Archana Doshi’s new book of menu plans has everything you need to plan delicious and healthy meals
Since she founded Archana’s Kitchen in 2007, it has grown to be one of India’s leading food and recipe platforms, with over 10 million users across her website, YouTube channel, social media pages and mobile app. And, now, Archana Doshi has a new recipe book out. Not just any old recipe book, but a book of meal plans. Titled 30 Meal Plans From Archana’s Kitchen: Easy Vegetarian Indian Recipes for Good Health (HarperCollins India; Rs 399), the book has everything you need to structure nutritious and yummy meals. The 30 menus incorporate over 150 recipes spanning various regional cuisines, so you have a choice of everything from wholesome North Indian portion-controlled meals to cooling South Indian thalis.
Archana has always been conscious of the need to cook tasty food to eat well and healthily, and this book stays true to her culinary philosophy with an emphasis on local, fresh and seasonal ingredients and easy but healthy cooking techniques.
We caught up with Archana to tell us how this very useful book came about…
Tell us why you decided to write a book of meal plans…
“My love for food and cooking started at a very young age. At the age of eight, I put an on apron and began cooking with my mother and have never looked back. Even though I was formally trained in software engineering, my heart remained in food. Over the years, as I cooked for friends and family, the single most important problem that they would share with me was that they found cooking too difficult and intimidating. I would tell them, ‘It’s not difficult; just start experimenting with ingredients and things will slowly start falling into place.’ I came to realise that it was easy for me to say but hard for them to do. I founded Archana’s Kitchen in November 2007 and, today, it is a leading recipe and food discovery website that gives the world credible and confident DIY solutions for everyday cooking, empowering people to easily cook nutritious food.
“The weekly meal plans are immensely popular on the platform. Users are given ideas on how they can plan their weekly meals from breakfast, lunch and dinner. Putting together these meal plans led to planning every individual meal and how to plate it and make it wholesome and yet delicious. And thus began my quest to nail the problem of over eating and food-related diseases. I began my research on and personal practice in mindful and portion-controlled meals and found huge benefits from not just a reduction in weight but also in the ability to eat right for good health.
“The book was born out of this personal practice of portioning meals, keeping in mind balanced nutrition. Having such a wide exposure to cooking various cuisines every day, I would often find myself pairing dishes across various cuisines to make a delicious meal. Each one of the meals you find in this book is what I have cooked at home for my family. And, yes, there are so many more combinations and plates that I guess will see the light of volume 2 of this book – hopefully one day soon.”
What was the process you followed in pulling together this book? How long did it take?
“Cooking meals in a ‘katori diet’ fashion like I describe in the book had become normal at home. So, when we finalised that the first book would be on meal plans, I was overjoyed. I simply clicked pictures of everyday foods that I plated for my family and, voila, the book was born. As for writing the book, it was second nature for me; it came naturally to me to pen down the recipes and bring my love for cooking out in each one of them.”
How did you decide on the recipes to include from the thousands you’ve mastered and showcased over the years?
“I love mixing and matching cuisines, and pairing foods that naturally go together has become the normal meal-planning cycle at home. However, for the book, I did consciously try to bring together various cuisines from across India that many of you would eat only at home and not find in a restaurant. I also consciously brought in fusion food pairings to give an idea of how beautifully dishes from across cuisines can come together to form a delicious meal.
“The plate on the book cover is a classic example; it has a Gujarati Thepla, Rajasthani Moongphali Bhindi, Kerela Olan and Matta Rice, and you will be pleasantly surprised how beautifully they pair together.”
Were there any learnings that you experienced while pulling together this book?
“Writing the recipes and plating the meals came easily – but organising and thinking through the flow of the book and keeping it light was challenging. As much as I wanted to emphasise on portion control and mindful eating, I also wanted to keep the book fun and easy to cook with. I guess that is what took the maximum bandwidth.”
Although you are proficient in food from across the world, this book is very Indian. What made you decide on desi food?
“One of the reasons is that I grew up eating Indian food as a staple meal. I am also still exploring the various dishes of regional Indian cuisine. It is so vast that I have barely touched the surface. I hope in the years to come to travel often far and wide to dive deep into the cultural heritage of our cuisines and bring them home.”
Your parents have been a very strong influence in your life. The book is dedicated to your father. Please tell us about them and how they have coloured your approach to food.
