Thursday, December 25, 2014

Gulab Jamun

Mixing milk powder with other dry ingredients.

At age 23, I ventured to Japan to teach English. I was scheduled to lead a full load of classes on Christmas day. Alone on what had always been a sacred and celebratory family holiday, I promised myself dinner at a feisty Szechuan spot where the soup arrived crowned with a domed lid layered with  chrysanthemums. Intensely flavored, it was the best substitute I had found for South Indian food in Japan.                        

Resting gulab jamun dough.
Near the end of my first class that day, a student inquired about my meal plans for Christmas. More specifically, would I be going to Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner? The other students leaned in, curious to hear my reply. 
 Kneading gulab jamun dough.
The thought of consuming a highly commoditized meal on a day rife with meaning was odd. Chili-infused soup served at a ma-and-pa restaurant was one thing. Highly processed chicken was another. I explained I would not be traveling to Tokyo for KFC.

Cooling fried donuts.

By the end of my 8-hour day, I had fielded that same question numerous times. Would I be having Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas? Clearly Colonel Sanders was running a very successful marketing campaign.

Adding the rose water.
Gulab jamun ready to serve.

That day, I realized that the true beauty is that there is really no one Christmas meal in the U.S. Some people eat ham, others eat fish, and in our family dinner starts with mom's Chicken Biryani and ends with a warm bowl of Gulab Jamun (donuts in cardamom-infused syrup). 


Makes 15

Made with milk powder and a trace of cardamom and rose water, Gulab Jamun are a donut lover's dream dessert. For the best results, serve them warm.


1 cup nonfat milk powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound trans-fat-free vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon rose water


In a medium sized bowl, combine the milk powder, all-purpose flour, and baking soda. Using a large spoon, stir in the cream. All the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

Knead the dough until smooth.

Form the dough into 15 balls.

Heat the vegetable shortening in a frying pan on medium low heat.

Carefully lower 5 of the balls into the shortening. Cook, rotating the ball continuously with a heat-proof, slotted spoon to ensure even browning.

Remove when dough turns reddish-brown and cool on paper towels.

Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the sugar, water, and cardamom pods in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until all of the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and rose water.

Soak the donuts in the flavored syrup.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kerala Beef Puffs

Grinding spices_edited-1

When we were young, my parents used their mother tongue as a code language to discuss private matters. My ears always perked up when they switched from English to Malayalam, lowered their voices, and glanced in my direction. Eager to crack the code, I listened closely and picked out words I knew from their sing-song sentences. More often than not, my caveman understanding of the language led me nowhere. 

Sauteing onions, garlic, ginger, and potatoes_edited-1

Over time, my parents spoke more and more Malay-English, making it easier for me to translate their tête-à-têtes. Unless it was British English. That just added a layer of confusion.

Cooking beef and peas2

Who knew that to the Brits, gas is petrol, trucks are lories, cookies are biscuits, cafeterias are mess halls, pants are trousers, scarves are mufflers, purses are hang bags, shades are blinds, grades are marks, stewardesses are air hostesses, lawyers are solicitors, and apartments are flats?  And morons? Well, they're bloody fools 

Layering beef on puff pastry

Forced to decipher what seemed like gibberish, I would eventually tune out to my parent's relief. 

Kerala Beef Puffs


In Kerala, puffs are turnovers made with a variety of fillings. My favorite version has spiced beef tucked inside. The flaky pies are wonderful as appetizers or served with a side salad.

Makes 20 to 22 


1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons coriander
2½ tablespoons oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
½ teaspoon salt
1 small potato, boiled and finely cubed
2 teaspoons minced ginger
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch cayenne
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons water
½ pound lean ground beef
14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted
1 large egg, beaten


Blend the cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom pods, and coriander in a spice grinder until finely powdered.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium low. Add the onions and salt. Cook until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. 

