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My Indian cooking class at Whole foods, Cupertino

Do you love Indian food but want it to be healthy & delicious?
Do you like to talk & know about Indian spices & its history?
Do you want to cook & entertain your loved ones?
Then this is the place to be…
I am Vijitha, a food lover who grew up in  a home of incredible cooks – my mom & grandmom. My love with food started at a very  young age. I am experimenting on healthy cooking & trying to play around with local ingredients to create a dish with genuine calories, for instance I replace heavy cream with silken tofu. My blog carries recipes that are South beach diet friendly & for women with gestational  diabetes. I take the old and carefully entangle the global influences to create a new recipe that speaks about my heritage.
Photo courtesy: Midstate construction
My cooking lessons take the guests on a magical odyssey to Southern part of India. It’s just not about the food & the classes educate the guests about the culinary history of the place, the Ayurvedic traditions and spice route. We sit down to taste the meal after the class & make a connection and talk about food & culture. The meal is meant to be eaten with hands (purely optional), and the food is very sensuous – perfect to touch, feel and smell the spices & herbs.

Location: Whole foods, Cupertino

Classes information: Updated every month at Whole foods store calender.

June 9th , 2012 between 4-6 PM at Whole foods market, Steven’s creek, CA.
Vegetarian Indian cooking with ayurvedic insights (promoting the belief food is medicine and medicine is food)
Menu: Cumin scented lentil stew, Mint-cilantro rice, Roasted cauliflower dusted with aromatic spice mix and cooling cucumber raita. Four easy menu and lot of information about most ancient dietary system called AYURVEDA for just $35.00

Vegetarian cooking, Gluten free cooking, Ayurvedic cooking, Cooking with whole grains, Cooking for South beach diet, South Indian cooking, Vegan, Chaat party, Dosa party, Quinoa party, Cooking for gestational diabetes.
Pop me an email to discuss details.


1. Steve, San Mateo

Vij: The cooking class exceeded my expectations!
1) I liked the introduction to the spices, the medicinal anecdotes, the tips on preparation and sourcing of the spices. I especially liked the relaxed atmosphere, tasting as we went along and the journey to actual eating of the 4 delicious dishes.
2) I disliked that the class had to end.  Seriously, I appreciated all your time and apologize for talking so much as to make the class last so long. I actually cannot think of anything I disliked at all. I will have to think hard as to what might enhance a class.   Maybe I am being too commercial, but It could be fun to have an apron  ” Cooking With Vij” printed on it and available for purchase at the end of the class.  Another thought I had was to tape sections of the class so I could remember all the information, but this I could do on my own next time . Lastly, you could think of offering a starter pack for purchase of ten to twelve spices in plastic bags or some containers for serious students to purchase. Alternatively, I would be interested in purchasing a shopping session 1;1 or with some interested students and you at a local store to buy some pots, and spices, etc.   Wow this could be big business !
3) I came to the class with no requirements except to learn, have fun and enjoy and the class met and surpassed all three.
Thanks a million for the recipes.

2. Hunter & Yeshe, San Francisco

Hi Vijitha,

Thanks for the great class!  We all had a blast and my mom and John are really excited about their trip to India. You really helped my mom because she was so concerned about what options she’d have to eat their due to her strict diet.  She told me to thank you again. The class definitely exceeded my expectations.We did find the store on main street. 
1.  I really liked how you presented the Indian pantry  – the spices etc and trying each one before the class began- it really helped me identify the flavors I’ve always enjoyed in Indian food.  I liked the selection of dishes we made as well- now i can make a complete meal for a dinner party for friends.
2. There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like about the class.  And I can’t think of how it could be better.  I don’t think you could fit anymore dishes into the class in terms of the time. 
3.The class definitely met my requirements.  I want to get more friends to come with me for the next class! 
I am going to make one of the dishes this week- I’ll let you know how it goes.  Thanks again for your hospitality.

Shrimp with Grits + Week 3 Menu Plan

What you will find in this post?

  1. 40 Indian inspired South Beach diet recipes
  2. Recipe for Shrimp with South Indian Grits
  3. Week 3 Menu Chart – download pdf here

Hello all,

I am cooking elaborate meals for the last 3 months or may be since Navratri season. Not sure. My kids were sick the entire week. We are down with cold and flu. My husband and I were at the doctor’s office to get tested for flu. Gladly we came out negative but every time I go to doctor’s office to weigh myself I get stressful. I try to eat right all (that’s a lie lol), most of the time but when I attend umpteen number of Indian parties during weekend, I skip carbs but eat the dessert. So after doctor’s check up yesterday, my husband and I have promised ourselves to eat more veggies, lots of proteins and all the good stuff in the world. Those of you who are regular to my blog have read my posts on gestational diabetes menu idea (54 recipes) and South beach diet (snacks listed here). I lost more than 30 pounds after my first pregnancy and I lose about 15 pounds during summer and gladly I didn’t gain any weight for all the holiday eating I did but my plan is to be shed 30 more pounds to reach my idea weight for my 5.7′ height. I have shared 40 Indian Inspired South Beach Diet Phase 1 Recipes in my blog. That is good enough to start the weightloss journey and same menu plan can be used for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. PLEASE NOTE THAT EVEN IN PHASE 1 OF THE SBD MEAL THERE ARE LOW CARB RECIPES WITH LEGUMES, BEANS AND LENTILS. Click here for my post on list of healthy snacks to buy and store.

