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Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I have to admit, that for someone who proudly claims to be an early adopter of new technology, I entered the “cooking with the miracle that is the Instant Pot” a bit late in the game. For most of my friends, the Instant Pot (IP) has been a game-changer, with weeknight meals of braised meats, made from scratch Amritsari chole, biryanis, and soups. So, a couple of years ago, on Black Friday I brought the Instant Pot and immediately started to follow a few dozen blogs to get the recipe inspiration. However, it just seemed like a lot of work—it never sparked the joy I get from many other gadgets that have bettered my life.

Then last year on Diwali day, my husband’s company hosted a zoom cooking session with Vasanti Bhadkamkar-Balan, founder of the popular blog Signature Concoctions. Her recipe that day was so simple and finally, the appeal of the IP clicked.  I reached out to her to learn how we could transform some of the traditional elaborate Indian recipes like chicken tikka masala or chicken/vegetarian biryani into weeknight wins—with an added bonus of just one pot to clean! And boy, she did not disappoint. What helps is that Bhadkamkar-Balan underwent formal training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, honing the techniques of fine cooking she learned there and applying them to Indian cooking, taking it to a whole new level that fits our modern lifestyle and is also easy for entertaining. Here she shares a few recipes from her recently launched book, Authentic Indian Cooking with Your Instant Pot:

Kathal Biryani (Rice with Spiced Green Jackfruit)

Serves 4 to 6

The tropical fruit is considered a vegetarian meat substitute, with its resemblance to pulled or shredded meat when cooked. It is a perfect alternative to chicken or lamb in classic biryani recipes, turning them into vegan biryanis! The Instant Pot makes biryani easy and feasible on a weeknight.

Kathal Biryani (Image Credit: Vasanti Bhadkamkar-Balan)

INGREDIENTS

Marinade

  • 1 lb (454 g) fresh or thawed frozen young green jackfruit chunks (see
  • Notes and Variations)
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • Red chili powder, as needed
  • 1 tbsp (9 g) besan (chickpea flour)
  • Salt, as needed

Biryani

  • 2 cups (400 g) uncooked basmati
  • rice
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) neutral oil of choice
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt, as needed
  • ½-inch (1.3-cm) piece fresh ginger,
  • finely grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 2 tsp (4 g) biryani masala (see
  • Notes)
  • 1 small tomato, pureed
  • 2 cups (480 ml) water
  • 4 to 5 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves
  • roughly chopped, for garnishing

PREPARATION

  1. To make the marinade, place the jackfruit in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the turmeric, cumin, coriander, red chili powder, chickpea flour and salt over the jackfruit. Toss the jackfruit to coat it evenly in the spices. Let the jackfruit marinate on the counter while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
  2. To make the biryani, rinse the rice under cold tap water until the water runs clear. Set the rice aside.
  3. Place the inner pot in the Instant Pot and press the Sauté button. When the display reads “Hot,” add the oil and onions. Season the onions with salt to help them soften. Fry the onions for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring them frequently, until they are golden brown. Set aside about one-third of the fried onions for garnishing the dish.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic to the pot and sauté the mixture for 1 minute. Add the biryani masala and sauté the mixture for 30 seconds to let the spices bloom.
  5. Add the tomato and stir the ingredients to combine them. Deglaze the bottom of the pot by scraping it with a wooden spoon. This is an important step; if the bottom of the pot is not deglazed well, the “burn” error might appear during the pressure-cooking stage. Cook the mixture for another 5 minutes, until the tomato puree loses most of its moisture.
  6. Stir in the marinated jackfruit and toss it gently to combine it with the biryani mixture, making sure the jackfruit chunks don’t break apart. Sauté the mixture for about 1 minute, stirring it once or twice. Press the Cancel button to turn off the Instant Pot.
  7. Spread the rinsed rice in an even layer on top of the spiced jackfruit chunks.
  8. Gently pour in the water without disturbing the layers of jackfruit and rice, ensuring the rice is fully immersed.
  9. Close the Instant Pot’s lid and turn the steam-release valve to the sealing position.
  10. Press the Rice button and use the default settings for time and pressure, minutes at low pressure. When the cooking is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally—which will take 10 to 12 minutes—and then open the lid.
  11. Transfer the biryani to a serving bowl or a deep platter. Garnish the biryani with the reserved fried onions and cilantro. Serve it warm with the Basic Raita on the side.

VARIATIONS:

  • Replace the jackfruit with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, paneer, or shrimp. Use the same settings for time and pressure.
  • You can use pieces of boneless, skinless chicken thighs or lamb in the recipe. Substitute 1 tablespoon (9 g) of chickpea flour in the marinade with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt. Sauté the meat for 4 to 5 minutes before layering on the rinsed rice. Follow the rest of the recipe’s directions for cooking the rice and meat together.

