Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Dinner that Practically Cooks Itself

February may be the shortest month of the year, but for me it seemed to last forever and a day. The days were full of wide-ranging everyday dramas pulling me in different directions- respiratory viruses, ear infections, V traveling for work, my colleagues visiting from Africa, the start of our basement remodel, our biennial quilt show- and finally here I am in March, feeling a bit winded.

And let's not forget that Feb was the much-touted sugar free month. Well, my sugar free status lasted all of 24 days. On February 25, with my willpower at an all time low thanks to a nasty virus, what did me in was a box of Girl Scout cookies! There are a couple of adorable Girl Scouts in my life and hence the abundance of cookies this time of year. I bought several boxes of trefoils (shortbreads), the only kind of Girl Scout cookies that I like. I am not a fan of the thin mints that everyone seems to love. The trefoils are so good dunked in chai.

My sugar free month may not have been perfect but it was perfectly worthwhile. I am no longer reaching for sweet treats and desserts without thinking- just a moment's pause is enough to decide whether I really want to be eating something or not. And my taste buds are positively more sensitive to sweetness. So it was a good exercise and I am glad I did it- and many thanks to all of you who played along! Tell me how it went for you.

Almost every day of this past week, this is the scene in my kitchen. I start making dinner (precariously close to dinner time) by turning on the oven to 400F (convection roast) and pulling out a sheet pan. While the oven is preheating, I make a trip to the crisper to pull out any vegetables that are on hand, which I chop quickly and toss with olive oil and some seasoning. Then they go into the oven until tender and a little charred at the edges. It takes all of 15 minutes in my oven.

The roasted vegetables can be part of all kinds of quick dinners- they can be the subzi served with khichdi, or tossed with canned beans to make a taco filling or stuffed into grilled cheese or tossed with cooked noodles and some sauce- say, Thai-style peanut sauce or pesto.

Here are short "recipes" for my two favorite sheet pan suppers of last week.

1. Roasted cabbage and broccoli, seasoned with a little cumin and garlic. While the veggies were roasting, I made a quick khichdi in the pressure cooker- 1.5 cups masoor dal (soaked for a few hours), scant quarter cup rice, cumin seeds, a sprig of curry leaves, salt, a little pulao masala, water. For almost no effort at all, we had a piping hot supper that was perfect with a drizzle of ghee and a dollop of pickle.

2. Mexican style hash: Roasted cauliflower, green bell pepper, onion- seasoned with garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano. I tossed the roasted veggies with a cup of leftover cooked rice and a can of black beans, then stuck it back in the hot oven for a few minutes to warm the rice and beans. With some shredded cheese and bottled salsa, this supper hit the spot.

Sheet pan dinners are actually really trendy right now- and possibly the first time in my life that I am doing something trendy, purely by accident! But truly, when your goal is to eat a large amount of tasty and well-seasoned vegetables, cooked as quickly and easily as possible, then the sheet pan is your friend.

What have you been cooking this week? 


  1. Hi Nupur, Sugar free February worked out well for me. I was able to stay away from sugar ( excepting the jaggery in my chai, once a day) and I am happy that I can steer away from sugar loaded treats. And as you rightly say, 'my taste buds are positively more sensitive to sweetness.'
    I am glad I did this.
    What challenge should we take up next? :)

    I like the idea of sheet pan dinners and will try this next. In fact, I have a bit of cabbage and some broccoli (which I forgot to add to a soup) and am planning to make that tonight.
    Hope March is not as hectic for you as Feb was.

    Take care. Love to Lila, Niam and Vaghoba.

    1. Manasi- you did an AWESOME job at staying within the spirit of sugar free month! I am glad you didn't regret it :) I made some baked sweet potato fries yesterday and they tasted like candy.

      Let's do another challenge for sure- maybe salads this time? We can try all sorts of koshimbirs, all kinds of dressings. What do you say? Have a wonderful month!

    2. I'm in. I have to conquer that hurdle.
      And, I tried the sheet pan vegetables "( except I used my cast iron pizza pan- jhat pat!), even S liked them! They will be made regularly now. Next on my must try is the Mexican hash.

  2. Phew! Best wishes for some rest in March :) I made a loaf of rye bread yesterday - and the dog ate it while it was cooling on the counter, so I made another today.

    I love the idea of Mexican sheet pan dinner - roasted veggies in tacos are the best. My favorites (if you haven't tried them) are zucchini, corn, sweet potato, and mushroom - chopped small so that they cook quickly and aren't soggy. I'll have to try cauliflower sometime soon.

    1. Bad dog!! LOL I've been watching the British Baking show this weekend (Netflix dropped a couple new seasons), and the thought of rye bread is dreamy.

      Agree with you- roasted veggies make amazing tacos. I'll have to try that combo!