If you wish, you can buy these two books.

The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook: 200 Delicious Recipes Ready in 30 Minutes or Less The South Beach Diet Supercharged: Faster Weight Loss and Better Health for Life

We spent our Saturday at home fighting the cold and watching our favorite movies. When my daughter dozed off for her nap, I raced to the kitchen to make a delicious curry with shrimp but this time I wanted to test a recipe for my Feastly meals. I gave it a thought and came up with truly Southern Indian version of the famous Shrimp with Grits. Grits is a popular dish in Southern American Cooking. So I brought my own touch and twist to the original recipe. I replaced polenta with semolina and corn meal in equal portion and cooked them in coconut milk diluted with water and ghee. Click here to find one of the easiest recipe to make ghee in a pressure cooker. Yes you heard it right. I make ghee in a pressure cooker. I served it with Chettinad (South Indian City) style shrimp masala using aromatic fennel seeds, flavorful coriander seeds and spicy red chillies. Again, I made the base curry in a pressure cooker. How many times will I say pressure cooker right? I know! I am in love with it as my life has began so easy by cooking my meals in it. For those of my readers, who asked me about the brand I use. Here you go. Click on the link to buy one for yourself. You can thank me later! 🙂

Prestige Deluxe Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker, 3.5 Liters





For the Base Gravy:

I followed Mr. Rama Krishnanan of Ramki Cook’s Blog’s easy pressure cooker recipe.

  • 1 red onions, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 dry red chillies
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 small lime sized tamarind fruits or use 1 tablespoon thick store bought tamarind pulp
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 15 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 inch long ginger, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh or dry coconut powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek powder
  • 2 teaspoon salt

For the masala

  • 2 cups water to dilute the gravy (use less water while using fresh shrimp as it will leave water while cooking)
  • 2 cups tiny pre-cooked frozen shrimp (I bought mine from Costco), thaw to room temperature or use fresh ones
  • Cilantro for garnish

Equipment Needed

  • Pressure cooker and a whistle

Cooking Directions

  1. Dump all the ingredients mentioned under “for base gravy” except coconut and fenugreek seeds and pressure cook for 15 minutes on medium low flame until the whistle hisses and you don’t want the whistle to go up. Switch off and let the pressure come down. Cool to room temperature. Open the cooker and blend the mixture to a smooth paste.
  2. Transfer to a saucepan. Turn on the heat, pour little water, fresh shrimp and cook them for 10 minutes until they are cooked through.
  3. If using frozen tiny shrimp from store, add 2 cups water and bring it to a rolling boil. Add shrimp and let it cook for 5 minutes in low flame. Cover and let it rest.


I make the grits right before I serve as they tend to solidify when cooled. You can make them 15 minutes prior to serving time. This recipe takes hardly 10-15 minutes to cook.


  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup semolina (rawa / sooji)
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 2 tablespoon ghee
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Hot water to smooth the grits while serving

Cooking Directions

  1. Bring the water and coconut milk to a rolling boil. Add semolina and corn meal and keep stirring until they are cooked completely. It will take 10 minutes to get the desired texture. Add ghee and salt. Mix well. Add more hot water only if needed. Grits will look creamy and smooth so try to achieve that consistency.Transfer to the serving bowl and top with the shrimp masala and you and drizzle some rosemary and red chili infused olive oil.Recipe here.


Coming to todays special : Week 3 Menu Chart

First let me explain about how I created this menu. The menu chart will give you an idea of what to eat for first 7 days and I will send the menu chart for next 7 days as Week 4 menu chart. You can serve the same dishes list in the chart with carbs like bread or oats for breakfast, white or brown rice or roti for lunch and dinner for your kids and husband. I came up with this menu so  everyone at home is happy and the tummy is full. Importantly with this menu, there is more chances to stay full and stay committed as we will not be hungry and grumpy. It is just that we are eating low carb / no-carb. Vegetarians please replace meat/seafood/eggs with mushrooms, tofu, tempeh or soy chunks. I am sorry for adding eggs for breakfast but as I said play with vegetarian alternatives. I plan to walk for 30 minutes during my lunch break so those of you who have the time can do elaborate exercise. Notes:

  1. Drink lot of water, diluted buttermilk, rasam and green tea to keep full
  2. The meals can be used as a template and stop over feeding. Eat what is needed.
  3. This diet is not calorie based so I have not counted the calories
  4. The meal is planned to cover lots of veggies stir fry / subzis, proteins like mushroom, tofu, chicken, mutton, eggs & seasfood and dahls/ dal based curry.

Please grab the following menu plans from here:

  1. WEEK 3 MENU PLAN + SHOPPING LIST (No Carb/ Low Carb Meal Ideas to Lose Weight, Also those with Gestational Diabetes can follow this but please add healthy carb to every meal of the day)
Spices and Aroma Week 3 Menu Chart Plan

Click on the image to download the week 3 menu plan + shopping list


  2. WEEK 1 MENU PLAN + SHOPPING LIST (grab it from the 2 PDFs in the post)

2012 – A Recap of my favourite posts

Today is the last post for this year.

