Onion Sambar | Vengaya Sambar

Vengaya SambarIt’s almost a given that you cannot go to a Tamil home without being invited to stay for a meal. Tamilians love to feed as much as they love to eat, and when we go to Chennai on our visits back to India it is not unusual for us to have two lunches, two dinners, and umpteen snacks, all in a single day, as we make the rounds of our relatives’ homes.

When we lived in Bombay, we were not above exploiting all this hospitality. The mother of one of our friends, Malathy,  was a great cook. Luckily our home was not far from Malathy’s, and whenever we were craving a great homecooked Tamil meal Desi and I would just drop in for a visit, sure that we’d be well fed.

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Vengaya SambarWhile almost any meal you’d eat in a Tamil home would be special, we were never happier than when we were served Vengaya Sambar or Onion Sambar, a delicious dal made with tiny red onions. This dish, one of Desi’s favorites, fast became one of my favorites too because it is just so delicious. It was also one of the first types of sambar I learned to cook when I started to putter around the kitchen.

Many years — and hundreds of sambars later– I want to share with you this classic dish beloved in every home kitchen in Chennai. My version is made with fresh ground sambar masala that takes just minutes to put together. The red pearl onions (chinna vengayam in Tamil) are key to this dish because of their unique flavor. If you can’t easily find them in your grocery store don’t be tempted to substitute with the more commonly available white pearl onions because you just won’t get the same flavor. Red pearl onions are sold both fresh or frozen at Indian grocery stores and buy the fresh ones if possible because while the frozen onions are lower on labor (you don’t have to peel them),   they can sometimes be chewy. If you absolutely cannot find red pearl onions, I’d advise buying shallots instead and cutting them into small pieces.

Vengaya Sambar tastes best poured over some hot boiled rice with a side of crispy potato curry. And don’t forget to toast up some poppadums!

Vengaya Sambar

Onion Sambar or Vengaya Sambar
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Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Tamil
Serves: 8
  • 1 cup tuvar dal or split pigeon peas
  • 1 tbsp of tamarind extract mixed with 1 cup of water. Alternately, if you’re using tamarind pods, soak a 1-inch ball of the pods in warm water for 15 minutes, then extract the flavor by crushing the pods with your fingers. Discard the solids and reserve the liquid portion.
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 1 tbsp chana dal or bengal gram dal
  • ¼ tsp dry fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 2 cups red pearl onions, ends trimmed and papery skins peeled. Tamil cooks sometimes soak the onions overnight which makes it easier to slip the skins off.
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves (about 12 individual leaves)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • A generous pinch of hing or asafetida
  • Salt to taste
  1. Mix the lentils and turmeric, add water and cook until tender in a pressure cooker. Or cover the peas with an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil, then slap on a lid, lower to simmer, and boil for 30-45 minutes or until the peas are tender enough to mash. Add more water if needed as they cook.
  2. Prepare the ground masala by heating 1 tsp of oil. Add to it the coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds and chillies and saute until the coriander seeds and dal turn a few shades darker and are lightly golden-brown. Remove to a blender, add enough water to keep the blades moving, and process to a smooth paste.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of the oil, add the pearl onions and stir-fry until the start to turn golden. Add the tamarind extract and let the mixture cook about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the ground masala and stir well to mix. Add the cooked tuvar dal and bring everything to a boil.
  5. Lower the heat to a simmer, add salt to taste, and let the sambar cook for 10 minutes so all the flavors have a chance to meld together.
  6. To temper the sambar– an important flavor-building step– heat the last teaspoon of oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the asafetida and curry leaves. Fry for a few seconds, turn off the heat, and pour over the sambar. Mix well.

Onion Sambar

Quinoa and Bean Burger: Great-to-Grill Vegan Recipes

Quinoa and Bean Burger, gluten-free and vegan

Most of my grilling happens with vegetables because nearly any veggie can be transformed into smoky deliciousness with a simple turn on the grate. Think mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and even broccoli. But to get the summer really going, I need a good, hearty burger I can sink my teeth into.

