Friday, July 19, 2019

Rice Recipes, Dog Pics and 7 Exercise Tips

Not that I intend to turn this into an Instant Pot blog or anything, but the fact is that I have been enjoying my new kitchen toy a lot. And by enjoying, I mean putting simple and tasty meals on the table day after day for my family- there's no bigger win.

My friend L from grad school e-mailed me a few links to her favorite IP recipes. She particularly raved about this one. It is a simple combo of brown rice and brown rice, and doesn't that sound like not-altogether-exciting hippie vegetarian food? I am SO glad I tried that recipe though, with some tweaks. It turned out to be the best thing I made all week.

(Edit on 7/24: I had larger quantities of black beans and rice in the recipe before; then I remembered that I used a 3/4 rice measure. The recipe is now corrected.)

Brown rice and Black beans

1.5 cups dry (raw) black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup dry (raw) brown rice, rinsed
7 cups water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes

Season to taste with-
Dried oregano
Cumin powder

Mix everything in an Instant Pot.
Cook on high pressure for 28 minutes.
Natural pressure release.

You will end up with a stewed black bean and rice mix. We turned it into a bowl dinner by dressing it with lots of toppings-

Green onions
Pickled jalapenos (my current favorite are hot and sweet jalapenos from TJs)
Sour cream (for the kids)
Yogurt mixed with canned chipotles in adobo (for the adults)
Crushed corn chips

Other toppings could include tomatoes, salsa, roasted vegetables. This is a lovely, easy dinner that is going straight into our meal rotation.

* * 
Mushrooms and rice are a magical combination to me. This is a simple pilaf that I made in the IP a couple of times, once with mock chicken strips (pic on the left, before cooking) and once with a topping of sliced boiled eggs and fried onions (pic on the right).

Mushroom Pilaf

Saute mode in Instant Pot:
Saute onions until browned and ginger-garlic paste in a tbsp. of oil.
Season to taste with cumin-coriander, salt, chana masala or garam masala.
Add chopped mushrooms and saute for a couple of minutes.
Hit cancel.
Add 1 cup water.
Add 1 cup rinsed Jasmine rice.
Add a bag of mock chickn strips, thawed (optional).
Cook under high pressure for 4 minutes. Natural pressure for 10 minutes, then release.

* *

Thank you to the anonymous reader who recommended the blog twosleevers for IP recipes. I found two cookbooks written by the author of that blog, Urvashi Pitre, and found some great new recipes to try. One of my favorites from her Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook is a version of baingan bharta, made by simply layering chopped ingredients and spices and giving it a quick cook, then mashing it. Pure genius!

* * *

Here are some recent pictures of our sweet boy Duncan. Dunkie is a people magnet- when we are out and about, people come by to pet him and ask us about him-

"He looks like a special breed" Actually, he's a mutt from the shelter but very special to us.
"What kind is he?" Our best guess is that he's a Plott hound- great Dane mix or a Plott hound- mastiff mix. 
(Plott hounds are dogs bred in the Southern US to be wild boar hunting dogs. Yikes! The worst thing Duncan has hunted is a stuffed animal bunny).
"How old is he?" Six and a half years old.
"How much does he weigh?" Hovers between 100-110 lbs.
"It must be so hard to walk him." He is very docile. Even my kids can walk him.
And my personal favorite: "Duncan, like Dunkin Donuts?"

Hanging out at home

Playing in the dog park is Duncan's favorite thing to do.
In the pic on the right, this tiny puppy kept jumping at his face and he
swung his muzzle around trying to dodge her.

My new niece! My sister adopted this sweet
English setter mix last month.

* * *
I had a big birthday this Spring- my entry into midlife. About eighteen months ago, I promised myself the gift of establishing an exercise habit by the time this birthday rolled around. With all credit to the support from my husband, gym coaches and friends, I got my much-desired gift and feel stronger and fitter today than I did twenty years ago.

Regular exercise has changed my life for the better. I've been a sedentary person for so long; it makes me giddy that this change is even possible. The word that comes to my mind is a Marathi one- "sutsutit" which translates as comfortable, perhaps, or carefree. I definitely have more energy for everyday life. While I can't claim to have seen any dramatic physical changes, I am clearly building some muscle and losing some fat, changing my body composition for the better.

