September 01, 2010

International Sign of Friendship

Village Chai and Yakhni Pulao. AND GIVEAWAY WINNERS!!!

Often when a friend wants to show you that you are important to them, they give you a signal. In the states that might include a card, a small personal gift, or helping you in some way. In different countries the signs of true friendship often take different forms. 

It's been 13 years since my last trip to India, but certain friends are still very close to my heart. Friends, that despite differences in culture, language, beliefs and age, were generous with their time and thoughts. I'm always amazed at how simple it is to find common connections when you are looking for them. These individuals extended a hand of friendship in many ways, but most effectively by offering sustenance.

Chai IS the lifeblood of India. Served in scant shot glasses from dawn until way past dusk, this beverage is EVERYWHERE you look. It's in little make-shift cafes, sold from chai-wallahs at every bus station, train station and street corner...brewing in every home.

I remember sitting in open-air chai shops in small villages drinking creamy, ultra-sweet chai with friends. True Indian chai is a far cry from the watered-down American coffeehouse version. REAL village chai is made with thick buffalo milk, considerably too much sugar, black tea, and cardamom pods--if you were really lucky. One new friend who spoke English well, nicknamed the cardamom pod the VIP nut. She explained that cardamom only went in the chai cups of those they considered special. If they didn't really care for the person, and were just serving them chai to be polite--you would skip the cardamom! We partook of chai multiple times throughout the day. Everywhere we went, new friends would offer it with bright smiles. I miss those chai over-dosed summers.

Another item friends serve to let you know you are an honored guest, is a mixed rice dish. Depending on the part of the country you're in, it's either Biryani or Puloa. Both are "rice and meat" dishes, but Biryani is rice layered in a large pot with meat, potatoes, yogurt, milk and spices. Pulao is more of a pilaf-style dish, so the meat and rice are stirred in before cooking. Yakhni Pulao tends to include meat stock, dried fruit and nuts, while biryani is silky and dense due to the inclusion of yogurt and potatoes.

My friends explained that these dishes were always reserved for special occasions or special guests. No different than a Thanksgiving turkey or standing rib roast. They are meals you wouldn't whip up on just any given night! However after preparing both rice dishes, I can tell you this tradition is NOT due to great difficulty in the kitchen. Most likely, it has to do with cost.

Puloa is a relatively quick dish and boasts vibrant flavors and textures! The aroma itself, is worth more than a bucket of saffron! I love Puloa best with lamb, but find it more accessible (and affordable) made with chicken...your call!

The language of friendship is not words but meanings. ~Henry David Thoreau


Village Chai

2 ¼ cups water
1 whole star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, cracked
4 black tea bags, or ¼ cup loose black tea
2 cups whole milk or half-n-half
¼ cup sugar

Press your fingernail into the cardamom pods to crack them. Bring the water, tea, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom to a boil.

Boil for 3-5 minutes until the tea is very dark and has reduced to about 2 cups. Strain and add the sugar. Add the milk and stir until hot.

Place the (used) cardamom pods in the bottom of the cups for good friends!

Makes 4 American-sized servings or 12+ Indian-sized servings!

Yakhni Puloa

1 ¼ lbs. chicken breast or lamb, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup basmati rice
1 ¼ cup stock (chicken or beef)
4 green cardamom pods
10 whole peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
1 small pinch of saffron
2 Tb. fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1/3 cup chopped dried apricot
½ cup almonds or cashews
Chopped Cilantro for garnish

In a large pot heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, anise and saffron. Stir for to release the flavors and add the onions.

Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the ginger and garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the chicken to the pot. Salt liberally and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Next add the rice and stir to coat it in oil. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling pour the sultanas on top, cover, and reduce the heat to low.

Steam the rice for 15 minutes. Then remove from heat. Stir in the chopped apricots and nuts and cover again.

Allow the puloa to sit another 5 minutes, covered. Serve with cilantro sprinkled on top! Serves 4.

And now for the SEVEN winners of my very first giveaway...

The 4 winners who will receive Smoking J's Habanero Hot Sauce, Imladris Farm's Specialty Preserves, and French Broad Chocolate Lounge Truffles are:

Marjorie Frost
Pacheco Patty
Priscilla @ She's Cooking
Megan @ The Fresh Fridge

The 2 winners who will receive Gifts Bags from Blessed Botanicals including four culinary blends are:

Jennifer Hickey
Magic of Spice

The Asheville local who will receive a Free Farm Tour (for a family of 4) at Imladris Farm and Fresh Rabbit Meat is:


Congratulations Winners! 
Please email me @ with your full name and shipping info ASAP, so I can get your prizes in the mail!

Yakhni Puloa on Foodista


  1. Yummy, that rice dish looks stunning, just the way I like, very colorful and aromatic. Will save this recipe for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love Indian food, but it's a cuisine that I haven't attempted much in my kitchen except for curries. Can I come over? OMG I'm so excited that I won something! And it's my birthday today!

  3. Being of Indian background (but born and raised in California), I too find coffeehouse 'chai' laughable. Its just not thick enough. And not sweet or spicy enough.
    Your pulao looks gorgeous too!

