Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag

Tuscan Kale Saag

Today, I thought to myself earlier, I would very much like to run away. Just, you know, walk out the front door and keep going, ending up in Rajasthan or the English countryside or an ice cliff in Greenland. I don't care where, really, just as long as it's not here, I thought. I am done with here. I've had enough of here. Get me out of here.

***

I miss my girlfriends. I miss connecting with my ladies in real life. I miss maskless faces. I miss their company and their smiles and looking at their shiny jewelry and talking about their gorgeous hair. I miss admiring them and asking for advice and giving advice and the thrilling incredulity that sometimes comes with feeling deeply understood. Waiting for them at a restaurant, deciding on a second glass of wine, feeling them all squished into a booth beside me. Their smells, their presence, their them-ness. Our conversations, the big talks and the little ones. Their outfits and their bags and their wrinkles and their laughter and their advice and our shorthand. I miss the women in my life so much that I have an actual physical ache.

Zoom was fine for a month or two or three, but now I can't even face Zooming with my friends. It feels too painful. I want to reach out and touch them and I can't. When the pandemic started last year, my friend and neighbor Stephanie came by one day just to say hi, from a distance. I ran down the stairs to see her, ripped open the front door and, confronted with her in the flesh before me, just burst into tears. My tears surprised me perhaps even more than they surprised her. The fact that she was in front of me and I couldn't go near her and touch her, pull her in for a hug, just gutted me. Once we all adjusted to the new normal, I was able to cope with that distance. I made my peace with it, I thought. But this week, that part of me is just hanging out again, all weepy and exposed, like a raw blister.

I want to run away to a faraway land and I want my girlfriends to come with me and while we're gone our husbands will take care of our children and they'll be just fine and we'll be back in a few months when we feel better, promise. 

***

The children were home from mid-December to mid-February. When they returned to school and Kita, I breathed a sigh of relief. Normalcy for them and for us, time to work again, time to be something other than a mother 25 hours a day. But the situation in Germany, in case you haven't heard, is becoming grotesque. Vaccinations lag, there is no testing strategy, and cases are skyrocketing. My mother and mother-in-law are vaccinated now, thank goodness, because they help us a lot. But Max and I are resigned to the fact that we are months and months away from our vaccinations, while the mutations are wreaking havoc. Bruno is our weakest link, poor little guy. I keep sending him to Kita, because I have assignments and deadlines, and every day I cross my fingers and hold my breath and hope against hope that he doesn't come home and infect us.

Keep him home, I think. Protect yourself. You have work, sure, but benevolent neglect never hurt anyone. And then I remember the endless weeks of them at home, at each other's throats all the time, his regressions, his brother's obsessive tendencies and how I felt like I was drowning all the time. He's better off at Kita.

***

All the while, meals are still getting made, morning, noon and night. One funny thing: I am having a quiet love affair with walnuts. I'll tell you more about that another time. In the who-gives-a-shit department, I feed my children broth made from bouillon cubes multiple nights a week and everyone is happy. In the marriage department, sometimes I get so angry about cooking one more meal that I make lunch only for myself and my husband has to go fend for himself, which he does without complaint. I have come this far in our journey together that I can report on this without judgment for myself.

Sometimes I get angry.

Sometimes I need to disappear.

Sometimes I simply refuse to make one more meal.

Yesterday, I made the discovery of the most delicious saag recipe made with Tuscan kale and tomatoes. I got it from my bible, East by Meera Sodha. In the cookbook, the saag is cooked with browned cubes of paneer, but I just wanted a big comforting pile of vegetables, so I left the paneer out and served the saag with hot cooked rice. It was so punchy and flavorful and nourishing that it felt like...a burst of sunshine in my body. An enveloping hug from someone wiser than myself. An escape. It used up precisely one bunch of perfect Tuscan kale. I made it just for us for lunch and there were no turned up noses or whines for something else.

One small good thing for which I could be grateful.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag
Adapted from East
Serves 2
Note: This recipe is easily doubled.
Print this recipe!