Exercise is the closest thing we have right now to a magic pill in improving daily life. (It is not a magic pill for weight loss, though. That needs a diet fix.) Human bodies were made to move, but modern life does not involve much activity for the typical city dweller so we have to make an effort to create space in our lives for exercise.

If you too want to make room for exercise in your life, here are some tips that helped me-

1. It is never too late to start exercising, but I sure wish I started sooner. Don't be tempted to wait for some future point, like when your kids are grown up, to start exercising. You can tap into the benefits starting right here and now.

2. You don't have to love exercise but you certainly should not hate it and treat it as punishment. "Do you like to run?" I overheard someone asking my friend when she was talking about her running group. "What I like to do is to sit on a couch and read a book", she responded, "...but I am happy to run". We have one body and it makes sense to do our part in taking care of it.

3. Consider socializing in an active way. Recently a closer friend of mine moved into our neighborhood and once or twice a week, we take hour-long chatty walks post-dinner after the kids are in bed. It is a great way to catch up while enjoying some fresh air. Similarly, we often meet up with other families for a short hike, or to explore a new playground rather than always socializing over a meal.

4. Know yourself. I can't bring myself to exercise at home. It just never happens. But I adore group classes and the friends I make in those classes. I need instructors who tell me what to do. You have to think about whether you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors, solo or in a group, what sort of activity you like, and so on, and then go with your preferences.

5. Know your neighborhood and your town. Talk to local friends, neighbors and coworkers about where they exercise. Do web searches. Check local event listings. Often we don't even know what is out there. I didn't know there were affordable classes a mile from my house and I had been living here for years. Be willing to browse websites, walk in, pick up some pamphlets, ask for a tour of the place, ask for a trial class. Some gyms offer free childcare. Some workplaces offer free gym memberships. There are a mind-boggling variety of activities out there just waiting to be tried.

6. Stick to something for a few months before giving up on it. It takes time to see results and for the activity to grow on you. My strategy is to do some things long-term and switch up some other things seasonally. I started my women's weightlifting class last August so I have been doing it for almost a year- and I plan to continue. Strength training has been very empowering in simple life skills like easily lugging 50 lbs bags of dog food and opening jars. Ballet is a constant weekly class. In spring and summer, I like to swim. In winter, I like to run, or so I thought. I trained for a 5K this Jan, and did a 5K event in Feb which was miserable for many reasons- the weather was cold and rainy, the course was very hilly and I felt unprepared for that. I managed to finish the race, but with an abysmal time. This winter, I might try another activity like indoor biking or rowing.

7. There's no magic. Being fit is just a lifelong journey like any other with its ups and downs. The struggle, learning new things, reaching small goals all make you feel alive. I 11/10 would recommend it and am happy to chat with anyone who is looking for some support along the way.

How is July going for you?


  1. Welcome back! Great to read this post from you. I have two pressure cookers at home and have been tempted to try the IP but decided against it because it seemed to be just an electric pressure cooker that I don’t need. It’s all about cooking food under pressure which my pressure cookers do right? But I must be missing something because someone as practical as you (or you come across that way!) and trustworthy on all things food, clearly enjoys it. What am I missing?

