Peach-Habanero-Ginger Chutney


Before I became a pickling fool I used to be a jam-making fool. My jam making has slowed to a trickle in recent years with one exception: peach chutney/jam. I make one version or the other of it every year. Ginger always goes into it (as in this jam with bourbon from five years ago) but the rest usually depends on what’s at hand. This year what was at hand was a lot of habanero peppers from my community garden plot and so I decided to throw them in. To cut the heat I added apple cider vinegar and then at the end I randomly decided to roast and powder some cumin seeds and toss them in too. One of the reasons my peach chutney varies from year to year is that I never write down whatever seat of the pants improvization I come up with. This year, however, some of the friends I gave a lot of the chutney to liked it so much that I wrote it down the next day. I don’t know if I’ll make it the exact same way again next year—I probably won’t—but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it like I did, is there? Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 24: Pho Valley (Apple Valley, MN)


This week’s pandemic takeout reports sees us remaining in Dakota County. After last week’s excellent takeout from House of Curry in Rosemount, we move a bit further west in physical terms to Apple Valley and a bit further east in culinary geography to Vietnamese food. On the way back from a Costco run I stopped at Pho Valley in that massive complex between Cedar Avenue and Co. Rd. 42 and picked up some spring/egg rolls, some soups, a banh mi and some grilled meat. It was our first time getting takeout from them, whether during or before the pandemic. I am pleased to report that while nothing was amazing everything hit the spot. Continue reading

Spicy Tomato Chutney


I’ve been on a preserving tear over the last few months, filling jars with pickles and chutneys of various kinds. The greatest beneficiary has been the missus who has been heard making demands at lunch that the full array of pickles be placed on the table. The secondary beneficiaries have been various undeserving friends. In some ways it is easier to make pickles (by which I mean achaars as we call them in North India) in large quantities, and since I’m making so many, we have more than we can eat ourselves. The only real roadblock is the ongoing shortage of lids and bands for Ball jars. Ideas for pickles, I have no lack of. This is largely because I have a copy of Usha’s Pickle Digest. I’ve been making pickles from the book and also improvizing some recipes of my own. Such, for example, was the carrot-garlic pickle I posted a recipe of a few weeks ago. And such too is this spicy tomato chutney. While the carrot-garlic pickle was more of a pure improvization, this one starts out as a mashup of two adjoining tomato pickle recipes in the Pickle Digest. To that mashup I add a few twists of my own. The results, if you’ll forgive the immodesty, are outstanding. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 23: Back to House of Curry (Rosemount, MN)


House of Curry was the second place we got takeout from when the “shelter in place” orders began in Minnesota. That was way back in late March/early April. As our takeout options/range expanded over the months, we somehow didn’t end up going back to House of Curry for our weekly takeout. That streak of neglect ended this past weekend when we stopped on our way home from a walk around Pike Island to get some lunch. As a small restaurant, or perhaps simply because they are appropriately cautious, House of Curry has not reopened for dining in. We were not looking to dine in anyway. Here is what we picked up. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 22: More Heat from Grand Szechuan


It’s been almost two months since my previous Grand Szechuan report but don’t worry, they’re still in business and we’re still eating their food on the regular. As of August 1 they are once again open seven days a week, but they’re still open only for takeout. That takeout business appears to be brisk—at least on weekend evenings. The place was hopping—in a masked and socially-distanced kind of way—when I picked up our most recent meal on a Friday evening. There seemed to be more staff visible as well. I hope they’re doing decent business at lunch and on weekdays as well. But to be safe we should all keep ordering from them. Continue reading

Carrot-Garlic Pickle


My pickling career began late, in my late 30s, with a couple of carrot pickles whose recipes were posted on the Another Subcontinent cooking forum (R.I.P) many years ago. Later, I branched off into green chilli and lime pickle as well. I have already posted the recipe for a lime pickle from the almighty Usha’s Pickle Digest. After finally getting my hands on my own copy of that book last year, however, I’ve become an all-around pickling fool. I currently have seven home-made pickles on the go. The greatest beneficiaries are friends who get 50% of my production. It is, you see, easier in some ways to make pickles in larger quantities than smaller; and if you have as many pickles on hand as I usually do, it’s better to give a big chunk of your production away than to risk it going bad on your countertop or in your refrigerator. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 21: Homi (St. Paul)


