Indian cooking is elaborate, complex and needs a lot of time, especially since there are many dishes that form a wholesome meal. In the busy world that we live in today, it gets tougher to find the time, especially to cook that lovely healthy home cooked meal, making it rather easy to reach out for that packaged ready-to-eat option. Our contributor Chetana Parameshwar tells us all about her weekly meal planning schedule and two of her family’s favorite recipes.
My earliest memories of cooking take me back to my maternal grandparents’ home – a joint family with a penchant for good food. We were lucky to have the kitchen captained by arguably the best chefs in the world, who were steeped in the family tradition of serving delicious food for many generations, emphasizing that it was love and care that made a meal.
I love to cook. When our son came along 6 years ago, the focus of my cooking shifted from experimenting with tons of recipes to make more healthy family meals that wouldn’t compromise on taste. The ambitious goal was to transition from impromptu planning to thoughtful and deliberate multitasking. However, when we learned of our twin pregnancy, I knew I would need to hone my home management skills, a significant part of which would be meal planning.
But what exactly is meal planning?
This essentially involves:
- planning meals for a certain period of time
- shopping for the ingredients needed
- prepping those ingredients in order to make daily cooking an easier job
For example, one could start by drawing up a weekly meal plan on a Friday night, shopping for the required ingredients on a Saturday and spending some time prepping the ingredients on a Sunday.
Here are a few helpful pointers to start planning your meals:
- Start with meal planning for shorter periods of time (maybe one weekend or half a week).
- Plan ahead for only a few meals each day, for instance, start planning only for dinners
- Opt to have fixed menus or limited choices for certain meals like weekday breakfast
- List out all the ingredients you need with the quantities for the shopping list in order to avoid the last minute dash to the supermarket
- Do not forget to factor in what you already have stocked in your fridge, freezer or pantry while drawing up the shopping list
- Try to incorporate recipes which will use up the items that need to be used up first
- Use tried-and-tested family favorite recipes during the initial trial adding only one new recipe per week to avoid being overwhelmed
- Feel flexible to swap meals between the days of the week, sticking to the meal plan for the entire week
- Schedule in a meal to use up leftovers and/or occasional takeaways
- ‘KISS’ or ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ applies to meal planning as well. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It could be just a small sheet of paper listing out meals for the defined time period stuck onto the fridge door.
I have shared two of my family’s favorite recipes. These work for lunch/dinner meals.
Recipe #1: Kerala Olan
- 1 medium bottle gourd (you could use any other squash, gourd, Indian yellow cucumber or even a mix of two gourds)
- ¾ cup black eyed beans (you could use beans of your choice, smaller beans go well with this preparation)
- 1 or 2 green chilies (depending on how spicy they are)
- Few curry leaves
- 2 teaspoons of coconut oil,
- 500 grams of coconut milk, (my favorite is the Thai Kitchen Kati coconut milk),
- Salt to taste
- Hot water and/or cooking liquid from the gourd.
- Wash and pressure cook the black eyed beans with enough water to cover the beans. (I use my Indian Hawkins Futura pressure cooker and these beans cook in 6 minutes without the need to pre-soak). This step can be done in advance. If storing in the refrigerator, then about 2 days in advance.
- Wash, peel and cut the bottle gourd into medium sized cubes – this can be done 2 days in advance. Refrigerate in a ziplock or vacuum seal bag/box.
- In a pot, add the bottle gourd cubes, slit green chilies curry leaves, a little salt and a little bit of hot water (enough to prevent the gourd pieces from burning). I usually heat up water in an electric kettle to use while I am cooking to speed things up.
- Remember, the squash/gourd will also release its own juices as it cooks. I prefer to cook the squash/gourd in a covered pot as opposed to in a pressure cooker as these cook easily and can turn out like a purée in the pressure cooker sometimes – Can be done a day ahead, else few hours ahead.
- Add in the cooked beans, after draining the cooking liquid.
- Add coconut milk and stir in. Adjust seasoning. Cover and cook for a few minutes.
- Check the consistency and add in some of the reserved liquid from the veggie or hot water to adjust the thickness.
- Add coconut oil and stir to finish off.
- Serve with hot steamed rice.
Recipe #2 – Bisibele Bhaat, with a surprise ingredient
Traditionally, Bisibele Bhaat is rice, lentils, and vegetables with spices cooked together. However, since we decided to try out some rice-free dinners, I tried substituting bulgur/lapsi for rice. It only did smell a bit different but tasted equally yummy.
- 3/4 cup Bulgur (also known as daliya)
- 3/4 cup split mixed lentils (I like a combination of moong and red/ masoor lentils)
- 1/4 cup raw shelled peanuts
- 2 cups mixed vegetables
- 2 teaspoons Bisibele Bhaat masala
- 2 teaspoons Sambar masala (or adjust to your liking, start by adding 1 teaspoon full of each)
- (I recommend the Indian MTR brand which can be found in the Indian stores in Switzerland)
- 1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder (optional as the spice mixes above contain some chilly and we use a dried red chilli in the tempering)
- 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste (or adjust to your liking)
- 1 tablespoon ghee,
- Salt to taste
For the tempering
- 2 tablespoons oil or 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of ghee
- 1 dried red chili
- Few curry leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- Few fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of split urad lentils
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin/jeera seeds
- Wash and pressure cook the Bulgur with about 4 times the water.
- Wash and pressure cook the lentils and peanuts with about 3 times with water.
- I pressure cook these together in separate containers for about 10 minutes. This can be done about 3-4 days ahead. Cool and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
- Wash, peel and cut into cubes assorted mixed vegetables. This can be done about 3-4 days in advance. Store in an airtight container, ziplock or vacuum seal bag.
- In a pot, heat up the oil and once the oil is hot, lower the heat slightly and add in all the ingredients for the tempering. Once the mustard seeds pop, add in the mixed chopped vegetables. Cover and cook until the vegetables are cooked but firm.
- Then add in the spice powders and mix. Add a little water to prevent the spice powders from burning. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Can be done about ½ a day in advance or can be done 1 day ahead and refrigerated.
- Add in the cooked bulgur, lentils, and peanuts and mix well. Add enough water to get the desired consistency.
- Add tamarind paste, adjust the seasoning and mix well.
- Add ghee and enjoy it piping hot.
- I have tried to be as accurate with the measurements mentioned above. I tend to eyeball the ingredients, especially when it comes to the spices and seasonings, it’s a bit hard to be exact. But do use your taste buds as a guide.