Thanksgiving with Tamilian flavors

Biryani masalas used for Thanksgiving dish with Tamilian flavors: Photo: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman

Thanksgiving is all about cooking our favorite dishes and sharing it with friends and family. In my case, since my birthday, on November 22nd, precedes Thanksgiving, we jointly celebrate the occasions every year.

This year is no different, given my Chennai roots, our South-Indian(ized) Thanksgiving dinner will consist of biryani, curries, kababs, onion raita, cucumber salad, and rasmalai. I have been cooking for a few years now, and my ever-evolving recipes are a work in progress.

No, I am not a chef, but a journalist by profession. Like I enjoy writing, I love cooking as well. It’s a regular activity around our house, and it serves as a source of self-relaxation, and culinary adventure for the kids.

The minute I don my apron, my 10-year-old son Raghu starts hovering (he has been doing this since he was a kid), and there are many questions about the menu, and the ingredients.  As soon as he takes his first bite, he gives two thumbs up and says, “Dad, you’re the best ‘cooker.’ You should compete on TV cooking shows. You’ll win.” Even before taking the first bite, not to be outdone by her brother, my 8-year-old daughter Anagha gives “ten” thumbs up with all her ten fingers. She emphatically says all her ten fingers are thumbs when it comes to my cooking!!!

Cooking with budding chefs at home. Photo: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman

Jokes apart, I really value their judgement and compliments since they keep me honest. They are my source of encouragement and culinary innovation. We enjoy watching the Food Network, and the kids have internalized their roles as food critiques extraordinaire! Raghu is often heard saying things like, “hmmm.. it’s really crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. What ingredients did you use chef?”

They were huge fans of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” on CNN.  In kindergarten, Raghu told his teacher that he wanted to be a journalist like his “Dad” when he grew up. Excited, I asked him what kind of journalist he wanted to be. The question coincided with the coverage of hurricanes in Florida.  “Do you want to cover hurricanes when you grow up?” I asked. To which he responded, “Hullicanes” are dangerous and continued that he wanted to be an “eating journalist” like Anthony Bourdain, who gets to eat yummy food, and a “cooking journalist” like me!

Biryani in my Tamilian style, with some Onion Raita. Photo: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman

Biryani in Instant Pot

For this Thanksgiving I would like to share my special Briyani Masala Recipe (see picture for ingredients): Lightly roast green and black cardamom, cloves, fennel and cumin seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, black cumin, mace, star anise, dried rose leaves till lightly roasted and aromatic. Once it cools down, blend it to a coarse consistency and store it in an airtight container.


Rice:2 cups of basmati rice (wash it well and soak it for at least 30 mins)

For Biryani masala paste:1 medium onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 2 half-inch pieces of ginger, green chillies as needed, cinnamon sticks, 4 cloves, 4 cardamoms, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste (optional) and grind them to a fine consistency.

Other ingredients: 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1 tablespoon ghee, 2 bay leaves, 2-3 star anise, 3 black cardamoms, black cumin, 2 thinly sliced large onions, 2 chopped medium sized tomatoes, 6 cloves and cardamom, cinnamon sticks, 2 cups of mixed veggies (potato, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower), 1 cup of finely chopped mint and coriander leaves, 1 small cup of yogurt, and 1 teaspoon of turmeric power.


Prepare the biryani masala paste and set it aside. Now, in an instant pot, heat oil and ghee together.   Add cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black cumin, bay leaves, star anise, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon sticks and fry for about 30 seconds without burning.  Then add onions and brown, add in the ginger-garlic paste till it’s light golden brown.

Then add the tomatoes and cook until the ingredients are in a paste-type form. Now, add the biryani masala paste, turmeric, chilli powder, and salt and cook for a couple of minutes.

Now, add the veggies and sauté for 2-3 minutes, add coriander and mint leaves, and yogurt and saute for 2 minutes.

At this point, add the rice and make sure to mix carefully so that you don’t break the rice. Add in 2 cups of water (1 cup per cup of rice).  Close the lid and let it cook in manual setting (high) for 7 minutes. Once this is done, quick release pressure after 8 mins and open the lid.

Your Veg Biryani is now ready to serve.  This pairs well with onion raita.

For Raita: Cut onions into thin slices (julienne), mix yogurt, and add salt as required.

Grilled Paneer with Bell Peppers and Onions

Paneer kababs grilled in a clay tandoor. Photo: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman

Ingredients: (I use the same masala for both biryani and kababs.)

1 package of paneer – cubed

1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste

1 teaspoon garam masala powder

1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder for color

1 teaspoon chaat masala powder

1 teaspoon green chilli sauce

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon tamarind paste (optional)

1 cup yogurt

1 teaspoon lime juice

Oil and salt as required


Marination: In a bowl add yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, chaat masala powder, red chilli powder, Kashmiri chilli power for color, green chilli sauce, tamarind paste, cumin, coriander, and garam masala powders. You can cut bell peppers, and onions in medium sized square shapes to grill with the paneer. Mix all the ingredients together and coat the paneer and veg pieces evenly.

Chill in Fridge: Next cover the bowl with an aluminum foil and store the paneer in the fridge for at least 2 hours for best results. You can skip this step if you’re short on time. Grill the paneer on skewers. I use the clay pot as a tandoor for grilling the paneer.

Grilling and serving: Grill the paneer for about 4 -5 minutes or until it’s slightly brown. Once this process is done, carefully remove the paneer kababs without breaking. You can serve it with either coriander or mint chutney.

The author is the Washington Bureau Chief of News India Times



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