mostly about food and cooking, but also the stories about the Bread and the Butterflies!

Express Cooking: Meal #1

In Low Fat, Rice, Under 30 min!, Vegetables on July 27, 2007 at 11:27 pm

Mallugirl has thrown a challenge to prepare meals that take just 10-30 minutes from start to finish. Ten minute meals will naturally have to rely on processed foods or some amount of pre-prep. But 30 minutes is long enough to put together something decent from scratch. With the trusted pressure cooker, and a 3-4 burner stove, there are many meals you can put on the table in that much time.

For me it is deciding what to cook that is the hard part. Once that’s done, it’s all easy from there. In fact, I think most of my everyday cooking falls within that average of 30 minutes of active time (check the under-30-minute category).

Some planning goes a long way in making short work of kitchen time. The ability to multi-task or to at least keep an eye on more than one thing at a time, is a big plus.

On most days I plan the meal while fixing my morning tea. Since schools have reopened this happens early; at around 7:00 am (that’s early in my book) I am sitting down with my cuppa after having packed off the son to school with fresh paranthas and subzi (from previous night’s dinner) in his lunch-box.

When I used to work away from home, this was the time I started the veggie preparation. The subzi would cook while I finished the tea and the morning papers. Now that I work from home, the lunch subzi is prepared around noon when I get up to make myself some tea. You’d think I couldn’t function properly without that cup in one hand, but you’d be wrong. I just like the whole deal about making tea and then taking a sip now and then, as you busy yourself with other things.

I will ‘do’ the tadka and throw in the veggies (prepped) while I wait for the water for the tea to boil. If I’m on my own (that is, without maid – TH will rarely offer to help) then the vegetable prep happens at the same time, and the rice gets soaked if it’s going to be part of lunch. The dal gets soaked earlier, when I visit the kitchen for a glass of water or something.

Because of all this parallel activity, I will over-brew my tea occasionally. I also take time over my tea – and it has cooled off completely by the time I get to the bottom. (Bee, are you counting? Seven random things meme…it’s all here). By then lunch is usually ready.

This week I hope to put before you a few of these everyday menus from my kitchen. Keeping the story short, let’s get to work.

Today’s menu (farewell dinner before my father-in-law caught the late night flight; he’s now reached distant shores for an extended visit with TH’s brother):

Matar/Veggie Pulao
Greek Yoghurt Salad
Papad (Lijjat Masala)
Pickle of choice


matar pulao with salad and papad

Dessert: (it was a farewell, of course, there was dessert): choice of two ice creams (store-bought) – Butterscotch, and Vanilla with Nirula’s Hot Chocolate Fudge sauce, garnished with toasted cashew bits

The entire meal can be prepared in 25-30 minutes, with parallel activities. Here’s a step-by-step…

Prep time: 6-10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 (while you do other things)

Matar Pulav (Peas Pulao)
(serves 4-5)

2 C basmati rice
4 C water
1 onion, chopped as shown
1 ½ C frozen peas
¾ C green beans, top and tail, string, and chopped as shown
¾ t cumin seeds
2 cloves
a few peppercorns
a few pieces of cinnamon
1 tejpatta
1 t salt
2 t oil
1 t ghee

matar pulao ingredients


greek cucumber salad
Cucumber Salad
(recipe here)

Clocking 0-10 min:
[First things first – put some water to boil for a cup of tea.]

Pick over and wash 2 C rice in two changes of water. Drain and set aside.

Beat the yoghurt with a wire whisk till smooth. Pound the garlic to a pulp and add to the yoghurt. Add the lime juice. Refrigerate.

Prepare the veggies for the pulao. You can use vegetables of choice such as, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes; even from a bag of mixed frozen vegetables. Thaw frozen vegetables in the microwave.

[The water is boiling by now; turn the heat off, add tea leaves to the pan and let steep for a couple of minutes – or longer, if you’re like me and prone to forgetfulness]
Peel and slice the cucumber. Put in a colander to drain.

Clocking 11-15 min:
Heat the oil and ghee in a heavy bottom pan. Add the whole spices. Stir till aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the sliced onions, and fry over medium heat till lightly browned (about 3-4 min), stirring all the time. Add the drained rice and stir for a minute. Add the 4 cups of water, salt, and the chopped vegetables – I used chopped green beans and (frozen) peas. Increase the heat to high. [Somewhere here find the time to strain tea into your favourite cup, add sugar and a spot of milk if desired, and enjoy a sip now and then and revel in being the domestic God/Goddess you truly are]

Clocking16-20 min:
Bring to boil. Stir, and cover. Reduce heat to medium. Let cook 2-3 minutes, give a good stir to mix the peas that are floating on top into the cooking rice.

