Pandemic Takeout 34: Grand Szechuan (Bloomington, MN)


Well, we are back in quasi-lockdown in Minnesota. I say “quasi-lockdown” because nowhere in the US have we had anything resembling an actual lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps if we’d had one back in the first half of the year things wouldn’t be quite as fucked as they are now, with numbers spiking higher than they were in the first wave. Our own part of Southern Minnesota has been hit particularly hard with our little “metro area” down here regularly showing up once again in the “top 10” rankings for infection rates in the country. At home we have clamped down pretty tight. No more meals on the deck with friends and no more visits/meals inside with those we were podding with. (Alas, this means we’ll be doing Thanksgiving on our own for the first time in more than 15 years. We’ll manage.) I did one large Costco run earlier in the month that should take us through mid-December—it’ll be curbside grocery shopping for the foreseeable future after that. The only indulgence will continue to be weekly takeout runs—though we will be eating on our own for the foreseeable future. Hopefully most places will move to a curbside takeout system; if I need to go in for pickup I’ll double mask it as I’ve been doing in enclosed public spaces for the last month, and as I did at Grand Szechuan this past weekend. For yes, I went back to pick up yet another excessive order from them. Continue reading

Regional Indian Cookbooks: An Incomplete Guide


Earlier this week I enjoyed reading Bettina Makalintal’s piece for Munchies on American food media’s tendency to flatten and collapse heterogeneous culinary traditions into national ones. Late in the piece the owner of a culinary bookstore, Ken Concepcion, is quoted as follows: “I’m sure there are amazing regional books about Chinese food, about China, or regional Pakistani books, but they’re not written in English”. On Twitter I noted that in the case of Indian cuisines, at least, a number of excellent regional cookbooks exist, many written in English, others translated into it. The problem, I noted, is that American food media has no interest—for the most part—in these books. Then I thought that I should put my money where my mouth is and actually list some of these books for interested parties. Global ecommerce means we aren’t limited to what American publishers choose to put out: most of the books that follow are easily available online for less than you would pay for some overpriced restaurant or cooking show host’s cookbook that you will never actually cook anything from. You’re welcome. Continue reading

Baghare Baingan

Baghare baingan is a classic Hyderabadi dish of eggplant stuffed with a tangy masala and cooked in a gravy redolent of tamarind. Despite having spent three years in Hyderabad before I turned 18, however, I never actually ate it there. This because I only started eating baingan/eggplant a couple of years ago, randomly, suddenly overcoming a lifelong aversion. Since then it has predictably become one of my favourite vegetables. I cook it often and order eggplant dishes from Indian and Chinese restaurants every opportunity I get. Eggplant dishes featuring a large dose of tamarind abound in southern India but none quite do it for me like a good preparation of baghare baingan. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I make the best baghare baingan I’ve ever had but it’s not bad at all. This is largely because it is basically the recipe from Bilkees Latif’s The Essential Andhra Cookbook, another in that excellent series released by Penguin India a couple of decades ago (that’s an affiliate link). I don’t follow the recipe to the letter and always leave out two ingredients but it comes out very well anyway. What follows is how I make it—the few departures from the original are listed in brackets in the ingredients list and in the notes. (The steps in the preparation are my language.) Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 33: Kumar’s (Apple Valley, MN)


The takeout plan for this past Saturday had originally involved picking up food from an Indian restaurant in the western suburbs. But by the time the weekend showed up lunch came under time constraints and it just wasn’t going to be possible to place the order* and make it up to the restaurant and back in time to eat on our deck (an hour’s drive each way). And as the same was going to be true of the places closest to us—Kabob’s and Kumar’s—it didn’t seem like Indian food was going to be on the cards. But the boys had already been promised their tandoori chicken and naans and given how little fun they’re having compared to normal these days, we decided not to disappoint them. Accordingly, I drove up on Friday evening to Kumar’s in Apple Valley—only 25 minutes away—and picked up a large order to heat up at leisure the next day. We were going to be a smaller group than usual—only 4 adults—but to be safe I ordered as I would if we had been 6 or 8. It’s the right thing to do. Continue reading

