South Indian Comfort Food Feast & Jazzy-Indian Tunes
A portrait from Brooklyn and Hyderabad
Over the years, this meal combo has become not only one of our favorite comfort food feasts, but also one of the go-to meals for families new to our dinner parties.
From the food, (tomato pappu with a quick rice-cooker pulau and Indian omelet, okra fries with chat masala) to the music that fuses the spirits of this family,. and the “omelet game” that has become part of the tradition as well, this feast with new friends never gets old.
In the same way that the food we serve is an evolution of of my husband’s favorite comfort food from growing up in Hyderabad adjusted to my cooking and our tastes, the music we usually have on has similar cross-pollination.
The cooking is usually accompanied by some upbeat Red Baraat, the meal Arun Ramamurthy Trio, and the obligatory post dinner dance party is controlled by the kiddos, live depending on their song favorites of the moment.
This playlist comes in two parts, due to the availability of the digital albums:
Red Baraat (as noted on their website) “is a pioneering band from Brooklyn, New York. Conceived by dhol player Sunny Jain, the group has drawn worldwide praise for its singular sound, a merging of hard driving North Indian bhangra with elements of hip-hop, jazz and raw punk energy.”
My first time hearing them was also our then three-month-old daughter’s first live show (at one of the 2011 dance parties at Brooklyn Bridge park…. the Celebrate Brooklyn season kickoffs that BRIC used to do in May. BRIC! Bring those back!).
But now we delight in dancing like mad at their annual Festival of Colors (Google it, as it seems to change locations most years!).
Jazz Carnatica is an album by the Arun Ramamurthy Trio, a Brooklyn-based group and is definitely one of my desert island albums. I put it on start to finish, on repeat, and I bet you will, too. I literally can’t get enough.
And of course, if you are able to buy the album to support Arun, please do!
Wish You Were Here
If you were joining us at our table for this meal, here are some things that would undoubtedly come up in conversation thanks to our mini-ambassadors. We’ve noted them here so that you can pretend you are dining with us.
Our daughter likes to tell guests that this dal was their very first food (blended with yogurt and rice and water, and pureed) at about 6 months old.
They also love to tell everyone that okra makes you good at math (or rather ‘maths,’ as hubby would have heard from his parents, growing up in India). I’ve yet to find any solid evidence for this, though a quick google confirms that it’s a well-known wive’s tale.
And finally, as usual, our son will want to be the first to tell everyone that we eat with our hands, “even rice and yogurt!” If you haven’t seen it already, checking out the Bonus section of the Butter Chicken portrait, there is more of an explanation as to why we eat with our hands, including a funny video about it. And to take it one step further, I have also since been told that eating with hands also brings one closer to the divine.
So try it, and let us know what you think.
The Menu Plan
We love sharing this South Indian feast of a menu with friends because aside from the pulau, the dishes are not something you will find in restaurants. But they are extremely flavorful and as home-y to me as the mac-n-cheese I grew up on.
Get the dal going first. If you can make it the day prior, you will be rewarded with depth of flavor.
Working backwards an hour from when you want to eat, get the rice in the rice cooker.
The egg mixture can keep in the fridge a couple hours if you’d prefer to mix it before guests arrive. You can also cook the omelets before guests arrive, keeping it loosely covered with foil in an oven-safe dish, in an oven set to 200F.
Lastly, just 10 minutes before eating, heat up the pan, to get the first round of omelets ready as diners sit.
Meghna’s Tomato Pappu
Tomato Pappu (dal) is a staple in Hyderabad and my husband lauds his mom’s as the best (of course). Over time, however, we’ve evolved our own favorite version.
In tasting-testing my version each time, hubby inevitably says “You put a lot of tamarind, and it needs a bit of salt….”
But I know better than to salt or counter the tamarind because just as he trails off, he continues as if he hadn’t paused “.. it’s good actually. Really good.” And thus, our more tamarind-y version of Hyderabadi tomato was born.
Like many soups, stews or curries, its even better the next day. And we always keep some in the freezer for an easy weeknight meal.
Meghna’s Tomato Pappu
This is a thick, flavorful dal with a tart kick from tamarind. Eat it with pulau or plain basmati rice, and perhaps an additional protein like Indian Omelets or Chicken 65 (recipes for both on this site).