One bunch Tuscan kale (about 250 grams), ribs discarded, leaves roughly chopped
Rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chile, optional, finely chopped
Half a can of chopped tomatoes or about 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown rice syrup
Half a can of coconut milk

1. On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan or pot with a lid and add the onions. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over a medium flame,  until soft and sweet.

2. Add the ginger, garlic and chile, if using. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and brown rice syrup and stir well.

3. Add the kale to the pan and stir to wilt. Add the coconut milk, stir, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If the saag seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. 

4. When the kale is tender, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the mixture. Serve as a side dish or with rice as a main course.


Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi

Soboro Donburi

After 16 years of food blogging (!), I have yet to figure out how to make ground meat look appealing at dinnertime, when it's dark out and there's no natural light and everyone is hangry and the overhead lamp is casting a shadow. It practically pains me to post this photo above, which looks so...2005, doesn't it? Ack. But you need to know about it. I practically screamed in delight at dinner last night. Besides, you're not here for my photos, are you? You're here for the important stuff! The bossy opinions! The recipes! The mad ramblings of a middle-aged mother who mostly feels like she's at her wit's end! So I'm throwing vanity to the wind. (Besides, a much more photogenic picture of this slam dunk is right here.)

The recipe, by Elizabeth Andoh, is considered one of F&W's 40 best recipes in 2018. Does this mean 40 best ever or 40 best in 2018? I don't know. What I do know: It is currently at the top of my best in 2021.

Cooking it took 9 minutes last night. NINE MINUTES. Nove. Nueve. Neun. (Plus rice in the Instant Pot*, which took 13 minutes.) And it involves literally zero skill. You simply dump ground beef in a pot with sake (or Shaoxing wine, which is all I had), soy sauce, dashi (or water, which is all I had) and sugar (I reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon down from 1.5 tablespoons). Then you cook it all together, mashing the beef around so it cooks evenly. You add a big mound of grated ginger and frozen peas. The original recipe says 1/2 cup peas to a pound of beef, but I like peas a lot and I wanted to bulk up the meal a little more, so I put in two cups and it was perfect and I'd do it again. You keep cooking until the peas are tender and the liquid evaporates and then it's done and you can sit down and have the most delicious, easy meal and don't forget the pickled ginger on top, because it really makes the whole thing sing.

It's sweet-salty and chewy and fragrant and the grated ginger sort of melts into the background, but gives the whole thing some backbone and it was just such a lovely little meal. I already know we'll be making it all the time. I may even put this baby up on the side of the fridge, it's that good. Plus, NINE MINUTES, PEOPLE. I'm still not over it.

Updated to add that Elizabeth herself chimed in on Twitter, alerting me to the fact that she updated the recipe on her website last year! More here.

*My beloved Cuckoo rice cooker gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. I have yet to rebuy one because the Korean grocery store where I bought it has closed and Cuckoo rice cookers are a lot more expensive than they used to be when I bought mine and the IP did such a beautiful job with the rice last night that now I find myself contemplating buying a second IP rather than a rice cooker. Is this a good idea? What should I do? Help!

Mel D. Cole
Photo by Mel D. Cole.

I'd like to close out this post by acknowledging the pain of the AAPI community, as well as Asians living in other countries who mourn yesterday's shocking murders in Atlanta and the past year's uptick in assaults and injuries, fearing for their own safety. This past year has unleashed a wave of racialized hatred towards Asians throughout Europe and the United States and it is outrageous and completely unacceptable. The deaths of the women in Atlanta are a tragedy. I am also devastated by the thought of Asian men and women everywhere fearing a random attack just because of what they look like. Lisa Lin has listed a few community organizers and advocacy groups in need of support. And Joanna also has a list of organizations to support. While the United States continues to have an unconscionable gun situation, which certainly makes everyone less safe, all Western societies need to do a better job of seeing and treating Asians as full and whole human beings who are every bit as deserving of their humanity as anyone else.

Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi
Serves 4
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1 pound/450 grams lean ground beef
1/3 cup/80ml sake or Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup/60ml soy sauce
1/4 cup/ 60ml dashi or water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups/240 grams frozen peas
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
Hot cooked white rice
Pickled ginger

1. Stir together ground beef, sake, soy sauce, dashi, and sugar in a small Dutch oven or medium-size, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high, stirring often to break up large lumps of beef, 5 minutes. Stir in peas and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is mostly evaporated and beef is no longer pink but is still moist, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Divide rice evenly among 4 large bowls. Spoon 1/2 cup beef mixture over each. Garnish with pickled ginger.


Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus

Red Lentil Hummus

I had my mind blown by a handful of red lentils this weekend and since this is what counts as exciting, here in this strange in-between-world of waiting-for-vaccinations and hoping-not-to-get-infected-and-suffer-before-then, I would very much like to tell you about them in case you, too, would like to have your mind blown by a handful of red lentils.

I mentioned Aran Goyoaga's cookbook in my last post. It is an absolutely magnificent cookbook, full of the kind of food you'd like to make every day, that you could feed your family and your guests, full of big and small ideas, project-y recipes and easy, back-pocket ones (Apple Cider Yeast Doughnuts! Rice Pudding with Plums! Tomato and Romesco Tart! Roasted Pears with Seed Crumble!) It's entirely gluten-free, but that feels almost beside the point, because Aran's recipes are so good that they appeal to everyone, not just the gluten-intolerant. It'll be on my bookshelf forever and not just because of the sourdough starter, though that's certainly one of the book's stars. 

This red lentil hummus is another one. Aran got the idea to use red lentils in place of chickpeas from Heidi's cookbook Near & Far and it is a brilliant idea, because red lentils famously cook in the fraction of the time as chickpeas PLUS you get to entirely circumvent the issue of whether or not you should peel your chickpeas when making hummus. Win! 

I was a leetle skeptical to start. I was imagining an orangey hummus, slightly lumpy perhaps, I don't know, the powers of my imagination can sometimes be quite limited! But no, friends, red lentil hummus is magnificent: light and creamy and exceedingly smooth and airy. It takes almost no time at all to make and when we brought the hummus down to our neighbors last night for cocktail time (we are in a kind of pod together, plus she is vaccinated), our hostess said it was the best hummus she'd ever eaten and I wholeheartedly agree. 

It's so good that you will ask yourself why anyone would ever make a chickpea hummus again! Seriously! Lamination-worthy. I topped our plate with za'atar and a generous glug of olive oil, while Aran serves it with roasted vegetables and toasted pine nuts. We ate ours with crackers and then I magnanimously left our neighbors with the leftovers so I could make more upstairs.

Important: Follow the recipe exactly! The seasonings are perfect as is and the blending times are essential to the final whipped texture of the hummus. I don't have a standing food processor, but I used this and it worked perfectly.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus
From Cannelle et Vanille
Makes 4 servings
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1 cup (185 grams) red lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (360 grams) cold water, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup (120 grams) tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup (75 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/4 cup (55 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Za'atar, for topping

1. Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water.

2. Transfer the lentils to a food processor with the garlic and process for about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides well, add the tahini, salt, pepper and cumin. Process for another 3 minutes. Scrape the sides again. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice and olive oil. Scrape the sides one last time, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If the hummus is too thick, you can add up to 2 tablespoons water. Pulse a couple more times, then transfer to a clean bowl.

3. The hummus will still be warm. To keep a skin from forming as it cools, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hummus, pressing down to eliminate air bubbles. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap, smooth out the top artfully, sprinkle with za'atar and drizzle liberally with olive oil.


Ali Slagle's Cheesy Black Bean Bake

Ali Slage's Cheesy Black Bean Bake

Some days you have the time to leisurely cook a sack of dried beans the way they did in the olden days, linen apron blowing in the gentle breeze, the faraway shout of children tumbling down the heather-topped hill echoing faintly back to your gorgeously rustic, yet well-appointed kitchen; other days, you are so frantic and stressed that even the MERE IDEA of turning on the flame to get dinner started is enough to give you a nervous breakdown. On those days, you need this cheesy black bean bake in your repertoire, because it barely counts as cooking and yet delivers a pretty bang-up meal in basically seconds, PLUS you get to eat it with rice if it's not the worst absolute day of your week OR tortilla chips if it is the worst absolute day of your week. And it is so satisfying and delicious that it'll make you feel just fine about dialing it in.