Woot! 2012 was such a beautiful year with loads of busy and exciting days. Where do I begin? The year started with me registering for some online courses on clinical operations followed by a job and a change to a new job, my son started his Montessori school, I received new opportunities through my blog, made new blogger and personal friends along the way, lost close to 30 pounds in the last 12 months, tried my hands with couponing (which I sucked big time and ended up shopping more than what was needed), traveled to new destinations in little breaks we got, tried my hands on Cajun cooking, tried to become a better baker AND importantly I moved to my own website. Overall,  it was a fantastic 2012 with lots of learning, healthy eating and cooking.

I am wrapping the post with a list of recipes that my family, friend and I enjoyed eating. I will meet you all in January, 2013 with a dessert post and my plans for the new year. Happy New Year to all!

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

1.  South beach diet phase 1 meal ideas

I lost close to 30 pounds by following South beach diet, Tony Horton P90 Workout, regular Spinning & Yoga at work. I have received a lot of kind response from readers that this post was useful as they were following South Beach Diet Indian Menu

2.  Chocolate Mousse with avocados ( Vegetarian)

I had cut down on desserts due to my weightlos journey. Sometime I do crave for something chocolat-y. This recipe is a keeper for those who love chocolate, for those who are vegetarians as there is no eggs in it and also for those who are on a weightloss regime as it uses all natural sugar and avocados.

3. Salmon Quinoa Patties

I shared my story on gestational diabetes in this post and many to-be-moms who are suffering from gestational diabetes have found series of my menu list useful. I have tons of moms from my OB/GYN’s office contacting me with their sweet feedbacks.

4. Butter Chicken without butter and heavy cream

Another killer recipe for the famous Indian dish – Butter Chicken. This version is made with silfen tofu and there is no butter or heavy cream in it. I make Indian Burritos with whole wheat tortilla, little basmati rice and this butter chicken topped with tons of cilantro and salsa.

5. Indian Tarts with Peas and Paneer

An quick and easy appetizer to please your guests. You can even make pockets with it and turn it into Indian puffs.

6. Adzuki Beans Masala

A bean that I got introduced to in 2012 and I am thankful for that. I have made soups, rice dish and curries with it. A must have in the pantry if you want to store some low glycemic index foods.

7. Roasted Cauliflower Popcorns

Thanks to Dr. Oz for introducing this idea in his show. I followed their exact recipe but tweaked it to my Indian taste bud. Cauliflowers were seasoned with cumin, chili and coriander powder.

8. Mother-in-law’s Chicken & Lamb Biryani

Kick ass recipe for any true Tamilian who is looking to create an awesome biryani at home.

9. Salmon with Indian spices

An array of healthy Salmon recipes.

10. Homemade Ice Creams

Who wouldn’t like a vegetarian ice cream? That too homemade and no need for an ice cream maker. This was one of the most popular recipe in my blog so far.

12. Deep Fried Zucchini Blossoms

I had tried my hands on Zucchini Blossoms for the first time and I am sure you will love this recipe.

13. Creme Brulee with Mango Puree

An Indian twist to all time famous French dessert – Creme Brulee. Mango puree and cardamom were added to the original recipe.

14.  Courtrallam Chicken Pepper Fry

A post about my childhood trip to Courtrallam Water Falls in Tamil Nadu and the recipe for the dish that was eaten by every tourist who visits Courtallam.

15. Healthy Whole Wheat Banana Bread without added sugar or eggs

One of the most healthiest and tastiest recipe for making banana bread. I have used honey, ripen banana and apple sauce to sweeten it.

16. Mooti Choor Ladoo

No Indian festival is complete without eating mooti choor ladoo. This is considered to be the hardest recipe to crack. I couldn’t find a good recipe that would work. So I got the recipe from my wedding caterer and he shared with me some of the tricks to get it close to store bought ones.

17. Rasamalai

This is one of the most famous dessert in India. I posted a semi-homemade recipe with store bought rasagullas. A must try Indian sweet to impress a huge party.

18. Rasam

One of the common comfort food for any South India. Rasam has been my go to recipe while on Phase 1 of South beach diet as it fits all the requirements for phase 1.

19. How to posts?

A list of posts that gives ideas on how to plan a party, how to organize the kitchen and how to make homemade dishes like ghee from scratch in the kitchen.

20. Pineapple Pudding and Mango Mousse

The two famous dish at my work as I have been requested to make either one of them for every party that was organized. They are so quick to fix and involves mixing all the store bought ingredients and letting it set in the refrigerator overnight. A true blessing to prepare on a working day.

Quick and healthy quinoa salad with yogurt-mint dressing



What a nerve racking election it was? Woooof!

I was part of election debate everywhere – work, home and facebook. I loved hearing everyone’s thought and it made me more knowledgeable about American election and its voting system. Even though this year’s election was so unpredictable, something told me that Obama would make it on a close margin. I am so glad that he is back. America cannot have a much better leader like Obama who is charismatic, authoritative and compassionate. Lets hope for a better economy in the days to come. 