“I grew up in a family that loves to eat and loves to cook too, and this applies to my extended family of aunts and uncles, too. We simply breathe food. My parents especially were always open to trying out new cuisines and that indirectly exposed me to so much of the culture of different regions. My mom would often come back from trips and start trying the dishes out at home. She would keep collecting recipes, either writing them down from friends or cutting clippings from magazines. And those actually became a bible for me as I started my own journey into cooking.”
Your philosophy with regard to food is to keep it delicious and healthy – unusual at a time when everyone seems to be going on food restrictive diets. Please tell us why you focus so much on these aspects.
“The word ‘healthy’ to me is synonymous with ‘delicious’. And delicious food is about enjoying the various aspects of the cuisine, from its spices, textures, flavours, aromas, aftertaste and, finally, satiation. And satiation comes when you truly love all of the above, coupled with mindful eating.”
Tell us why we need to practise the mindful eating you advocate.
“It troubles me to see that fast food and easy access to food on the plate has translated to unhealthy eating habits, which has put us in a world that is now struggling to fight various lifestyle-related diseases. After I began Archana’s Kitchen and having interacted with millions (who are my audience), I began to feel the need to bring awareness and a change to lead a healthier life. Creating awareness without propaganda is my mission. I want to ‘show and tell’ and thus began the meal plans and portion-controlled meal plate ideas that add more meaning to the lives of many in the kitchen.”
When someone’s in the mood for a delicious Sunday lunch, which meal plan would you recommend?
“A fusion meal for sure that ends with a sweet to bring in perfect satiation. After you cook a complete meal and you notice that you and your family are satiated enough to spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon, trust me, you will want to keep going into the kitchen to try more fusion foods.”
Excerpt from the book:
MEAL PLAN 2
What’s on the Plate?
• Nawabi Kofta Curry (Dry Fruit Stuffed Cottage Cheese in Creamy Tomato Gravy)
• Rajasthani Kadhi (Garlic-Flavoured Soupy Yoghurt Curry)
• Paneer Pulao (Spiced Rice with Cottage Cheese)
• Boondi Raita (Chickpea Flour Bits in Yoghurt); p. 148)
• Jowar Atta Roti (Sorghum Flatbread, p. 152)
• Lacha Pyaz (Pickled Onions; p. 155)
• Jhat Pat Mirchi (Stir-Fried Green Chillies; p. 158)
Weekends are times when my family looks forward to extra-special meals. Here is one of our favourite meals which is a perfect marriage of dishes from north India. The dry fruit-stuffed nawabi kofta curry paired with Rajasthani kadhi, jowar atta roti, pulao and the accompaniments will, no doubt, leave you feeling warm and nourished. This makes a perfect meal for those breezy monsoon days or chilly winters.
This meal plan is packed with proteins, nutrition and flavour. You’ll have to exercise self-restraint and be cautious to serve yourself sensible sized small portions, because this delicious combination of foods will keep you coming back for more. It is during meals like this that we practise mindful eating.
Nawabi Kofta Curry
A rich and delectable curry of dry fruit-stuffed paneer koftas in a creamy, spicy tomato gravy. The best part is that the koftas are not deep fried; instead, they are made in a paniyaram pan to retain their nutritional value. A paniyaram pan is a traditional South Indian cooking vessel made of cast iron. The surface is dotted with cavities, which makes it super easy to cook koftas in it with less oil.
For the koftas:
4 boiled and mashed potatoes
2 tbsp gram flour
1 tsp black pepper powder
1 cup crumbled paneer
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
A handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp cashew nuts, finely chopped
2 tbsp raisins, finely chopped
Salt to taste
For the kofta curry:
2 tbsp ghee
2 cups tomato puree
2 onions, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
1 tsp jaggery
3 tbsp fresh cream
Salt, to taste
A handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
For the masala mix:
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1-inch cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
- In a large bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with the gram flour, salt and pepper powder. Mix well to make a smooth mixture. Grease your palms with a little oil and divide the mixture into eight to 10 equal portions, and shape them into balls. Ensure that the balls are the right size so that, after they are filled, they will fit into a paniyaram pan for pan frying.
- To make the kofta filling, combine the crumbled paneer, cashew nuts, raisins, green chillies, salt, cumin powder, garam masala powder and coriander leaves in a bowl. Mix well. Grease your palms with a little oil and divide the mixture into eight to 10 equal portions, shaped into tiny balls.
