A mystery box and a bowl to go
Inspired by Mexican and American grain bowls, here's a nutritious one-bowl meal you can make for your family with local ingredients
The delivery instructions were suitably mysterious. Someone was to deliver a box to our building at 2.30am. We could collect it in the morning. What would be in it?
That was the mystery. Well, we did know that it would contain vegetables, but no more. The order had been placed with Vishanth Kumar (9442471754), who delivers his organic produce every Friday to certain areas in Bengaluru, straight from his Kikuis Farm, 28km outside Ooty in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. He does not specify what will be in the box, but it is harvested on Friday morning, dispatched from his farm at 4pm, reaching Bengaluru at 10.30pm or so, which explains the post-midnight mystery delivery.
She does not admit it, but the wife, a fiercely loyal Mumbai girl, knows that such enterprises are peculiar to Bengaluru. In the event, the box turned out to have radish, bright-red little carrots, pak choi and Swiss chard.
For the purposes of this column, I considered only the Swiss chard because I needed greens of some sort. I have never cooked—perhaps never eaten—the vegetable before, but I do know that chard is one of those wonder veggies, packed with nutrients, in particular antioxidants. I say “perhaps" because chard may well have been an ingredient in one of those hip, packed-with-healthy-ingredients meals we had during a recent trip to the land of the free. I mentioned one of these bowls in a previous column.
But most of our American meals were at a Mexican fast-food chain called Chipotle, where an assembly line began with rice and added a variety of ingredients as you went down the line. It was a quick, hearty, somewhat healthy meal—the pork wasn’t exactly lean, and we didn’t know what or how much oil the black beans used. But it was a balanced meal that was digested quickly and left us feeling light and energized for all the walking ahead. On the 15-hour haul back to India in the surprisingly cozy hands of Air India, I got thinking: Surely we could do this grab-and-go thing back home using entirely local ingredients?
I was jogged into action by the mystery box. As it happens, I had just brought home a packet of red rice from a neighbourhood store. The store sources rice, pulses and vegetables from farmers across south India; the red rice came from the Dharani Farmers Cooperative Ltd in Chennekothappalli village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district. If you do not already know, red rice is dramatically more nutritious than mass-produced white rice, which is shorn of most nutrients before it reaches you. The red rice procurement was particularly well timed because the seven-year-old had seen me eating Kerala red rice with fish at a restaurant and was full of questions about why it was called red. Finally, she tasted it, and her eyes widened in delight. The rice I was eating had only tinges of red, but the Andhra rice stayed flamboyantly brown-red even after cooking.
So one unusually sultry morning this week, I started on my own Indian grain bowl. I cooked the rice, the Swiss chard—as I said, it was what the mystery box delivered, you can substitute it with spinach—good old chowli (black-eyed beans, if you must) and a bit of lamb from my butcher. I added on some dried prawn chutney for good measure, but I acknowledge that is something many of you non-coastal types will frown on, so I have not suggested it. Drop the meat, add roasted vegetables, and the bowl becomes vegetarian. Or reduce the veggies and add kheema, pork or beef—depending on your proclivities, religious or otherwise. That’s the beauty of the bowl—it can be what you want it to be.
Dinner bowl with beans, salsa, pulled meat and greens
This bowl requires a bit of assembly, but it’s really easy once you’ve done that. Prepare components as under.
For the ‘chowli’ with red-chilli powder and za’atar
1 cup chowli
3 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp pepper or red-chilli powder
1 tsp za’atar
Salt to taste
Cook the beans in a pressure cooker, three whistles. Drain water, toss with lime juice, pepper or chilli powder and za’atar
For the pulled lamb with clove and peppercorn
4-6 pieces of meat, including marrow bone and a little fat
3 black peppercorns
1 leaf star anise
1/4 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
Cook meat and spices in the pressure cooker, three-four whistles, or until done. Pull meat into shreds, reserve stock. Substitute, if you wish, with pork or beef.
For the fresh salsa
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup coriander, chopped
Mix the ingredients and toss.
For the Swiss chard with raisins
A bunch of chard, or spinach
5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp red-chilli powder
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste
Heat oil, sauté the garlic. Add chilli powder and raisins and stir for 30 seconds. Add chard, salt and toss well until chard reduces in volume.
For the red rice
1/2 mug red rice
1 mug, or 1/4mugs water
Wash and soak the rice for 15 minutes. Transfer to a pressure cooker, add water and cook until done. Double the water is fine, but I find red rice sometimes needs a bit more.
Once the meat, rice, greens, beans and salsa are ready, mix them together, adding three-four tablespoons of the meat stock. I made this dish to be child-friendly, so you might want to add some hot sauce—I added some dashes of Sriracha, but any green or red sauce will do.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. His twitter handle is @samar11