Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to Basics

After a few days of indulging in heavy holiday fare, our bodies were crying out for a simple meal of dal and rice.

Most Indian cooks have their go-to dal, a dish of everyday lentils that they don't need a recipe for, something they have probably made enough times that they can cook it blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs.

The great thing about food blogging is that we now have unprecedented access to the go-to dals of so many different home cooks. And that's how Recipe #33 is Sonia's Gujarati Daal. I love dishes where sweet and spicy flavors get to play together, so it is no wonder that I am in love with Gujarati dal.

I followed Sonia's recipe very closely, using dried kokum for the most authentic tangy note.

This dal truly was an explosion of flavors. I served it with a simple farazbi-batata bhaji (saute of french beans and potato) and fresh steamed rice, with the requisite dollop of lemon pickle on the side (this one was made by a friend at home and sent to me in the mail!).

Speaking of steamed rice, I have a question for those of you who own rice cookers: Is a rice cooker a valuable addition to your kitchen? Do you use it often? Do you use it to make anything other than plain steamed rice? I'm wondering whether to buy a rice cooker and your suggestions about whether to buy one in the first place, and what brand/size to buy, are much appreciated. Thank you!


  1. We have this rice cooker:

    It's expensive, but we have had it for three years and it's still going strong. We make brown rice in it once or twice a week. It has other things it can do, but we haven't used those features.

  2. We bought a rice cooker a few years ago for a trip - the room had no kitchen and this was very useful and it has come along on every trip. It is useful just for that purpose.

    If you want to step out but have rice cooked when you get back. For cooking brown rice to be used in fried rice. For finishing off pulao.

  3. Hi Nupur,

    I had an expensive Kenwood rice cooker until a year back when it broke down (and getting it fixed would have cost as much as it's actual price!). I then bought a heap Sharp version. I use it only for 2 purposes- make rice and steam idlis. It's cheap, decen-looking and functional-- paisa vasool!

  4. I have the very smallest Zojirushi rice cooker and absolutely love it! It's an investment, but I use it all the time for brown rice and it's always perfect. I'm planning to try oatmeal, but haven't done it.

    The latest Saveur magazine has an article on Gujarati food that was quite intriguing. I can tell from the descriptions that I'd love it!

  5. I have a National rice cooker - 5 years now and going strong. We eat rice almost everyday (me and my daughter do atleast) and I use the pressure cooker for that.
    The rice cooker comes out for cooking larger quantities of rice(because mine is a big one) and especially when it has to be kept warm. I also use it to make pulaos/mixed rice and the like because it turns out separate grains of rice each and every time. Conversely, I also make bisi bele bath in it and it turns out perfectly too. The sauteeing for these rices, though, needs to be done outside on the pan.

    I picked up these tips from MIL who has had a National rice cooker for close to 10 years now and always uses it for cooking pulaos/coconut rice/bisi bele bath.

    I would call it a good buy - for steamed rice (especially since you don't have help, you can start dinner and do other things while it cooks) as well as other kinds. And there are many other things that you can do....


  6. I use my rice cooker at least once a week.It is one of the best gifts I have ever received. Aside from the plain steamed rice, I use mine to steam vegetables. I also use it to make a one pot meal adding meat, veggies, stock,spices, and rice.

  7. Gujarati dal is my favorite, i used to call it khatti-meethi daal as a child :). Even the beans-aloo sabzi is a childhood favorite-perfect sandwich stuffer!

    I do have a rice-cooker, but use it only sporadically, when i need to make large quantities and keep it warm. For everyday use, i reach out for my regular thick bottom pots :).

  8. Hey Nupur,

    Yummy spread! I guess everyone differs about their opinion on rice cookers.. well, I used to use it everyday, till I got the prestige pan. But I still use it for pulavs and biryanis. But I wud say buy a cheap one, I got a tiny one, cheap one and had taken it when we were touring with our parents, so that we could make rice/bisebelebhat etc with the mixes you get. They felt comfortable eating Indian food when we were traveling. Also the best use I have found is again while traveling. I hand-made the upma mixing phodni with rosted rava and then when we were travelling all I had to do is boil water in the rice cooker and add this mix. I found this a cheap way to travel and we found some cheap small rice cooker for like 8 bucks. So it is your call.


  9. I use a 3 cup microwavable rice cooker. Its small and great for 1-2 people. I cook dal and rice , sometimes make pulao in it.Its cheap too !

