We had a crazy thunderstorm last night. I love thunderstorms and they always are crazy, but when they happen in a valley high in the Allegheny mountains, where the closest house is more than a mile away and the night outside is so black that it makes your city-dwelling head a little numb to even think about it, they are crazier than crazy.
The thunder’s that much louder, the lightning, it seems, that much closer. And the rain hammering down on the metal roof of the tiny cottage and the wooden porch steps makes sleep impossible.
Desi, Jay, Opie and I are taking a short break from our usually hectic lives by chilling out in one of our favorite vacation spots: a beautiful little getaway in Pennsylvania, not far from where it borders Maryland. Desi and I discovered it on the internet more than 12 years ago and our first thought was, won’t it be great for the dogs! We had just adopted Lucy, a strapping young babe who could run like the wind, and Opie, a puppy with the face of an angel. And they loved it more than we had imagined. Each time we visited, Lucy would race out of the car and up the steep hills as deftly as one of the whitetail deer who were all around. Opie, not as athletic but just as adventurous, would take off to the placid lake, where he would spend hours nosing around for, perhaps, a bone buried by another visitor’s dog?
This time, like he always does, Desi buried his nose in a puzzle the minute we landed while Jay, a first-timer, took off on his bike to explore. Opie. still angel-faced but too old now for adventure, staked out a green, grassy, tree-shaded spot just outside the cottage to lie down and take a nap in.
I, meanwhile, dug into the bags of groceries I had brought along, wondering what to cook for dinner in the tiny kitchen. One of the greatest challenges on vacations like these is planning the meals. You’re on holiday, so you want to eat well, you have a kitchen and time to cook, but how on earth do you remember to bring everything you need to make everything you want to? And you do have to remember, because the nearest grocery store is miles and miles away.
That might be an easier question for a more organized person to answer, but when you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants planner, the way I am, you always forget to bring something or the other. So over the years I’ve learned to stick with simple, easy dishes I can prepare with few ingredients, and fast, so I have time to do more of something else I love, like take a hike or bury myself in a book or a magazine. Something like this 15-minute Vegetable Fried Rice, Indian style.
This is truly a 15-minute dish, and you make it from scratch, including cooking the rice (although leftover rice is wonderful for this). You do need a microwave or a pressure cooker to get the rice done, and you can get your veggies prepped and sauteed while the rice cooks. Then all you need to do is put it all together.
This is a dish almost every Indian cook makes on the fly, and I remember my mom and every aunt had a version of it. I often make it with brown rice or even quinoa, but this time, given that I had limited resources, I used the more traditional white Basmati rice. This dish is delicious served with some Indian pickle and poppadum, but if you want to go the extra mile, serve it with some dal.
You can also vary the veggies here– just make sure they are quick-cooking. I used green peppers, carrots and scallions, but a leafy like spinach, broccoli, or zucchini or yellow squash would all be great in here.
I am off to curl up with a book now. The sky is clear tonight and the sound of the crickets outside is almost as deafening as the thunder was. Joy. Hope you’re looking forward to a lovely weekend too.
- 1 cup basmati rice cooked
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 medium onion minced
- 1 large green pepper finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots diced or cut into thin rings
- 2 scallions finely diced
- 1 tsp pulao masala or garam masala
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped mint or coriander leaves
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or, preferably, a wok. Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the onions, green peppers. scallions, and carrots.
- Saute until the veggies turn translucent, about five to seven minutes, then add the pulao masala or garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne.
- Lower the heat and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. You can add a teaspoon or two of water to prevent the spices from burning.
- Add the cooked rice and stir-fry for a couple of minutes, making sure everything is well-mixed.
- Add the lemon juice and mint or coriander leaves.
- Add salt to taste, mix well, and serve hot.