You probably have all the ingredients for it in your pantry/fridge as we speak, but truly the most essential ingredient is one that isn't listed here and that is the cold beer that you must must must have on hand to drink with dinner. It makes the bean bake all the more delicious, PLUS if you're having the kind of day that warrants this meal for dinner, then the cold beer is even more important. (Alternatively, a margarita; I don't know your life.)

Hugo, as I may have mentioned in the past—and forgive me if I continue to harp on it in the future, but I reserve the right to complain about certain aspects of my children's characters and disliking melted cheese DEFINITELY counts as a (slight) character flaw in my book—dislikes melted cheese. The melted cheese on top of these beans is absolutely crucial, I find, but if you simply scoop the beans out from under the cheese, you can procure cheeseless beans for these kinds of picky eaters, as well as having extra cheese for the rest of you who are sane enough to realize that melted and burnished cheddar should be its own food group.

If you're organized enough to have a ripe avocado on hand, you could do worse than slicing it up and serving it with the beans and chips or beans and rice. Pickled onions would also be a lovely touch! Neither of them ever happen in my house, because I reserve this bake for the days when I AM LOSING MY MIND and those days do not include the possibility of pickled onions or cubed avocado. But maybe you are more capable than me.

As I write this, International Women's Day is drawing slowly to a close. A couple years ago, Berlin's government declared this day a holiday and I am still not over how furious this makes me. As my bestie Marguerite Joly succinctly puts it:

"My wish list for International Women's Day is so long and does not feature a state-mandated holiday. How about equal pay, legal access to abortion, tax-free hygiene products and a side of acknowledgment of women's mental load for starters?!! I do not want [gratitude] or flowers or a gd holiday; I want immediate inclusion and equality, justice and equity for all women of all colors, socio-economic backgrounds and all sexual orientations and abilities."

Amen, sister. With that I leave you to go chill my beer for tonight's viewing of an American actress and Diana's heir taking down the British monarchy.

Ali Slagle's Cheesy Black Bean Bake
Serves 3 to 4
Print this recipe!

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes (can be left out if you're cooking for heat-sensitive palates)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (14-ounce/400 gram) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup/120ml boiling water
Salt and black pepper
1 ½ cups/170 grams grated Cheddar cheese

1. Heat the oven to 475°F/245°C. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Fry the garlic until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, red-pepper flakes and cumin (be careful of splattering), and fry for 30 seconds, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.

2. Add the beans, water and generous pinches of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top then bake until the cheese has melted, 5 to 10 minutes. If the top is not as browned as you’d like, run the skillet under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve immediately.


Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans

Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans

Friends! What a week. It started off okay? Bruno returned to a few hours of Kita on Monday and things should have been looking up. But on Wednesday he had the sniffles and by yesterday morning both boys were feeling sick and we were running around town trying to get them both tested for the coronavirus. To add insult to injury, my phone bit the dust! Thankfully I had backed up most of it to the motherflipping cloud, so it's not quite as catastrophic as the loss of my laptop's files was a few weeks ago, but I definitely feel somewhat, shall we say, PERSECUTED by big tech these days.

I mentioned feeling full of constant rage on Instagram the other day, and it's true. Between the disastrous vaccine rollout in Germany, the fact that we didn't qualify for childcare for Bruno until this week, the insane schedule of driving Hugo back and forth to school for 150 minutes of school each day, everything described in that first paragraph and middle-aged PMS, which in my case has gone from me feeling blue for a few days a month to me feeling homicidal a few days a month, I was practically incandescent all week. 

Today, the mood has lifted, for which I am very grateful. The sun came out and I got to stand in it for a few minutes at the playground. My children, who do not have the coronavirus, are safe to visit my mother this afternoon again so that I can think straight. And I am the proud owner of a new phone. (I also definitely have a few more strands of gray, but that's okay because going gray is A POWER MOVE.) Last night at the kitchen sink, as I felt the mood lift, I realized that my heart was aching like it does after a break-up. I told Max how I felt and his response was a very kind well, duh.