  10. Suparna, A microwave rice cooker! I am intrigued. Can you tell me what brand it is.


  11. Hey Nupur, I am so honored that you tried my version of Gujarati daal. Thank you very much! Hope you hads enjoyed ur meal. :)

    About rice cooker..I have same Qs in my mind. Let me go through others reviews.

  12. I love the khatta meetha dal.

    I have a rice cooker, but don't use it often at home. I have used it to cook almost everything in it (dal, alu/peas/beans subzi, chana- from canned, pulav, maggi...etc ;-) ) once when we needed to use it for a trip; this was the time i purchased mine. at home, i usually cook brown rice or wild rice in it. find it easier to cook these in the RC than on stove or use it when I have guests and all the 4 ovens are occupied.

  13. This daal looks delicious and so are so many of yours and Sonia's recipes!

    I use rice cooker regularly and it has now gained the stage of can't live without it equipment :-). I use it for making rice, pulav, khichadi and other rice variants. Sometimes I also use it for cooking quinoa which it does wonderfully. I think it's a great investment. Rice cooking does not need monitoring and it cooks to perfection every time.

  14. I used to own a rice cooker but I feel that it takes up room on the counter top. I've taken to cooking rice in the microwave since a couple of years. All you need is a pyrex dish and you're in business.
    I love gujju dal too!

  15. That picture made me hungry!! I am craving simple meals too after all 10 days straight of indulgence.

    Regarding the rice cooker - I own one and I use it very often, atleast 2-3x a week (if not more). I grew up in a house with a rice cooker, so never thought twice about getting one. I got the cheapest brand at a local Asian grocery for $30 and its going strong after 2 years. I use it for rice, to make khichdi, pongal and to steam veggies (it came with a steamer basket) while the rice is cooking. I like it and find it convenient because its become a part of my cooking routine/habits, but when I think about, I would probably be fine without it. My aunt cooks dal almost everyday, so she just pressure cooks the dal and the rice at the same time and would find a rice cooker useless.

  16. Hi Nupur,

    You have great recipes on your blog...I visit regularly, but this is the first time I'm leaving a comment!

    I would also like to add to the list of rice cooker recommendees - I've been using them for the last 15 years or so - the latest one (for the last 4 years) is an inexpensive 12 cup capacity Breville rice cooker. I find that's a good enough size when cooking 2-3 cups (as we do almost every week) or 6-7 when I cook for upto 25 people. I recommend buying one with a non-stick bowl - and please please don't put in the dishwasher.

    Also a little trick that my aunt shared with me, is to turn it off all together once the rice has almost cooked (just before it switches to warm - you will recognise this point by peeking at the grains - this way the residual heat will take care of the rest of the cooking and nothing will be stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

    Also, i recommend buying one with a glass lid, so can peak without having to lift the lid.

    Hope you found my long winded comment useful!!


  17. I have a very cheap rice cooker and working it hard. Besides white rice I cook pilafs in it!
    Get a rice cooker, its a time saver and you'll never again have a bad batch!

  18. i have a 14 yr old rice cooker from national... i use it a lot, especially over weekends when i cook larger quantities of rice.

    all kinds of rice and pulavs can be made in it, i even saute the veggies and masalas in it before adding the rice as opposed to stove top method and just finishing in the cooker. idlies, dhokla, steamed veggies, upma, semia upma, boiling of milk, heating of leftovers in a water bath etc... the rice cooker is a misnomer..and has been my rescue when i am out of cooking gas... its like the microwave oven... you learn to use it as diversely as possible... in all its a very handy appliance, and takes the pressure off the typical 2 burner stove tops we have in india. it does take longer than the conventional stove top cooking tho.

  19. Well just received a rice cooker from the office this week and was wondering if it was of any use at all...guess atleast some of the Qs will be answered here.....

  20. I used a rice cooker for precisely one year before it conked off (it was the cheapest one I could get). I miss it even now simply because it freed up my spare pressure cooker, I could fill it, shut it and forget about it, it would auto-turn-off and keep rice warm and fluffy. Mine came with a steamer plate so I used to steam vegetables too.

    I am looking at getting one of the Japanese models because apparently, they really know their rice. It should work for our Indian rice too I suppose.

    I think its a good addition to your kitchen especially since power-outs are not common where you are. I'd definitely say go for it!