CourseEntree, Main Course, Vegetables
CuisineIndian, south indian
KeywordDal, pappu, tamarind, Tomato
A large pressure cooker, makes quick cooking of the dal
Food processor to finely dice the tomatoes if you have it, but I prefer to do by hand.
1cup yellow dal
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tbsp salt, divided
3 cupstomatoes, finely dicedabout 6
1inch cube of tamarind pulp, reconstituted in hot water
5tbsp ghee or sunflower oil, or salted butter…. but ghee is the best
3tsp cumin seeds
1.5 cups onions, finely diced about 1 large
20curry leavesat least 🙂
Chop the tomatoes and keep aside (or wait until dal is cooking if you are using the food processor).
Boil some water to reconstitute the tamarind, pressing it with a fork to break it up in the hot water, and microwaving it to continue to soften and make a paste. Keep aside.
Put dal, turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt and 4 cups of water in a large pressure cooker, and when it reaches pressure, cook for 8 minutes and release using the quick release method.
While dal is cooking, chop onions and prepare spices and curry leaves.
By now the dal is likely done so when pressure is released, remove the cover, set heat back to medium, and add the tomatoes, and remaining salt. Stir to combine. Add the tamarind by pouring and pushing it through a fine mesh sieve. Add more boiling water if further reconstituting is needed, but don't add it until you taste later. Let it all cook for some time, stirring every so often and scraping the sides and bottom to ensure nothing sticks (and add water if needed).
While the tomatoes cook into the dal, heat ghee in a fry pan over medium heat, and when hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter/pop, add the onions. Stir to combine, and cook until onions begin to become translucent, then add the curry leaves. Continue to fry until onions brown slightly. Turn off the heat and keep aside until the dal/tomato is ready.
When tomatoes have cooked into the dal, add the onion mixture to it and stir to combine. Continue cooking at medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Then turn the heat down to low and continue to cook a bit until the desired consistency (see note below), at least another 15 minutes to really meld the flavor.Taste it and adjust tamarind and salt accordingly. Cooked in the afternoon and kept warm in the pressure cooker, you'll barely need to reheat it for dinner. Or, even better, let it cool and pack it up into the fridge or freezer for another day.
Both in typical Indian homes and in restaurants, dal will typically be the consistency of a thick soup that can get soaked into rice a bit. We prefer ours a bit thicker. Not so thick that it would be like a dollop on the plate, but it also wouldn’t be sloshing around the plate.
Lately, my husband will taste the dal and say “you put a lot of tamarind… add a tiny bit of salt…. Actually, it’s good,” which just may be his way of coming around to my version of his mom’s tomato pappu. 😉 It’s one of my fave foods, but this recipe is decidedly my version.
The recipes I’ve based this on often recommend not to cook the dal too long… that seeing the chunks of dal adds flavor. We disagree and like it to be more on the mushy, blended side. Similarly, like a tarka flavoring, some recipes will call for minimal additional cooking after the onion mixture has been added. We like the flavors to meld, and even get towards the “it’s even better the second day” phenomenon.
What we refer to as an Indian Omelet is just eggs whisked with spices, onion, cilantro and chili, and fried very thin (like a tortilla) in butter.
Simple, but divine, and a perfect pairing to dal and rice, both as a method for eating (using the omelet to grab a mouthful of dal and rice, and a perfect complement of flavors and textures.
Before kiddos we used to make this with green chilis instead of chili powder, and cilantro instead of coriander powder. To make it tasty for all but not spicy, we began making it per the below, and now it’s our favorite way. The coriander and dash of chili give enough heat and flavor, and doesn’t bite back like the barely-cooked green chili would.
Not-too-spicy Indian Omelet
Figure about an egg per person, or maybe a bit less, and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.
3/4cup red onions, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/2tspcoriander powder (Or more per your taste! We like a bit more.)
dash of chili powder
1-2 tbsp salted butter
Dice red onions, and break them up into individual bits with your finger, so as not to be clumped when added to the egg mixture.
Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, and before beating them, add the salt & coriander powder (helps incorporate them).
Beat the eggs, salt and coriander with a fork.
When well combined, add the diced onions and stir.
