Indian stores now selling urad dal flour which would eliminate the process of soaking and grinding the lentils. I haven't tried that yet but I do hope to soon.
  • You will notice that my batter is a little greenish because I like to leave the skin of the lentil on, traditionally you would use urad dal which has the skin removed. This is completely up to you. I like the little colored flecks in the batter. 
  • I use rice flour and this rice flour is not made from basmati rice. Any regular rice flour will work here.
  • I add yeast to cut back on the fermentation time. In the past, depending on the ambient temperature, my batter would not rise properly and would take more than one day. You need yeast to ferment the components of the batter, instead of waiting for it grow naturally in the batter and speed up the process, I add a little bit of yeast to bump up the process.
  • To make the dosas, the pan needs to be warm but not hot when you add and spread the batter. Avoid adding to much pressure when spreading the batter or it will clump easily. It takes a little bit of practice on learning how to spread the batter (the two photographs below should give you an idea of how the batter looks, the image on the left is of the dosa, notice how relatively thin and spread out it is compared to the uttapam in the image on the right). Uttapams are an easy place to start and that is where I began to learn and practice.
  • This recipe will make a large batch of dosas and uttapams, around 3-4 helpings for 8-10 people depending on how thick or thin you make them.
  • There are lots of different accompaniments to serve these guys with, my coconut cilantro coconut chutney that I shared on Food52. I haven't posted a recipe for sambar (another great lentil dish) or the traditional potato filling that is sometimes wrapped up in the dosas in this post. I will share that sometime separately in another post, I wanted this post to be all about the dosa and uttapam. 
  • To store excess unused batter, I keep it covered with a lid in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Before preparing, I let it sit out at room temperature for about 4-6 hours and stir it once or twice. Dosas and uttapams are best when made fresh and straight off the hot pan. 
  • Lastly, I've given exact volumes of water I used but you should note that you might need to add a little more or a little less to get the consistency right to that of a thicker pancake or thinner crêpe batter depending on whether you want to make uttapams or dosas. 
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table

dosas and uttapams 

yields: about 8-10 servings

ingredients

1 cup urad dal/black lentils (split or whole, I used whole with the skin on but you can use the ones without the skin too)

500mL water + 2.5 Liters + additional 500mL for dosas

4 cups rice flour

1 teaspoon fenugreek seed powder, freshly ground

1 1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/2 teaspoon yeast

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup red onion chopped 

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, freshly chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin, freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

vegetable oil for cooking (I also find vegetable oil sprays to be pretty useful here)

1. Clean the lentils to remove any stones that might be present. Rinse under running tap water, place in a large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. The next day drain the water and grind the lentils with the 500mL of water to a smooth paste with a blender. There should be no clumps in the batter. Transfer to a bowl and cover and let it sit for at least 12 hours or at this point you can either refrigerate the lentil mixture and use it within 2-3 days.

2. The next day transfer the lentil mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, fenugreek powder, salt and yeast. Add the half of the 2.5 Liters of water to batter and stir to form a smooth batter. Transfer the batter to a large container or stockpot (one with deep bottom will be useful when the fermentation causes the batter to rise and prevent it from overflowing. Allow the batter to sit covered (not airtight) for at least 6 hours before using. The batter will ferment and rise. 

3. On the day of cooking, mix the tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chili, cumin and salt in a medium bowl and keep aside. (This will be used to top the uttapams)

3. To prepare Uttapams: Heat a large non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-high. Pour and spread a teaspoon of oil on the surface of the pan. The batter will be thick resembling the consistency of a pancake batter. Pour about 1/2 cup of the batter in the center and allow it to spread by itself into an 8 inch circle. Sprinkle about two generous tablespoons of the mixed tomato-onion mixture over the top of the uttapam and then drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil. Cook until the edges get golden brown and they start to come off from the sides. Using a silicone spatula, release the uttapam from the sides, and flip to cook on the other side for about 1 - 1  1/2 minutes. Prepare the rest similarly. Serve hot.