There are a ton of veggie burgers out there in the supermarket, but most are disappointingly bland and so processed that you might do better chewing on a chunk of rubber. My hometown newspaper The Washington Post, whose food section has turned rather vegetarian-friendly over the past few months, recently did a taste test of 16 veggie burgers on the market (gulp, did you even know there were that many available?). As you can see the results were anything but encouraging. In fact, the most complimentary comment went something like, “Nice to see recognizable produce.”
But while off-the-shelf veggie burgers might leave you wanting, it is quite possible to turn out in your kitchen an all-veg burger that is delicious and satisfying enough to make a voracious carnivore go, who needs meat? Well, almost.
Quinoa and Bean Burger, gluten-free and vegan

A couple of years back, I posted a great-on-the-grill burger recipe that so many of you love and have tried: my Bean and Oats Burger. That healthy patty has amazing texture and holds well on a grill and it is pretty much my go-to burger recipe. But this week, trying to think of an even better-for-you burger, if possible, I dreamed up and then made this startlingly flavorful, utterly healthy Quinoa and Bean Burger. With kale and carrots and all other sorts of veggie goodness rolled into it. And all of it flavored with some smoking-hot garam masala.

Garam masala is not your average burger ingredient and yet it’s a perfect fit. Spices tend to add depth and smokiness to meat-free ingredients. And I dare you to imagine a burger — vegan or not– filled with more heart-healthy protein than the quinoa and beans pack into this recipe.
I hope everyone has been enjoying the warm weather here in our part of the world. I spent the long Memorial Day weekend trying to beat my yard into shape and not even coming close to where I need to be. But I did plant some seedlings: tomatoes, eggplants, bell pepper,  and zucchini. And between watering them and keeping the weeds out, you can bet I will be praying that my thumb’s gotten a little greener after years of trial and error. :)
Moving on to the recipe. Enjoy, all!
Quinoa and Bean Burger, gluten-free and vegan


Quinoa and Bean Burger: Great-to-Grill Vegan Recipes
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Recipe type: Grill
Serves: 8
  • 1 cup dry red kidney beans (rajma)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup chickpea flour, also known as besan or garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 cup packed kale leaves, minced
  • 4 leaves of sage, minced. (Sage adds a great smokiness, but you can also use coriander leaves here.)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 1 tbsp tamari, or you can use regular soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper or paprika (use cayenne for more heat)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil like olive or canola, and an oil spray to cook the burgers
  1. To cook the quinoa, rinse under cold water and then place in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and garam masala. Add salt to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and let the quinoa cook until it has absorbed most of the water. Place a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan and continue to cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
  2. To cook the beans, it is always better to soak them overnight but you can get away with no soaking if you have a pressure cooker. If you do, just follow your manufacturer’s instructions to get beans that are squishable but not falling apart. Otherwise, place the soaked beans in a large saucepan, cover with at least an inch of water, bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about an hour until tender.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a large saucepan.
  4. Add the carrot, onion, kale, sage, and garlic. Add the tamari, mustard, coriander and cumin powders and the cayenne. Saute on medium-high heat about 5-8 minutes or until the mixture is dry and doesn’t taste raw anymore. Stir in the tomato paste and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the ground black pepper and cooked beans and mix well. Using a potato masher, squish some of the beans. You don’t want this mixture to be too smooth– your burger will benefit from some texture.Add the chickpea flour and stir for another couple of minutes. You want the bean mixture to be quite dry and without any visible moisture, or your patties won’t hold together.Add the quinoa and mix well. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Heat a griddle and spray with some oil. Moisten your hands in a water bath and form the patties. You can get about eight really big patties and 10 good-sized ones from this recipe.
  7. Place the patties on the skillet and cook on each side until browned.
  8. You can freeze these patties once they have cooled. Separate each patty with wax paper before freezing. When you are ready to grill, just throw the frozen patty on the grate and heat through.

I served these burgers piping hot, cradled in my Whole Wheat Burger Buns along with some greens, onions, avocado, and a dollop of Nayonaise (it’s a vegan mayo that tastes amazingly like the real thing on the bun).


Vegan burger nutrition info
(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Mushroom Biryani

Mushroom Biryani

The other day, as the fragrance of my easy and quick Mushroom Biryani filled the kitchen, I was back for a moment in my aunt’s kitchen in Bombay.

Akka, my dad’s sister in whose Vile Parle home I spent many wonderful summers as a girl, was at the stove, frying up the onions for her mutton biryani in a small Indian wok, known as a kadhai. My cousin Tai was sitting on the cold, red, cement-tiled floor at an adoli, a cutting implement often used in Indian homes instead of a knife, cutting coriander leaves into lacy fronds with a deftness I have never mastered. A plane closing in to land at the Santa Cruz airport just a couple of miles away drowned out, for a moment, the sounds of gods alternately battling and pontificating on my uncle’s favorite Sunday morning television show, Mahabharat.