  2. Oh and I have a rice cooker which also doubles up as a slow cooker.

  3. Hi SRG- Like you, I have a pressure cooker and a rice cooker and resisted getting an IP all this time. Since my sister gifted me one though, I have used the dang thing every single day practically. I've been pondering the same thing- what makes the IP different from my old workhorse pressure cooker? I can think of a few things. (1) The pressure is controlled. My pressure cooker blasts everything under high pressure, I couldn't dream of steaming broccoli/cabbage to perfection in there for instance, it would be an overcooked mess. So the IP allows cooking under low pressure and adjusting cook times very accurately. (2) The IP does not need a lot of water. I never made pulao in my cooker because it would be waterlogged. (Khichdi which I like to be stew like works fine in the cooker). The baingan bharta that I mentioned in this post- I could never make it in the cooker, that recipe calls for no water at all. Such dishes would burn on the bottom of the cooker and wouldn't work. (3) There are thousands of standardized recipes available for the IP and they reliably turn out. Conversely, pressure cookers aren't standardized so cook times have to be figured out on a case by case basis. So the IP opened up a whole world of recipes that I could not make (or could, but would have to standardize) in my pressure cooker. I still use the cooker very often too- I cook enough that all three appliances (rice cooker, pressure cooker and IP) are worth keeping around.
    My sister was all "You always resist new things (eg. IP, smartphone) for years, and then when you finally have them, you use them so enthusiastically" so I am definitely skeptical and luddite-ish by nature but there you are. The IP fits a niche in my kitchen for sure. Sis got her paisa vasool (money's worth) with this gift for sure.

    1. Nupur, one more thing to add the list of IP advantages is, you can put your food to cook and walk away, meaning you do not need not hover nearby to turn it off.

    2. Good point, Indo! This has definitely been an advantage on busy days when I'm running in and out of the house.

  4. Thank you for these recipes! Do the cooked beans and rice keep well in the fridge? I typically will cook rice and beans separately for work lunches, but this would be much easier.

    1. Bek- Absolutely, the rice and bean thing will keep in the fridge very well and could be reheated in the work microwave. I keep cooked foods for no longer than 3 days in the fridge. Give it a try!
      (I was thinking of you this morning- the kids were playing with the cute little crochet elephant you made- remember that?). How are you?

    2. Doing well! Although it's been crazy-hot here (one more point in favor of the IP). I do remember that elephant and I'm so glad that your kids like it :)

  5. Nupur,

    I resisted getting the IP for a long time as well. I recall watching a YouTube video by the InstantPot company that said that the InstantPot generates lesser pressure than a traditional pressure cooker and cooking times should be increased accordingly. It did not make any sense why it should be called "Instant" pot! But, once I started using it, I too saw the possibilities that it opens up.

    The other function that I have found very helpful is the delay timer. I put dal & rice for pot-in-pot cooking with a delay timer of 8 hours when I head out for work and come home to hot food. The soaking aids digestion. I also prefer not to keep cooked food warm for long periods, so it works perfectly. I use the same technique for Idlis for weekend breakfasts.

    The consistently maintained temperature makes yogurt made in IP better than in the oven.

    Btw, I find Archana Mundhe's IP cookbook very good too. On a different note, Six Seasons by Joshua MacFadden is a revelation for salad lovers! If your library has it, please do give it a try.

    1. Anu- Yeah, the "instant" is not really accurate for those of us accustomed to regular pressure cookers. Does my IP even have a delay timer? I'll have to check- I'm still discovering the many features. Thanks for the dal and rice tip- very helpful!

      Thanks for the cookbook recos- I'll certainly look for them.

  6. Good to see your comment on the difference between pressure cooker and IP as I thought they were the same. Love the pictures of duncan - dogs are great for exercise because you had to get out and walk. My idea of exercise is to cycle though last week I was so tired it was hard going (and it was windy too in the wrong direction). I think being able to get about without a car is a great way to get in incidental exercise as I don't have time for classes right now.

    1. Johanna- Pressure cookers (stove top) and IP (electric pressure cookers) cook on the same principal of pressure cooker but the latter is the new-fangled version with more controls.

      Dogs are indeed great walking buddies- especially as they are don't buy the weather excuse and want to walk rain or shine. Kudos on your cycling! You make such a good point about incidental exercise. It was that way when I lived in New York City, blissfully car-free, walking everywhere and hopping on public transport when I needed to. But that was exceptional. Life in the US is very car-centric, bike lanes and sidewalks are not the norm, and it really complicates the issue of people being able to be active as they go about their day.

