Cooking for the Family


So I’ve been gone for a few weeks but as I mentioned earlier, it’s because I was in India getting married – no big deal.

We had a great wedding, my parents thoroughly enjoyed all the Indian wedding traditions, we were able to visit with some of my new Arora family members, and were even swept away for a mini honeymoon to Udaipur – where we got to ride a camel and relax a bit, just the two of us, before heading back to the States!

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Ramu the Camel

In India, after the marriage, it’s tradition for the new wife to cook for her husband’s family for the first time.  Which isn’t a problem, because obviously, I love to cook! But prior to our travels, <3M had mentioned to his family that I had made a healthified version of Dal Makhni and THIS was the meal they requested me to make. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but I had only made it once before…in the States…using a crockpot…with proper measuring tools.

My first time making healthified Dal Makhni, <3M doubted my ability to make the traditional, creamy dish – as Dal Makhni translates to Butter Lentils.  He even refused to call it Dal Makhni when I told him I was making it, saying lets just call it “dal” [aka lentils] so I didn’t set false expectations.

M<3 was skeptical because to him, Dal Makhni is a signature dish. It’s the dish that he judges all Indian restaurants on. He believes that the quality of a restaurant’s Dal resonates to the quality of the restaurant overall.  So for him – Dal Makhni is a BIG DEAL.

So when he tasted my healthier version of Dal Makhni, he [and our friend Punit who also came to judge] were pleasently surprised to find that I did in fact make a traditional Dal Makhni – maintaining its authentic buttery and creamy flavor without all the actual butter and cream.  To them, that night, I was a food hero – making them homemade Dal Makhni – the same Dal which they recalled eating at home in India.

So really, making my healthier Dal Makhni is truly no big deal but having to make it in India WAS a big deal.  Not only was I cooking in a kitchen I wasn’t quite used to,  I’d be making this meal without measuring tools, hoping the ingredients in America translate to the same thing in India, cooking it on a stovetop rather than a crockpot, and on top of everything else – when we arrived, I found out that the family had a professional chef cooking for them that week to lessen the household chores.

This was just the icing on the cake – not only was I cooking for the family for the first time but I had to do it in front of a professional chef who would undoubtedly be watching me and judging my Indian cooking skills with skepticism.


The Professional Chef

In my family, my Mother, Grandmothers, and Aunts are all wonderful cooks.  Cooking is our thing. It’s how we show our love to the people close to us.  It’s how we show we’re the caretakers.  To me, cooking a wonderful dish for <3M’s family for the first time was significant.  It was proof to them that I’d take care of him forever and always, and that he’d be well fed and forever loved.  Because as I mentioned, to me, in my family, Food = Love.


Since failure was not an option, I prepared for my cooking adventure prior to packing for India – by ensuring I packed two basic measuring tools that I knew could get me through cooking for the family the first time. My tools of choice were a measuring cup – a bright orange, Tupperware quarter cup and a stainless steel measuring spoon – the 1 teaspoon to be exact [both belonged to my Grandma Greene – so I was stacking the the deck by bringing good cooking ju-ju with me]!  With these two tools, my knowledge of cooking, and by writing a detailed grocery list, I set out to cook Healthified Dal Makhni for the family!

And it was a success [or at least they told me it was!].

Everyone said they loved it, the professional chef even signed off on my Dal Makhni, complimenting me saying even home cooks and Indian chefs have trouble making an authentic Dal Makhni the way I did.

So here it is, here’s healthified Dal Makhni [the crockpot version].  It has the same creamy, buttery, rich, savory flavors as traditional Dal Makhni but with less than a quarter of the fat and calories of the original [I ran the nutritionals!]. It’s the perfect comfort food served atop some rice [I prefer brown]!

