Geetha Sivaguru bustled around her kitchen. Fresh vegetables, spices, herbs, and pans were everywhere. This decade approaching junior high science teacher will tell you that she loves to cook for anyone who asks. She likes to share her love- and art- of Indian cooking and cuisine. The day At Home in Central Illinois visited her, she was preparing Jeera Rice with Curried Lentils.

Geetha has a PhD in plant ecology. She is from Madurai, India, an energetic, ancient city on the Vaigai River in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There is actually a complete thriving 150 to 200 trees in India that she grew from seedlings for her PhD. She is the mother of twin boys, Bhargav and Vignesh. She is married to University of Illinois scientist, Dr. Mayandi Sivaguru, or “Shiv” as friends know him. She is a proud American citizen and loves Central Illinois.

“Before you cook, I think it’s a good idea to prep beforehand,” she said about trying a new recipe.

The pressure cooker

According to Geetha, everyone who cooks would do well by getting a pressure cooker.

“Do you know how much easier your lives would be if you used a pressure cooker? These pressure cookers cook everything. You save time and energy- it helps your carbon footprint,” she said while holding stackable containers that go into the cooker. “You have these containers and you can cook anything in them. It saves time and it gets done quickly.”

The cookers she uses are Futura pressure cookers. They are used in India.

“You can actually buy them in the U.S. on Amazon. They cook under pressure and steam. They come as small as a 2 liter and as big as a 9 liter size,” she said. “I have all of the sizes.” She also said that there are cookbooks and manuals that come with them. “They’re perfect for today’s busy families,” she said, as she cuts up onion to be added later, while the pressure cooker steams away behind her.

She said that pressure cookers have come a long way since they used to explode on people. Now they are much friendlier to use.

“As soon as its done, though, do not release the steam. It could burn you,” she said. “If you give it enough time, the steam will dissipate on its own.”

She had the lentils ready before At Home visited her. She recommends getting the lentils pressure cooked before starting on the rice. ***

Curried lentils

2 cups of uncooked whole lentils pressure cooked until soft.

4 to 5 cups of water 1 teaspoon of salt

1/4 tsp. of turmeric powder

Add the above to the lentils and pressure cook lentils for 6 minutes. Set aside-there’s more to come on this- and start on the rice

Jeera rice

2 cups of Basmati rice (“You should use Basmati rice and not any other type” Geetha said.)

3 cups of water

¼ teaspoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

Cook in the pressure cooker-or pot- until tender.

Vegetables and gravy for curried lentils

2 tablespoons of butter

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

½ of a green chili -roughly chopped. Regarding this, Geetha said the seeds make a difference with the heat level of the pepper. “The seeds hold the heat,” she said about the green chili. “Use one half of the amount, if desired, and take out the seeds if you want it milder. If you want the heat, keep the seeds in and chop them up. You can also add a little red chili powder for more heat.”

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

1 teaspoon of grated ginger root

2 medium white onions, chopped

6 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro, minced

1 tablespoon of curry powder

Use a saute pan, and melt the butter. Add the cumin seeds, garlic, the green chilis, the ginger and the onion-in that order, Geetha stressed. “Cook until very soft and even let the onions brown a bit,” she said. Add the curry powder.

“I like all of my spices sauteed in the butter with the vegetables. It brings all the flavors out,” she said.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the vegetable mixture, along with the fresh chopped cilantro.

“I like to cook the tomatoes very well. It almost becomes like a gravy to the lentils,” Geetha said. “Add the lentils to the vegetable mixture once the tomatoes are cooked very well. Add water if needed to make it thinner.”

Finish the rice by adding dry spices The dry spices are: ¼ cup of cashews, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of cumin seed, 5 cloves, one bud of anise seed, and 1 cardamom pod

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, then add all of the dry spices. Saute them over a very low flame. Add the cashews later. Then, add the pressure cooked rice to the spices. Mix well until the rice is coated with the butter and the spices.

Serve both the Jeera rice and curried lentils hot on a plate. Makes six to eight healthy servings.