Add the ground spices, potatoes, ginger, garlic powder, cayenne, turmeric, and water. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the beef and mix until thoroughly combined. Continue until beef is fully cooked, about 8 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly flour a cutting board and rolling pin. Lay one sheet of puff pastry on the board. Roll it into a large square. 

Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the pastry dough into twelve squares.   

Layer a teaspoon of beef filling in the center of each piece of dough. 

Using your index finger, spread a thin layer of beaten egg along the edges of the dough. 

Fold each piece of dough to form a triangle. Press the edges with with a fork to seal in the filling. 

Place the filled dough on two cookie sheet covered in parchment. 

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. 


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lemon Rice

Adding tumeric to mustard seeds and dhal

I started culinary school with a required course on classic French technique. It was led by a chef instructor who had worked for several renowned restaurants in Paris. A few weeks into the semester, Chicago banned the sale of foie gras. It became a topic of discussion, with the chef advocating for its reversal. Force feeding animals seemed inhumane to me. Nonetheless, I held back my opinion, taking cues from students who clearly felt it foolhardy to break rank. 

Combing fried spices and cooked rice

In the weeks that followed, we made sauces and soups that were invariably doused with dairy. I had never reached for so much cream and butter in my life. At home, I flavored my meals with a cocktail of spices that left me light on my feet. I found the dishes that we made in class numbingly filling, and worried that I might settle in for a nap after a marathon of tastings.

Sprinkling in fresh lemon juice

Towards the end of the course, the chef gathered us all around for another demonstration. When he reached for the cream, I found myself blurting out, “Chef, why don’t you just use some cumin?”

Humored by my outburst, he smiled, and muttered under his breath, “She wants me to use cumin.” 

Then he poured in the cream.


This spice filled vegan dish makes for a great meal on its own. If you’re sensitive to crunchy things, omit the channa dhal or wait a day before digging into it. By that time the channa dhal will soften. 

Serves 4


1 cup uncooked parboiled rice
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon urad dhal
1 teaspoon channa dhal
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
1 dried red chili
10 curry leaves
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Place the rice in a pot. Cover it with four cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the rice is soft. Drain the rice in a colander. 

Place the oil is a skillet over medium-low heat. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds

Add the cumin, urad dhal, channa dhal, asafoetida, red chili, and curry leaves. Cook until the urad dhal turns golden brown, about 3 minutes. 

Add the ginger, turmeric, and salt. Cook until the ginger softens, about 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat and stir in the rice. 

Sprinkle in the lemon juice and stir to combine. 

Serving South Indian Lemon Rice

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Cooking with Asafoetida

If you’re new to Indian cooking, chances are you have yet to use asafoetida – an ingredient integral in the South. Brace yourself as your initial encounter will be jarring. Remember the dust cloud that encircled Charlie Brown’s friend Pig Pen? Well, times that by two and it will seem like a bouquet of roses next to this oh-so-stinky spice. Not convinced? Asafoetida’s sulfuric stench is so strong that it’s also called devil’s dung. Really, it’s that stinky!

Bottles of asafoetida

So, why, you may ask would anyone consume such an off-putting ingredient? For several surprisingly sensible reasons! First, asafoetida goes from acrid to full-flavored when cooked, and takes on the unique flavor of onions, garlic, and perfectly popped popcorn. Some even pick up the notes of truffles. It also blends well with other spices, magically rounding them out. Sambar (vegetable stew), for example, wouldn’t be sambar without the unifying spice.

Asafoetida is also used to prevent gassiness caused by eating cooked beans, peas, and lentils. Take a close look at the ingredients in urad dhal pappadam (lentil wafers) and you’ll find it listed there. It’s also a key ingredient in many pickles and chutneys. 

Urad dhal pappadam with asafoetida

Purchasing Asafoetida

Asafoetida is stocked in the spice section of most Indian grocery stores. It is sold powdered, in crystal-like chunks and as a paste. I opt for the powder, which is easiest to find and simple to use. 

