The last few months have been an interesting experience in adjusting quickly to changes. Amongst the daily grind of work, errands, marathon TV-viewing and social events, I’m balancing it all with very rapid, sudden changes to my personal health.
The reason for all the change? I’m pregnant.
I’m going to give myself permission to completely gush. I’m over-the-moon happy. Finding out and being pregnant has been thrilling, interesting and overwhelming. I’ve been really lucky because I’m feeling pretty good so far — no crazy morning sickness, I’m sleeping relatively comfortably and I haven’t gained too much excess weight. Mind you, it’s still early and I hope I don’t have to bite my words later.
One of the first things I had to think about right away, was making sure I was eating properly. The moment that at-home pregnancy test revealed those two pink lines confirming everything, I had to get into a different mindset and make sure I was eating as healthy as possible; it’s not all about me anymore. I had to do everything in my power to provide the proper nourishment for this wonderful little baby.
Just as pregnancy has brought me great happiness, it’s also made me slightly paranoid and overly-cautious about trying to have the perfect pregnancy and diet. Am I eating enough fruits and vegetables every day? Am I getting enough sleep? Is that extra serving of french fries going to make my baby grow up to be obese? Why am I constantly craving mayo on toast? Your mind goes to all sort of places. But I know that I truly am doing my very best to prepare for the changes that are happening to me and for the changes that will come.
Naturally, because of the excess fatigue and odd food-related mood swings, cooking hasn’t exactly been a fun activity during this time. I’m all about keeping it super simple and uncomplicated — whatever gets me out of the kitchen and eating as fast as possible. I’ve been falling back on my favourite, easy-to-prepare dishes to help save on time spent in the kitchen and to ensure I’m eating nutritiously.
The following recipes are ones that every home cook can appreciate having as part of his or her’s cooking repertoire. They’re simple, comfort foods ideal for for quick weeknight dinners, but classy enough to add to a dinner party menu for guests.
Rajma-Chaval (Punjabi-style Kidney Bean Curry with Basmati Rice)
Kidney Bean Curry
2 cans of red kidney beans, well-rinsed (540 ml X 2)
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, minced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
8 tbsp plain tomato sauce of your choice
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
3-4 tbsp vegetable or grapeseed oil
3 1/2 cups of water
Small bunch coriander leaves, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)
1. In a large pot, set the heat to medium and add oil. When oil is heated, add cumin seeds and quickly stir to ensure the cumin doesn’t burn. As soon as the cumin is fragrant (about 10 seconds), add the onions, ginger and garlic.
2. Cook the ingredients for about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously (to avoid burning), until the onions have really softened and are browned. If the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pot, lower the heat slightly and add a dash of water.
3. Add spices to the mix and cook for about one minute. Then add the tomato paste and incorporate well into the mix. Cook for about two minutes.
4. Add the tomato sauce and kidney beans. Mix everything well, making sure beans are coated by the gravy. Cook for another two minutes.
5. Add the water, turn the heat up and bring everything to a boil. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat to medium-low and let the curry gently simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes, with the pot half-covered to allow for some steam to escape which helps thicken the gravy. Check on the curry and stir every few minutes. After about 10 to 12 minutes, if the gravy is still too thin, then cook uncovered for about another 5 to 7 minutes.
My basic recipe is that of rice, cumin and salt. However, if I have a few extra minutes I take the time to add the vegetables for a nice flavour boost.
The sweetness of these vegetables often pairs well against the robust flavours of the Rajma/Kidney Beans dish.
1 cup of basmati rice
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 tbsp vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 3/4 cup of water
1/2 small to medium-sized onion, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup of frozen corn (optional)*
1/2 cup of frozen peas (optional)*
1. Wash the rice thoroughly. You can either wash it through a fine sieve placed under running water (my preferred method) for a few minutes or until the water runs clear. Or, add the rice to a large bowl filled with water. The rice water will appear cloudy. Using your hands, swirl the rice and water mixture, dump the water out of the bowl, using your hands to keep the rice from spilling out. Repeat the washing process until the water appears clear. This usually takes about 3 to 5 rounds of washing. Drain well.
2. Place a medium-sized pot with a tight fitting lid on medium-high. Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. Start stirring immediately to prevent the cumin seeds from burning. Once the cumin is fragrant, about 5-10 seconds, add the onions and stir together for about 2-3 minutes or until the onions soften.
3. Add the water, cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. Once the water starts boiling, add the rice, salt, corn and peas, mix everything together and cover. Allow the rice to boil for about one minute and then turn the heat down to low. The rice should cook at a low simmer for 10 minutes or when the water has evaporated.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the rice from heat, leaving it covered. The residual heat will continue to cook the rice. After about 10 minutes, check the rice for doneness. The water should be evaporated and the rice shouldn’t be stuck to the bottom of the pot. You should see individual grains of rice. If not, cover again and let sit for another five minutes. When ready, use a fork to lightly fluff the rice. Adjust salt if necessary.
Best served right away. Keeps in the refrigerator in a tightly-sealed container for about two days. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: While cooking, it’s best to avoid uncovering the rice to check on it. The key to cooking rice is a sealed pot, allowing the steam to cook the rice. If you don’t have a transparent pot and feel the need to check, then close to the end of the cooking time, lift the cover and check on the rice quickly by running a spoon on the bottom to ensure the rice hasn’t overcooked (i.e. burned and stuck to the bottom) and to see how much water is left. If you don’t serve the rice right away after cooking, either leave the pot half-covered to allow the steam to escape or leave it completely uncovered if preparing to store it before serving. If you cover the pot completely while the rice is still hot, the rice will continue to cook, resulting in mushy and clumpy rice.
*If you don’t like peas or corn but would like to add vegetables, use any of your favourite vegetables, cut to a small dice-size, that steams well in the allotted cooking time.
Simple Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Marcela Hazan via Smitten Kitchen
1 28 oz can of San Marzano or whole plum tomatoes* (including the liquid in the can)
1 large white onion, peeled and halved
1 large carrot, peeled and halved
5 tbsp unsalted butter**
Freshly cracked black pepper
Parmesan cheese, as a garnish (optional)
1. Over medium heat, in a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, add the tomatoes, onion, carrot and butter. Cover pot.
2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat so the sauce simmers slowly. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until the fat starts to float free from the tomatoes.
3. Stir every few minutes, using the back of a wooden spoon to mash the tomatoes against the side of the pot.
4. Remove the sauce from heat, discard the vegetables, add the salt and black pepper. Mix the sauce, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serve with your choice of long pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese if you like. Makes about 4 to 5 cups.
*Buy the best quality of tomatoes you can. It’s worth it. San Marzano tomatoes are considered the best for homemade tomato sauce.
**Unsalted butter is the best way to control the saltiness. Often, canned tomatoes contain some salt so check the label on the can to adjust the salt as necessary.
Story and Photography By: Naveen Atwal