On busy nights like yesterday where we were all glued to CNN to watch election updates, I prefer quick fix dinners as I have to hear each and every word uttered by the CNN election panels. The moment I entered home, my husband was glued to television hearing the stats from Florida and Ohio. I sat there for couple of minutes and rushed to the kitchen to feed my little one’s hungry tummy with milk and cookies as I boiled masala chai (Indian tea) for us. I had no patience to stay in the kitchen and wanted some hearty salad for dinner. I pressure cooked a cup of quinoa and sat for the rest of the evening watching election updates. At 7.30 PM, I quickly fixed quinoa salad with cherry & grapevine tomatoes, finely chopped cucumber red onions and bell peppers. I used easy yogurt-mint dressing to moisten my salad and topped it with roasted sunflower seeds for added crunch. I made a dressing similar to my friend Kankana’s post but I added even more spice powders to it. We had a filling meal and to wash it down, I made cumin perfumed nimbu pani (Indian style lemonade with black salt). And my son ate little of this salad and his typical South Indian rasam rice with left over veggies from lunch.

Quinoa has become a staple ingredient in my pantry. I have started to use it in my cake, muffins, salads and Indian flat bread. Any dish that used rice is now made with quinoa. I have raved about my love for quinoa here. The recipe below gives an idea to prepare the salad. You can add more or less of the veggies, skip few vegetables or add anything new. It’s your salad and so make it with what you have in hand. You can also replace sunflower seeds with roasted almonds or pistachios. I have made this salad “n” number of times during my pregnancy. I love the addition of vegetables which helped to stabilize my blood sugar level during gestational diabetes. I still continue to eat this salad for my weightloss journey. I love the fact that they are so easy and quick to fix and really healthy and filling for the tummy. 




Source: Kankana’s post + my tweaks

Serves: 2


  • 1 cup raw quinoa                                                                                                                                                               
  • 2 cups water


  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers –  finely chopped                                                                                                                           
  • 1/4 cup cucumber – finely chopped                                                                                                                                        
  • 1/2 cup red onion – finely chopped                                                                                                                                    
  • 1/4 cup grapevine tomatoes – halved                                                                                                                                      
  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes – halved


  • 1/4 cup low fat or full fat yogurt                                                                                                                                          
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves – finely chopped or crushed in a mortar & pestle                                                                                      
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder                                                                                                                                                 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder                                                                                                                                             
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder                                                                                                                                               
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala                                                                                                                                                  
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil                                                                                                                                                      
  • Juice of half a lemon + more if you want                                                                                                                           
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds                                                                                                                                          
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves – finely chopped 


1. Pressure cook for quinoa with 2 cups water for 3-4 whistles or you could cook it in a cooking pan as per manufacturer’s instruction.

2. Remove and let it cool down. Store it in refrigerator. I like to eat it cold. You can leave it at room temperature too.

3.Mix the ingredients under the dressing section and store it in refrigerator until ready to assemble.

4. Just before you serve dinner, add the chopped vegetables, quinoa and dressing. Mix well to combine.

5. Serve in a clean bowl and sprinkle sunflower seeds and mint leaves.

Additional notes

1. You can replace quinoa with couscous.

2. It can be eaten during gestational diabetes

3. An ideal lunch/dinner salad for those who are diabetic/ pre-diabetic and for anyone who are on a weightloss journey.

4. This salad is allowed in phase 2 and 3 of South beach diet.

Flat beans-shrimp curry : Eral avarakai masala

I would to start this post with a thank you note. I am extremely happy about the response for my post on gestational diabetes. So THANK YOU readers for visiting my blog and sharing your experiences through emails and calls. I am overwhelmed and humbled by your kindness.
Coming to today’s recipe, its a simple shrimp/prawn curry made with flat beans called avarakkai in Tamil. This is my mother-in-laws recipe and I have started to cook this often as we get both veggies and non-vegetarian dish in one meal. I love veggies and my husband is a big sucker for anything that is not vegetarian. Dishes like these saves my place in his heart as it satisfies both are requirements. My mother-in-laws uses vadagam as a base to build on her curry. She also used tons of curry leaves, onions and tomatoes. It’s a very simple dish and can be made in advance. You can replace flat beans (avarakkai) with Indian long radishes or bottle gourd (sorakkai).
Source: Mother-in-law
Serves: 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vadagam
10-12 curry leaves
1 large onion – chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoon coriander powder
1 large tomatoes – chopped
250 grams flat beans /  avarakkai – chopped
1 lb / close to 500 grams prawns / shrimp (cleaned and de-veined)
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
1. Heat oil in a large cooking pan. Once hot enough, add vadagam and curry leaves. Let the leaves crisp up.
2. Throw in the onions and little salt ( less than a teaspoon) and let it sweat. Cook covered until they turn brown, about 8-10 minutes.
3. Add turmeric, chili and coriander powder. Saute till the raw smell disappears, about 5 minutes.
4. If it turn too dry, add little water to avoid burning.
5. Add the tomatoes and mix it with the onions mixture.
6. Add flat beans/ avarakkai and shrimp. Stir to combine.  Add water and cook covered 20 minutes.
7. Add salt to taste.
I served mine with brown rice.
Additional notes
1. This shrimp-flat beans curry can be eaten as a entree in South beach diet phase 1.
2. Shrimp and veggies are a great combination for those on a weightloss program.
3. Also ideal for those who are diabetic/ pre-diabetic.
4. Can be eaten during gestational diabetes

Chicken curry with tons of spinach

The days are gray and cold here, cars are covered with mist and the dull clouds hung in the steely skies, it is raining cats and dogs in California since last weekend. The iciness in the air tickles my skin, as I inhale a lungful of the cold air, my lung gets a glimpse of the outside weather. I got dressed to step out. The strong winds reminded me of the monsoon in India. Before I left, I sat at the kitchen island gathering together the shopping list for the coming week. Normally, we write whats needed on bits of paper kept in the draw next to the refrigerator. S gave me the typical look which warned me that better don’t forget anything and later pester him to go to Savemart to buy 1 or 2 things.