When ready to cook, heat a nonstick pan to medium heat. When hot, rub the chunk of butter across the pan, and then quickly spread a very little amount of egg mixture on the pan. To give you a sense, 2 tbsp might make a circle(ish) of about 5 inch diameter. (I will remember to take photos next time!! When will I have an assistant? ).
Let the egg cook for about a minute and then peek under using a spatula. When the top appears mostly cooked thru, and the bottom is browned, flip the egg, cooking for just a few seconds longer (10 max), and then it’s done.
We’ve certainly eaten the “Indian Omelets” as leftovers the next day (and I even used to put them in the kiddos lunch), but they are definitely better fresh off the pan.
You can prep the egg mixture (steps 1-4) ahead of time and keep in fridge until ready to cook.
The original recipe I was given called for chopped fresh cilantro and diced green chilis, but we’ve adapted this to our tastes. Kiddos aren’t so big on the chilis and we don’t always have cilantro in the house because we use it infrequently enough that it usually goes bad and i hate wasting. I’ve got to say I really like this version and I don’t miss the cilantro or chilis, but if you want to try it the “original” way, let us know how it goes.
I now do big batches of these across a double burner, but it’s probably easiest to start on a 10 or 12 inch pan and make 2 or 3 until you are comfortable with timing.
Keep them warm in a covered baking dish in a 200 degree toaster oven, or just have your diners at the table ready to eat while you cook (let’s face it, that’s the more realistic version).
Over time, this has become the most fun part of these dinners. Just as on a summers day you may luxuriate on the grass looking up to the clouds as they pass and see what shapes they take on for your imagination, we do the very same for our Indian omelets.
Not too long ago, we got one shaped like India! Do you see it above?? I did not plan that, I swear! Though I do want to try it again next time.
Long skinny omelets are fun for this game, too.. the end up looking like fish or race cars. Not a bad thing for any picky eaters among you, and as you see elsewhere on this portrait, using our hands for this dinner is not only encouraged, its expected.
Quick Rice Cooker Pulau
This one is so simple and tasty that we go on streaks where we have it once a week. Sometimes I’ll get it cooking to complete when a babysitter is on her way, and ask that they have it with fish sticks from the freezer, or hard boiled eggs. The spinach not only adds color, sneaks in some iron-packed greens that wont usually be enjoyed by our kiddos in other forms.
Of course this can be prepared without a rice cooker, but if you eat a good amount of rice, do yourself a favor and get this rice cooker! It cooks so well, is hands-off and there’s no worries of burnt rice. Someday I’ll add more rice-cooker recipes.
Quick Rice Cooker Pulau
3tbspbuffalo ghee (or cow if you can’t find buffalo… why can’t we get it here in the US?!!)
1cupfrozen chopped spinach
1/2cupslivered raw almonds
Rinse the rice: measure the rice into the pan of the cooker, add a few cups of water and agitate it with fingers a bit and drain the water. Repeat a few times, until the water isn’t so cloudy.
With the rinsed rice at the bottom of the rice pot, add, salt, spices, ghee, spinach and almonds. give it a bit of a stir to declump it a bit (it won’t combine much). Add the water and set it to cook (on fast or slow method).
When the timer rings, give it a gentle stir to combine but not mash, and also ensure it is not burning on the bottom. If it appears dry, add a bit of water (particularly if you intend to keep it an the ‘keep warm’ setting for a while.
Enjoy, and make your own versions and tell us about it!
Chaat masala paired with okra, it is one of my all time favorite flavor combos. It’s unreal. You’re welcome.
This is adapted from the text (not the recipes) of this Kitchen Window post, this is something we make at least twice a month. It’s that good, and crazy simple. And my kids literally fight over the last ones. They will eat anything else on their plate quickly, just to ensure they can scarf down more okra. I’ll note the recipe for 1 lb of okra, but I’m betting you’ll double it as of the next time you make it.
Before kids, we’d just cover all of the okra with chaat masala. Our kids haven’t yet developed a taste for chaat masala so we serve it plain, with the chaat masala passed in a small bowl, an inevitably they end up fighting over the last okra.
Chaat Okra Fries
Okra fries with chaat masala might be one of my five desert island foods.
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