  7. Hi Nupur, great post! I remember when you got your Vitamix and wrote about its uses! And how you were enjoying it. I'm so happy for you! And photos of Duncan! Simply gorgeous! Son and daughter in law got a Groodle last year and when they come every weekend, it's a joy to play with her. I got a new toy too! Thanks to Sanjay. A rebounder!!! And it is fun. I play some music and gently jump. We also do a bit of high intensity interval running uphill and then recovering. And yes! IF and a low carb diet ( rice only once a week) of lots of fresh vegies and daals, a moderate amount of ghee, lots of salads with EVO or EV Macadamail oil dressings has helped. Have given up wheat altogether. Taught myself to make besan and coconut flour dhirde and bhagar dosa that we enjoy once in a while. My intention was not weight loss but to get off my statin. Sanjay who really needed to lose weight has lost 10 Kg. His BP has come down too. IF and low carb has been the best decision we made in 2018, continuing into 2019. Bless you and yours and look forward to more such inspiring posts from you.

    1. Dear Shubha- I still love my Vitamix and use it on a near-daily basis too! Duncan says thanks- he is blushing. How nice to have a visiting puppy.

      Your trampoline workouts sound like fun :) Congrats to you both on your lifestyle changes- I loved hearing about it. And you are being rewarded with positive changes. Many South Asians have a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance and IF and low carb (or moderate carb, or carb conscious, however you want to describe it) make a whole lot of sense for us. Good luck and much love to you!

  8. Thank you Nupur! What a helpful detailed reply. When I did my research into the IP, I came across the one pot one stove method which uses a pressure cooker - It’s supposed to be a way to cook practically everything under pressure in a pressure cooker. I quickly tried but lost steam ;) because you need to be very precise with the recipes and follow them exactly - not my strong point. But it seeks to be some sort of alternative to the IP if one is willing to try. Anyway you’ve renewed my interest in the IP! Thanks again.

    1. SRG- You are so welcome! Ah, so that's what the one pot one shot thing is all about? I have heard of that term but did not really understand it. Pressure cookers have a lot of personality. My current one I call the "over-achiever" because it cooks everything so fast and so well as to melt it practically- great for dals, terrible for most vegetables ;)

  9. Happy Big Birthday Nupur and may you continue to grow in awesomeness! As someone who is nearly 2 decades older than you, I can assure you that life just keeps getting better. I was delighted to see pictures of dear Duncan and your new niece! As someone who hates formal exercising, I found your tips very helpful and sensible. A quick question about the rice and bean dish - are the beans raw, or already cooked (like from a tin)? Wishing you and your family a very happy summer, Kamini.

    1. Dear Kamini- You are too kind! I am most grateful for your wishes. You have a refreshing and inspiring attitude to getting older :) My ballet teacher is two decades older than me and she too is a constant inspiration to stay active and keep learning and challenge yourself.

      The beans are raw. Good question- and I've updated the post to make it clear. That's the beauty of this dish, taking cheap pantry staples (dry rice and beans) and cooking them up quickly into a tasty dish. Happy summer to you too!

    2. Thanks for the clarification, Nupur!

  10. Happy birthday Nupur! Hope the next years make you fitter and happier! I have been in a workout funk lately. We moved houses and that coupled with laziness and work hectic-ness has put workouts out of the window. I signed up for another week long trek in the himalayas next year, so I get motivated to move around more :D. Whatever it takes, right?
    Insta pot is not very popular in India yet, but I would definitely appreciate a vitamix like high power blender. Smoothies are my go to breakfasts and I can see myself using it to the fullest. Good to see Duncan after a long time!

    1. Dear Neha- Thank you!! Congrats on the new home. Life changes really are disruptive for habits. You are my hero with these Himalayan treks. That's such a meaningful goal and an incentive to stay fit.
      Indian mixies are very powerful (I've never owned one- just from what I remember growing up), do they work well for smoothies?

  11. Same milestone birthday in April...same struggles with exercise and diet haha

    My drug of choice is hot yoga and long walks! We've also kinda been loosely following the gundry diet. Then our
    ayurvedic physician told us to cut out raw foods, cold foods and many of the veggies in the cruciferous family like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts as apparently they're pretty hard on the thyroid. Once we incorporated her suggestions we're seeing a change for the better.but all these tweaks are annoyingly restrictive at times haha.

    Sighhhhh for simpler times.