Asafoetida crystals and powder

Cooking with Asafoetida

Asafoetida is typically sauteed in a fat, such as coconut oil, to round out and mellow its flavor. It pairs well with brown mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dried chilies.  

Cooking asafotedia with other spices
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mango Lassi Pops

Mango pulp_edited-2

As a child, I remember watching incredulously as my mom waved off Oreos and ice cream in favor of fresh mangoes from the international grocery store. She would walk into the house giddy after shopping. It was a sure sign that the aromatic fruit was in season as my mom loathes shopping. 

Freshly ground cardamom

While we kids munched on packaged desserts, she would prep the plump pods. In the time it took us to scarf down two cookies, she would remove the green-red skin and oust the seed. Then, she would hold the saffron-colored flesh in her palm, and, with the deft of a seasoned surgeon, chop it into bite-sized chunks. (Really, why use a cutting board?)

Ingredients in blender

Afterwards, my mom would pass the bounty around the table. It was the kindest of gestures considering that both she and my father coveted the fruit of their youth (which grows alongside papaya, jackfruit, and plantains in Kerala). Between bites, they would recount jockeying with their siblings for any fruit that had been left clinging to the seed. 

Ingredients blended into a lassi_edited-1

I always took a pass when the plate reached me as the manga had a perfumy scent that seemed more suitable for wearing than consuming. (It’s an aversion that I outgrew as an adult.) Thankfully, that left more for my parents to devour, which they did, in a matter of minutes. 



Serves 6

If you like mango lassi, you will love these popsicles. The combination of mango and cardamom creates an elegant, ethereal  flavor. I use canned mango pulp rather than fresh mangoes as it can be hard to find well-ripened fruit throughout the summer. Check the ingredients on the can or taste the pulp to figure out if it has added sugar. Then sweeten accordingly. 


2 cups mango pulp
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons honey


Place all of the ingredients in a blender. Process until thoroughly combined. 

Pour into popsicles molds.

Freeze until solid.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

5 Reasons to Attend a Devon Avenue Food Tour

Devon Aveue Gandhi Marg street sign

Yearn to make spirited Indian meals at home, but not sure where to start?  

Then join us for a Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue! 

Explore “Little India” with a trained chef who grew up eating & cooking Indian food

As a child, I grumbled about having to eat home cooked Indian dishes day after day. (“Really, mom. Rice again?") Over time, I slowly, but surely, learned to appreciate my Indian roots, thanks to the comforting aromas wafting out of my mom’s kitchen. I also learned to cook up a mean curry. The Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue is designed to share my passion for Indian home cooking and to inspire and empower food lovers, like you.

Bags of cardamom

Shelves with spices

Find the freshest, most affordable spices

You’ll need a mix of spices to make authentic Indian dishes at home. Don’t let that intimidate you! During the tour, I’ll lead you to cardamom, turmeric, ajwain, and other spices and show you how to select, store, and prepare them. 

Jalepeno peppers

Sliced jackfruit

Track down hard-to-find ingredients

Together, we’ll peruse grocery aisles in pursuit of fiber-rich lentils, aged basmati rice, coconut oil, and other ingredients you’ll need to make your favorite Indian dishes – be they vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or fit for a carnivore. 

Savory biscuits

Enjoy a bit of snacking along the way

Indians love to treat their guests with sweet and savory snacks. To honor that tradition, we’ll stop by a snack shop to sip on rich masala tea and indulge in a few munchies. 

Iysha kochamma's chicken curry

Recreate the flavors of India at home

By tour’s end, you will be armed with secrets that I have learned from cooking (and eating) innumerable home cooked Indian meals and from traveling to Kerala, the spice capital of India. You’ll also have three of my favorite family recipes in hand so you can continue your Indian culinary adventure at home. 