Ball Curry (Meatball Curry)

Serves 4

This traditional recipe for making tender, juicy meatballs cooked in a spicy curry comes from my husband’s family. I retrofitted the recipe to accommodate the Instant Pot, as I think making meatballs in the Instant Pot is the easiest and best method—they don’t fall apart or dry out like they do when they are pan-fried or baked in the oven. Simply drop them in the curry and cook everything together. The curry gets infused with meaty flavor and tastes amazing!

Ball Curry (Image credit: Vasanti Balan-Bhadlamkar)

INGREDIENTS

Meatballs

  • 1½ lb (681 g) ground chicken
  • thigh meat (see Variations)
  • 2 tsp (4 g) Easy Garam Masala
  • (page 172)
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • Salt, as needed
  • Red pepper flakes, as needed
  • 4 to 5 sprigs fresh cilantro, tender
  • parts of stems and leaves minced
  • 1 medium green onion, minced

Paste

  • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
  • ⅓ cup (33 g) grated fresh or thawed
  • frozen coconut
  • 2 to 3 green bird’s eye chilies, halved
  • (see Variations)
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1-inch (2.5-cm) piece fresh ginger,
  • roughly chopped

Curry

  • 2 tbsp (30 g) coconut oil or neutral
  • oil of choice, plus more as needed
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp asafetida
  • Salt, as needed
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp Easy Garam Masala (page 172)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, pureed
  • 2 cups (480 ml) chicken stock or
  • water
  • 4 to 5 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves
  • roughly chopped, for garnishing
  • For Serving
  • Steamed Ponni rice or basmati rice
  • (see Notes)
  • Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Start by preparing the meatball mixture. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, Easy Garam Masala, turmeric, salt, red pepper flakes, cilantro and green onion. Mix until the ingredients are just combined. Do not mash the meat or overwork the mixture. Set the meatball mixture aside. 
  2. Prepare the paste. In a blender or food processor, combine the onion, coconut, bird’s-eye chilies, garlic, and ginger. Blend the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. Set the paste aside.
  3. To make the curry, place the inner pot in the Instant Pot and press the Sauté button. When the display reads “Hot,” add the coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and asafetida. When the seeds sizzle and the asafetida froths, add the paste. Season the mixture with salt and sauté it for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it cooks evenly until the paste loses most of its moisture and leaves the sides of the pot, coming together in a cohesive mass. It should not have a raw smell and should be a light brown color. Don’t worry if the bottom of the pot looks burnt; it will be deglazed with the addition of the tomatoes and stock later.
  4. Add turmeric, ground cumin, coriander, and Easy Garam Masala. Cook the mixture for about 30 seconds, stirring it vigorously and constantly, and then mix in the tomatoes. Deglaze the bottom of the pot by scraping it with a wooden spoon and mix everything well. This is an important step; if the pot is not deglazed well, the “burn” error might appear during the pressure-cooking stage.
  5. Season the mixture with salt and stir it well. Cook for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes lose most of their moisture and the whole mixture turns into a thick paste. Press the Cancel button to turn off the Instant Pot. Pour in the chicken stock and stir to combine the ingredients. Deglaze the bottom of the pot again if needed. Also, taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if needed.
  6. Rub a little additional coconut oil on your palms. Shape the meatball mixture into approximately 1-inch (2.5-cm) round meatballs between your palms and gently drop them into the pot with the curry, making sure not to stack the meatballs on top of one another. Alternatively, use a mini ice cream scoop to shape the meatballs and directly drop them into the pot.
  7. Once all the meatballs are in the curry, do not touch or move them. Close the lid and turn the steam-release valve to the sealing position. Press the Poultry or Manual/Pressure Cook button and set the timer for 10 minutes at high pressure. When the cooking is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally—which will take 15 to 20 minutes—and then open the lid.
  8. Garnish the curry with cilantro. Serve it spooned over a bed of steamed rice along with some Greek yogurt (if using) and Vadu mango pickle (if using).

VARIATIONS

  • You can switch it up and make the recipe with any type of ground meat—try turkey, lamb, beef, or pork.
  • If you prefer a milder curry, use serrano or jalapeño chilies for less heat.
  • Make it vegetarian by using baby potatoes instead of meatballs and use water or vegetable stock in place of chicken stock.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: monashah9@gmail.com

Reprinted with permission from Authentic Indian Cooking with Your Instant Pot by Vasanti Balan-Bhadkamkar, Page Street Publishing, Co. 2022. 


Mona Shah

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...