Kitchari: A Wholesome Cleanse

I have been extremely tired over the past few weeks, and knew that I needed a quick pick-me- up – a sort of detoxing cleanse to get me back on my feet. However, fasting or following a juice diet didn’t appeal to me during the winter season — a time when food provides needed warmth. It was then that I remembered kitchari (khichdi), a comfort food used when convalescing or as part of an ayurvedic diet in order to rejuvenate a fatigued system.

Kitchari is a preparation of rice, lentils, and vegetables, with a soupy, risotto-like consistency. Each of the components in kitchari contributes to wellness, and comprise easily digestible and water-soluble ingredients. The cooking fat is ghee (similar to clarified butter made without the milk solids), which acts as a fuel for digestion and elimination, the start of the detoxification process. The pale yellow lentils are hulled green mung beans, which cooks easily; and represent a simpler and lighter way of consuming protein and fiber. Spices such as mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and fennel add flavor to an otherwise mild and creamy dish.


Ghee – 2 tbsp

Basmati rice – ½ cup, rinsed several times

Mung Lentils (yellow mung dal) – ½ cup, rinsed several times and left overnight in water to soak

Vegetables – 2 cups, finely chopped (combination of carrots, pepper, beans, squash, asparagus)

Red onion – 1, medium finely chopped

Ginger – 1 tsp, finely sliced

Garlic clove – 2, finely chopped

Chili – 1, slit into half and deseeded if desired

Black mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Coriander powder – 1½ tsp

Asafetida spice (optional) – ¼ tsp

Fennel seeds – ½ tsp

Vegetable stock – 4 ½ cups

Salt – to taste

  • Drain and rinse the mung lentils that had been left overnight.
  • Heat the ghee in a pot.
  • When the ghee melts, add onions and cook until translucent.
  • Add the garlic, chili, and ginger and cook until garlic is pale brown.
  • Add the black mustard seeds, and watch for the seeds to pop.
  • Add the cumin seeds and wait until you hear them sizzle (a few seconds), and immediately add the remaining spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, asafetida, and fennel), stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds or so).
  • Add the drained rice and lentils and stir until lightly fried, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the diced vegetables and continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes.
  • The dish is ready when the rice and lentils are soft to touch and the vegetables cooked.
  • For the desired soupy consistency, add more water or boil off any excess liquid in the pan.
  • Eat immediately.

Note: Try herbal tea with shavings of ginger to complement the meal.






National Rice Pudding Day

I was thrilled that this Sunday (August 9th) coincided with Rice Pudding Day, an easy way to indulge my sweet tooth. More importantly, the day fitted with my summer Sunday philosophy, which consists of putting as little effort as possible into cooking and as much effort as possible into enjoying the day. Salads and grilled food are easy to put together. Dessert from an untouched box of rice from a takeout Chinese leftover was sweeter.

Rice pudding is made with uncooked rice that is simmered in whole milk and sugar. The cooked rice has a porridge-like consistency and is rich and comforting. On the other hand, sticky cooked rice needs a summery infusion to freshen flavor. Lemon verbena, a new herb that I bought from a friend’s stall at the farmer’s market, has the crisp aroma of freshly cut lime or lemon. The leaves of lemon verbena also has warmth and richness of deeper spices like cardamom, which normally perfumes rice pudding. Nothing says summer like the scent of crushed herbs on the fingertips, and lemon verbena didn’t fail.


The coconut milk infusion made with lemon verbena  countered the day-old rice’s taste, and injected the rice with fresh flavors of lemon and the creamy taste of coconut milk.  Instead of garnishing with raisins and cashews, fresh raspberries and blueberries completed this lazy Sunday dessert.

Rice Pudding

Long grain rice – ¼ cup, washed and drained through a colander

Whole milk – 4 cups

Whole cardamom – 6

Sugar – 4 tbsp

Butter – 1tbsp

Raisins – ¼ cup

Cashew nuts – ¼ cup

  • Bring the milk to a boil.
  • Add the sugar and cardamom and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Lower the heat to medium, and add the rice.
  • Cover the pan, and cook until rice is soft, about 20-25 minutes.
  • While the rice is cooking, heat the butter in a pan.
  • Add the raisins and cashew nut and stir-fry, until the raisins swell and the cashew nuts have a golden color. Use as garnish on the top of individual bowls of rice pudding.
  • Serve rice pudding warm or cold.

Rice Pudding (with cooked rice)

Leftover rice – 3/4 of carton

Organic coconut milk – 1 can

Sugar – 4 tbsp

Lemon verbena – 8-10 leaves, torn roughly

Fresh berries – a handful

  • Bring the coconut milk to a simmer.
  • Add the sugar and lemon verbena leaves. Mix until sugar dissolves.
  • Remove the pan from heat and let the coconut milk with the leaves sit undisturbed for 20 minutes to an hour.
  • Bring it back to a gentle heat. Add rice. Stir until all the clumps of rice are broken up and incorporated into the coconut milk infusion.
  • Serve immediately. Garnish with berries.