Spicy Grated Pumpkin


My mother sent me this recipe almost exactly 17 years ago, at a time when in my early-mid 30s I’d finally begun to eat a wider variety of vegetables. I must have asked her for recipes for pumpkin for the subject line of her email reads “kumro” (Bengali for pumpkin) and the body contains two recipes along with the headnote, “this is your father’s favourite vegetable”. The second recipe is one I’ve posted a version of before; that one I remember my mother making when I was young. This one, on the other hand, I have no memory of seeing on our dining table; but memory is unreliable and in any case I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. It is, however, an excellent recipe and a very simple one as long as you have a food processor with a grater attachment. In case you’re tempted to say that the texture of pumpkin grated with a food processor is inferior to that of pumpkin grated by hand, this is also a reminder that recipes like this can only originate in locations/times where kitchen labour is either cheap (via underpaid servants) or free (via women’s unpaid domestic labour). Kitchen gadgets may free some of us from these associations but it’s important to resist romanticizing traditional cooking practices or letting technology obscure their less savoury origins. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 32: On’s Kitchen (St. Paul, MN)


It took us a while to get to On’s Kitchen on our pandemic takeout outings. We’ve got food from Bangkok Thai Deli and Thai Cafe since the lockdown eased in the early part of the summer but it took us another few months to go back to On’s. This is partly because we’ve been trying a number of restaurants we haven’t been to before or in many years (Vietnamese places like Pho Pasteur and iPho and also Indian places like Indian Masala and Godavari). But to be honest it’s also because we weren’t very enthused by our last pre-pandemic meal at On’s. That was in September of 2019 and after posting that review I learned that On had retired from the kitchen earlier that year—momentous news from the Twin Cities’ best Thai restaurant that you think would have been reported by all the professional critics but who am I kidding? Anyway, given that it had been our favourite Thai restaurant in Minnesota for many years, it didn’t seem right to stay away and so I drove up last Saturday to pick up a large order to eat on our deck with our usual crew. Despite the good weather, or rather because of it, we skipped going to a park for a walk—we figured there’d be larger crowds and so just did a long walk in our own neighbourhood. The walk was good but I’m happy to say the food was better. Continue reading

Rajma, Take 3


Well, the worst of our national nightmare is over. The orange oaf is not going to go quietly, and he’s not going to go completely—and he’s going to do a lot more damage on the way out—but he’s been fired. No better fate for the loser who hates to lose than to be declared a loser on every TV set in the world (well, prison would be even better). Like everyone else in the US I spent the week unable to think about anything but the elections—and like most people on the Left I spent most of the first two days since the evening of November 3 in a state of dread, bracing for the worst. It began to become more apparent on Thursday that Pennsylvania and Georgia would make the final count in Arizona moot but I couldn’t bring myself to embrace it until Biden’s margins of victory became recount-proof (yes, recounts will happen in a few states but his lead is too large now to be overcome by a small plus/minus here and there). I began to hope yesterday but it was only this morning that I finally unclenched and exhaled. The only thing I did all week—other than obsessively check the vote counts—was cook. Cooking is not always relaxing but this week it kept me from going crazy. I thank my many-armed gods that the week ended the way it did; because if it hadn’t, no amount of good food would have taken that taste out of my mouth. Continue reading

Sookha Alu Sabzi, Take 2


You could think of this as a red version of the other sookha (dry) style alu sabzi I posted a recipe for earlier this year. It adds tomatoes and there’s some more plus/minus with spices—the end result is as tasty as the other but quite different in flavour. As with any dry style preparation of potatoes you have to be careful not to let things scorch but a little bit of caramelization on the potatoes at the bottom of the pan is a good thing. Stainless steel is very good for these kinds of dishes—though if you have a cast iron pan that is seasoned strongly enough to withstand the tomato then that might be even better. I like to serve this simply, ungarnished, with chapatis or parathas with some pickle and a bowl of dal on the side but it’s very tasty no matter how you eat it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 31: Indian Masala (Maplewood, MN)