In the farmer’s market, while scanning the stalls for a fresh bunch of spinach, I was asked by a lady clad in brown jacket about cooking with spinach. I smiled back and wondered what made her ask me. May be she has seen me around this place often or may be she has seen me pick bunches of spinach every week.

“Would you mind sharing any easy Indian recipe with spinach?” She asked me.

“Yes, of course” was my reply.

She would have been in her mid 30s and sounded like she had never attempted to cook anything Indian. I started with my tutorial in one corner of the tent with chopping the onions, ginger and garlic. I asked her whether she would love meat in her food. She nodded a yes. I suggested to try with boneless chicken and Indian seasoning. I quickly explained to her about the different spices and how they will look and taste. I recommended her to buy them from ethnic Indian stores. She interrupted me with tons of questions like what is garam masala? Can cilantro be replaced with parsley or basil? What can I serve this curry with?

The creamy chicken will taste tender and juicy by cooking it in low heat and promised to taste great when it thickens. We exchanged our email Ids. She was so excited to try this dish and as we parted we hoped to bump into each other some time in the future
. After chatting with the farmer friends who were wrapping their sale for the day, I meandered my way through the crowd. Finally sitting back in the car,I felt proud about sharing my family recipe with a non-Indian home cook. Back in my cosy kitchen, I wanted to create the same dish – Spinach chicken. A delicious gravy cooked with spinach and chicken and simmered with aromatic spices. This is a healthy dish packed with protein and iron.

For those in South beach diet phase 1, serve the spinach chicken with grilled eggplants,peppers and onions with balsamic vinaigrette.  For phase 2, serve them with 1/2cup cooked rice or 2 whole wheat rotis/chapattis. This curry is also ideal for women with gestational diabetes. Stick with 1/2cup cooked rice or 2-3 chappatti’s based on your sugar level ( 1 hours after meal). For women with gestational diabetes, always consult with your dietitian before starting any meal plan. I used to walk for 20 minutes after every meal and when the blood test was done after 1hour, my values were below 140 mg/dl.

Serves 4

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 large red onion – diced

4 garlic – minced
1” ginger – minced
2 pounds – boneless, skinless chicken
1 pound – baby spinach

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

Salt to taste


1. Clean and wash the chicken. Chop them to about 1- 1.5 cm cubes. Set aside.

2. Wash and clean the spinach. Drain excess water with paper towel and puree them without water.

3. Heat oil in a cooking pan on medium flame. Add the onions to the hot oil with little salt. Let the onions sweat. Add the ginger and garlic, cook for further 3-5 minutes.

4. Add the chicken, chili powder, coriander powder and garam masala. Cook for 10 minutes. Don’t add any water, as the chicken would sweat out water in the pan.