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Appam (Rice Pancake): Fermented Gluten-Free Batter (Part 1)

Appam is a fermented rice pancake, and like bread made from simple, whole ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast. Its spongy texture is similar to injera and it is just as effective in mopping up stews.

Whether the bread or pancake is made from wheat, rice, or teff flour, it is that combination that starts the natural chemical process of fermentation. The gas bubbles that come to the surface are responsible for the sour smelling batter. Chemistry aside, the resulting bread or pancake has a light and airy texture. The unhurried (10-12 hours) fermented batter gives the bread its delicate flavor. While rice and teff flour (used ininjera) are naturally gluten-free, slow fermentation breaks down the gluten proteins more effectively even with wheat and rye flour. This makes the bread easier to digest.

Appam (Rice Pancake)

Rice Flour – 1 cup

Yeast – ¼ tsp

Sugar – 4 tsp

Coconut Milk – 1 cup

Salt – 1 tsp

  • In a large bowl, mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of water until it dissolves.
  • Add the sugar, salt, and coconut milk and stir until well mixed.
  • Add the rice flour and  ¼ cup of water to make a batter.
  • Keep the batter aside in a warm place, about 12-14 hours or overnight.
  • Just before cooking, add water to the batter as needed, for a pouring consistency.
  • Heat a small non-stick wok.
  • Drop 2 tbsp of batter into the center of the wok.
  • Pick the wok up (with oven gloves) and swirl it gently, letting the batter come up the sides.
  • Cover with a lid and place it back on the heat. Cook for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the lid. The pancake should have a crispy brown lacy edge and a spongy center. Repeat for 8-10 pancakes.
  • Pancakes can also be made on a griddle or the batter can be steamed to a bread-like thickness.
  • Serve with stew or curry.



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Étouffée (or Etouffee)

Even a week after Mardi Gras’ end in New Orleans, the colorful bead garlands continue to drape trees along the parade route. A time for simplicity that follows all the merrymaking seems harder to shed in the city, especially one noted for its soupy gumbo, meaty jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay). It is here on a cool February afternoon as I was enjoying étouffée, a seafood dish ladled over plump rice grains, that I realized that this dish could be even further enhanced with compound butter.

Étouffée originated in the bayous of Louisiana where crawfish, a small lobster-like crustacean, is plentiful. When crawfish isn’t in season, shrimp is substituted and is “smothered” (from French verb, étouffer) in a creamy roux sauce. The shellfish flavors in the dish are developed through a two-step process. Combining shrimp stock with butter makes shrimp compound butter, and this modified butter provides the base for a rich roux.

Shrimp Étouffée

Raw shrimp (with shells) – 1 lb

Butter – 4 tbsp

Flour – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Bell pepper – 1, de-seeded and chopped

Celery stalk – 1, chopped

Bay leaf – 1

Seafood stock – 1 cup

Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp

Red chili pepper – ¾ tsp

Fresh pepper – ½ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Lemon – ½, juiced

Green onions – 3, chopped finely

Parsley – 3 tbsp, chopped

Cooked rice – for serving

  • To make the stock: Shell and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Divide the stock, keeping one half of the stock with all the shells.
  • To make the shrimp compound butter: Add 4 tbsp of butter to the stock with the shells. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Strain the shells, and allow the liquid to cool. The butter will solidify and can be skimmed off the surface to become shrimp compound butter.
  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the shrimp compound butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee.
  • Once the roux has turned to a rich brown color, add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery and bay leaf and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
  • Add the cayenne pepper, chili flakes and pepper. Sauté for one minute.
  • Add the stock, salt and bring to a boil. Whisk so that the roux and stock are well mixed. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and cover and cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp has turned pink. Do not overcook.
  • Just before serving, add the lemon juice, green onions, and salt. Garnish with parsley.
  • Serve over cooked rice.






Paleo Diet: From Stone Age to Modern Age

I have never followed a diet successfully, mainly because I enjoy food too much to give it up. I’ve noticed that every diet has the naysayers who point out the flaws of what they see as a passing fad. Yet when a friend explained about Paleo diet, I was intrigued by the notion of going back in time to find healthy options.

A Paleo diet, an abbreviation for Paleolithic diet, is one that closely follows what our Paleolithic/Stone Age/caveman ancestors ate. The present day version of hunting or foraging translates to eating free-range animals and sustainable seafood, and enjoying a rotation of seasonal vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

When A. said that she was substituting rice with cauliflower in a recipe for fried rice, I realized that this represented a perfect Paleo concept. I recognized that it would be my biggest challenge since I love rice. A Paleo diet is similar to the low-carbohydrate/high protein diet, but the types of carbohydrates allowed in each are different; In a Paleo diet, carbohydrates from grains, cereals, and legumes are excluded and come primarily from vegetables and fruits. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle that predates our agricultural past also means that dairy is excluded from the diet. While the Paleo diet is good for those with wheat and dairy allergies, the diet is tough for vegetarians to follow. Legumes, a major source of proteins in a vegetarian diet, are not allowed. However, no one can complain about the health benefits of excluding refined sugars and oils, processed foods, and salts.