We were supposed to get food from Indian Masala in Maplewood two weekends ago but winter struck early and we ended up huddling indoors like weenies. This past weekend was quite a bit warmer though and so we revived our plan of walking the loop trail at the Battle Creek Park (the part that has the dog park in it) and then picking up food to bring back to our deck to eat with our usual crew of excessive eaters. I am very happy to report that not only was this meal very good, it was one of the best Indian meals we’ve had so far in Minnesota. That may seem like damning with faint praise but these days it’s really not. As I’ve reported before, the Indian food scene in the Twin Cities metro has improved radically in recent years, keeping pace with the growing Indian population in the area. And as this growing population is both mostly South Indian and mostly in the suburbs, it’s to the suburbs you have to go and the South Indian dishes that you have to order to experience this shift in quality. The mainstream food media in the area remains focused on the North Indian standbys in the Cities proper—this is a shame as both the new(er) restaurants and local diners interested in Indian food need a brighter light shone on these developments than a minor blog like mine can manage. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi, Lightly Spiced


I made this take on alu-gobi a couple of days ago and here now in response to some queries is the recipe. This is, I believe, my third alu-gobi recipe and it is by far the simplest. (The other two are here and here.) It involves very few ingredients and very few spices. Sometimes I am tempted to launch a campaign aimed at getting Americans to stop associating Indian food only with big flavours. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of classic Indian preparations that involve big flavours—and god knows, I often fall prey to over-spicing things as well. But that expectation and the many dishes that feed it often completely obscure all the ones that aren’t BIG in that way but which are rather tasty anyway. A lot of Indian food is very subtle, even if that’s not its reputation. This alu-gobi is one such. The major flavour here is that of the cauliflower set off by some cracked coriander seed. A light tadka of hing, zeera and red chillies give it a bit of umami depth and heat, some amchur for acidity at the end and that’s pretty much it. There’s no tomato, no garlic or ginger and only a bit of onion. Give it a go, you’ll like it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 30: Back to Kabob’s Indian Grill (Bloomington, MN)


We got Indian takeout again at the end of last week but not from the place I’d been hoping to finally get to. The plan earlier in the week had been to do our usual weekend family walk in Maplewood and pick up some food from Indian Masala. But as Saturday approached, the forecast sapped our will and we decided we’d spend the day huddled at home. It’s not that we don’t plan to go out at all in the winter but that it’s too soon for temperatures so low. It may be Minnesota but it’s only fucking October, dammit. However, the story ends well. I ended up going to Costco on Friday morning and picked up a large order from Kabob’s Indian Grill in Bloomington. I’m happy to report that they continue to survive the pandemic, that they are now offering their lunch thali to go on weekends and that their food is still very good. Herewith, the details. Continue reading

Chana Masala, Take 2


Way back in January, before there was a global pandemic, I posted a recipe for chana masala made with kala or desi chana. These smaller, darker chickpeas (compared to garbanzo beans aka Kabuli chana in India) have, as I said then, been eaten in India much longer than garbanzo beans. They can be prepared very similarly but are far from identical. They’re smaller and their skins are harder and their texture much denser; and their flavour is earthier and not as “sweet” as good garbanzo beans can be. So far, so repetitious. Here’s something new: back in January I’d said that I’d heard a rumour that Rancho Gordo—the Californian purveyor of bespoke beans—might soon start carrying desi chana. 10 months later that rumour has turned to fact. Rancho Gordo’s desi chana will be going on sale around Thanksgiving. If you’re not in their Bean Club (yes, I know) you’ll have to punch other people in the mouth to get them into your cart when they go on sale. (Well, you’ll be shopping online but you can always imagine.) Since I’m special (by which I mean, I know things Steve S. of Rancho Gordo doesn’t want you to know about his whereabouts in April of 1982), I was sent a few packets of these to play with before you heathens get anywhere near them. You can therefore view this as a sort of sponsored post if you like—I can certainly be purchased for less than the price of a few packets of beans. More accurate would be that Steve and I are old friends and that he clearly doesn’t need a D-list food blogger like me to talk him up when he has all of the North American food world falling over itself to praise his beans. At any rate, I’ve made a few different preps with them and this is the one the missus thinks I should share first with the public. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 29: Pho Pasteur (St. Paul, MN)


The plan for this past weekend had originally been a walk around a park in Maplewood followed by takeout from Indian Masala, an Indian restaurant in Maplewood that’s been recommended highly to me by Mike McGuinness (who runs the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook group). But the plan never quite came together and we ended walking around Como Lake instead and picking up more Vietnamese food to take back to the yard of the friends in St. Paul we often do these walk+meals with. On the last occasion we’d picked up lunch from iPho by Saigon; this time we hit up Pho Pasteur, which is very close to their house. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Chaar Dal