  21. Hi Nupur. The rice cooker is one of the best inventions ever. That's bec I am clueless abt cooking rice over the stove. Apart from cooking rice, you can also use it to cook soup, steam food while your rice is cooking and make one-pot rice meals.

  22. Hi Nupur - I follow your blog very regularly ..and if u remember i had mentioned that am also a marathi-wed-to-a-southie. Rice is a staple in our new (south indian) household - and electric rice cooker is very handy.Few good points abt it are
    1. can cook big quantities of nice,fluffy (non-mushy) rice without supervision. (no need to count whistles, reduce heat / simmer etc so can carry on with daal, curry , roti cooking on the stove while rice cooks itself)

    2. the rice is more moist and fluffy than cooked in a microwave.

    2. Can toss uncooked, tempered mixtures of pulav, bhisibelebhaat etc in the rice cooker and let it slow cook.
    3. can make fantastic basundi with minimal supervision in huge quantities.I recently made basundi from 6 ltrs of milk in my rice cooker. :)

    I have used mine for past 4 yrs everyday - and quite happy with it.

  23. Joy- Hi! Those fuzzy logic cookers are definitely out of my price range at this time, but they look very fancy!

    indosungod- I didn't think of that, that's true, it would be great for camping trips and the like!

    Shvetha- Steaming idlis? I did not think of that, but that's exactly what I would go for, inexpensive and functional.

    Miri- That's a good point, the prep has to be made outside but pulaos can cook in there and stay warm. This would be especially useful when we have company. Thanks for the detailed comment!

    Kalyn- Gujarati food is wonderful, thanks for mentioning the Saveur articles- I'll be visiting their websites and reading them for sure!

    Kelsey- Being able to steam vegetables and other things would be a big plus!

    suparna apte- That sounds great, for my needs though, I would be going for something bigger for when we have company.

    Anu- Yes, I'll be going in for one of the less expensive models for sure! Your upma mix is very clever :)

    musical- I love the beans-aloo subzi as a tortilla stuffer (with a smear of hot pickle juice) to make Indianized burritos ;)

    Sonia- Thanks so much for sharing your recipe, this is something I will be making again and again, I totally enjoyed it :)

    snehal- Thanks so much for all your detailed tips: the basundi bit is VERY intriguing and I have to make sure my significant other does not read it or he will run out and buy a rice cooker right this minute!

    hungryc- Soup! Another excellent use for the rice cooker that I had not thought of.

    Swap- Whoa, your office gave you a rice cooker? Nice!

    Nags- That's what I need, something with a steamer function too. Thanks for your tips!

    argus- True, I do have the occasional batch of rice that burns because I forget about it, and the rice cooker will do a better job!

    Random Thoughts- Thanks so much for the great ideas. With 14 yrs of use, wow, you really got your money's worth from your rice cooker!

    SG- Thanks for delurking. Thanks for your tips, I will certainly keep them in mind- very useful info!

    Priya- 10 days of indulgence? :D Nice! My pressure cooker is the handi type that does not have inserts and I can only cook one thing at a time in it, so the rice cooker would replace a stove-top pot for me. Thanks for chiming in!

    Bharti- I've tried microwave rice and it does not work so well for me- a little chewy, and the water always spills over. Sigh :)

    PJ- I'm glad to get your input on the rice cooker- thanks a lot! I guess the key is to be creative and use it as much as possible in different ways.

    Soma- LOL yes, cooking maggi is an important function of any kitchen appliance! Thanks for your input- I also think the rice cooker would be useful for when I have guests, which is fairly often.

  24. I am surprised nobody has recommended Black and Decker yet. Cheap and best! :)

  25. Nupur, I would suggest looking at crockpot-slow cookers to double up as rice cooker. I got mine for around $19 in walmart 3 years back and it still works good. Assuming that you are busy with responsibilities in the office and have to rush home to cook, you can use slow cooker for majority of the rice rishes (bise bela bath, vangi bath, pongal, khichdi, kheer etc.,) and I double it as a gravy maker also and I use it for chana masala, rajma etc., But honestly I never made plain white rice in it till now since I add plain uncooked rice and veggies at one go. And if you are wondering,yes, the dishes taste really good.

    If you dont want to leave it cooking at home, better leave it to cook overnight and take it as hot n yummy lunch! Left overs you can use for dinner again. Or have it as an add on with a regular electric cookers we use in India.