All the more reason we need comfort food right now. Our meals this week were an absolute mess, as I'm sure you can imagine. I was nearly throwing things on the table most nights. No rhyme or reason and nothing that gave me any pleasure while I cooked. Except for these beans, these lovely, cozy, long-cooking beans, which were so delicious and worth every single minute they spent on the flame.

The recipe comes from Samin Nosrat's last column for the New York Times before she moves on to her new television show Waffles & Mochi (!!!!) and although the point of that column was to explain Samin's dislike for the Instant Pot and although I love my Instant Pot so much that I sometimes wish I could have more Instant Pots, I made her beans the old-fashioned soak-and-simmer-in-a-heavy-pot-for-hours way and they were very, very, very, very good. 

We ate them just as Samin instructs, on toasted bread, with a good drizzle of olive oil, with a little tangle of pungent veg alongside. They were rich and velvety and creamy and rib-sticking. (The leftovers I turned into pasta e fagioli, which the children mostly liked.) The bay leaf, chile and garlic were all just right in terms of flavoring and mashing the beans in the frying pan was fun. From start to finish, these beans were the most calming meal of this week from hell and sometimes that is precisely what a recipe needs to be, nothing more, nothing less. Just in case you too might be in need some calm.

Now it's the weekend ("weekend") and there were skinless, boneless chicken thighs (!) at the organic grocery store today and in a little while we're going to make popcorn in the Whirlypop and pile on the couch and watch a movie together and after that my husband is seeing his friends on Zoom so I have the rest of the evening to myself and while I probably should be meditating all that toxic energy out of my poor tired body, I will instead fritter away the evening in front of the television and I have at least progressed this far in my journey through life that I can wholeheartedly say that I deserve it.

Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans
Serves 4-6

For the beans:
2 cups dried beans of any variety
Fine sea salt
A generous pinch of baking soda
4 fresh or dried bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small dried chile of any variety
cup extra-virgin olive oil

For serving:
4 thick slices country-style bread, grilled or toasted
1 garlic clove, peeled
Calabrian chile paste, for garnish
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

1. The night before cooking, remove any debris from beans. Rinse them, then place them in a 4-quart Dutch oven or pot of similar size. Add 6 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and the baking soda. Cover and set aside in a cool place for 8 to 12 hours.

2. To cook, add bay leaves, garlic and chile to the beans and bring the pot, uncovered, to a boil. Taste the cooking water and adjust seasoning as needed; it should taste pleasantly salty. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, partly cover with a lid and cook until beans are completely tender and just beginning to fall apart. Depending on the variety and age of your beans, this can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. Throughout the cooking time, monitor the pot to ensure the beans are always submerged, adding more water as needed. When you suspect the beans might be done, taste five of them. If they are not all creamy through to the center, keep on simmering. 

3. To fry the beans, remove the bay leaves and chile from the bean pot. Discard the bay leaves, and mince the chile. Set a large cast-iron or similar frying pan over high heat, and add about half the oil. Add the minced chile. Use a slotted spoon or sieve to add beans and garlic — but not their cooking liquid — to the pan. Reduce heat to medium, and, with a potato masher or wooden spoon, stir and mash the beans into a silky paste, constantly stirring and scraping to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add about 1/4 cup bean cooking liquid to loosen the mixture, then gradually add remaining oil. If the bean paste is too thick, continue adding cooking liquid as needed, being mindful that it is seasoned with salt. When the mixture is rich and velvety, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt.

4. To serve, lightly rub warm toasts with raw garlic, then slather with a generous amount of bean paste. Garnish with chile paste and, if desired, torn basil and a heap of grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.


