The cookbook has gone to the publishers! A few weeks ago I had a final read through of the manuscript which Shalini brought in person when she came to Kenya and did her first ever Just Jhoom! class on African soil to rave reviews (you can read about it here). The food photos had been completed months ago; the photo of me for the back cover was the only thing left to do. I finally got round to it after constructing a makeshift tripod and some wrangling with the self-timer mechanism on the camera. I expect that they are putting it all together as I write this…I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Many of the recipes in the cookbook are healthier or more wholesome versions of classic recipes. By healthier I mean lower in fat, salt, and sugar and incorporating more vegetables, legumes, greens and leaner cuts of meat than their curry house counterparts (home Indian cooking is healthy for the most part, yes, even Punjabis don’t drown their food in ghee and butter on a day-to-day basis as is the popular misconception). I want to emphasise that this is not a diet or weight loss cookbook, although most of the recipes can be incorporated into a realistic and safe weight loss program. I do not believe in fat-free and sugar-free, or demonising any food for that matter. We all need a moderate amount of fat in our diet and some fats are better for you than others, just like raw cane sugar and honey are better for you than processed white sugar. Diets don’t work in the long term, practising moderation and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle with regular exercise does. All the recipes in the book can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle and, most importantly, I have provided the key nutritional information for each recipe so that you are informed about what is in your food and can decide for yourselves or consult a nutritionist if you have to. For example, I have 2 Paneer dishes in the cookbook. Paneer is a full fat, unprocessed, curd cheese. Some may say that Paneer does not belong in a healthy cookbook due to the fat content. I disagree, for several reasons. Paneer is a good source of protein. A portion of my Paneer Tikka or Karahi Paneer contains only half the daily recommended amount of fat and saturated fat (you can plan your breakfast and lunch accordingly). Both dishes contain a lot of vegetables and I have recommended that they be enjoyed with whole wheat chapatis or pitas and some raw salad for a meal that is well-balanced in terms of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other vitamins and minerals. Not to mention very tasty! I must feel that I have enjoyed my meal in order to feel satisfied and, as a result, I am much less likely to reach for the crisps and chocolate. And I mean every meal. When I make my oatmeal in the morning I use semi-skimmed milk, 1 teaspoon of honey, slivered almonds, and some cardamom powder – it is so delicious and makes me feel like I’m eating kheer (Indian rice pudding). Because I enjoy it so much and it feels like a comforting treat, I am satisfied until lunch time. Healthy, tasty comfort food is the best kind!
My all time favourite comfort food is vegetable pillao or biriyani with a little yogurt and some sweet lime or mango pickle. Growing up, my mum rarely cooked on weekends as that was her time off. Friday night was barbecue night at the Mombasa Sports Club, Saturdays was swimming, squash and tennis at the Nyali Golf Club (and steak sandwiches and chips with lots of vinegar) and Sundays was usually lunch at the Chini Club or a Karoga at the Shamba (farm). When my mum did cook on a Saturday it was usually a vegetable pillao made in coconut milk – so simple and so good. After I left home and wherever I lived, I would make a version of this on Saturdays, as much for the memories and sense of comfort it evoked as for its relative simplicity and tastiness. This version is healthier because of the balance of vegetables and rice and the addition of some protein in the red kidney beans. This is still a carbohydrate heavy dish but you can always compensate by having a high protein low-carb breakfast/dinner. I haven’t used coconut milk because I want to keep it low-fat. Feel free to use any vegetables you like, I used what I had in the vegetable crisper. I have made this using white basmati rice. Brown rice is healthier but I will confess to being inexperienced with cooking brown rice. The kind I have come across takes a long time to cook and ends up quite mushy. I should teach myself to do it properly and share the results here. I’m sure this Pillao can be made with brown rice although you may have to precook the brown rice three-quarters of the way through before adding it to the tomato and vegetable mixture and then letting it cook all the way through. I only eat rice once a week and it’s almost always white basmati.
Vegetable Pillao (Vegetable Pullao)
Preparation Time : 20-25 minutes
Cooking Time: 28-30 minutes
1 cup (185g) white long-grain rice, I use Basmati
1 large onion (130g), cut into half and then thinly sliced
300g tomato passata or crushed tomatoes
1 cup (150g) cauliflower florets
1 medium green pepper (120g), halved and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot (70g), quartered and diced
1 cup (150g) cooked kidney beans, canned are fine (drain and rinse them)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons (28g) raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
1 rounded teaspoon coriander powder
1 rounded teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
4 green cardamoms, seeds crushed to powder or 1/2 teaspoon of ready ground cardamoms powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
1 1/2 cups (340ml) water
Firstly, wash the rice in several changes of water until the water runs quite clear and let it soak while you prepare the vegetables.
Heat the oil on medium heat, add the bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick and the onions and let the onions cook for 4-5 minutes, until they brown and caramelise slightly. Do add a few tablespoons of water from time to time to help soften the onions and prevent them from burning.
Add the tomato passata/crushed tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, green peppers, kidney beans, ginger, garlic, raisins, cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, cardamom powder, and salt. Stir well and then cover the pot and let this cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes before adding the rice which has been soaking (remember to drain all the water first) and the fresh coriander. Stir again and add the 1 1/2 cups of water.
Let the water come to a boil, then lower the heat to the lowest setting, a very low simmer, and let the Pillao cook slowly. Mine took about 16 minutes. Check that the water has dried up and that the rice is cooked to your liking. Even if the Pillao seems a little wet but the rice is cooked, switch off the heat and let it sit for 10 mins, the moisture will dry up. This Pillao is a complete meal in its own! Just a little yogurt and pickle made the ideal accompaniments.
Per serving: Calories 351, Protein 10g, Carbohydrate 66g, Sugars 8g, Fat 6g, Saturates 1g, Fibre 8g. Low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. A good source of Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.