5. Pour the spinach puree on top, stir and cook covered for further 25-30 minutes. Adjust salt to taste.

6. Serve hot with rice or rotis/naan/ chapati.

Roasted cauliflower and broccoli with quinoa spice powder

A few months ago, I set out to make few changes in my lifestyle. One beautiful morning of April last year, I started with a new regime. I had couple of good reasons to point out to my friends and family if they bombard me with questions. There are quite a handful of brats waiting to catch me but they are real sweethearts who enjoy rubbing me on the wrong side. Giggles and jokes and mockery are part of my bond with them.
I have been raised in a family where fresh food is cooked with ingredients found in the local market and my mom still doesn’t store any leftovers in the fridge. Like in every Indian home, leftovers are given away to maid servants/watchman. Mostly what they cook gets done the same day. She cooks with seasonal produces and never likes to try new recipes and never buys out of season produces. “How on earth can watermelon be available in winters? Its a summer fruit eaten in tropical countries to lower the body heat and now every fruits and vegetable is available year round” She would complain. “Human race wants to prove that he is superior to nature or what” she would lament about the changing world. She is one silent yet aggressive women with strong views.
The menu at home would get repetitive but assured that they are healthy, nutritious and safe for the body. I followed her rules when I lived with my parents. Once I flew out of the nest and started to live in England, I got into the habit of cooking over the weekend, store and eat them all week long.  Then the same practice continued after I got married. I would spent days reading a novel or watching a movie but wouldn’t lift my ass to fix something fresh for the day. I would make chicken curry or lentil stew or vegetable stir fries in bulk and make fresh rice/rotis whenever we sat for a meal. Even eating schedules were haphazard. With the intention to impress the new bride, my husband would take me to every new  restaurant in town. The typical diet I ate in the US were cheesy, sugary, huge and deep fried. Along with the love for my husband, something else grew left right center in the two+ years of marriage. Yes, that something was my body. My BMI went close to 30. For the record, I was a slim bride.
After watching too many episodes of Dr. Oz I arrived at a conclusion that American diet can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  One fine day, I bell rang in my head and I went back to basics. I went back to my childhood days where my mother would prepare fresh meals at 7 in the morning and even now when I close my eyes thinking about that, my nostrils would flare and I would inhale the smell of lentil curry and fresh stews. That’s the smell of my home. I want my son to have the same experience. I decided to recreate the scene for him but there was a little change in the time. My cooking happens at 7 in the evening. Anyways the nose can still sense the same smell right?
At this age, I am over weight but gladly no cholesterol or blood pressure but I suffered from gestational diabetes which puts me at high risk for diabetes at 40. My family doctor suggested I eat whole grains and become vegan. I smiled back as an answer without revealing the disappointment in my face, a disappointment not because I might become diabetic but because I have to leave meat/diary products.
On the drive back home, I spoke with my alter ego that was hiding deep inside me, even she was equally disappointed with the thought about becoming a vegan, we argued, fought and finally decided with eating everything in portions and eating whatever I ate as a child. Again it was nothing but back to basics. A self realization I thought to myself. It’s all about eating home cooked portion controlled food with tons of lentils, whole grains and vegetables with egg, chicken, fish, shrimp or lamb once a while.  It is a flexible diet, also a personal diet that would satisfy my cravings in a genuine way like licking a tablespoon of natural peanut butter for dessert instead of  indulging in a bowl of ice cream or bread pudding.
Then I began to slowly incorporate healthy eating into my lifestyle and yay! it worked and I have lost close to 20 pounds. I still have a long way to way and I wish to run a marathon one day. For a healthy lifestyle, the first step which I took was to buy local and seasonal foods. Buying out of season means that it has been grown in heated greenhouses or it comes from another country which means that they have plucked well before time and this will affect their nutritional value. Both these are creating carbon emissions. My motto for this new year is eat more plant based food, less animal products and do some workouts.
The first vegetable that got my attention on the farm stand were these chubby cauliflower and pretty broccoli heads. I decided to roasted them with little olive oil, salt and pepper and then before few minutes of final roasting I wanted to add a little crunch with my own quinoa spice mix. For that, I dry roasted quinoa and pound them into a coarse powder, even the dry red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, couple of cloves, cinnamon and cardamons were roasted in a dry pan and ground to a smooth powder. I mixed them with the coarse quinoa powder and voila you now have a super delicious whole grain spice powder in hand. You could add this to soups, lentil curries, dumplings, flavor the rice, rub for meat/seafoods and even a little sprinkle over your butter toast.
Did you know?
1. Broccoli is rich in vitamin C, A, folic acid and calcium. For vegans, broccoli is an excellent source of calcium and one serving of it is equivalent to a glass of milk. Since broccoli is rich in fiber, it improves your bowl movement and also know to prevent colon cancer.
2. Cauliflower known as edible flower has zero fat, is rich in vitamin C and for those of you who know about South beach diet eat mashed cauliflower in the place of mashed potatoes.
3. Cauliflower and broccoli are the best examples of a cruciferous vegetable and research suggests that eating cruciferous vegetable reduces the rate of cancer. A chemical by name sulforaphane found in broccoli is found to increase the activity of enzymes that nullify the effect of cancer causing agents.
Source: My mother
Serves 4
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small cauliflower head – cut into florets
  • 1 small broccoli head – cut into florets
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves – minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lemon juice (optional)
For the spice mix
  • 1/4 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 dry red chillies or 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 2 tablespoon coriander seeds or 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds or 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamons
  • 1/2 inch cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400′F on conventional mode.
2. In the mean while, clean and wash the cauliflower and broccoli florets. Pat dry them with a kitchen towel and set aside.
3. Dry roast the quinoa in a dry pan for 3-4 minutes. Cool and pound into a course powder.  Set aside. Add oil to the same pan, roast the dry red chillies, cloves, cardamons, cinnamon,coriander powder and cumin seeds. Saute for 2 minutes, be careful not to burn them down. Cool and grind in a blender to a smooth powder. Mix the quinoa with this powder and store in an airtight container.
4. In a large bowl, add the florets and toss in oil, salt and pepper and garlic and mix well with hand or spatula to combine. Place in a baking tray and roast for 15 minutes. Turning the florets after 10 minutes of cooking.
5.  After 15 minutes, add the quinoa spice mix and roast for further 2-3 minutes. Squeeze of little lemon juice for taste. Serve hot with lentil curry and brown rice.

Ragi Idiyappam (Finger Millet Noddles) with thengai paal (sweetened coconut milk)

Ragi / Finger Millet are one of the oldest known foods to mankind. Have anyone of you seen a millet plant? (I can hear you say I can google it). For others who want to visualize, here I go. They look like small mushy grass with a sponge like green seeds towards the end. They are kind of rigid and hard.The maids who worked at my grandparent’s place have extremely thick lustrous locks of hair. I would sit and awe at the look of their hair – shiny, pitch black and healthy. Watching my expressionless face, my mom would announce her discovery that it’s because they eat organic grains straight from the field.  I don’t whether that was the reason but I have seen those girls bring home stalks of millet, roast it in direct heat, once cooled they will pull out the grains just like snapping the curry leaves off their stem and eat it just like that. Even I try to eat that way whenever we visit the fields.They are highly nutritious, gluten free and so easy to digest.