(Cover with a tight fitting lid, turn the heat down to low and cook for 10 min. Turn the heat off. Let stand 10 min before serving.)

Clocking 20-25min:
While the rice is cooking, take out a few papads and cook in the microwave. The small thin urad-dal masala papads I was using take a minute (four at a time): zap 30 sec, flip (so that inner ends are now on the outer edge), zap another 30 sec.

While the papads are roasting, rinse out the cucumber in cold water. Drain, and add to the chilled garlic-flavoured yoghurt. Sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and mix.

[Savour the last of your tea while the rice rests and ask TH or the son to lay the table remembering to take out some of that lovely pickle everyone has made this season.]

If the rice was soaked earlier, before the clock started ticking, you can have the meal on the table (including the resting time for rice) in 25 minutes.

Tomorrow look out for:
Menu#2 (Punjabi)
Arbi ki subzi
Arhar-masur dal
With roti, salad, and achar

  1. You have written this so well!

    I too cook most of our meals in 30-45 min but I have a real problem when it comes to putting down the recipe on my blog. For some reason that’s hard for me & takes more time than making the dish sometimes 😦

    I like your greek yogurt salad a lot & am gonna make it soon.

    O, it takes way more time to write a post! Too much time, really.

    But you have to give back, and not just tease with the pictures!

  2. Hi,

    Have been a regular reader, your blog is excellent! have cooked many a dish after looking up your blog.

    And now am super happy to discover that you too drink tea while cooking! My hubby thinks I am the only freak who has tea while cooking:)

    Will look forward to more of your delicious express recipes.

    Zinnia, thanks for writing in.

    I think what is additionally special about the cup of tea is that it is something you do just for yourself: that makes us special to ourselves. Sort of like saying, “you’re worth it!”

  3. i love the timeline stuff :). Pulaav are raita are quickest and best eats, aren’t they :).

    On the same lines as paranthe te achaar!

  4. I drink coffee while I cook, and I take my time over it as well, but I like it cold anyway.

    This is totally amazing, this schedule thing you’ve made for cooking a meal. See, it’s pretty seldom that I cook for more than myself anymore, so it’s been awhile since I’ve had to do this, but I do recall back in the days when my ex and I would entertain that I’d make as much in advance as possible, saving the rice or other starch for very last so it was freshly-hot; lots of other things- especially many Indian dishes- do quite well made the day before and re-heated or, in the case of certain salads/relishes, brought to room temp before serving. Anyway, I’m impressed, you domestic goddess! 🙂 I’m thinking now that i dawdle too much… 😉

    I have to do the express stuff many times – because I can (sometimes) get lost in work and look up to see it is already 1 o’clock! Then you have to get everything going almost at the same time: Dal on one, subzi on the other, and sometimes (on the maid’s day off!) even roti on the third burner. The fourth is still available if I need tea!

    But all the rush is not necessary – I may also make them sequentially 😀 starting with the tea, of course.

  5. so tell me, who clears the table and who does the dishes? that’s the nasty part.

    It used to be just me, but then I put my foot down! So the three of us do this together – much faster and more family-like. 😀

    The maid does the dishes, of course. 😉

  6. I’m super fast in the kitchen too, but it is the clean up that takes forever 😦

    I clean up as I cook! So there is usually very little ‘pasara’ in the kitchen when I’m done cooking.

  7. i heart bee 🙂

    You can’t have too much clean up for one? Wait till there’s more in the ‘family’ – then you can complain
    😀 .

  8. I take forever, I need to break often between chores as my attention span is less… After a Long time on your blog anita. I see that i missed a lot!!

    There is plenty of fast-lane driving everywhere; we don’t need to necessarily bring it into the kitchen! Sometimes, just taking it slow in here can be very comforting. (Ask Manisha, she’s the expert in Kitchen-therapy too).

  9. What a great spread! Looks mouth watering!

    C’mon, what spread? 😀

  10. its very nice to see bee’s dee’s and tee’s comment…I would squeeze in between to comment. Thats awesome pulao quick and easy also I loved your greek yogurt salad…mind blowing combination and a great express entry…I hope you fastened your seal belts!

    Where’s Vee?

    My MIL used to call me ‘Frontier Mail’ in the kitchen! 😆

  11. Anita, the papers are ready. When are you going to adopt me? I mean, Medha.

    I’ll make your tea. You make dinner and lunch. It’s very rare that I cook two meals in a day. It’s usually leftovers for lunch.

    Tea must be had while cooking. Mine goes into the microwave several times to be reheated.

