Great Cookbooks for Holiday Gifts

Seven fabulous books to cater to everyone on your gift list!

We’ve all heard it before: It’s the thought that counts.

Yeah right.

I, for one, prefer not to give gifts just for the sake of giving. I actually do want to the person at the receiving end to like my gift. And during the holidays, this desire amps up the pressure to buy something special for each and everyone on my list.

Even as I’m slowly checking people off my list, I thought I’d make your life just a little bit easier. A group of writer friends and I decided to organize a virtual potluck featuring great cookbooks perfect for holiday gift-giving.

Whether you’re buying a Christmas gift for your sister-in-law or a hostess gift for your next holiday party, you’re sure to find a book beckoning to you in this lovely mix.  Be sure to scroll right to the bottom where you’ll find blurbs about each book; click on the blog links for a full post plus a recipe.

My contribution to the potluck is Chickpea Curry with Tomato and Mango from Roz Cummin’s blog. Roz is a food writer who focuses on sustainability, agriculture, fishing, and aquaculture, and has written for notable publications such as edibleBoston,, and She’s funny and articulate, and her stories (like her wonderful self) never fail to make me ponder, or laugh out loud. Her latest project promises to do both. Roz is working on a book charmingly titled: Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea. The book will include a contribution from me, so look out for it!

Apparently, Roz came up with this recipe while tearing down the aisles at her local Whole Foods trying to figure out what to cook for her vegan co-op and a new, I’m-allergic-to-everything member (I’ll let you read her entertaining tale for yourself). The dish is easy to make and a fabulous mélange of sweet, tart, and spicy. Even though I’m still working through my Christmas list, at least I know what I’m making the next time friends come over for dinner on a cold, wintry day.


Chickpea Curry with Tomato and Mango
Recipe adapted from Roz Cummins

The combination of sweet-tart Meyer lemon juice and sweet, fresh mangoes makes for a delicious modern take on an Indian curry. (Psst, you can also use dried mangoes snipped into strips as Roz does in her original recipe.) The Meyer lemon is thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or the common orange, and is not as sour as a regular lemon. Its floral fragrance and sweetish juice make all the difference in this curry.

Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (approximately 2 medium onions)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (28 oz) cans fire roasted organic tomatoes (crushed or whole)
1 small ripe mango, chopped (I used an ataulfo mango but any kind will do)
2 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and strained
2 to 3 chili peppers (I used fresh Thai bird chilies and Roz use piri piri peppers from a jar, optional)
Salt to taste
Juice from 1 Meyer lemon or 1 tablespoon regular lemon juice
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed

Warm the spices in a large pot over low heat until they become aromatic, about 1 to 2 minutes. They do not need to change color. Dump the spices onto a plate and wipe the pot clean with a damp paper towel.

Add the oil and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions, followed by the ginger and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent and the ginger and garlic are fragrant. They do not need to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes. If you are using whole tomatoes, use a spoon to break them down. Toss in the mango. Cook for five minutes then add the spices.

Add the chickpeas followed by the chili peppers, if using.

Simmer the curry for about 30 minutes or until the chickpeas are slightly softened and completely warmed through.

Take the curry off the burner. Throw in the lemon juice and stir. Taste the curry. Now add a pinch of salt and taste again. Correct the seasoning with more salt if necessary.

When you serve the curry, throw some cilantro (see Pat’s note below) on top of each portion. Ask your guests to stir it into the curry. Serve with naan, paratha, or basmati rice.

Pat’s notes: A grandmother I cooked with once told me not to chop cilantro leaves as the leaves would turn brown. Pluck them or tear them instead.


Presenting all the cookbooks in our potluck:

100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love
By Jill Silverman Hough

Chock-full of delicious, creative, and easy-to-make recipes for everyday cooks, 100 Perfect Pairings makes food and wine pairing easy and approachable. With recipes organized into twelve chapters by wine variety, simply turn to the chapter for the wine you want to serve, make any of the entrees you find there, and enjoy it with your wine. It’s that easy. Be it Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir, a big dinner party or a simple meal with friends, “100 Perfect Pairings” promises wonderful recipes that make every pairing, well, perfect!

Jill Silverman Hough is a cookbook author, food and wine writer, recipe developer, and culinary instructor whose forte is making food and cooking simple yet special.
On Jill’s blog:  Tortilla Soup from Almost Meatless

Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet
By Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond

Ideal for today’s conscientious carnivores, Almost Meatless is a timely new book featuring 60+ tasty recipes that go light on the meat.  Without compromising flavor or protein, these dishes maximize health benefits while minimizing the grocery bill and impact on the planet.