Crockpot Dal Makhni
Serves: 4-6


■ 2 cup urad saboot [black lentils]
■ 15 oz red kidney beans [I used canned]
■ 2 tbsp butter
■ 1½ tsp salt
■ 3 cups vegetable broth [or water]
■ 1 cup tomato puree [2 large tomatoes, roasted & pureed or used canned]
■ 3/4 tsp nutmeg powder
■ 1/2tsp garam masala
■ 3 tsp roasted cumin powder
■ 4 tbsp kasoori methi [dried fenugreek leaves]
■ 1 tsp ground fenugreek powder
■ ½ tsp red chile powder
■ 1 ½ tsp aamchoor powder
■ 1 tsp kati salt [black salt]
■ 2 ½ tsp ground coriander
■ ½ tsp cinnamon

Grind to a Paste

■ 2 dry, whole red chile
■ 1 tbsp ginger
■ 4 medium to large cloves garlic

To Add Later

■ 1/3 cup fat free half and half
■ 2-3 tbsp more unsalted butter

Make the tomato puree:
If roasting your own tomatoes, pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place tomatoes upside down on a baking sheet and score and “x” on the bottom of both.  Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Let cool, peel away skin, and puree until smooth.

Par-cook the lentils:
Bring water to boil. Add lentils and boil 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for roughly 30 minutes. Drain lentils & set aside.

Prep the chile-garlic-ginger paste:
Make the chile-garlic-ginger paste by grinding together with a mortar & pestle.  Set aside.

Once everything is prepped, the crockpot comes in to play to do the remaining work:
Add the par-cooked lentils & 3 cups vegetable broth [or water] to crockpot with first 2 tbsp butter, and the chile-garlic-ginger paste. Add in spices [salt, nutmeg, garam masala, cumin,fenugreek leaves & powder, chile powder, aamchoor powder, kati salt, coriander & cinnamon] and tomato puree.

Let everything cook on high for 4 hours [or on low for 6-8 hours]. Before serving, add red kidney beans, half & half and additional butter. If you like your dal a little less thick, stir in an additional ½ to 1 cup vegetable broth [or water]. Let cook another 20-30 minutes before serving.

Serve over rice & garnish with cilantro and a cool size of yogurt.

Adapted from:

Fails to Follow Directions


Confession: I suck at following directions, at least in the kitchen.

It’s not because I don’t read the recipe or  forget a step in the process.  It’s a deliberate, conscious effort to stray. The motivation behind this is mostly due to the fact that I always want to healthify my food. Healthify is probably foreign to most of you so let me explain.

Definition of HEALTHIFY (verb) the act of increasing the nutritional benefits of a specific food or recipe by substituting more nutritious ingredients

Examples of HEALTHIFY
“I just healthified this cake but swapping the oil for non-fat yogurt!”
“These cookies were healthified with flaxseed and whole-wheat flour.”
“We enjoyed healtified egg salad with avocado instead of mayo.”

Merriam-Webster, healthify is officially ready for insertion into the 2014 edition. Please remember to credit me prior to publishing.

Now, the only problem with healthifying a recipe is that you can’t healthify every ingredient. And I admit, at times, I get a bit carried away.
Whole Wheat Flour! Agave! Yogurt! Flaxseed! Almond Milk!

When you find yourself changing more than a third of the ingredients, it’s safe to say that you no longer healthified the recipe. You created an entirely NEW recipe – which is exactly what happened to me this weekend.

I set out to make my Mom’s traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Buttery, chocolatey, chewy goodness. And the kicker here is, that I had absolutely no intention of keeping any of these cookies for myself and began baking knowing I would be giving these away to friends.  But, my inner healthifying baker took over and before I knew it, substitutions were flying high.

  • Half of the butter was replaced with greek yogurt
  • All-purpose flour was mixed with whole wheat
  • 18 ounces of chocolate chips became 4 ounces of semi-sweet mini chips, 1/4 cup of flaxseed, 1/3 cup coconut and a 1/4 cup raisins
  • The sugar was halved and a squirt of agave was added

The kitchen, mid-healthification while I ran amuck searching for healthy swaps and additions.

Wham-Bam! My Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies were no more.

These babies had just completed 12 weeks at The Biggest Loser camp and after 11 minutes in the oven, they were ready for their big reveal. So how did these cookies turn out?  Let’s do a little comparison of the original recipe versus the healthified chocolate chip cookies.

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