I can do without refined and processed products, but I wondered how the bland cauliflower taste would stand in for both texture and crunch as a replacement for rice. I substituted cauliflower in an abridged version of my mother’s recipe for aromatic rice pilaf.

Cauliflower Pilaf

Cauliflower – 1 medium, separated into florets (use about 10)

Mixed vegetables (peas, beans, cabbage, carrots) – 1½ cup

Coconut oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, minced

Garlic – 3 cloves, minced

Ginger – 1-inch, minced

Serrano pepper – 1, minced

Green Cardamom – 3

Whole Cloves – 5

  • Put the cauliflower florets in a food processor. Pulse three times, or until the florets are the size of rice grains.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or sauté pan.
  • Add the minced shallots. Stir until they turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, Serrano and stir for about a minute.
  • Add the cloves and cardamom.
  • Add the cauliflower, mixed vegetables, and 3 tbsp water (or stock).
  • Lower the heat, cover and cook for about five to eight minutes.
  • Remove the whole spices before serving.



I didn’t expect the substitution (cauliflower instead of rice) to work, but its crunch and appearance in the dish was deceptively close. I won’t be giving up rice anytime soon, but every time you encounter the familiar in unexpected new ways, you might just surprise yourself!

Caramelization: A Process That Starts as Science and Ends as Culinary Art

I planned to use the market’s abundance of berries, apricots, plums, and nectarines in both a salad (fruit combines well with sharpness of endives and firm slices of kohlrabi) and a fruit pie, for my friends this weekend.

I am not a good baker; I tinker with proportions to cut out extra fats and sugars and use shortcuts whenever possible. This time, I was determined to follow the rules to make short crust pastry, the base for my fruit pie. It took me a few tries using 1 cup of flour, 4 oz of butter (my first trial with ½ butter + ½ lard was abandoned, as I left it longer than the recommended 30 minutes in the fridge and it turned hard), and ice-cold water to make a soft pastry. I rolled out the pastry into a circle and brushed it with beaten egg yolk, so that the juice from the fruit wouldn’t seep through the pastry. I piled apricots, raspberries, black currants, and blueberries, mixed with ½ cup of sugar, onto the pastry. Finally, I brushed the fruits and pastry with whisked egg-white coating, and dusted everything with a little more sugar. I folded the edges of the pastry up toward the center, so that the fruits were secure in a pie basket, and set it to bake at 400°F. That was when things fell apart.

The nutty, smoky aroma of caramel wafted through my kitchen much before the recommended 35 minutes was up. When I checked, the pie was brown and the fruits soft and gleaming, but there were blobs of glowering, brown, syrup that bubbled and hissed in the corners of my oven! I didn’t count on caramelization, the complex process when the sugars in the fruits melt at high temperature. The water (juice) from the fruit first foamed before condensing and spilling over the pastry, which had me scraping the hot oven (melted sugar hardens and becomes much tougher to clean when cooled) with gloves and a long wooden spoon. The fruit pie wasn’t as sweet as I expected, as I had scrimped on the sugar having assumed that the sweetness of the fruit would be enough. However, the kitchen smelled rich with flavors of childhood – spun sugar and caramel pudding!

I had much more success when I caramelized onions for the onion dip.  Managing the unhurried process to draw out the sugars from the onion is easier in a pan. The resulting amber, gooey onions can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. I have had caramelized onions with melted Brie in a sandwich at a friend’s restaurant. I have also added them as a burger topping with crumbled blue cheese, and as a garnish in rice pilaf.

Caramelized Onions

Spanish onions – 2

Olive oil – 6 tbsp

Unsalted Butter – 4 tbsp

Salt – 1 tsp

Pepper – ½ tsp

Chili powder –1/4 tsp (optional)

  • Slice the onions into halves, and cut each half into thin slices on the diagonal.
  • Heat the oil and butter in a large pan.
  • When the butter starts to bubble in the pan, add the sliced onions.
  • Let the onions cook for a minute on high heat before adding the salt, pepper, and chili powder. I do like chili powder; it adds a nice warm red hue to the onions.
  • Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring the onion slices frequently.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and let the onions cook slowly for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • The onions reduce in volume considerably. If they haven’t yet reached a reddish-golden color, turn up the heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly for another minute.
  • Cool and store in a refrigerator if not using immediately.


Onion Dip: Combine and whip until smooth ¾ cup each of mayonnaise and sour cream. Add in the caramelized onions. Season to taste. Serve with celery, endives, and carrots.

Onion Soup: Once the onions are a reddish brown color, add stock (wine, if desired), thyme, and bay leaf. Cook for another 20 minutes. Just before serving, float a broiled/toasted cheese slice on the soup.