  26. Hi Nupur.. I enjoy reading your blog and drool over all the recipes. The rice cooker is the most important gadget in my kitchen. I use it everyday too cook rice, pulavs, khicdi, wheat rava upma etc. I also use it to cook everything on trips ... from plain rice (to make puliyodarai and curd rice) to mac and cheese for the kids.. my 3 year old taught my husband how to make mac and cheese for her on our trip to las vegas.. any brand with a non-stick vessel works fine.

  27. I love Gujrati and Maharashtrain food. Since the tow states are neighbours..their cuisine and culture kind of intermingles. Maharashtrains also have a smilar version of this dal -chincha-gulachi amti made with goda masala that my Kobra Maharashtrian grandmother would make..and my Guju grandfather would devour!

  28. Sowjanya- Thanks for your input, but the slow cooking time of slow cookers won't fit into my lifestyle at the moment.

    Nalini- A 3 yr old chef, eh? Good for you! Thanks for your input. I'll keep it in mind.

    Anonymous- Oh yeah, chincha gulachi amti is so good!

  29. Nupur, we cook rice everyday in our Tiger brand rice cooker(5.5 cups from It works great, have had it for 4+ yrs now. Best part is, it has a timer, I set up the cooker in the morning and when I'm back from work, hot steaming rice is ready. Do not follow manufacturer's recommendations (works for Japanese rice varieties) for the water to rice ratio for Indian rice varieties. Since Japanese rice takes less water, 5.5cups of that cooks well. For Indian rice, about 4 cups of dry rice works well. More than that and the rice won't be fluffy. All functions work great, love the porridge function. Highly recommend it if you are a regular rice consumer.

  30. Forgot to mention, the cooker warms room-temperature rice wonderfully without drying it out.

  31. I used to have a rice cooker which was probably my most used utensil. However I found that once the bottom started to wear off I wasn't very comfortable using it (as in the non stick coating). Now I have been mostly managing with stove top cooking for khichdi type dishes and I cook rice in the microwave (in a huge glass bowl)- this has been working pretty well for us and I don't seem to feel the need anymore for a rice cooker. Just my 2 cents..:)

  32. I love, love, LOVE my rice cooker. It's a Zojirushi and it sings to me at start up & completion. I used to be quite the snobby luddite, convinced that the only way to make rice was stovetop. And then I finally realized that every single Asian friend and acquaintance I knew had a rice cooker. I took the plunge - and voila - happiness! It saves space on the cooktop too.

  33. MekhalaNag- Thanks for the great tips, I can see how the porridge function would make terrific khichdi!

    Lavanya- That is certainly something to think about, I think I will have to be extra-careful about the nonstick coating.

    Diane- The zujirushi cookers are a bit of my price range at the moment but I am hoping other brands do the job as well! And you are right- having an extra burner would be a good thing. Thanks for your input!

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  35. I don't use my rice cooker much - for lack of counter space in my tiny kitchen. But when we make white rice, this is the one I goto. I also make tomato rice, pulaos, khichdi, biryani etc When I'm in a pinch to run to a last minute potluck, a pulao from the rice cooker, made with tinned coconut milk or cow's milk with generous help from mint and cumin is a life saver.

    When I was in 10th std, 17 yrs ago, we had a rice cooker demo in our house. The guy showed us how to make mysore-pa in it! It was way too good, with much less ghee. Upma was another thing he made.

    I also used to make Quinoa, steel cut oats, splitpea barley soup in it. I even tried chicken curry and it turned great, took a bit longer time than stovetop though. If not for the nonstick coating, I'd use it much more. A stainless steel rice cooker is in my wish list... for some day!

  36. I have a cheap three cup rice cooker. I bought it in 2000 and still going strong. I use it almost everyday, to make rice for us.

  37. hi Nupur,
    Thanks for one more tasty recipe. I was looking for a full proof gujarati dal recipe so surely try this.

    As per rice's an amazing addition to kitchen. I use it for making idly, dhokala, modak...any steaming even vegies. Ofcourse all types of rice. I feel rice cooked in it tastes better( than pressure cooker version).
    You can also use your regular pressure cooker Dabbas in this to cook rice and dal together. Over all great equipment. Just needs imagination :).
    Also it's travel friendly if you have baby/parents on board.



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