Tara Mataraza Desmond is a writer, cookbook author and recipe developer focused on food for health and wellness, pregnancy and parenthood.
On Tara’s blog: Yogurt Chicken with Yogurt Chutney Sauce from 100 Perfect Pairings

Brewed Awakening

By Joshua M. Bernstein

Brewed Awakening is Joshua M. Bernstein’s definitive take on the craft beer revolution. The book is the deeply reported story of the wild innovations and passions driving craft beer, focusing on the tales of the risk-taking brewers, bar owners and the dedicated beer drinkers across the globe. There’s a story in every pint glass, and Brewed Awakening gives voice to each one.

Josh Bernstein is a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, travel and bicycling (phew!) journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide.
On Josh’s blog: The Jucy Lucy Burger from The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches
By Susan Russo

How do you keep a Dagwood from toppling over? How did the Hero get its name? And who invented the French Dip? Discover these answers and more in The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches—a chunky little cookbook dedicated to everything between sliced bread. You’ll find recipes for every sandwich imaginable along with fascinating regional and historical trivia. From the humble Sloppy Joe to the chic Nutella sandwich, from the iconic Po ‘Boy to the fresh-faced donut sandwich, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches will satiate sandwich connoisseurs everywhere.

Susan Russo is a San Diego-based cookbook author, blogger (Food Blogga), and freelance writer specializing in food and lifestyle.
On Susan’s blog: Highlights from Brewed Awakening

The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook
By Andrea Lynn

The ultimate one-stop shopping guide, The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook finally offers starving college students a welcome relief from fast food fiascos. Designed to help shoppers recognize the best finds and reap the fruits of Trader Joe’s smart buyers, many recipes utilize TJ’s signature products to create unique meals like olive focaccia, frito pie, pulled-pork sliders, and fish tacos, among other things.

Andrea Lynn is a NYC-based food writer and recipe developer who has tasted almost every product Trader Joe’s has to offer.
On Andrea’s blog: Ravioli Lasagna and Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach and Mint from Parents Need to Eat Too

Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents
By Debbie Koenig

Give a new parent the gift of sanity! Parents Need to Eat Too makes it easy for new moms and dads to take care of themselves as well as they’re caring for baby. Every recipe has been tested by a group of more than 100 moms, and every recipe also includes instructions for turning that dish into baby food. The book goes on sale in February, but author Debbie Koenig has created a special holiday offer, available now: She’ll send a free signed, custom-made bookplate and holiday card to anyone who pre-orders the book as a gift.

Debbie Koenig is a Brooklyn-based food and parenting writer and blogs at Words to Eat By.
On Debbie’s blog: Olive Focaccia from The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook

Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea
By Roz Cummins

Roz Cummins is a Boston-based food writer who specializes in sustainability. She also loves tea and baking. She has worked as an editor, a teacher, and an arts administrator. She is currently working on a book called Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea.

On Roz’s blog: Steamed Meatballs with Tangerine Peel from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook


Alloooo Aloo Gobi!

Aloo gobi. Aloo gobi. Aloo gobi. Aloo gobi.

No matter which syllable, or syllables, I place the inflection on I can’t help but crinkle my lips into a smile every time I utter the name of this popular North Indian dish. And I must say I’ve been uttering these words more often in recent months.

A staple at Indian restaurants with the star ingredients being potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi), aloo gobi is fairly simple to make at home as well.

Don’t believe me? Well, I wouldn’t believe me either if not for Sangita who showed me how to make it from start to finish.

It does require some time and has quite a lengthy list of ingredients. But after a little chopping (enlist a sous chef or two) and a gathering of herbs and spices (be sure they’re all on hand and don’t skimp, please!), the ingredients can be combined in a pot and left to simmer until done.

With hardly any effort, you’ll have an authentic Indian dish ready to eat as is or as a side dish to accompany a meat or fish dish.

Aloo Gobi

This recipe is adapted from Sangita’s and although aloo gobi’s main ingredients are usually only potatoes and cauliflower, I threw in some carrots for color and sweetness.

Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 hour

3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound small yellow waxy potatoes like new potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons sugar, divided
1 small bunch cilantro, separated into leaves and stems, and chopped
½ teaspoon chili flakes
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon coriander powder
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/2-inch sliver fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds
2 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon store-bought garam masla or make your own: ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the potatoes and fry until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. In the same pot, add the cauliflower and fry until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In the same pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the bay leaves and cumin seeds. Fry until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Cumin seeds burn very quickly so pay attention! Add the onion followed by 1 teaspoon sugar and fry until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the cilantrooriander stems, chili flakes, cumin and coriander and fry for about 5 minutes, adding water if the paste sticks to the bottom of the pan. Add the ginger and garlic. Tumble in the potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and tomatoes. Mix well to coat vegetables with the spices. Add salt to taste, 1 teaspoon sugar and turmeric and continue to fry for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour in the water, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the vegetables are cooked and the curry sauce is almost dry, add the garam masala. Stir, taste and add more seasonings if desired. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve with naan or basmati rice.

Indian Chicken Wings

Chicken wings were one of my favorite childhood snacks: baked, grilled, or fried, it didn’t matter. I’d gnaw on the wing tips until all the flavor and what little meat and skin were on ‘em was sucked off!

So when Monica Bhide asked me to cook her Indian chicken wings recipe from her new cookbook Modern Spice as part of a virtual bloggers dinner, I was happy to oblige!

indianchx2 by you.

Sprinkling chaat masala over the tasty wings

Now the recipe called for an optional garnish of chaat masala, a spice blend that is sprinkled onto snacks and used in aloo chaat. Unless you live near a South Asian market, it might be a little hard to find. So I devised a do-it-yourself version using whatever spices you can find.

Mix and Match Chaat Masala

Chaat masala is available as a ready mix at South Asian markets for about $1 but if you aren’t able to find it, make your own. It may seem like there are 101 ingredients and yes the ingredient list is lengthy, but if you’re a spice fiend like me, you might already have quite a few of the ingredients in your pantry. Aside from cumin seeds and coriander seeds which I always have on hand, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to put the dried mango powder, black salt, and asafetida powder I had received as gifts to good use! Of course, there are also 101 recipes for chaat masala but that’s the beauty of it—you can mix and match to your taste.

2 tablespoons dried mango powder (amchoor)
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 teaspoons black salt (kala namak)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

As many of the following ingredients you can find:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon ajwain seeds (lovage or bishop’s weed)
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder (hing)
1/4 teaspoon ground dried mint
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Toast the whole spices separately in a small dry cast iron skillet for 1 to 3 minutes, or until they are fragrant and turn a shade or two darker. Don’t let them burn! Grind them individually into a fine powder.

Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container.

Aloo Paratha, or the Perfect One-Dish Meal

About four years ago, I met Shelly Krishnamurthy. An amazing woman, Shelly has Parkinson’s disease but she is a fearless community activist, raising funds for Chaya, a non-profit organization serving South Asian women in times of crisis and need, and paying school visits to teach elementary students about Indian food and culture.

When Shelly heard about my book project, she introduced me to her 78-year-old mother, Champa Ramakrishna.

Champa Krishnamurthy by you.

Champa is already bustling around the kitchen when I arrive. She has soft, kindly features and wispy gray hair bundled into a single braid swishing down her back. As she prepares the ingredients to make aloo paratha, potato-stuffed flatbread, she floats around the spacious, modern kitchen decisively yet gracefully, her orange and burgundy sari rustling about her petite frame.

Aloo paratha is a great one-dish meal for the family that can be served anytime of the day, Champa tells me. It’s especially convenient when she tires of making the requisite three dishes per meal everyone is accustomed to.

Food, I have learned, is never territorial. Even though aloo paratha is a northern Indian dish and Champa’s roots are in the south, she has no qualms about calling this dish her own. However, most of her repertoire hails from the south. Not surprising since her parents are from Bangalore and three generations of her family lived in Bhopal, central India. This is the cuisine she picked up from her mother by watching and learning.

“Southern (Indian) cooking is simple, and uses less fat,” she explains. And in the south, almost all the Hindu sects don’t eat onion and garlic because of their pungent smell.

Aloo paratha doesn’t use onion or garlic, in fact, it comprises few ingredients with potatoes (aloo) making up the bulk of the dish. The potatoes are ready once they are tender “but not too soft,” Champa instructs me as she starts to peel them. She prefers the texture of Yukon gold potatoes and instead of mashing them she grates them. “So there are no lumps,” she explains, fingering a handful of lump-free grated potato.