    Dunkie should have his own Clifford the big red dog!

    Now am curiouser and curiouser about the instapot.. although our grains and beans consumption is down quite a bit with all these dietary restrictions.

    Happy summer!

  12. Happy belated birthday to you, Janani! Yoga and walks both sound wonderful. Glad you are able to tweak your diet in a way that is working for you. I don't restrict my diet beyond being vegetarian- personally for me cutting down portions and especially cutting down on "snack foods" of the chips, chakli and cookies variety has been the key, not avoiding any foods in particular. The "Don't Overeat" diet- think I could make money selling that? ;)
    Dunkie says hello and that he'll look into getting an agent :D
    Happy summer to you too!!

  13. Happy Birthday Nupur! For some reason it makes me happy to know we are the same age :)
    Duncan is such a cutie, he looks like an old, wise soul.

    Will try the rice and beans dish, love simple recipes.
    A blog I recently came across for non-indian IP cooking is . Made a pasta recipe from there, omitted the meat, it turned out quite good.

    Have you read any good books in the Read Harder challenge. I'm doing well for my yearly goal but not so well in this challenge. Would love some recommendations from you.

    Our July is going well. A family wedding and reunion trip in California, then my parents arrived and the kids have been having fun with them.
    Thanks for the exercise tips. We joined a gym in Mar and went enthusiastically till June. Then summer vacation happened, threw us off routine and somehow I have only been there once this whole month.
    How do you make time for it and what time of the day do you usually go?

    Have a great rest of the summer!

    - Anu

    1. Hi Anu- Thanks! Yes, indeed, it is nice to have a cohort of friends who are the same age with the same "growing pains" and joys too :) Duncan indeed is a wise soul, and endlessly patient, especially with kids. Everyday I resolve to be more like my dog.

      Read Harder updates coming up in the next post! Which I'm already writing, so it will be just up in just a few days.

      Your summer sounds like a lot of fun with travel and family. Vacations do disrupt the routine but I'm sure you'll be back at the gym once summer is over.

      My exercise time is in the morning before work (weightlifting class twice a week and swimming once or twice a week), except for my ballet class which is one evening a week, and the once a week or so long walks in the evening with my friend. My idea of making time for it is to write it on my calendar like any other appointment. Things on the schedule are pretty sacred. I wouldn't dream of blowing off a meeting at work or a doctor's appt for my child, and in the same vein, I show up for whatever exercise is on the calendar. Enjoy the rest of summer, Anu and family!

    2. Thanks! Will start doing that, add it to my calendar. Looking forward to your next post.


  14. Hey Nupur,

    If you have not already, you should try your Pav Bhaji recipe in Instant Pot. That is the only way I am making it anymore. I saute the onions, peppers and GG paste first then add the raw chpped potatoes, Cauliflowr, top off with chopped tomatoes, a little water, Spices on top and set it to 10 Mins on Manual. Open and add butter, adjust spices and it will be ready all in one pot.Added advamntage is that the giant pot helps with teh splattering and keeps my backsplash clean.

    1. Dear Shriya- I was thinking of trying the pav bhaji in the IP but have not done so yet. It is great to know that it works! Thanks for the tips. Indeed it would be nice to avoid the hot splatters that are pretty inevitable from cooking pav bhaji on the stove top.

  15. Happy belated birthday Nupur!! As usual, very helpful post from you. I too will soon hit the milestone mark. Problem for me is the amount of time spent in kitchen. Whatever I try, I endup spending close to 3 hours daily in the kitchen. In Diet->Excercise-> Work-> sleep cycle, maintaining a good diet is taken care of but this drains out all the energy by the end of the day. So, current situation is Diet -> work -> sleep :(
    I will try your scheduling "Excercise as a task" tip. It is really a good one. Like any other tasks, if I schedule, I might be able to stick to it.

    1. Sushma- Thank you!! 3 hours in the kitchen daily is a lot indeed. But maintaining a good diet is no small thing. There are many forms of exercise that fit into 20-30 minutes- it is not necessarily a time consuming activity- and I wish you the best in making it fit into your day.


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