Flying North in Winter?

No, it isn’t the deep dish pizza or Hot Doug’s Hot Dogs or the Book Cellar. Although, any and all of those would bring me to Chicago at any time of year, but this week, in the midst of yet another deep freeze it is my beautiful cousin Amna. Temps were a little friendlier when I booked the tickets. Had no idea I was flying into a third polar vortex. Yikes! But I’m happy to be with Amna although Amna may have been happier flying south to Florida in the winter but she has Post Polio Syndrome and can’t really leave home without a very complex entourage of nurses and equipment to keep her mobile while breathing safely. For now it’s a fun family reunion in her cozy apartment at the top of a building on the truly great Lake Michigan. And yes, as I cook away in her kitchen, I stop frequently to watch the winds push the ice floes around on the lake. It’s an amazing sight. Amna is no longer able to get to the window but I take lots of photos and stream them to her iPad so she knows what’s happening outside.

Amna has lived in Chicago for over thirty years and had never heard of a polar vortex until this winter and  now wow the third one is about to send this beautiful city into another deep freeze. After a week of above freezing temps, the lake is once again transforming into a winter wonder world. It is a beautiful city at any time of year.

I think I’m going to create a new item on my menu bar for Amna’s Chicago Kitchen. My cooking is inspired by her. I cook healthy foods. I try to. We have heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc. etc. etc… in our family and we’re doing our best to keep it all as far away as possible for as long as we can.  My goal is to keep things clean, easy, fresh, whole, and as vegetarian as possible.
I hope you’ll visit again. Ciao

Biryani with Soy and Green Peas

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Ingredients for Garam Masalah

(Mix the following Garam Masalah spices in a bowl)
Cumin – 1 tsp
Cinnamon – 1 piece about an inch
Cardamom – 5
Cloves – 6
Peppercorns – 6
Bay leaf – 2
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp

Note…. When you mix the dry spices together, do a few extra batches and put them in ziploc bags for future cooking adventures. Saves time.

These spices are the basic whole (not ground) ingredients for “Garam Masalah.” Whole spices taste more delicate and the aroma is infinitely more pleasing. You can get all the above whole spices in a single bag from a local Indian store in the spices section. Just ask for a bag of whole mixed spices.

Other Ingredients

Onion – 1 medium, thinly sliced
Corn or Canola oil – 1/2 cup
Ginger and garlic paste – 1 heaped tsp (I buy the mixed paste at the Indian store)
Tomato – 1 medium, chopped into small pieces
Peas – 1 1/2 cups (I use frozen)
Soy meat – one cup (I use the Laxmi brand) soaked in two cups of warm water for 20 mins
Tomato paste – 2 or 3 tbsp
Cilantro – 1 cup chopped
Rice – 2 cups (I like the very long-grain Basmati from the Indian or Pakistani store)
Cayanne pepper powder –  to taste (I use 1/4 tsp)
Salt – to taste

Biryani with Soy and Green Peas3


Fry the onions in the oil on medium heat until golden brown.
Add ginger and garlic paste and fry for two minutes stirring to prevent sticking.
Add the whole garam masalah mixture, the chopped tomato, and tomato paste.

Drain the soy chunks and add them to the mix. Add the peas. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes making sure the mixture stays moist (you can add a little water at a time so it doesn’t dry out too much).

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In a separate pan, cook the rice until almost tender. I use 1 1/2 times water to the rice (with salt). Drain any left over water and then layer the soy mixture on top. Cover and cook over low heat until rice is tender. Add chopped cilantro over the top and continue to cook over very low heat for about five minutes.

When you ladle it out into a serving dish, do not mix the rice and soy mixture too much. Just fold  with a spatula. You can always add more fresh cilantro at this point.

I served this to friends in Chicago (yes I’m crazy to be in Chicago when it’s so cold here) and they loved it. I also made eggplant and daal to go with it. Recipes follow soon.

Enjoy in good health!