  3. I've been cooking strictly quick meals on weekdays, our schedules have gotten crazy with heavy workload at work for me and my daughter joining a swim team. Think curd rice and potato fry, varan bhat and fried fish, tacos with whatever filling I can quickly put together etc.

    But, my goal this year is to have friends over more often. So far this year we've hosted people almost every two weeks. So, on weekends I've been cooking up a storm. The last two times I invited friends over, I kept the menu the same for both groups, hummus with pita chips, labneh with toasted scallions and mint with potato chips, falafel and yogurt-tahini sauce (from an old blog post of yours), gyros chicken and roasted sweet potatoes (google Julia Turshen's "Grace's Sweet potatoes). The latest group we also had several lil ones so I also made a simple peas pulao. Everyone made their own pita sandwiches with all the fixings and my husband made yummy cocktails.
    I love the idea of sheet pan dinners, will try for sure.


    1. Anu- Thanks for this lovely comment! Your weekend get-togethers sound wonderful. The menus are simple, hearty and crowd-pleasing. I too have my favorites that I trot out for gatherings time and again and people have yet to complain ;)

      I will be trying Grace's sweet potatoes soon!!

  4. I LOVE roasted vegetables but I always wonder if it's a good idea cooking them at such a high temperature.

    I think this is what we'll eat this week: Sabzi of steamed/tossed green beans and golden beets, moong dal, butternut squash soup, steamed asparagus-carrots-beets with dressing, methi dal, butternut squash sabzi with kasoori methi, black-eyed peas curry, avocado toast, split moong pesarattu with chopped veggies.

    I think I am running short by a couple of meals but you just helped me with this week's menu. :)

    1. Lakshmi- You are worried that high roasting temps form undesirable compounds in the food? Well, I don't know the whole science behind that, but I tend to cook at high temp but for a short time- the veggies cook in 10 minutes flat. They are tender on the inside, not overcooked.

      Your meals sound wonderful! I need to buy beets and asparagus more often.

    2. No, I am worried that cooking vegetables at such a high temperature might kill the nutrients in them.

    3. I am an enthusiastic fan of using steam to cook vegetables. It used to be a one-off thing earlier but now I use steaming to cook all manner of beans, squash, melons, gourds, okra, eggplant, etc. Once cooked, I toss the vegetables with a bit of warm oil and tempering ingredients.

      The vegetables are cooked at a lower temperature as compared to pan-frying/sauteeing. They get cooked more uniformly too. They retain a nice bit/crunch and there is no mushiness of any sort; it is always fork-tender. Plus, you end up using far less oil. And the taste/flavor is so natural.

      No surprise that the IKEA steamer and the electric kettle (and the pressure cooker) are on kitchen duty every day.

    4. Lakshmi- I'm not too worried about the nutrients. I don't think there is any evidence that roasting destroys any more nutrients than other cooking methods, especially since I'm not roasting for longer than necessary. And truly eating veggies is the important thing, no matter in what form.

      Having said that, I want to try steaming vegetables!! So thanks for the informative comment. IKEA is too far to drive, but I will look for a steamer elsewhere. Do you have those collapsible baskets or the inserts (if you know what I mean)?

  5. Hi Nupur, thank you again for initiating the sugar free challenge... Am glad that I decided to give it a try... Honestly it worked well for me about 95 % ...

    No added sugar in hot beverages, I also avoided sugar laden sauces, checked every pack of food to know the sugar content , no takeaways except for couple of restaurant meals that too proper Indian stuff... It was tough after 10 days I would say esp on busy days when all I needed was a chocolate bar or so... My saviour has been fruits all 28 days and I consumed more fruits in these 28 days than all of last year ... And the best part was my DD too joined in for fruity snacks and I could get her to try fruits she normally avoids- total win win...

    Till now I haven't had a bicci, cookie or cake... Only thing I have not been able to resist is some brioche this weekend gone... Thanks again Nupur and really looking forward to you making this as an annual thing..

    As for salads am not a great fan, but sure will peek from time to time and get ideas from you ...

    Hope you feel better and here's to a very healthy March... Gob bless you and your lovely family dear... Ditasmom

    1. Ditasmom- Congrats! You did really GREAT :) It is amazing that a few short weeks can get us to try something new.

  6. Hi Nupur, so glad to see your post. I have been where you disappeared. I guessed it must have got busy with kids at home.

    So good to see quick dinner ideas. I love baked veggies too. Have you tried Brussel sprouts with indian masala. Those taste yum.

    I liked your proportions for khichadi, more dal, less rice. I will make Khichadi like that one of the days.

    And btw i am in for a salad challenge. Infact i have been eating salads most days now. I love it !

    Lots of love to Leela and Niam. :)


    1. Ketki- Yes, the last few weeks threw me into a tizzy! Life with kids does keep you on your toes :) I don't buy brussels sprouts regularly but I should. I love the taste. Thanks for the sweet comment :)


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