Our takeout range has expanded a fair bit in the last few months of the pandemic. At the end of June we finally made it to the Twin Cities’ true “Eat Street” to pick up Thai food from Bangkok Thai Deli. We then went back for more Thai food from Thai Cafe. And last weekend we finally got back to our favourite Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities: Homi. I’ve reviewed meals at Homi thrice before (first in 2016 and then in 2018 and 2019). After our trip to India in January we had been looking forward to going back and then the pandemic hit. We’d have liked to have supported them through the early months of the stay at home orders but living 50-60 minutes away, as we do, it just wasn’t on the cards. I am glad to be able to report therefore that they have made it through the pandemic so far and that the food we picked up from them on Saturday to eat with friends in their backyard in St. Paul was perhaps the best meal we’ve had from them in some time. Continue reading

Chaat, Puchka, Chaat (Delhi, Calcutta, Delhi, Jan-Feb 2020)


We returned from India on the 4th of February. It is now almost the end of August. The time seems right to finally post the last of my meal reports from our trip. This report encompasses one of our first meals out in Delhi on this trip as well as our very last meal out in Delhi; in between is a spot of eating in Calcutta. All these meals have one thing in common: chaat. As I noted many years ago in my first report on chaat on the blog (which you really should read), chaat is one of the genres of food I miss the most, living outside India, and it is one of the things I make sure to eat as much of as I can when I do go home to visit. Continue reading

Fish Curry with Vinegar


As I’ve noted before, I’m not a big fan of salmon in Bengali fish preparations. Its flavour is a bit too strong in my opinion—or maybe it’s just too unfamiliar for me in those flavour contexts. I have far less cognitive dissonance using it in preparations that come out of the broad South Indian palette, however, especially with some coconut milk in the mix. This recipe does not use coconut milk (though you could add some for a variation) but salmon works very well here too.

This is also a recipe that comes together very easily. There’s a bit of a backlash these days online against “ethnic” recipes being presented as simple and so forth in the US. I’m sympathetic to the impulse there: the simplification of complex dishes is rarely a good idea to begin with and when applied to dishes from cuisines outside the mainstream it can also signal a refusal to take those cuisines seriously. That said, working Indians also make dishes that are optimized for simplicity—whether traditional or contemporary—and this one is a fish curry I can pull together in 30 minutes after getting home in the evening after a faculty meeting. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 20: Back to El Triunfo (Northfield, MN)


I am very glad to report that our favourite restaurant in our little town, El Triunfo, seems to have weathered the pandemic fine so far. Business seems to be steady—makes sense as their food is as good as ever. I haven’t reported on our meals there since mid-May but we’ve been picking up food every once in a while, even as we’ve expanded our takeout range quite a lot since then. Their socially distanced pickup routine has changed a bit since my first pandemic report. Curbside pickup now happens via the front entry of the restaurant. Everything else more or less remains the same. You can still pay over the phone if you prefer to (as we do) or you can go in—with a mask on, naturally—and pay and pick up your food. The phone number and pictures of the menu are included in the slideshow below. Continue reading

Ginger-Mint Raita


Another week, another raita. Last week’s iteration was a simple one involving cucumber, radish and onion (and a bit of green chilli). This week’s is even simpler. There are only two main ingredients beyond the yogurt: ginger and mint. In this particular case, I used a variety of mint I’m growing in my garden for the first time this year: ginger mint. But if you don’t have any—which, why would you?—you can just use whatever mint you have. Despite the low number of ingredients this is a slightly fussier raita than last week’s, however, as it involves julienning and frying the ginger to just short of a crisp first. But once you’ve done that all that’s left to do is some mixing and I feel confident that you are capable of that. Make some today and have it as a cooling side with whatever you’re eating. Continue reading

Tomator Chatni


One of the signs, probably, of the tomato’s late entry and adoption in Indian foodways is that its name hasn’t changed much in some major Indian languages from the Spanish tomate and the English tomato. In Hindi, for example, the word is “tamatar”, pronounced “tuh-maa-tur”; and the English transliteration of the Bengali would be “tomato”, though pronounced “tom-ae-toh” (with hard t’s all around). Whereas in the Hindi belt in North India the tomato has been fully indigenized—it is a crucial ingredient in a number of iconic savoury dishes—in the east its incorporation is less complete, more belated. I think I’ve noted before that, as per my aunts, one of the marks of North Indian influence in my mother’s cooking is that she uses a lot more tomato in savoury dishes than is strictly traditional in Bengal. However, though the recipe for this dish which centers almost entirely on the tomato is from my mother, it is for a fairly traditional Bengali dish: tomator chatni. Tomatoes are used here though as a fruit rather than as a vegetable. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 19: Thai Cafe (St. Paul)