Akka passed away last year, and it’s been a long time since I’ve physically been in my hometown, Bombay. But the food I cook in my kitchen often takes me back, like a time machine, to her and into other long-lost corners of the past.Mushroom Biryani

The smell of cumin sputtering in oil reminds me of the swell of excitement I felt the first time I visited Delhi along with other students in my class at journalism school. We were about to start the most exciting trip of our lifetimes thus far. We were going to meet leaders of top political parties, visit the pink-marble building of the Indian parliament, and explore the capital city. I don’t remember many details of the central government dorm we were staying at, after a day and night’s train journey from Pune, but the overpowering scent of burnt cumin floating atop a dal that we were served for dinner is seared forever in my memory.

The scent of turmeric in a curry reminds me of the lunch I ate at the US Embassy in London, along with journalists from around the world on a fellowship. The curry we were served was nice enough although really heavy on the turmeric. But what was even more memorable was the American diplomat who shared our table. He had somehow gotten a dab of butter on his forehead and as the meal progressed the butter slowly melted and ran down his face and his nose, even as he talked vigorously, completely oblivious to the butter and to the inadvertent entertainment he was providing the rest of us (we weren’t being cruel– we just didn’t know how to tell him).

Rolling a paratha reminds me of the first recipe I ever cooked for Desi– an Aloo Paratha. Each time I make parathas now, he reminds me, to this day, that he nearly starved that afternoon as he waited for me to turn out one that was fit to eat.

Among all the things food is, it is a wonderful reminder of the paths our lives have taken. Its effect is certainly not strong enough to shape lives– unless you happened to choose a career in food, perhaps– but it often becomes a delicious marker for life’s milestones. The best part is, it doesn’t even really have to be delicious to be memorable, although that doesn’t hurt.

What are the foods that mark the milestones of your life? I’d love to hear.

I adapted my recipe today from the Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s version of a low-fat fish biryani. I love biryanis– who doesn’t?– but as anyone who’s made one knows, it is not the stuff of weeknights. When I saw Kapoor’s recipe I was thrilled because it appeared really easy to put together. You just mix everything in a pot, no separate sauteing for each ingredient required, and there’s definitely no grinding and blending involved. It doesn’t get any better for my time-strapped kitchen.

I made a few changes, besides the fish which I substituted with the mushrooms. I also subbed the yogurt– an ingredient that adds a little extra something to any biryani– with coconut milk. And for good measure, I threw in a few handfuls of green salad leafies that had been sitting around in my fridge and weren’t looking too, ahem, lively. You can add other vegetables to this recipe as well, like bell peppers or carrots– anything that doesn’t take ages to cook. If it does, precook it before adding it to the biryani.

One of the best things about this recipe is, it has no added fat (there is some fat in coconut milk and in the fried onions, if you choose to use those, but no added oil). So in addition to being delicious and easy to make, this biryani is also good for you. And how can you argue with that?

So here’s the recipe for an easy, low-fat Mushroom Biryani, a flavorful, delicious, and vegan treat for any weeknight or weekend meal. It is good enough to mark one of life’s milestones.

Enjoy, all!

low-fat biryani
Mushroom Biryani, Low-Fat
Prep time
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This easy and healthy mushroom biryani takes just minutes to put together and is a great alternative when you want something fancy but nutritious for weeknights.
Recipe type: Rice, Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 cup Basmati rice. Soak the rice for 30 minutes and then wash thoroughly to remove as much of the starch as you can.
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 pods of green cardamom
  • 2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • For the sauce:
  • 4 cups chopped mushrooms. Quarter the really large ones and halve the smaller ones.
  • 2 cups of quick-cooking leafy greens (don’t use kale or collard which take a long time to cook. Spinach, lettuce, chard are all good).
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaping tbsp garam masala or biryani masala. If using biryani masala, you may want to cut back on the cayenne because these masalas can sometimes be really spicy.
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp cayenne or paprika
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ cup coriander leaves, minced
  • ¼ cup dill or mint, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup fried onions (optional, but these are always a key ingredient in biryanis because they give great flavor. You can use French’s or the ones you can buy in a packet at the Indian grocery store)Method:
  1. In a saucepan, place 1 cup of water, the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. Add salt to taste.
  2. Pour in the drained rice and place over a medium fire. When the water starts to boil, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and then turn down the heat to the lowest setting.
  3. Let the rice steam for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  4. Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. Turn on the heat and saute until the mushrooms are almost cooked.
  5. Pour the cooked rice over the mushroom mixture and spread into an even layer.
  6. Sprinkle the top with a little coconut milk, if you desire
  7. Cover and let the biryani cook on a low flame for about 15 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat and let the biryani sit for another 15-20 minutes for the flavors to merge.
Serve the biryani hot by itself or with a light curry, like my Tomato Curry.**If you haven’t entered the giveaway for the Rotito rolling board set that I announced last week on this blog, you are not too late. I plan to announce the winner later this week, no later than Friday, so until I do you are welcome to enter. See the post for details on how to enter. Good luck!(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Vegan Bean and Oats Burgers