Her face creased in concentration, Champa mixes onion, cilantro, cumin seeds, chili flakes and cilantro by hand into the potatoes. As her hands massage the mixture into a smooth filling, the gold bangles sparkling with emeralds around her left wrist clink sweetly. For a little pizzazz, she suggests adding grated cauliflower, paneer, lentils or green mung beans to the mixture as well. With the endless variety of fillings, Champa and her family–who as Hindus, are all vegetarian–can eat a balanced diet with just one dish!

As Champa works, she tells me that she moved to the U.S. when her husband got a job with the World Bank in 1979. They lived in Washington D.C. for 10 years before settling down in Austin, Texas. She recalls how difficult it was to find Indian spices 25 years ago. “Every time I went back to India, I would stock up on all kinds of things from all the different regions.” Her suitcase was always full coming back stateside!

When the potato filling is done, Champa sets it aside and starts preparing the dough. Adding water to Indian whole wheat flour, she kneads the dough until it is pliable but “not too loose.”

Champa divides the dough up into balls and deftly rolls each ball into a flat disc about 4 inches wide with a rolling pin. Holding the dough disc in the palm of her left hand, she places a good chunk of potato mixture in the middle and folds the dough over, fully enclosing the filling. Then she rolls it out again into a flat disc. Other than the occasional green speckle, you’d never guess the secret mouthwatering ingredients hiding within.

Champa folding the potato filling into the dough by you.

The griddle–yes, Champa uses a modern electric griddle!–is soon fired up. She lays the pancake-like parathas gently down on the hot surface one at a time. She sprinkles some oil over each disc and smears it all over the top. After a couple of minutes, she flips them to reveal lightly charred brown spots.

In no time, they are done.

Champa serves me my meal on a shiny stainless steel plate typical of a thali meal. She instructs me to scoop some yogurt into a small bowl and season it with a sprinkling of cumin, chili powder and salt.

I break off a portion of the flatbread and dip it into the yogurt. The paratha’s crisp outer layer gives way to soft shreds of bread spiked with cumin, cilantro and chili, which contrasted nicely with the cool yogurt.

Yes, it is confirmed. This is a one-dish meal I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Potato-Stuffed Flatbread (Aloo Paratha)

aloo paratha by you.

Whenever Champa Ramakrishna doesn’t feel like preparing the requisite three dishes per meal, she makes aloo paratha. Easy to make and nutritious, the one-dish Indian meal can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. While Champa can churn out perfect parathas in a matter of minutes, making them symmetrical takes some practice-so don’t be discouraged if your first few don’t turn out quite right. Instead of the yogurt dip, you can serve the flatbread with your favorite pickle or chutney.

Time: 1 1/2 hours
Makes: 10 parathas, 4 to 5 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2 cups Indian whole wheat flour (atta), or a combination of 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground red chili powder or crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Yogurt Dip (recipe follows)

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, oil, and a pinch of salt. Add the water a little at a time and knead into a soft, pliable dough. Once the dough starts to pull easily away from the side of the bowl, knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a fork can prick them easily. The potatoes should still be somewhat firm and not too soft. Let cool.
When the potatoes have reached room temperature, peel and grate them. You should have about 2 cups. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, cilantro, chili powder, cumin seeds, cumin powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Divide the dough into 10 equal 1½-inch balls (an easy way to do this is to divide the dough in half, then each half into 5 balls). Divide the potato filling into 10 equal portions. Prepare a plate with about 1 cup flour for dusting. Sprinkle flour liberally onto a work surface and roll a ball into a disk about 4 inches in diameter with a rolling pin. Place 1 portion of filling in the center and gather the edges up and around it, stretching the dough if necessary. Pinch to seal securely at the top so that the filling is entirely enclosed. It will look like a fat dumpling.

Gently flatten the dumpling into a thick patty, being careful not to let the filling escape. Dip both sides in the flour. Lay the patty seam side down and carefully roll it out into a circle 5 to 6 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Don’t worry if a little filling pops out. Just pat it back inside the paratha as best as you can.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, dusting with flour as needed.

Place the parathas on a plate, layering them between parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together before cooking.