We are big fans of Thai Cafe, which was recently named the Twin Cities’ “Best Thai Restaurant” by City Pages. These awards, like all such in the genre, should not be taken too seriously—they name Magic Noodle the “Best Restaurant in St. Paul”, for example—but Thai Cafe is indeed a deserving contender: we’ve consistently ranked them third behind Bangkok Thai Deli and On’s Kitchen, and with On’s retirement they may have moved up a spot (though Krungthep Thai, Bangkok Thai Deli’s satellite location is also a contender). They’ve been closed for most of the pandemic and have not reopened now either for in-person dining. The restaurant is just too small for social distancing. As of a week ago, Monday, however, they are open for curbside/parking lot takeout. We’ve been missing their sour pork rib a lot and so Saturday found us in their parking lot waiting for our order. Continue reading

Cucumber-Radish-Onion Raita


I made alu parathas for lunch today and obviously had to make a bowl of raita to go with it. Raita is not a recipe but a canvas. You take yogurt and beat it, add whatever you want to flavour it, mix it all in and you’re done. You can make salty raitas, sweet raitas, salty-sweet raitas. You can make raitas that incorporate cooked ingredients and you can make raitas that are entirely raw. The only thing I haven’t come across is non-veg raitas but I would not be at all surprised to discover they exist. As always, my knowledge of Indian food extends to only a small sliver of it. Anyway, as variegated as raitas can be, my own preference—usually—is for simple raitas with a few chopped veg (I’ve previously posted my recipe for raita made with grated watermelon radish). I like my raita to emphasize the yogurt and not be crunchy with too much veg and toppings. In fact, I sometimes think that in the era of Instagram a lot of people overload their raitas because otherwise it doesn’t make for a very interesting photograph. It’s a simple dish; in my opinion, best when simply made and is a perfect summer side to all kinds of dishes. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Yogurt and Tomatoes


I am tempted to name this recipe “Better Than Butter Chicken” in a shameless attempt to go viral. This would be generically appropriate—it too is a creamy chicken curry involving tomatoes and dairy. It would also be accurate—it is better than butter chicken. Big talk? In a world that identifies Indian food with butter chicken, yes. But make it and apologize for doubting me.

As I noted on Twitter a few days ago, this was the first dish I learned to make really well when I started cooking in earnest in the early-mid 1990s after starting graduate school in the US. The original dish is a chicken curry that was part of my mother’s dinner party repertoire. She’d packed me off to the US with a collection of hand-written recipes and sent me many more over the years but this was never one of them. I recreated the first versions of this from memory before finally arriving at the broad contours within which it now resides. By which I mean that home cooking is never exact or nailed down. Recipes, when written down, seem more fixed than they usually are in practice but there’s always at least a bit of variation when you make dishes over and over again. My own version of this curry is now different from both my first iterations in the 1990s and from my mother’s but it’s very much in the same family (in fact, when she visits she always asks me to make it for her and my father). I encourage you to add your own twists to it after first trying it as outlined below. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 18: More Ramen from Bull’s Horn (Minneapolis)


It’s hard to talk about positive things coming out of the last few months, especially in the context of the restaurant industry. As you all know, restaurants have been hit very hard by the (necessary) restrictions on dining-in and it remains an open question as to how many of them will make it to whenever it is we return to whatever normal will be when this is over, or at least when this is better.. We’ve managed to eat well so far via takeout and support many of our favourite places in this difficult time. The only new thing we’ve encountered was Doug Flicker’s foray into ramen via “take home and prepare” kits back in May. I previously reported on our very first Bull’s Horn ramen experience right after that first week in May. We got another set of kits the following week but then the ramen thing went on hiatus for a while. It’s now back again. Takeout ramen kits are available every day they’re open and since they’re now also open for dining-in on their parking lot patio they also have special ramens available on Wednesday’s only for people eating on the patio. I can report that no matter which way you go, the ramen will be excellent. Continue reading

Mocambo (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Here, finally, almost exactly six months to the day we left the city, is my last meal report from Calcutta. It’s not a meal I’d thought we’d have before the evening of but it’s a meal I’m glad we had and a meal we enjoyed—none of which is to say that the food was anything special. That probably sounds enigmatic but don’t worry I’m about to tell you what I mean. Mocambo is one of a few establishments located on or near snazzy Park Street that have been around since near the middle of the 20th century and which have together formed a locus of a particular kind of wealthy Calcutta cosmopolitanism. Names like Peter Cat, Bar-B-Q, Trincas and Mocambo have both evoked nostalgia for a long time for the city’s elite and maintained their popularity even as a new generation of restaurants and, in particular, restaurants serving Bengali cuisine, have sprung up around them. These were aspirational places in the 1970s and 1980s—before the rise of 5-star hotel restaurants—and Mocambo, the place that more than any other defines Calcutta Continental food, continues to be packed on weekends in early February well into the 21st century. Continue reading

Black (Caviar) Dal


Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago. Continue reading