Friday, April 15, 2011

Pressure Cooker Risotto

My sister is flying in for a vacation from Bangalore, India in just three weeks and I am giddy with excitement. My head is spinning with mental lists of all the things I want to cook for her and all the places I want to take her- we will be meeting after 5 whole years. By the way, for those familiar with food stores in Bangalore, are there any foodie must-haves I should request her to bring along? She's been asking me if I would like anything from Bangalore and my favorite gifts are always of the food variety.

In preparation for her visit, I am eating down the pantry so I can restock it properly. I especially want to finish off the ingredients that I think of as "winter" ones and also use up obscure ingredients that are taking up precious pantry space. Yesterday, I found a package of arborio rice with a little over a cup of rice in it. I also found some nutritional yeast, an impulse purchase that I never got around to using. Pairing these pantry finds with some butternut squash and inspired by this recipe for pressure cooker risotto, I was able to make a creamy and comforting one dish meal in about 10 minutes of active cooking time. The nutritional yeast adds a complex cheesy flavor (perfect because I had no parmesan cheese on hand) and this dish happens to be vegan.

Around this time last year, I visited my friend Cathy in Maryland and she cooked me dinner after fabulous dinner. One evening she made a delicate butternut squash risotto perfumed with fresh ginger and garlic. With that taste memory resurfacing, I added fresh ginger and garlic to this dish with wonderful results.

Butternut Squash Risotto in the Pressure Cooker
(Adapted from this recipe, serves 3-4)
  1. Heat the pressure cooker with 2 to 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  2. Add 1 medium minced onion and 1 tbsp. each minced fresh ginger and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until the onions are fragrant and translucent.
  3. Add 1 cup (I had a little over 1 cup) arborio rice and toast it for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add 2 to 3 cups butternut squash, cut in small cubes. Stir in 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 3 cups vegetable stock, salt (only if needed) and pepper to taste. 
  5. Snap on the lid and pressure cook. Garnish with fresh herbs if you have some on hand.
This hands-off risotto is just as good as the one made with the stir-until-your-arms-fall-off variety. It might have been a tad overcooked mostly because my pressure cooker is sometimes too efficient for its own good. Next time, I'll rush to shut off the heat at the hint of the first whistle.

We filled up on creamy risotto and then went off to see the opening night of a hilarious musical put up by a talented group of medical school students. This week it feels like all the fun of Spring and Summer is finally kicking off.

* * *
The National Food Blogger Bake Sale is scheduled a few weeks from now, on May 14th 2011. With every brownie and lemon bar and slice of pie, this bake sale seeks to raise awareness and funds to end childhood hunger in the US. If you are interested in baking for this event, or just want to go snag a few treats for yourself, check this list to see if there are bake sales planned in your state and city.

Stef of the Cupcake Project is one of the hosts of the St. Louis edition of the bake sale. If you are in St. Louis, check her post to see how you can participate. I am planning to bake a couple of items- both with an Indian touch. More on that later. 

Happy Friday! Have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Recyled Rice

It is 5 AM this Saturday morning and V is busy watching the India- Sri Lanka cricket world cup finals. I am glancing every now and then at the score as I sip my tea, but I thought I would quickly share a very humble recipe that I made this week- a stir fry of vegetables and leftover rice.

A version of this recipe made a frequent appearance on the family table when I was growing up, called phodnicha bhaat in Marathi, which translates as tempered rice. Boiled rice was a staple at almost every meal and invariably there would be some left over. Throwing away this rice was an absolute no-no. A little ghee or oil and a smattering of fragrant spices (mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida) is all is takes to transform old rice into a tastier avatar. One version of phodnicha bhaat has lots of curry leaves; another version has a heady aroma with lots of minced garlic added to the tempering.

I love to make my version with thick slices of vegetables, cooked briefly so they stay crunchy and juicy. Pav bhaji masala, a store-bought mix of spices, is a quick way to add lots of savory flavor. I used vegetable juice (of which the V8 brand is best known but every store has its own, I used the Trader Joe's version) to add flavor and to wake up the dry rice.

The vegetables can be whatever you have lurking around. Onions, peppers and peas are always good. I had partial boxes of mushrooms and cherry tomatoes this time. These were offerings from Neighbor Girl. She drops in for dinner all the time, and usually brings something from her kitchen "to contribute to the dinner". It does not matter that the offerings have nothing whatsoever to do with that night's menu. I try and use them the following day! I find it very funny and touching that after dining with us on a regular basis for several months, Miss All-American Neighbor Girl craves dal and subzi and dahi for dinner.

Masala Fried Rice
(2 to 3 servings)

2 cups cold cooked rice (white or brown, your choice)
2 tsp. oil
12 cup vegetable juice (like V8) or equal parts tomato puree and water
Plenty of minced cilantro for garnish

1 medium onion, thinly sliced
12 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
Handful cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful frozen peas (optional)

12 tsp. ginger garlic paste
12 tsp. turmeric powder
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1-2 tsp. pav bhaji masala (I love Everest brand)
Salt to taste

  1. Heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables and stir fry on medium high heat for a few minutes.
  2. Add all the ingredients listed under spices. Stir fry for a minute.
  3. Add the cooked rice and vegetable juice and mix well. If the rice you are using is quite dry, you may need more vegetable juice. Cover and let the rice heat through until it is steaming- 8 to 10 minutes. The rice at the bottom of the pan should get slightly crisp and browned.
  4. Garnish with minced cilantro.
I love serving this fried rice with a scoop of chilled plain yogurt, and it gets even better if you pile on some kettle cooked potato chips on your plate, for that utterly crave-able combination of spicy rice and vegetables, cool, creamy yogurt and the satisfying crunch of chips. With the very first bite, you will forget that you're eating leftovers.

Is it just me, or are these quick and humble dinners a hundred times more soul-satisfying than any elaborate party dish you could be served?

On The Bookshelf
Lately, the winter funk has been my excuse to indulge in all kinds of comfort reading in the form of non-cerebral cozy mysteries. I love me a good murder mystery but it is not always easy to find authors who strike the right balance between high quality writing and a fast paced, juicy story line.

I need to thank Niranjana of Brown Paper for introducing me to Patricia Wentworth- I managed to find a couple of her books in the library and I agree with everything Niranjana says in her terrific review.

A Ravelry friend introduced me to a website called Cozy Mystery designed for devotees of the genre. And from the lists there, I managed to find two authors that I've really enjoyed reading.

The first is Susan Hill- her detective is the brooding Simon Serrailer.

My very favorite find has been Caroline Graham and her Inspector Barnaby. I love her style of creating a world of interesting characters and I have a feeling I'll be reading one of her books every week until the weather gets nicer or until my two libraries run out of her works, whichever comes first. It is lovely to know that cozy mystery reading does not begin and end with Agatha Christie and that there are plenty more whodunits out there waiting to be read.

What are you reading these days? Have a lovely weekend!