- Once again grease your fingers and palms with oil. Take one portion of the potato mixture and flatten it on the palm of your hand. Place the paneer and dry fruit filling in the centre. Then, bring the edges of the flattened potato mixture towards the centre to cover the filling, forming a stuffed aloo kofta. Proceed similarly to make the rest of the koftas.
- On medium heat, preheat a paniyaram pan with a teaspoon of oil in each cavity.
- Once the oil is hot, gradually lower the koftas into each cavity, then flip and cook until golden brown all over. Drain them on an absorbent kitchen towel and set aside.
- Next, make the gravy for the kofta curry. In a small skillet, dry roast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom for about 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat or until the aroma of the spices wafts in the air. Turn off the heat, and allow the spices to cool. Transfer the spices into a mixer jar and grind to a coarse powder, and then set aside.
- In a mixer jar, combine the onions, garlic and ginger, and grind them to make a smooth paste.
- Heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan; add the freshly ground onion paste and sauté on medium heat for about 4 to 6 minutes. Add in the freshly ground spice mix and stir until you get the aroma from the spices. Stir in the turmeric powder and chilli powder and sauté for another couple of minutes.
- Add the tomato puree, salt and jaggery, and simmer until the curry is bubbling and has a delicious aromatic gravy. Add in the fresh cream and a little water if the gravy seems dry, and simmer for a few more minutes and turn off the heat.
- When you are ready to serve, heat the curry. Then, place the koftas over the hot curry, garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.
Kadhi is a classic curd-based curry which makes the perfect accompaniment for almost any meal. You can also drink warm kadhi from a bowl when you’re feeling under the weather. It works like a soup and can instantly make you feel satiated. From the crushed garlic and smacking hot green chillies, to the nourishing ghee tadka, this Rajasthani kadhi is a blend of delectable flavours. During lazy days, we would just have a simple meal of kadhi along with cooked foxtail millets and vegetable stir fry or salad.
For the kadhi:
2 tbsp gram flour
1 cup curd
¼ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp red chilli powder
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 green chillies, finely chopped
Salt to taste
3 cups water
For the tadka:
1 tbsp ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
¼ tsp asafoetida
2 dry red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
- Make a coarse paste of the garlic and green chilli by crushing them in a mortar and pestle. Chopping them will help to make the paste faster. Keep aside.
- In a saucepan, combine the curd and gram flour, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the crushed green chilli and garlic, with turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt. Add 3 cups of water and whisk the kadhi mixture well until smooth.
- Place the saucepan on medium heat and bring the kadhi to a boil. Ensure you keep whisking the kadhi throughout the process. The whisking process is extremely important in order to ensure that the kadhi is of a smooth texture and that there is no curdling. Continue to whisk and boil the kadhi until the mixture is smooth. At this stage, turn the heat to low and simmer the kadhi for about 10 minutes, uncovered, and keep stirring it once in a while to keep the texture smooth.
- While the kadhi is simmering, prepare the tadka. Heat ghee in a tadka pan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and cloves and allow them to splutter. Then, add asafoetida, dry red chillies and curry leaves and stir fry for a few seconds. Turn off the heat.
- Add this tadka to the simmering kadhi and continue to boil it for about 5 minutes. Once it is well mixed, turn off the heat. Transfer the kadhi to a serving bowl and serve hot.
When basmati rice is cooked in ghee with whole spices, it lends a delicious and rich flavour to a pulao. The addition of fresh mint leaves and the delicate blend of spices makes this pulao the perfect companion for a curry like kofta, kadhi or even a simple dal tadka.
1 cup basmati rice, washed and soaked
1½ cups water
2 onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 green chillies, slit lengthwise
2 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp ghee
Salt to taste
¼ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
To stir fry:
1 tbsp ghee
200 gm paneer, cut into cubes
¼ cup green peas, steamed
- In a large pan, heat the ghee over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, onion and green chillies with the cardamom, clove and bay leaf. Sauté until the onions turn translucent and are slightly golden brown.
- Once done, add the rice with 1½ cups of water and salt. Allow the water to come to a rolling boil. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low.
- Cook the pulao on low heat until all the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked through. This will take approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
- When all the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and keep the pan covered for 5 minutes. This will help make the rice fluffy.
- Heat the ghee in a skillet on medium heat. Add the paneer cubes and sauté for about a minute. Then, add the steamed green peas and salt.
- Toss the paneer with the peas for a few seconds on high heat and turn off the heat.
- Stir the paneer, green peas and the mint leaves into the pulao.
Transfer the pulao to a serving platter and serve warm.