“Chaar” means four in Hindi (and Bengali and other languages) and this is a dal made with a mix of four lentils or dals. While the most common way of making dal in India is with a single dal at the time, there is nothing very unusual about dals made with a mix of two, three, four or even five dals (the Rajasthani panchmel dal, for example). Who knows, some day I might even go to seven. I made this particular version on a whim two weeks ago with equal parts of split masoor, toor, chhilka moong and split kali urad dals. For all I know, I hit upon an existing traditional combination from some part of the large country but the major logic in my mix was that these dals would cook in roughly the same amount of time. As it happens it works out very well texturally and in terms of flavour as well. The result is earthy with a bit of tang and even a hint of, yes, char. The tadka is a standard one: zeera, onions, garlic, chillies and a bit of tomato—you can adjust the proportions up and down as you want but don’t overdo any of it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 28: Szechuan Spice (Minneapolis)


I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to keep up our long family walks on Saturday mornings in parks in the Twin Cities Metro. It’s about to start getting pretty cold. The maximum for this coming Saturday is forecast to be 46f, which means it’ll be in the high 30s at the time we usually start our walks. This past Saturday, however, was not quite so chilly and we went for a walk around Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. It’s a 3.2 mile look around the lake but we managed to get off-track right at the start and added another .3 miles on to it. Which meant that by the time we picked up our lunch and took it home to eat with friends on our deck we were good and hungry. A good thing then that we picked up a lot of food. Where did we get it from? Szechuan Spice, which is just a few minutes drive from the lake. Continue reading

Alu-Mirch Sabzi


I think I promised this recipe to people on Twitter a couple of months ago. It’s a very simple preparation of potatoes and peppers that I improvized some years ago to deal with the deluge of bell and other large hot and sweet peppers every August from our CSA—the excellent Open Hands farm. It’s made with very few ingredients, comes together very quickly and is very versatile: you can have it as a side with dal and rice (it’s particularly good with more lightly flavoured dals like this moong dal or this mushoor dal); it’s also very good with chapatis and parathas; and you can also eat it as as a side with non-Indian dishes in place of any roasted or sauteed potato dish (or even potato salad, for that matter). What kind of pepper(s) you use is entirely your call, as is the proportion of potato to pepper. It will be tasty no matter what your choices are. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 27: India Spice House (Eden Prairie, MN)


On Sunday I had a quick look at the India Spice House grocery store in Eden Prairie. We were in the general neighbourhood again for yet another walk in the excellent Hyland Lake park in Bloomington. The last time we were there—two weeks ago—we picked up a large takeout order from Godavari, the new Twin Cities metro outlet of a popular US-based South Indian franchise. That was a very good meal. This time we picked up food from India Spice House’s restaurant, which has been around since 2008. I don’t know if the restaurant or the grocery store came first but they’re right next to each other—you can even enter the restaurant directly from the grocery store. We once again picked up a large order to eat with friends on our deck. Was it as good a meal as the one from Godavari? Read on. Continue reading

India Spice House, Grocery (Eden Prairie, MN)


We are coming to the end of our 13th year in Minnesota and it’s only this year that we’ve begun to explore the many parks in the Twin Cities metro in a concerted way. This is, of course, related to the pandemic. We’ve been at home with our boys since March—we’ve been teaching from home and they’ve been attending school from home. It’s been going a fair bit better, on the whole, probably than we had feared—our profession and privilege does make it much easier. But we’ve needed to get exercise, and more importantly, to make sure the boys get exercise so we don’t end up murdering them. Through most of the early summer that meant long family walks in town every day. The start of the school year has shortened those daily walks but we’ve been compensating by going for walks in various parks on the weekend. Two weekends ago found us in the expansive Hyland Lake Reserve park in Bloomington (we picked up an excellent lunch from Godavari right after). We liked that park so much—and there was so much of it left to explore—-that we went back again today for a ramble through another part of it for. After a three mile walk to perk up our appetites, we picked up another Indian lunch from an Eden Prairie restaurant and took it home to eat on our deck with friends. Our port of call this time was India Spice House. I’ll have a report on that takeout meal on Tuesday. Here now is a look at their adjoining grocery store, where I stopped in briefly to buy some ginger and curry leaves. Continue reading