I feed my son “ragi kanji” made with flour of sprouted ragi for breakfast every other day. Ragi should be well cooked before feeding it to kids. I serve it with apple/banana puree for him. That was one of the semi-solid food I started out for my baby. Though I have eaten dishes made with ragi since childhood, there was for no reason I didn’t prepare it in the US. Then I re-created my relationship with it during my gestational diabetes period. Ragi breaks down to sugar very slowly and doesn’t spike your blood sugar drastically. It slowly works in your body and hence it’s a perfect ingredient for diabetic people to explore with.

When you bring home a packet of ragi flour from Indian stores you will find them have a smooth texture and a light brown shade. Once they get steamed or cooked, they will turn up a dark brown/mahogany shade. It is a versatile cereal which can be cooked in various forms.

 Did you know that finger millet has?
1. High content of iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium
2. Gluten free and whole grain
3. Has calcium content about 10 times more than rice or wheat
100 gms of finger millet has 344 grams of Calcium in comparison to rice (45 gms) and wheat (41grams). Also 100 grams of Ragi has close to 336 KCal of energy in them.
4. Has some key essential amino acids like tryptophan, lysine, valine.

Have I not convinced you to buy a packet of finger millet flour yet?

If not then take a look at a dish I made with finger millet flour (ragi maavu) – Ragi idiyappam served with thengai paal (creamy coconut milk sweetened with coconut palm sugar and flavorful crushed cardamon. Wondering what’s this coconut palm sugar all about? Then you must read my post on coconut palm sugar here? Also try my savory version (ragi sevai).

Eating a bowl of steamy idiyappam with thengai paal is an art to me. I would carefully nestle the soft chewy idiyappam inside a bowl and gently pour the coconut milk along the edges, just enough to soak them, neither too less milk as it gets absorbed fast nor too much milk as it floats in excess. Just perfect to dip, chew and slurp! And the pleasure to drink the leftover cardamon scented coconut milk is like being invited to have dinner with God. Pure and heavenly!

Ragi idiyappam / Finger millet noodles
Serves 4 
Source: My mother

  • 4 cups finger millet
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups hot water + more if needed

  • Pressure cooked without whistle
  • Idly plates
  • 1-2 teaspoon coconut oil to grease the idly plates and idiyappam press
Mix ragi flour with salt and sprinkle water little-by-little to form a soft dough. Pull out a little (about 1/2 cup) and place the dough inside the press and cover. Use the press as per manufacturer’s instruction. Run the press around a greased idly plates forming large circles. Steam cook them for 12-15 minutes. Once steam has settled, open and transfer to a fresh bowl. Set aside.

Thengai paal / Coconut nut milk
I used the coconut milk from the Thailand coconut milk 15oz can as I can read the calories. You can make fresh ones from scratch too. Make it ahead and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 4
Source: My mother (with my variation)

1 cup coconut milk (I used Thailand coconut milk, 15oz can) or
Make fresh ones with the coconut shreddings
3 cups water
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
3 cardamon pods – crushed

1. Mix them all together and let the sugar dissolve. Check for sweetness. Add more if needed. Just make it as per your requirement.

Additional notes:
1. Ragi flour can be included in phase 2 and 3 of South beach diet. Since we have used coconut palm sugar this dish is perfect for any weightloss program. Always remember eating in moderation never hurts.
2. My ragi idiyappam with thengai paal can be eaten during gestational diabetes. You can also try my savory version (ragi sevai here).
3. Ideal breakfast/dinner food for those who are diabetic / pre diabetic.
4. You can chill it and serve it in small portions as dessert too. They are creamy, gritty and sweet.

Spinach soup

August unfolded into September. Winter clothing, kitchenware in mini sizes, mom’s spice powders, traveler’s check, books, boots were scattered all over my room. House swarmed with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends to bid farewell to me. Wishes, advises, tips, warnings were echoing from my walls even after they left. I packed my suitcases and was getting ready to conquer the Queen’s land. It was the day before I was leaving to England.
I was standing in the check-in line at the Chennai airport and thinking how the gray and cold days of UK going to treat me.Hiding my tears that were ready to roll down, I waved my hands with a broad smile to my parents standing in the visitor’s lounge. With an alcoholic co-passenger,a boring movie and cold food, I reached Heathrow airport on a 10hour straight flight.I had finally arrived. Like a kid in the candy store, I ogled with so much excitement at the sight of the biggest and busiest airport in the world. There was 3 hours left for my connecting flight to Manchester. I sat in one corner of Terminal 1 and researched the pennys, pounds my dad gave it to me (those currencies were new to me then) and simultaneously gazed at the mad crowd that were running around. There were no known face to recognize and no warm smile to reassure. I closed my eyes and inhaled a lungful of butter, vanilla, sugar , coffee. (Chuck the coffee. The idea of me liking coffee will be the opening line of a joke for those who know me.I hate coffee, leave alone its aroma in the air.) Aah! No! Yuck!