Bean and Oats Burgers, Vegan and Gluten-Free

The New York Times’ food section last week ran a story on the rising popularity (and quality) of veggie burgers in local restaurants and the half-page picture of a sesame seed bun cradling a patty, tomatoes, and lots of lettuce really got my juices flowing. But the article didn’t offer any recipes, and I really can’t afford to jet to New York to taste one of these magical burgers. So I took the regular person’s way out of a craving: I made my own.

I’ve tried my hand at making vegan burgers before from various recipes and I’ve tried making my own, but I’ve never been completely successful in coming up with one that holds well together AND tastes great. This time I was lucky. I improvised very slightly on a recipe I found here: it sounded terribly healthy with oats and two kinds of beans and carrots, among other goodies, and I had all the ingredients I needed on hand, except the black beans. But I had plenty of other kinds of beans, including red, which I ended up using in combination with the pinto beans.

The burger was absolutely delicious and the best part is that it was really easy to make. It was sturdy enough to go into a bun and hold its own, and it stayed together beautifully on the griddle– the place where many patties usually fall apart. The only thing missing, I thought, was the chewiness that would help satisfy a meat-eater’s texture-cravings, but the next time I might try adding a tiny bit of TVP or even a chewy grain like bulgur to make up for that.

I know my recent posts have been rather short, and that’s because I’ve been juggling too many things. But I like chatting with you more than you perhaps like listening to me, and for my own sake I hope to return to my usual self sometime in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, enjoy this.

Bean and Oats Burgers, Meatless Recipe
Bean and Oats Burgers
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These delicious and hearty Bean and Oats Burgers are perfect for the grill
Recipe type: Burger
Serves: 8
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2 tbsp tamari (can use soy sauce instead, but tamari is usually low sodium)
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1½ cups quick-cooking oats (I had regular rolled oats which I ran in the food processor for a minute)
  • ½ cup dry pinto beans
  • ½ cup dry red or black beans
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  1. Soak for a few hours and then cook the pinto and red beans until tender.
  2. Heat a skillet and saute the onion and garlic with a tiny bit of salt for a few minutes until translucent but not brown.
  3. Add the carrot, chili powder, and cumin and cook a couple minutes or until carrot is tender. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  4. Mash the beans in a large bowl. Add the carrot mixture, mustard, ketchup, tamari and oats.
  5. Mix well and then shape the mixture into eight patties.
  6. Heat a nonstick or cast-iron skillet and coat with cooking spray.
  7. Cook patties over medium heat for four to five minutes on each side, or until golden brown. I like mine a little charred for extra flavor.
Bean and Oats Burgers
(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Cauliflower Sabzi

Cauliflower Sabzi It was almost a week ago that I made this Cauliflower Sabzi and it is long gone, but looking at these pictures as I got ready to post them now got my mouth watering!

The amazing thing about this sabzi is, it is really simple to make– in fact, I made it with a bag of frozen cauliflower florets and a few old spices. It took a minimum of effort, delivered a power-packed flavor punch and tons of nutrition because — like its cruiciferous siblings broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards and kale– cauliflower is a super-veggie that can help you ward off cancer. Now those are my kind of eats.

It’s a weeknight and I need to get ready for bed, so I’ll make this an uncharacteristically super-short post. But I’ll be seeing you around soon!

Cauliflower Sabzi

Cauliflower Sabzi
Prep time
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Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4
  • 1 16-oz bag of frozen cauliflower florets, thawed
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (use more or less if you want to change the amount of heat)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped scallions/spring onions or ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
  1. Heat the oil in a skillet
  2. Add the cumin seeds and when they sputter, add the onions and saute until they just begin to brown.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a few seconds until the garlic is fragrant.
  4. Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin powders and stir into the oil.
  5. Add the tomato puree and saute until the tomato turns a few shades darker and begins to express the oil.
  6. Add the cauliflower, stir well to coat the cauliflower with the tomato puree, add salt to taste. When the mixture comes to a simmer, turn down the heat, cover the skillet, and cook about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is quite tender but not mushy.
  7. Add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat. Garnish with some chopped spring onions or coriander leaves.
  8. Enjoy with some rotis or parathas or some rice and dal.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.