Preheat a heavy griddle or 8-inch nonstick skillet. Place 1 paratha on the ungreased griddle and cook over medium-high heat until the underside is speckled with golden brown spots, about 3 minutes. Flip and drizzle the top with oil (about ½ teaspoon). Smear the oil all over the surface with a spatula and press down to ensure even browning. Flip again, drizzle more oil on top, and repeat the smearing process. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, flipping every minute or so, until the paratha is evenly browned on both sides.

Slide onto a plate and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining parathas. To eat, tear off bite-sized pieces of paratha and dip into the yogurt mixture.

Variations: Add any of the following cooked ingredients to, or in lieu of, the potato filling: grated cauliflower, mashed lentils or mung beans, and paneer.

Pat’s Notes: Atta (sometimes called chapati flour) is a very finely ground whole wheat flour made from hard wheat. With a high protein content and just enough bran to give it body without making it too coarse for soft pliable Indian breads, atta flour is also strong and dough made from it can be rolled out very thin. It is available at Indian grocers.

Parathas freeze well. Just cook them without oil and freeze, placing wax or parchment paper in between each paratha. When ready to use, defrost and reheat the paratha on the griddle with some oil.

Yogurt Dip

Make individual servings and have everyone tailor the dip to their personal taste.

Makes: 1 serving

1/2 cup homemade or Greek yogurt
Ground cumin
Ground dried red chilies

Spoon the yogurt into an individual dish. Sprinkle cumin powder, ground chilies, and salt to taste (I recommended pinches to start with). Mix well.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Paneer Magic

paneer cubes by you.

Paneer cut into cubes

Everyone has their day dreams.

Mine begins at dawn with me stirring a vat of creamy white milk. Sleep still heavy on my eyelids, my face is flushed from the delicate tendrils of warmth rising from the freshly-milked liquid which not so long ago still resided inside the goats bleating just outside the barnyard door …

…bzztt … it’s back to reality.

I have to admit that I’m not obsessed with making cheese, just with the romantic notion of being a farmstead fromagier–living on a farm, raising some goats, and not having to pay through my nose for some yummy chevre, minus the cleaning of kaka and all that good stuff of course.

However, a chance meeting–in the form of a gentle sari-wearing lady named Sangita Chawila–got me very excited about cheese-making. Sangita showed me how easy it was to make paneer, the mild, creamy Indian cheese that makes its way into everything from saag paneer to paneer-stuffed tikis (potato cutlets).

With Sangita’s simple method, everyday non-cheese-making people like you and me can make cheese in under an hour! If you can boil milk and squeeze limes, you’re already a natural paneer-making machine. How cool is that?

Homemade Paneer

Instead of lime juice, you can make paneer with lemon juice or vinegar. After draining, the paneer is crumbly like ricotta cheese and makes for a delicious snack with apples or bananas and sweetened with honey or sugar.

Makes: 5 ounces of paneer

1 quart whole milk

2 tablespoons lime juice (1 lime), or more as needed

In a large, nonreactive, wide-mouthed pot, bring milk to a gentle boil (the larger the pot the better so that the milk will not overflow). Stir often to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pot. If the pot starts to overflow, whisk it off the stove. Otherwise you’ll have a big, foaming mess and cleaning milk from inside your stove is no joke–I know!

As the milk starts to gurgle, watch diligently that it doesn’t overflow the pot!

Once the milk starts bubbling, add the lime juice and stir continuously for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the spongy white curds start to separate from the sea-green whey (just like magic!). If the curds don’t separate, or the whey isn’t clear, add more lime juice and keep stirring. It will happen eventually.

IMG_5484 by you.

Curdling milk–not always a welcome sight but in this case …

Turn off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes to complete the coagulation process.

IMG_5487 by you.

Paneer up close; can you see the sea-green whey in the background?

Pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with fine cheesecloth. Place a bowl beneath the colander if you’d like to collect the whey and save it for making roti, curry, or rice. (After this step, you can use the paneer in a recipe that uses crumbly cheese or eat it immediately.)

IMG_5500 by you.

Drained paneer curds

Gently wring out as much whey as possible. Tie up the opposite ends of the cheesecloth and hang the bundle around the faucet and drain into the sink for 1 hour. With the cheese still wrapped in cheesecloth, flatten it to about half-an-inch thick and shape it into a disc or a square. Sandwich the cheese between a chopping board and a heavy book and leave for another hour.

IMG_5504 by you.

Curds and whey or rather, whey and curds

Discard any remaining liquid and unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut it into 1-inch cubes and fry gently in oil, or use in your favorite recipe.