    I can’t cook several dishes in 30 mins. In fact I won’t be able to cook what you posted in 30 mins even if I did everything according to your clock. Not even the tea. Things take longer to cook where I live. Bah!

    Just you and Medha? What about those who want you to take them in? With the express cooking, lunch and dinner will be no problem. And for something elaborate, we could always do that ‘cook together’ you do with girl-friends…I like…and you have to help with clearing the table.

    You get 10 min extra for the high elevation – I don’t remember Denver being that bad…but few feet more seems to make a lot of difference.

    My tea gets forgotten in the microwave! Just yesterday, as we were clearing the table after lunch, I asked Anu to make me a cup of tea. TH quipped in, ” Give her that *unmentionable (Marathi) horse-something* that is sitting in the microwave…!”

  12. Cool post!! And very neat indeed! I love to sip on my coffee as well while managing other chores as well! 🙂

    To tea, and to you, Coffee!

  13. What a great fast meal. I’m trying to cook faster, too now that I am working till late. Your recipe is very inspirational. Thanks!

    Fresh food cooked by you is the best stress-buster. As a Grad student on my own, I used to so love cooking my dinner and watching some TV. The cup of tea first, which starts the unwinding process

  14. He called your cold tea “horse do-do” eh? Strange, we have the same phrase here, not that I would ever utter such language! [looks at the ceiling] I recall when I was young, when my mother would drive us kids through the countryside and, when a particular odour would hit, she exclaim,”That’s the smellllllll of money!” We’d look at her like she’d flipped her gourd… (local saying: crazed in the head)

    Yes, Manisha is the queen of kitchen-therapy. I wish she’d post a full-length video on youtube showing us how to stir payasam from beginning to end, and lay a plinky-plink soundtrack of wind-chimes over it- if she doesn’t do it, I might! 🙂

    Do you think you may be having a “cook-together” in 2009? Or is that just one big haakathon… 😀

    I wouldn’t either!

    Yeah, there might be money to be made with that video, and chanting…

    You coming – to join the party?

  15. All those who want me to adopt them are walking on thin ice anyway. They would have learned the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth once they moved in. Plus they were forewarned.

    Horse poo? That’s the smell of Canada. That was the smell that greeted us when we crossed over at Port Huron a few years ago and again at Calais / St. Stephen this year. Medha had remarked the last time: Canada stinks! No offense meant to any Canadians. Just a huge amount of appreciation for using manure as fertilizer! The smell can be quite heady after a while 😆

    Funny you should mention paayasam. A friend stopped by to pick up some fish curry and pulao and told me that her husband would be my fan for life if I ever shared some rice pudding with him. He’s heavily into the Dalai Lama and goes to the Shambala Center here for meditation etc. So I told her I’d give him the recipe and have him do his meditation at home instead. And this was less than 5 mins ago!

    Plinky-plink? No! No! No wind-chimes! But soft rhythmic chanting maybe. Or the sound of a stream or waterfall from Rocky Mountain National Park. Mmmmm! Just the mere thought transports me there…

    BTW, Pel, check out who’s taken up the mantle for stress-busting therapy!

    Anita, you used to cook when you were in Denver?

    Pel, you hosting the cook-together?

    Not poop, but pee…!

    What do you mean by asking if I cooked in Denver?? A girl’s gotta eat! That is where the turkey-mutsch was made the first time – 1125 1/2 Corona Street…a 10-min walk from the heart of downtown Denver!

  16. I work from home too, and your rhythm sounds totally familiar! The exception being that my 6 or 7 am wakeup drink is coffee, with tea following the rest of the day.

    Work. Wander into kitchen and put water on for tea. Throw in dal to soak & make tea. Back to work. Back into kitchen to prep vegies for lunch or dinner. Back to work. Back into kitchen to make more tea and grind or prep masalas. Work. Go cut up fruit for dessert and to have around to munch on. etc etc etc.

    Although I often work long hours, it all feels quite leisurely. I like the break to prep things, and after a while it becomes second nature. My break between conference calls becomes shelling peas or mixing spices. Your suggestions are inspiring – I love your blog!

    Hey there, Diane!

    Interesting how the kitchen work and the tea can provide all the commas and the semi-colons that we need… I know what you mean ‘leisurely’…at our own pace. Those of us who can do this are truly lucky to have the best of both worlds. To be work-from-home wives/moms…because I do like that part too – being there for my son, always.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Manisha- “picked up some fish curry and pulao”? What, are you running a take-out from your kitchen now? Do you deliver, and how far is your range? 😀 I’ll have a double order of stuffed okra, roti, and a tub of fresh-cut jackfruit please!