Imagine all of that for less than the cost of a night out!  
_  _ _  _  _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

To learn more about our Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue and/or buy tickets, visit the events section of the Cardamom Kitchen Facebook Page or email us at
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Slice and Dice: Summer Melon

Watermelon and canteloupe with prosciutto

Melons are the underdogs of summer. Bulky and thick-skinned, their beauty lies within (making them easy to ignore). However, on a hot day when there’s sweat suspended on your brow, melons provide more relief than a pretty peach or a palmful of berries. Nearly 90 percent water, a wedge of watermelon or spoonful of cantaloupe often offers more nuance and refreshment than a fancy poolside drink. So, if you didn't get a beach vacation this summer, don’t fret. Pull out a lawn chair and slice up a melon.   

How to Select a Summer Melon

Although there are many varieties of melon grown in the U.S., cantaloupe and watermelon are often the easiest to find. The fruit that is sold as cantaloupe is often really muskmelon. Unlike true cantaloupe, muskmelon has deeply netted skin that resembles a curvy Celtic pattern. Look for a muskmelon that feels solid, but is not rock hard. Beware: If the skin has a greenish tone, it’s not fully ripe. Always give the fruit a whiff. If it’s ready to eat, you’ll breathe in a sweet perfume.

Ripe watermelon should feel heavy for its size. In addition, look for a patch of light yellow skin on the side that was resting on the ground.

How to Peel a Summer Melon

Muskmelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and other sweet summer melons can be peeled.

Melons grow on the ground, so be sure to wash them thoroughly.

Place the melon on a cutting board on its side. Hold it in place with one hand. In the other hand, hold a chef’s knife perpendicular to the cutting board and slice off the stem end and the end opposite to it.

Slicing off one end of the canteloupe

Slicing the skin of the melon in thick strips

When the knife hits the cutting board, discard the strip of skin. Rotate the fruit, and continue peeling the skin until all of it is removed.

How to Slice a Summer Melon

Cut the skinned melon in half lengthwise. 

Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. 

Hold one half of the melon on the cutting board with the seeded side facing up. With a chef’s knife, slice it in half lengthwise. 

Continue to slice each melon quarter lengthwise until each piece is an inch or so thick. 

Slicing in half, seeding, and cutting the melon in wedges

How to Cube a Summer Melon

Place a slice of the melon on a cutting board. Hold the end of the slice securely with one hand, and cut across the length of the melon with a chef's knife to form cubes.

Cutting the melon in cubes

How to Cut a Small Watermelon into Wedges

Note: Watermelon has much thicker skin (often referred to as a rind) than other summer melons. Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting it. You can also stabilize it by placing a damp kitchen towel between it and the cutting board before making the first cut.

Select a small watermelon and place it on a cutting board with the stem side down. With a chef's knife, cut it in half lengthwise. With the cut side facing up, cut each half of the melon in half lengthwise. Take each quartered piece and slice it in half lengthwise again.

Cutting the watermelon in half and then in quarters

How to Cut a Large Watermelon into Wedges

Place a large watermelon on a cutting board with the stem side down and cut it in half lengthwise. With the cut sides facing down, cut each half in half lengthwise again to make quarters. Place one quarter of the melon on the cutting board, with the rind facing you and one of the cut sides facing down. Cut it widthwise into 1-inch thick triangular slices. Repeat with remaining quarters.

Cutting the watermelon in half and quarters and then into wedges

To cube the watermelon, simply place a slice on the cutting board with one side of the flesh touching the board. With a paring knife, cut the rind away from the flesh. 

Cutting the watermelon along the rind

With a chef’s knife, cut across the fruit.

Cutting across the watermelon wedge

Rotate the fruit 90 degree and cut across it again to form cubes. 

Cutting the melon to form cubes

How to Make Melon Balls

Press the melon baller into the fruit, avoiding the rind. Rotate it 360 degrees to form a circle, and then drop the melon ball into a bowl. Repeat until no more balls can be taken from the melon, leaving space between each scoop to ensure melon balls are completely round and cutting the melon down to a smaller size from time to time to reveal untouched flesh.

Using a melon baller to form spheres

This article was originally published on
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