Brown Rice Usili


Dishes like these always reminds me of my grandma. Growing up, usili used to be a frequent lunch box menu for us. Usili is a kind of a dry pongal and I like this better than the original mushed up pongal.  The seasonings used here are just cumin seeds, peppercorns, and dried red chilies. My grandma usually makes this with moong dhal and my mom makes this with toor dhal. I like both the versions. If you want to try a different pongal, you can try this with toor dhal. The side dish for this usili is usually coconut chutney and sambar. Also any tamarind-based coconut chutney will work out great with this  usili in particular. 

1. Brown rice or white rice, washed 1 cup.
2. Moong dhal, 1/2 cup, washed and soaked for an hour.
3. Peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon.
4. Cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon.
5. Dried red chilies, 2.
6. Salt, as per taste.
7. Curry leaves, a handful.

This preparation works out great when cooked in a rice cooker. The dhal does not turn very mushy in the rice cooker. Alternate method is to cook the rice and the dhal separately and add the seasonings and salt and mix the usili gently under low temperature until all the flavors are absorbed in the dish.

Rice cooker version:
Add 2-1/4 cups of water to the rice and dhal along with salt and cook them in a regular way. Meanwhile, heat a small pan with a tablespoon of oil. When the oil turns hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds. Then add the curry leaves and broken red chilies and fry for a second and turn off the heat. Pour the seasonings over the usili, mix everything , and serve hot.

Bitter gourd Chips

Bitter gourd has become a regular for me these days, not so much for my hubby though. The reason I consume them on a regular basis is that I have seen a big difference in blood sugars on days I have bitter gourd.  I am really glad that my local farmers market have them.  I couldn't find curry leaves though :( The only Indian grocery store that we have nearby is a Pakistani Grocery store a couple of miles from our place and the kind gentleman is good enough to give me a couple of sprigs from his home garden every time I shop there and it lasts for a 2 weeks if I use them sparingly.  Curry leaves have turned into a precious commodity for me here :(

Coming on to the recipe, this is one of the simplest and easiest of bitter gourd dishes and tastes good too. These fries go very well as a side dish with rice and any gravies like sambar, rasam, vatha kuzumbu or just plain curd rice. These can be deep fried or if you have a little time, you can bake them too.  I tried both the versions and there is no much difference in the taste. These days, I use the baking method only to cut down the calories from the fries.

1. Bitter gourd, 3-4 medium-size ones, sliced into thin circles.
2. Chili powder or sambar powder, 1 teaspoon.
3. Turmeric powder, a pinch.
4. Ginger-garlic paste, 1/2 teaspoon.
5. Salt as per taste.

Mix the bitter gourd slices with the powders, ginger-garlic paste, and salt. You can deep fry the slices until they are crisp or they can be baked. In this case, spread the slices evenly on a cookie sheet and spray them with oil spray and bake them at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes until they are crisp.

Kids and toddler recipes: Homemade chicken broth

The last couple of weeks had been very hectic with the kids being sick most of the time. One would recover from a nasty bout of flu and the other one would pick it up. We were spending many sleepless nights checking their temperatures and cough. The little ones are doing much better now and I have been giving them soups and broths more frequently to keep the cold and cough at bay.  I did not want to give them the readymade soups, so I started making soups like chicken noodle soups, vegetable soups, and chicken broth for the kids.  I also added a little bit of heat and spices like fennel and hing, so that the kids will like it better.

Coming on to this broth recipe, this was the only one my son was consuming on a regular basis, especially on days when he had the fever. I usually serve this broth as midday snack, an hour before lunch. This did bring the runny nose and cough down a little.  You can serve this soup is sippy cups and this comes in handy when the child does not want to eat or drink anything at all on sick days.

1. Chicken, 3-4 small pieces.
2.  Water, 3 cups.
3.  Turmeric powder, a pinch.
4. Ginger-garlic paste, 1/4 teaspoon.
5. Pepper powder, less than a pinch.
6. Asafetida, a pinch.
7. Fennel seeds powder, a pinch.
8. Salt as per taste.

Cook the chicken with all the spices and water either in a pressure cooker for 2-3 whistles for 10 minutes or cook the soup by boiling the chicken with the water and spices in a pot for 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the soup and filter the broth, and serve the warm broth in cups or sippy cups.

If serving this broth for big kids or grownups, go a little generous with the spices and some chili powder can also be added, if preferred.

Kids recipes: Homemade dates syrup


I have been giving dates syrup for my kids since they were a year old as advised by a doctor in India. He was not so much into vitamin supplements or iron drops for the kids and he suggested that I give them dates syrup mixed with milk on a daily basis. The babies loved the taste of this milk too but here in California, I couldn't find them anywhere despite of seeing dates trees all around the community.  I started making dates syrup after searching a couple of recipes. There were a couple of methods and I tried a few of them. These 2 cooking methods seemed to work with me. I also made a simple banana cake with this new batch for my kids. This flavor is really good with a nice smell. Please try this dates syrup in other dessert recipes and let me know your comments.

1. Seedless dates, 1 cup.
2. Water, 2 cups.
3. Salt, a pinch.
4. Brown sugar or jaggery, 2 tablespoons (optional).

Soak the dates in water for an hour. Then boil them for around 25-30 minutes until the dates turn mushy and soft. Let it cool completely for an hour.  At this point, you can strain the dates through a sieve by gently pressing the dates with a spatula. This way we can get the thick syrupy texture without the skin and the husk. This can be added in milk or other beverages and this has a honey texture. Another method is that once the dates is cooled, blend it into a smooth puree. This can be added as a sweetener wherever sugar is required.

Ideas for using dates syrup:
1. Two teaspoons of syrup can be added in a glass of milk. It is better to strain the milk before serving, especially if you are feeding the milk to kids in sippy cups or bottles.
2. This syrup can be used in place of sugar in desserts like cakes, pancakes, sweet dosas, wherever sugar, brown sugar, or jaggery is used.

Some patio gardening with the kids:
This was after a story that I had read to the kids recently where a little girl plants a flower garden in the window as a birthday gift for her mother. Ever since, Krithikha wanted to do the same for me. How could I resist that :), so this weekend I had the kids plants some small plants in the patio. Aryaa wanted only cactus, so I had a bunch of succulents in his pot and Krithikha planted some flowering plants the same way just like in the story book. We also started some container vegetable gardening and they had to explain what they did to their dad just in case daddy doesn't know how to plant seeds :)  Everyday the little ones keep checking on their plants as well as the vegetable containers asking if the carrots and tomatoes have come up already.

Aryaa's plant :)

Krithikha's plants :)


Some of mummy's flowering plants :