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. 

an all-ages cheers over a bowl of tomato pappu


Jazzy-Indian Tunes

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

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

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.

an indian homecooking feastdal, indian omelet and pulau, with sliced red onions
  1. Get the dal going first. If you can make it the day prior, you will be rewarded with depth of flavor.
  2. Working backwards an hour from when you want to eat, get the rice in the rice cooker.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

meghnas tomato pappu in a tradtiional copper serving pot
meghnas tomato pappu in a tradtiional copper serving pot

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.


Not-too-spicy Indian Omelet

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.

indian omelets in a traditional indian serving bowl
indian omelets in a traditional indian serving bowl

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.


Omelet Game

tomato pappu, pulau and indian omelet... shaped line india!
tomato pappu, pulau and indian omelet… shaped line india!

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.

indian omelets cooking
indian omelets cooking, in lots of fun shapes to play the cloud game with.

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.

pulau in a traditional copper and steel serving bowl
pulau in a traditional copper and steel serving bowl

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.


Chaat Okra Fries

Chaat masala paired with okra, it is one of my all time favorite flavor combos. It’s unreal. You’re welcome.

okra and chat masala about to be devoured
okra fries and chat masala about to be devoured

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.