Pat’s notes:

To make creamier paneer, you can add heavy whipping cream to the milk to make up for the cream/fat lost during processing of milk sold in the U.S.

If you can get unpasteurized, unhomogenized (i.e. raw) milk, all the better.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Flim Flum Flan

Cardamom-studded Flan

One wouldn’t necessarily think of flan as an Indian dessert but this fusion recipe comes from someone with a fascinating provenance. Mumtaz Rahemtulla is of Indian origin (from the Western-most state of Gujarat) and a fourth generation Kenyan. Both she and her husband were born British nationals in Kenya. But when Kenya gained independence, they opted for Kenyan citizenship. In the 1970’s, she and her husband migrated to Canada where her children were born, before moving again to the U.S. Mumtaz usually steams her flan on the stove (over medium heat for about 30 minutes) but I have altered the recipe to bake in a water bath in the oven. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, creamy, melt-in-your mouth treat harboring a surprise in every bite–a heady shot of cardamom.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (20 minutes active)
Makes: 8 servings
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups 2-percent fresh milk
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk (about half of a 14-ounce can)
5 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
Seeds from 6 green cardamom pods, ground with a mortar and pestle (about 1/4 teaspoon), plus more for garnish
Pinch saffron

In a small, heavy saucepan (cast iron or aluminum are ideal), melt sugar over medium heat undisturbed. The sugar will start to melt around the edges of the pan at the 5 to 7 minute mark. When a syrup starts to form, swirl the pan occasionally or stir with a wooden spoon to encourage the rest of the sugar to melt. The light golden color will shift from lighter to darker shades of amber. After about 15 minutes in total, the sugar will have completely melted into a thick, deep amber syrup. Don’t step away from the stove during this process, even for a minute. If at any time you need to stop the caramelizing process abruptly, pull the pan off the stove and carefully immerse the bottom of the pan into your sink filled with cool water.

Quickly pour caramel into a 10-inch pie plate and swirl to coat the bottom. If the caramel hardens before you’re done, microwave plate for 30 to 45 seconds until the caramel is runny again. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine fresh, evaporated, and condensed milks, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, and saffron. Whisk until smooth. Pour custard into the caramel-coated plate.

Place the pie plate in a baking pan. Fill the pan with water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pie plate to create a water bath.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the flan crinkles at the edges and is speckled with light brown spots. A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.

Cool to room temperature and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to serve, run a thin-bladed knife along the edge of the plate. Place a serving platter on top of the pie plate and turn over. The flan should release easily from the pie plate onto the platter. Cut into 8 slices and garnish with hand-crushed cardamom seeds.


Chicken Biryani Three Ways


I first met Jafar “Jeff” Siddiqui 16 years ago when I first came to the U.S. Jeff and his wife Kathy were my brother’s host parents. Every year, FIUTS, an organization at the University of Washington, plays matchmaker, pairing newly arrived foreign students with American families who are willing to host them for a week and help them transition to a new culture and country.

Just as they did with my brother, Jeff and his family graciously took me under their wing, and we’ve become lifelong friends.

My first few thanksgivings and Christmases were spent with the Siddiquis and we’d go over for other occasions, both special and casual. I devoured my first plate of roast turkey smothered with gravy and cranberry sauce at theirs, and I was introduced to Kathy’s chili and cornbread one lunchtime. And every so often Jeff would cook up dishes hailing from his native Pakistan. “This is NOT Indian cuisine!” Jeff would declare, not realizing I had spied a cookbook on the kitchen counter with the word ‘Indian’ emblazoned somewhere on its front cover. I knew better than to open my mouth so I’d stifle a giggle, roll my eyeballs, and continue eating my plate of chicken curry, dhal or whatever sumptuous spiced dish was on the table.

I’ve met the extended family from both sides–mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins–and I’ve watched their kids grow up. The oldest, Heather, is now a beautiful young woman of 17 and Arman is 13 and already taller than his dad.

So when I started working on my cookbook, I naturally asked the Siddiquis if the had any recipes to share. The kids were unanimous: Amma’s Rice, the name for their grandma’s chicken biryani.

Jeff’s mother, “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, never recorded the recipe so all her children and grandchildren were left with were fleeting taste memories on their palates.