4. To prepare Dosas: Add 500mL of water to the batter and stir. The consistency should be thinner like that of a crêpe batter. Heat a large non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-low. Pour and spread a teaspoon of oil on the surface of the pan. Using a ladle pour about 1/2 cup batter in the center of the oiled pan and spread the batter with a circular motion using the ladle starting from the center moving outwards to form a large thin crêpe (don't use too much pressure or it will tear the dosa as it begins to cook). Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon oil over the dosa. Cook until the dosa begins to turn golden brown and begins to leave the sides of the pan. Using a silicone spatula, release the uttapam from the sides, and flip to cook on the other side for about 30 minutes. Prepare the rest similarly. Serve hot.

stuffed bell peppers

Stuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown Table

One would think nightmares concerning exams and tests stop after school. Nope, they don't, well at least for me, they haven't! Probably once a month, I have a calculus meets language exam dream that will freak me out. I can never remember all the details but from what I do recall, the dream involves me sitting in a classroom, trying to figure out the answers to questions involving limits and integrals in a different language, a language that I doesn't exists. The clock keeps ticking while I try to figure out the answer to the first question on a very long sheet of paper and thankfully during this mental moment of panic, I wake up. Simply put, I think I'm afraid of the unknown, at least that's what I think it means. However, there are times I am also super excited about things I don't know anything about. For example, with dishes where I have no idea what's inside and the kind that might hold a tasty surprise hidden. Stuffed bell peppers bring on that kind of excitement for me!

Stuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown TableStuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown Table

Our farmer's market has a ton of gorgeous types of bell peppers and they appear to be getting much more vibrant and bigger by the week. So this weekend, I goaded M into picking some up for me to overstuff and pan sear and of course, more importantly eat! You can use any type as long as they are large enough to stuff and you have a pan wide enough to fit them in. 

Stuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown TableStuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown Table

Whenever we ate stuffed bell peppers at home, they would be stuffed them with this spiced pea and potato filling. The filling is simple and easy to make and if you have leftover filling, you can eat it as a side with your main course. I like to squeeze a little fresh lime juice over the cooked bell peppers, that little hint of sour with the spiced filling and blistered papers makes one tasty parcel of goodness. 

Stuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown Table
Stuffed Bell Peppers | A Brown Table

stuffed bell peppers with pea and potato filling

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

1 lb baby potatoes (you can also use regular sized)

2 teaspoons olive oil + a little extra to brush the bell peppers

1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 red onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1  1/2 teaspoons kosher sea salt

1/2 cup peas, frozen or fresh

4 medium sized firm bell peppers (about 6 inches in height, any color will do)

1 fresh lime

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro/parsley, fresh

1. Cube the potatoes and place them in a bowl of cold tap water. Rinse them to remove any starch under running tap water. Place the potatoes in a medium-size stockpot, cover with water and bring the water to a boil on medium-high heat. Cook the potatoes until they are just tender but not mushy. (Another alternative to boiling, is to place the potatoes in a microwave safe container and cover with water. Heat on high for 8 minutes until the potatoes are just tender). Drain the water, mash the potatoes lightly with a fork or potato masher and keep the potatoes aside.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet with a lid on medium-high. As soon as the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and allow to cook until the seeds begin to sputter. Immediately add the garam masala, chili powder and onion, stir to coat evenly and reduce flame to medium-low, cook until onion is light pink.

3. Add the potatoes, turmeric and salt. Stir to coat evenly and cover the skillet with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes with occasional stirring. Fold in the peas and then cook for another 5 minutes with a covered lid. Once the peas are cooked, remove from stove and keep the mixture aside. 

4. Slice the top of each of the bell peppers about 1/2 inch from the top. Remove the lid of the bell pepper and remove any seed that are inside. Generously stuff each pepper with the pea and potato filling prepared earlier and cover with the sliced lid. Pass two bamboo skewers through each stuffed bell pepper and cut off any extra length of the skewer. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet with a lid on medium-high flame. Brush each stuffed bell pepper with  the extra oil and place them in the hot skillet. Cover with a lid and cook and rotate each side until the skin of the bell pepper gets slightly blistered. This should take about 1 minute on each side of the pepper. The skewers will help to hold the bell peppers together while they cook. Once the peppers are cooked, remove and discard the skewers. Remove the lid of each bell pepper, garnish with a little fresh cilantro or parsley leaves and squeeze a little fresh lime juice over the stuffing. Place the lid back on top of the pepper leaving it slightly open. Serve warm.