A spice journey continues: India’s aromatic rice, chai and puddings

This is the second chapter from our guest blogger Janet Robbins, flavoured with her words and photographs from a recent trip to India

During my recent, unforgettable visit to India we spent a week in Mumbai and a week travelling around the state of Rajasthan. Along the way, we ate excellent food at hotels and lunchtime restaurants in Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodphur, Jaisalmer and even during our Air India flight home! We chose to eat mostly vegetarian dishes – listed as “Veg” on menus, as opposed to “Non-Veg” which is how meat dishes are offered. Here are a few highlights:

Dal Baati Churma

Dal Baati Churma, a delicious lentil-based dish
Dal Baati Churma, a delicious lentil-based dish

Green and yellow lentils formed the basis for this Dal, combined with onions, tomatoes, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala and other spices all cooked in ghee. Baatis are deep-fried hard wheat rolls set in a creamy sauce that softens them somewhat. The Churma is fairly complex concoction in which whole wheat flour is blended with semolina flour and mixed with water to make a stiff dough. It’s then fried in ghee, cooled and ground to a fine powder. Sliced almonds, cardamom and powdered sugar are stirred in, so that you have a light, sweet accompaniment to the Dal and Baati. A lovely buttery naan was the perfect addition!

Kashmiri Pulao

Kashmiri Palao, a popular aromatic rice dish
Kashmiri Palao, a popular aromatic rice dish

Kashmiri Pulao is an aromatic, slightly sweet-flavored rice dish cooked with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, even a pinch of saffron. Dried fruits, nuts, peas, red peppers, and sautéed onions are scattered over and mixed in with the rice. It was a perfect, light, yet nourishing lunch!

Matar (or Mutter) Paneer

Matar, or Mutter, Paneer
Matar, or Mutter, Paneer

A popular North Indian dish, ‘matar’ is all about peas, and ‘paneer’ is a semi-solid form of cottage cheese. Cubes of paneer are fried in ghee and combined with the peas and a mild, tomato-based curry sauce, usually served with a buttery or garlic-flavored naan.

Makai Pulao

Makai Pulao, a simple, light dish
Makai Pulao, a simple, light dish

We ate this Undaipur speciality at our hotel, the Lalit Laxmi Villas, overlooking the beautiful Feteh Sagar Lake in Udaipur. The most simple and light rice dish, it’s made with corn kernels, cumin, grilled onions and coriander, sautéd together and mixed in with cooked rice.

Nawabi Tukda with Rabdi

Nawabi Tukda with Rabdi, served on an Air India flight
Nawabi Tukda with Rabdi, served on an Air India flight

Imagine our surprise on being served this delicious Indian bread pudding on our Air India flight back to France! Its origins go back to the Mughals. Unlike most bread puddings, it uses no eggs, merely dips the bread (first fried in ghee) into a mixture of whole milk, cream, condensed milk, sugar, a few threads of saffron to add color, then baked in the oven. The delicate saffron flavor was evident on Air India!

Masala Chai

A cup of Masala chai
A cup of Masala chai

No trip to India would be complete without many, many cups of Masala Chai, the distinctive tea everyone drinks. Real Masala Chai can include a whole bunch of ingredients: cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, black pepper, whole milk, sugar, black tea leaves. The ginger was always there. It fortified us everywhere we went!

Janet Robbins has been a long-time resident of the west coast USA and for the past eight years, a part-time resident of Paris, France. This was her first visit to India. She cannot wait to return!

A typical Indian spice tray
A typical Indian spice tray
Bruce McMichael

I am freelance journalist and published author focusing on food and drink; business startups and enterprise; culture and travel. I have also written about the global upstream oil and gas industry, shipping and current affairs. Based in London, I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur.

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