Nik Sharma's Ground Beef Pulao

Beef Pulao with Raita

As any close observer of my daily meals or longtime reader of this blog can attest, we don't eat a lot of meat. My husband was traumatized by gristle as a child, and by parents who made him clean his plate, no matter how long it took. In my family, where some form of Italian cooking mostly reigned supreme, vegetables and vegetarian meals were always the stars of the show. Roast chicken was the special occasion dish at my mother's house; brisket was the counterpart at my American grandmother's house. These days, there's the environmental factor to consider, which is huge, and also the cost: good-quality meat in Germany is expensive. We simply can't afford to cook meat that frequently if we insist on buying organic meat or even just sustainably raised local meat. It's just as well that my family would almost always prefer a meatless meal.

These days, the meat that ends up on our table most often is (organic) ground beef. Max will never understand the appeal of a rare steak, but give the man a hamburger or a meatball and he's in seventh heaven. The children love the meat ragù that I make on a weekly basis, but they're hot and cold on burgers and meatballs, which is insane, but these are the same children WHO DON'T LIKE PIZZA I AM SERIOUS SEND HELP. Since I am the only cook in the house and I will die of boredom (or become extremely resentful and grumpy) if I can't try new recipes, I'm always thrilled to have a new way to try and get ground beef into their bellies.

(A brief interjection here to rail against the fact that it is still nearly impossible to find ground poultry in Germany. Butchers consider it a hazardous substance and almost all of them refuse to prepare it—only one that I know in western Berlin will grind it for you on the condition that you buy no less than 5 kilos of it. Recently, the grocery store on the corner has started occasionally selling packages of ground (conventional, not organic) turkey, but it's seasoned and...I....just refuse to buy it. For a while, I thought I'd just be resourceful and make my own. I bought a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer years ago only to have it languish in my cupboards until...I resold it a few months ago. Sigh. So beef, pork and lamb are our only options.)

Beef Pulao

One way, of course, is Fuchsia Dunlop's celestial spicy celery with ground beef, but it is too spicy for the boys at their ages now. (I shake my fist at their northern European taste buds!) Another way is in this one-pot meal that has you cook ground meat with spices and aromatics, then mix that with turmeric-colored rice that you cook in the same pot (don't bother washing it out). Fresh mint and scallions folded in at the end give the dish a little lift, though it's the cool bowl of cucumber raita alongside that really makes this a pleasingly complete meal.

The recipe as written was originally meant for lamb, which is far fattier than ground beef, so Nik Sharma has you cook the lamb first to get the excess fat out before you continue with the spices. I made it as he wrote, but since the ground beef had less fat to give off, I actually think you could move steps around a little to get a more aromatic result. In other words, cook the ginger and garlic first, then add the spices and salt and cook until fragrant, then add the beef and cook until slightly browned. Lime juice on top, scrape out of the pan, proceed with the rice. If you do it this way, then I think you should also add a chopped onion together with the garlic and ginger. My adjustments to the recipe are below.

Either way, when the pulao's finished, be sure to make raita to dollop on top. The one in the photo I made by pouring plain whole-milk yogurt into a smallish bowl and seasoning it with salt and ground cumin to taste, then grating in a small Persian cucumber. I love the cooling feel the raita gives against the piping hot rice and meat, plus, if you've actually made the pulao with red chile powder, you'll be happy for the respite from the heat. (I left out the chile powder because I wanted the children to eat the pulao for lunch. And Bruno obliged happily, a minor miracle. Hugo, on the other hand, was unimpressed and left half behind. As I scraped his portion into the trash at the end of lunch, I thought to myself hey, at least our parenting has progressed so far that we don't make our kids clean their plates anymore, right?)

Serenity now.

Ground Beef Pulao
Serves 4

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4
garlic cloves, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon red chile powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 bunch scallions (about 6), trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1. Check the rice and discard any debris. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl, cover with water by 1 inch, and soak for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 250°F/120°C.

2. As the rice soaks, cook the beef: Place a medium saucepan with a heavy lid or a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the saucepan is hot, add the olive oil, garlic, ginger, and onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garam masala, chile powder, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through and slightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and stir well. Scrape the mixture into an oven-safe bowl or pan and keep warm in the oven.