  4. Oh wow Sommer, can I come for dinner?? Ok - so I don't live in India and I'm not Indian but I have been privileged to have close Indian friends and to have grown up with Indian neighbours. So *ahem* I feel qualified (enough) to say that you cook up a mean, and beautiful Indian meal. And that Chai! No way can any coffeeshop chain chai hold a candle to THAT!! It's remarkably close to the way I was thought to make chai by a dear Punjabi friend :)

  5. I love stir-fried rice!
    Congratulations to all the winners!

  6. Hmmmmm...great chai recipe. I love pulao - never attempted to make it on my own, but maybe one day.....

  7. This looks beautiful and I can just imagine the fragrant smells coming from the kitchen. Actually makes me miss the cooking of my downstairs neighbor in Atlanta.

    I can't believe I won something. Yay!!!! Thank you so much!

  8. Beautiful post and great pictures! Thanks for sharing :o)

  9. Hi Sommer, Wow, can't believe I won, hooray! Maybe I should head for Vegas, could be my lucky day! Thanks and congratulations on your first give away, I would like to do one too. Your post and photos are wonderful, inspirational and as always delicious looking:-) I filled out the email form but wasn't sure how to send it so I don't know if you received it???

  10. Soomer,
    You know what... its kinda funny when the menu board says "chai tea" in the american coffeeshops.Coz both these are the same thing! "Chai " is hindi for tea. :):)
    Your village chai is what is popularly know as masala chai in India.And you ahve done it prefectly!
    And the Pulao is simple gorgeous.Its really good to see the use of authentic ingredients like cardamom & saffron in the pulao.

  11. I am completely in love with that rice dish. It looks like all of the the things I love rolled onto one plate.

  12. That chai looks divine and so does the pulao! I am a big Basmati rice fan.



  13. Some wonderful creations here! I love Indian food...and I hope one day I can visit that beautiful country. Thank you for sharing.

  14. They are all so exotic. Very nice pictures.

  15. Indian Chai sounds really good! I usually don't like the American version as much...but this sounds delightful! AND YAY! YAY! YAY! So glad I got to be a winner in your contest! I am super excited about the hot sauce. I will def. be using that one soon! :)

  16. What wonderful memories, Sommer! ( : I'm so excited about these authentic recipes!

  17. Yummie, the rice dish looks tasty, so colorful.

  18. Hey Sommer! Your chai looks so fragrant and wonderful. And, frankly, so does your pulao. I haven't made a nice pulao for a while, but now I want to (smile)...
    Oh, and congrats to all of the winners-that's really nice & fun!
    p.s. I double dare, ya;)!

  19. That is such a wonderful rice these flavors. And the chai is beautiful :) And I am so excited to be one of your winners :) I can't wait to play with those goodies, thank you so much...

  20. How funny that this is the chai of India. I just had some tonight. My mother always makes this for me when i have a stomach ache. We are middle eastern and she used to drink this also when she was young. We also call this 'shai'. Its great to see where things have come from and gone to! Great post and very tasty!

  21. The chai and rice sound delightful but I found the background story most interesting. I love the food and recipes you feature. They are just slightly outside my comfort level and force me to learn and stay on my toes. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  22. Divine! Can I say it louder??

  23. I loved this post, Sommer! About old friends, about India and about food. I have never been to India and have never had chai or pulao. I'd love to try both.

  24. I have never had Indian food (on my to do list) but that chicken and rice looks delicious.

  25. Congratulations to all the winners in your great give away! Thank you so much for a wonderful post, its always nice to learn about another culture.....the chai recipe sounds delicious, and I love both rice dishes, I particularly like the almonds in it!
    Hope you have a great labor day weekend!

  26. Your pictures are so gorgeous. The food is so pretty! I think I need to get a better camera than the one I have, I feel like my food pictures don't always compare to some others I see!

  27. I can smell all the spices from the computer! gorgeous recipes! Love that rice filled with dried fruits, and chai tea...what to say? simply lovely...

  28. The aroma of the chai must be incredible! And the Puloa look super delicious!

    btw, I wanted to let you know that your rss feed didn't seem to update for this post (at least for me).

  29. I really want to make the chai..I am imagining the smell from your list of ingredients. Very heady. I love the dried apricots and almonds in the rice along with the chicken. Yum.

  30. I love chai but am guessing I've always had the watered-down American version. Definitely giving your recipe a try (with the VIP nuts)! Thanks :)

  31. Loved every bit of this post. The chai with added star anise and the yakhni pulao.......

    Chai is really the life blood in India.

  32. This looks good. Love the chai recipe. :)

  33. Tried out the Village Chai tea & liked it so much I had to write a review!! Thanks for the recipe! I made a version of it with Assam and 2% milk. Tasted great. :)

  34. OMG I love these two recipes. I love a good, creamy chai, and this puloa looks so good, I wish I had it for lunch today. Will have to make soon!

  35. Yes, I can attest to the specialness of briyani. It's really only served on special occasions for special people. It's a wonderful dish. It says a lot that it was served to you!

  36. These recipes look so good! I love chai but have not ever tried to make it myself. I've discovered a local brand which is very peppery and I love that so I've not tried to take the time. Now I will! Thanks for your beautiful blog!


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