Last summer, Jeff’s sisters Fazi (who lives in Holland) and Samia (who lives in Seattle’s eastside suburb, Bellevue) recreated it in Samia’s kitchen, with Arman supervising of course.


Arman cooking in my kitchen 

And lucky me, I got to cook Amma’s Rice twice: once with Arman and another time with Samia. Arman came with a recipe his Aunt Fazi dictated over the phone the night before (and a veiled warning from his dad not to disgrace the family); whereas at Samia’s, we cooked based on the recipe notes she took when her sister visited.


Clockwise from bottom left: Lou (Samia’s husband), Samia, Jeff, Arman and Lena (Samia and Lou’s daughter) 

Although both versions had almost identical ingredients, there were subtle differences. I was fascinated that the same recipe could be interpreted in different ways by siblings.

Here’s what I observed based on my cooking sessions with Arman and Samia, and Jeff’s interjections:

-Fazi likes her biryani with lots and lots of butter–her recipe uses about 2-1/2 sticks of butter!

-Samia uses ghee instead of butter and likes to add a tad more spices–more peppercorns please! Samia prefers lamb in her biryani too.

-Jeff likes to cook his rice with more water: a ratio of 1 rice to 2 water, instead of Samia’s 1 to 1-1/2. He also likes more salt!!

– Both sisters use breast meat in their recipes but Jeff swears by tender, juicy dark meat.

My conclusion? This would make for a fun, non-scientific experiment among siblings. Pick a favorite recipe you remember your grandma or mom cooking and see how each of you interprets it. Drop me a comment with your results!

Amma’s Rice

“Amma” means mother and this dish is named for “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, the late matriarch of the Ashraf/Siddiqui family. The recipe was never written down so her grandson Arman set out to recreate the recipe with his aunts Fazi and Samia one afternoon. Generally, chicken biryani is a sumptuous Pakistani/Indian dish often reserved for special occasions such as weddings, parties, or holidays like Ramadan. Samia remembers it as her mum’s go-to dish when expecting company. The preparation is rather lengthy but all the work is definitely worth it! Basmati rice with its thin, fine grains is the ideal variety to use. If unavailable, long grain rice is the next best thing; short grains result in mushy rice.

Time: 2-1/2 hours
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

3 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ghee
2 medium onions, sliced thinly (about 4 to 5 cups)
1 head garlic, peeled and minced*
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced*

Whole spices:
10 to 12 black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
Seeds from 8 to 10 cardamom pods
3 (3-inch long) cinnamon sticks

Ground spices:
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons (or more to taste) plus pinch salt
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 breasts)
1/2 cup yogurt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-1/2 cups cold water

Raita (recipe to follow)

Wash rice in 2 to 3 changes of water. Soak until required.

Place saffron threads in a small bowl and pour in boiling water. Soak until required.

In a (6-quart) wide-mouthed pot or Dutch oven, melt 1/2 cup ghee over medium heat. Fry onions until soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Toss in whole spices and stir well. Add ground spices and 2 teaspoons salt, and stir for another 30 to 45 seconds.

When onions have turned yellowish, add chicken and mix well to coat. Cook and stir until chicken is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup yogurt and mix well. Cook, covered, over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until water evaporates and oil starts to separate.


Turn off heat and leave pot on stove, covered.

Drain rice well. Heat oil in a (4-quart) pot. Fry rice over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 4-1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon ghee and pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. When rice kernels separate, rice is done. Set aside, covered.

Uncover chicken and spread pieces evenly in pot. Smooth 1/4 cup yogurt evenly over chicken. Layer cooked rice over chicken and yogurt as evenly as possible, smoothing down any clumps.


Drizzle saffron liquid, including threads, over rice. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.


Spoon chicken and rice into a large bowl with a low rim and mix thoroughly. Pick out cinnamon sticks and serve with raita and (store-bought) chutney.

Optional garnish:
Soak raisins in water for 10 minutes until they’re plump, and dry with a paper towel. Fry with a little butter and scatter over rice.

*You can mince both the garlic and ginger at the same time in a food processor.

Ghee is butter that has been slowly melted so that the milk solids and golden liquid have been separated and yields a more authentic taste. Use butter if you can’t find ghee.

Samia recommends buying free range, organic chicken breasts because they have not been injected with water like many conventional brands you find at supermarkets. And you don’t want a watery biryani.

2 cups yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch salt

In a small bowl, mix everything together with a fork until yogurt is smooth and there are no lumps.