3. Drain the soaked rice. Add to the same pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, the turmeric and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, and reduce heat to simmer until the rice absorbs all the water, about 10 minutes. (Do not stir the rice as it cooks, or the grains might break.) Remove the saucepan from heat, and let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

4. Fluff the rice and combine with the cooked meat, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Fold the scallions and mint into the rice, and serve immediately.
Print this recipe!


Tejal Rao's Khichdi

Tejal Rao's Khichdi

Thank you all very much for the commiseration on the loss of my digital photos and manuscript. I have spent a week licking my wounds and I am starting to feel better. The truth is, I already feel deeply oppressed by the masses of photos that clog every device I own. The sudden loss of thousands when I have so many more to deal with might be kind of a blessing? That's how I've decided I'm going to look at it. As for the manuscript, I had a big realization this fall that I wasn't happy with the existing structure of the book. I decided to change it substantially, but the only way to do that was to start over. So the fact that I lost those few weeks of summer work is annoying (and stupid), but I probably was going to trash those pages anyway. (The fact that I still don't have the kind of childcare that allows me to get started on draft three IS kind of the end of the world, but let's not dwell on that or I'll pull my hair out.)

After two months of lockdown, Hugo returned to in-person instruction this week. It's a very limited kind of school, just 2 1/2 hours daily, fully masked with only half his class. But it is school and it is not in my house and I am exceedingly grateful even just for this. Bruno, however, isn't allowed to return to Kita yet, so I actually have less time than I did before, because as everyone with multiple children knows, the child who only knows life with a sibling, when suddenly left alone without the sibling, is a lot more work. I am doing my best to keep my exasperation at the entire situation at bay, but sometimes, yes, I want to scream into a pillow. Or from the balcony, like a diva being murdered at La Scala.

Lunchtime still rolls around every day like an unwelcome flea-bitten guest. Except now the lunch hour is interrupted by me having to get in the car and drive an hour round-trip to pick Hugo up from school. He doesn't get a school lunch, so he's grumpy as hell at pickup. At home, he either eats leftovers from our lunch or I scramble him some eggs and butter some toast. As much as the daily meal prep drives me up the wall, I feel lucky that the act of cooking still brings me satisfaction. And Bruno is very understanding about lunchtime. While I cook, he comes and keeps me company in the kitchen, drawing pictures or staring into my pots, and it is a fleeting moment of the kind of quiet beauty you used to believe motherhood was full of until you actually became a mother and realized it was mostly a whole lot of everything else.

Anyway.

My kingdom for comforting one-pot meals, like this absolutely delicious khichdi from Tejal Rao. It is a doddle to make—just bang rice and split yellow moong beans and spices into a pot together, then let time and steam do their work—but produces the most fragrant, wonderful and spicy one-pot meal. You complete it with some hot Indian pickle (we're obsessed with my friend Kavita's homemade garlic achar, but any Indian pickle will do) and an extremely necessary pool of cool yogurt. Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy, I doctor that pool of yogurt with salt and ground cumin and a grated Persian cucumber. Sometimes, I just dollop a spoonful on each plate. Khichdi is the kind of food that bolsters you, makes you feel just a bit more settled than you were before you ate it. Just the thing for these unsettling days.

Tejal Rao's Khichdi
Serves 3 to 4
Note: If you are cooking for small children, leave the chile powder out of the khichdi and just add it to your plate, but be careful, it's easy to overdo.
Print this recipe!

cup long-grain white rice, such as jasmine
cup yellow split moong beans
2 tablespoons ghee
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
¼ teaspoon red chile powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1.
Combine the rice and beans and rinse several times. Drain and place in a heavy-bottomed pot with 1 3/4 cups water, and set over medium-high heat.

2. In another small saucepan, heat the ghee and mustard seeds. When the seeds start to pop, lower the heat and add the remaining ingredients, swirling them in the pan. Let the spices sizzle for under a minute, then carefully pour into the rice pot, along with the ghee. (Careful: The fat may splatter).

3. When the water comes up to a rolling boil, give it a good stir, scraping at the bottom of the pot, then cover tightly and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 10 minutes before opening the lid. Fluff gently with a spatula. Taste, season with salt to taste and serve.