There it is, Starbucks – baking lovely goodies. My toes raced to the shop assistant who was packing chocolate croissants but ended up ordering a garden salad from the shop next to it. As I chewed and chewed my cold salad with utmost disinterest, I craved for a huge bowl of hot soup.

From the movies I had seen, from the books I had read, I had painted my own picture of England – cold weather, rains, short days and long nights. I liked it first but later found it so depressing. Everytime I stepped out, the sky was gray and the air was cold. The crisp, freezing air would forcibly kiss my face and leave its dryness all over. Giant jackets, huge gloves and thick boots became my soul mates. I could never let go of them. We were like marriage between two different person, like it or not, we had to stick together. After a whirl wind week of orientation, lab tours and classes, I was craving for some home food. A food that will take me home without a flight, a food that will bring the smell of my home and a food that is affordable.Spinach soup was the first thing I made as a student. It’s simple, quick and cheap. A perfect dish to fill the stomach, to heal our homesick hearts, to nourish my nutrients-deprived student body, to comfort us inside out and make us feel alive again. This buttery, peppery,garlicky, spinachy soup fills the kitchen with its lovely aroma and reminds me of home.

For those in South beach diet phase 1 (use 1/4 cup light coconut milk), serve the spinach soup with grilled eggplants,peppers and onions with balsamic vinaigrette or any salad.  For phase 2, serve them with 1/2cup cooked rice or 2 whole wheat rotis/chapattis. This soup is also ideal for women with gestational diabetes. Stick with 1/2cup cooked rice or 2-3 chappatti’s based on your sugar level (1 hour after meal). For women with gestational diabetes, always consult with your dietitian before starting any meal plan. 

In my case, I used to walk for 20 minutes after every meal and when the blood test was done after 1hour, my values were below 140 mg/dl. Your blood work will tell how to play around with carbohydrates. When hungry between the meals, snack with nuts like almonds (15) , pistachios (30), soy nuts (1/4cup), walnuts (15), pecans (15), roasted peanuts (20) or drink 1% milk (8oz).


1 cup spinach – chopped
3-4 garlic pods – minced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup onions – finely chopped
1/4 cup tomatoes – finely chopped
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cups water
1cup coconut milk (optional)
1 tbs lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the butter in the cooking pan. Once heated, add the cumin seeds and garlic and cook for a minute. Now add the onions, tomato and spinach. Cook for further 2-3 minutes, until the spinach wilts. Mix in the water and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and cook for 6-8 whistles. Pour the coconut milk and stir. Drizzle the lemon juice and check salt for taste before serving.

Top them with garlicky croutons or pepper pappads and serve hot.


Whole grain idly

Everyday we wake up planning to buy organic produce, cook healthy dishes, drink a lot of water and exercise. Sometimes we will make it through this challenge easily while some days we need to crack our head to find a recipe that would please our palate and our family too. Nobody wants to see frown faces in the eating table right?
That was my state during my pregnancy. I had gestational diabetes since the last trimester of pregnancy and had to watch on what and how much goes inside my mouth. Careful monitoring of sugar level was needed. My dietitian advised me to include whole grains in every meal as they are complex carbohydrates and it takes a longer time for the food to get broken down to sugar. This way the sugar level can be maintained well.
That’s when I was introduced to quinoa (read it as “Keen-Wa), a South American grain rich in protein. They come in red and white color. When I shopped it for the first time, I could find only red variety and since then haven’t thought of buying the white one (Don’t ask me why!). I tried making upma, fried rice, salad and even idly and dosa with quinoa. Since I had to follow a strict diet chart and because of harmonal misfire, I was always irritated and moody. I thought to myself “Oh god! I can never eat all this after my delivery”. But I was wrong, within few days of starting this kinds of food, I started to play around few recipes and spice levels. They taste absolutely yummy to me. Healthy foods can be delicious was my conclusion at the end of these experiments.Whole grain idly is an ideal breakfast/dinner dish for Phase 2 and Phase 3 of South beach diet. and also for women with gestational diabetes.
Here is a very simple quinoa-ragi-oats idly recipe. I found the idlies to be soft when served immediately and so filling (with just 2) . I have tried to store it in the fridge and re-heat the next day. It tasted pathetic to me. May be you could pour oodles of sambhar to get rid of ragi’s smell. Otherwise they were great when eaten fresh. Since they are instant idlies, you could prepare the batter fresh and I didn’t like the idlies made from stored batter.
1 cup red or white quinoa ( I used the Inca organic red quinoa)
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup ragi flour
1/2 cup semolina
1 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp cilantro – chopped
1 tsp baking soda
Salt to tasteMethod
Heat a dry pan for 2 minutes on high. Once hot enough, lower the flame and lightly roast the  quinoa and oats separately without oil for 2-3minutes. Once cooled , grind them to a fine powder in a blender (each separately).
Mix the semolina, ragi flour, salt  and baking soda with the powdered quinoa and oats. Initially add about 1.5 cups of  yogurt and mix them well with a spatula. Add the chopped coriander leaves and add the remaining yogurt and stir to combine.
The batter should be similar to a normal idli batter consistency, if not add some more water. Grease the idli moulds, and the pour the batter, steam it in the cooker until the idli’s are cooked.
Serve warm with sambar and chutney.
This is my entry for the WWC: Quinoa for dinner event