    That synchronicity is odd…even odder that I just made a batch of bharleli mirchi and then went to Jugalbandi. How about a soundtrack of ocean waves while the kheer- I mean payasam- is stirred? hehehehe

    And who’d taken up the mantle? what’s a mantle? Cook-together? Who said cook-together? Actually, if I had my own domain I would! But, I’d get the stove, Musical could use the the agneethi, you, Anita, Bee and Jai could fight over the scented candles… 🙂

    Me too, Manisha – I’ll have the fish curry first – and the cinnamon rolls, and… 😀

    ‘Taking-picking up the mantle’ – must be a British phrase! That’s what happens when you get ‘special’ versions of Harry potter books, lose out on some of the Queen’s English.

  18. LOL! No! We cook, we share. It’s a cooking co-op that goes semi-dormant in summer. As for jackfruit…<shudder>

    Ocean waves – why not? ‘cept that it should be the waves from Gulf of St. Lawrence. There you have both – the mountains and the ocean. Bliss.

    Mantle as in the ‘cloak’ as in the ‘cloak of authority’. Never heard of the expression “take up the mantle?” Hmmmmm.

    Jai and the others can have the scented candles. Give me the food!

  19. No, I’ve never heard that…thought maybe you were re-doing the fireplace!

    I thought the ocean waves would sound great while watching the white (or pink) liquid churning…heehee

  20. Anita, I didn’t know there were differences between the American and U.K. editions besides the cover-art- are there? Have you read anything about this? If so, then I’ll need to order the British copies…;-)

  21. Yep…there are…not too many though.

  22. We would say “Taking the torch/ passing on the torch”. I think that’d be the American equivalent of that phrase.

  23. great work! u are kidding when u say this even takes that long. :)i am sure u forgot abt the cooking the moment ur tea got made!i too need something constantly to sip when i am working from home.except that the tea has to be piping hot.

  24. This is one beautiful meal, Anita! I am so looking forward to your other delicious express meals.
    It is so true- raita, papad and pickle come together to make a complete meal of just one dish.

  25. The pulao looks mouthwateringly simple and paushtik. I always like my mattar pulao like this. However in most restaurants, I have always been disappointed when I order it. They drown it in endless masala which completely takes away the freshness of the mattar and lovely contrast between the green peas and white rice

  26. Cooking at high altitude is not simple as I am finding out. For example, the boiling point of water does not depend only on the altitude. The barometric pressure also makes a difference. It’s interesting that this article should refer to chicken – it’s the same experience I had! On normal days, water will generally boil at 202F but that doesn’t mean that whatever is in the water cooks just because the water is boiling. Which means that it takes longer to cook. It was one of the first things I noticed when I visited Boulder for a week to figure out whether this is where we want to be. Water, my dear, and therefore tea, is just not as hot here as it is at sea-level. 😀

  27. Pel, we use “you have the torch” when we are working on the same document/file in an environment where we have chosen to avoid using software check-in/check-out. And that word torch has got me into trouble many a time. “Do you have a torch?” would have people staring at me wide-eyed. Wondering why I needed a torch when a flashlight would do. 😆

  28. Yeah, those electric torches’ll get you into trouble, especially if you go walking down the street with one of those and a crowbar… you’d then definitely be in hot water! 😀

  29. 😆 how hot is the question. Denver hot is tepid 😉

  30. Anita, i love the way you’ve written this… and I love to have tea too, i could sip it the whole day, whilst in the office, on my comp, at home, in the kitchen…my cup cud be part of my clothing!!…esp in this cold winter!! and meals that are made the quickest, taste the best, dont they…

  31. Everything about this post is lovely. The way you’ve written it, the detailed steps (timings inclusive) for a 30 min. meal… 🙂 Thank you Anita.

  32. Hi!
    That was really quick!!! I have to take minimum 1 hour to finish preparing lunch!! you are great!

  33. Super fast cooking.

  34. This was my first attempt to make indian food, I finally gathered all the spices required……………This was wonderful!
    I am so happy it turned out just like I would have at a restuarant!!!

    I would really like to try and make naan bread – love the stuff. Could you do a post on it?

    Thank you

  35. hi

    tried out your recipe. it came out so well. TH said the pulao was just like his mom’s. i swooned, believe me, could any man even say that. and so very easy to make to boot.

    thq so very much for sharing.


  36. I drink beer / wine while cooking – not always tho, and never more than a glass – it could mess up the proportions of spices;)
    Making this pulav right now and cant wait! My 2 year old daughter cant wait to eat it, cos the aroma is filling up the kitchen…
    thanks Anitha for another winner!

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