Oats Pongal with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Coconut


Late last year I posted a recipe for pongal made with oats. That recipe was a take on my friend Pradnya’s recipe, which was itself an adaptation of a rice-based pongal from the cookbook, Dakshin. I’ve been making various iterations of that pongal for breakfast ever since—it beats a bowl of oatmeal in the American style any day of the week as far as I’m concerned. A couple of months ago I randomly improvized a more savoury version for lunch. My description of it caused a Tamil friend to pretend to faint in mock horror—this because I made it with dried cranberries, which are certainly not a traditional ingredient. It may not in fact be the only complaint that people who actually have cultural ties to pongal—which as a Bengali I don’t—have with this recipe. To them I say, just call it porridge if you prefer; but do give it a go: you’ll probably like it. Then again, for all I know, it actually resembles a traditional preparation quite closely. Indian foodways are wide and varied and it’s very hard to come up with anything truly new. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 14: Grand Szechuan Again


The pandemic may have fucked up all our lives but it’s not stopped us from eating the food of our favourite restaurant in Minnesota: Grand Szechuan. There are a few fine dining restaurants we like a lot but—as I’ve said before—no restaurant in the state makes us happier as a family than Grand Szechuan. Ironically, we’ve been eating their food more since the pandemic began than we otherwise would have been. We normally hit them up on a monthly basis but have been going to get their food almost every two weeks since dining out became first an impossible and now a dubious proposition. Grand Szechuan, by the way, has not yet opened up to dining in. I laud them for their good sense in not doing so; at the same time, I worry about a possible hit to their business now that others have in fact opened up. There were far fewer people there picking up food this past Sunday than I’ve seen on all our takeout trips previous. Then again, it was a holiday weekend and people may have been out on their boats or grilling at home. At any rate we had another excellent meal. Here is a report on that meal and the one previous, from just about two weeks ago. Continue reading

Peshawri (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Yes, we went to Calcutta from Delhi and ate North Indian food. Given the fact that in the last couple of decades there’s been an explosion of Bengali restaurants in Calcutta this may seem like a particularly silly thing to do. But we ate one meal a day at the home of one aunt or the other every day while we were there, and so we were not really hurting for the hardcore Bengali food experience. And then one of the events at the wedding we were in the city for had food catered by Peshawri, the North Indian restaurant at the ITC Sonar Bangla; and it was so goddamned good we decided we’d spend one. of our meals there rather than go to 6 Ballygunge Place or some other restaurant whose food would be excellent but couldn’t compete anyway with what we’d been eating at the homes of various aunts. And a good choice it was too. Continue reading

Toor Dal with Turnips


This recipe has its origins in one of my favourite recipes posted to the Another Subcontinent cooking forum, back in its heyday more than a decade ago. Most of my readers will not know what I am talking about. Another Subcontinent was a collection of forums on South Asian culture that a few friends and I started back in 2004 (a bit later we also added a features site). Well, technically both the features site and the forums still exist but both have been in suspended animation for a long time now. The cooking forum was the beating heart of Another Subcontinent and in my (not unbiased) view it was in its heyday the best resource on Indian cooking there has yet been on the internet. Populated by avid home cooks, both in India and the diaspora, the cooking forum brought together people who knew their own regional cuisines but not necessarily each others’ and we all learned a great deal from each other. And then the rise of first food blogs and then Facebook and, let’s face it, cliques and feuds among the membership killed it off. Nonetheless I still cook recipes I learnt on that forum pretty much every week. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 13: Bangkok Thai Deli (St. Paul, MN)


We began the pandemic getting takeout food only from places in our town or within a 20 minute or so drive. We then expanded our range to Bloomington and then to South Minneapolis. Now, more than three months in, we’ve finally made it up to St. Paul; and—with apologies to Joy’s Thai of Lakeville—we’ve finally eaten really good Thai food for the first time since this madness began. Yes, I drove up to University Avenue and picked up a box full of food for another socially distanced lunch on a deck with friends. A 50 minute drive to get there only to turn around and drive another 50 minutes back: but it was worth it. Continue reading

Golden Joy (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Indian Chinese food, as I’ve said before, is arguably the country’s true national cuisine. (I am speaking here not of the more recent, putatively more “authentic” Chinese food that has made inroads into the higher end of the market in major metros but which has a more limited reach.) This is true in two senses. It is available all over the country—in large cities and small towns, from fancy restaurants to street stalls to dhabas in the middle of nowhere—and has been for many decades. And it is a cuisine that at this point has been adopted without much/any rancour in every part of the country it has gone to (which is to say, again, to every part of it). This latter cannot be said, for example, of North Indian restaurant food—which is also everywhere but whose popularity inspires grumbling in many places outside North India. The only other contender is South Indian food of the idli-dosa-vada-sambar kind (I refer to it generically because that’s largely how it’s presented and received outside the South)—but that has never quite shed its (broad) regional origins. Indian Chinese food, on the other hand, is now of everywhere and from nowhere. And in most places there are no Indian Chinese people actually associated with preparing or serving it. Continue reading

Red Curry Chicken


“Red curry chicken” is my children’s name for the chicken curry that has been my gateway to slowly Indianizing their palates for the last few years. It is one of their absolute favourites of all the things I cook for them (though Marcella Hazan’s pesto is in unassailable first place). The “it” however is not a stable referent. By which I mean that this is a recipe that has been subtly, progressively tweaked to bring them along into an appreciation of spicy/spicier food without their quite realizing it’s been happening. Please note that when I say “spicy/spicier” I am not referring to capsaicin heat but to a fuller flavour via the use of a greater body of spices: cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom etc. And, yes, also increasing amounts of red chilli powder. That said, though they eat hotter food than most of their Minnesotan peers, the current iteration of this curry is not very hot either. But over the last four or five years it’s gone from being a fairly bland chicken stew with tomatoes to becoming something that the missus and I enjoy eating alongside them. Here is the current iteration for your enjoyment as well. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 12: Kumar’s (Apple Valley, MN)


Last year I wrote up a couple of meals at Kumar’s in Apple Valley—a local outpost of Kumar’s Mess, a popular Texas-based franchise that specializes in Chettinad food (though their menu has more than just Chettinad food). That write-up from December—which included my thoughts on developments in Indian food in the Twin Cities metro that seem to have eluded the professional critics—focused on what is normally Kumar’s specialty: thali-based meals. They’ve been doing takeout through the pandemic but I doubt thalis have been involved. They are now open for socially distanced dining-in but we only stopped in on Sunday to get some takeout for another socially-distanced meal on a deck with friends. The dining room is restricted to 24 guests only, and it’s a large space, but it’s going to take me a long while to get comfortable with eating in at a restaurant—and frankly, the sight of customers going in and out without masks, as we were waiting in our car outside for curbside pickup, did not help. The food, however, was pretty good. Continue reading

Eating at the Tollygunge Club (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


I finished up with my Goa reports from January two weeks ago. All that remains from that India trip are a few reports from Calcutta, which is where we went directly from Goa. We were there for just short of a week for a family wedding. For the first few days we were put up at one of Calcutta’s many hoity toity private clubs, the Tollygunge Club. The father of the bride is an ex-president of the club and set this option up for everyone from the bride’s side of the family who wished to partake. This was an opportunity I was all too glad to seize as I’ve had a morbid fascination with these clubs since I was a young boy—never having seen the inside of any except the Tolly on a few occasions as a teen, as the guest of either said ex-president of the club or of wealthy classmates from the boarding school I went to in Darjeeling in the 80s. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 11: Tenant (Minneapolis)


Last week I had a review of takeout barbecue from a restaurant in South Minneapolis. Today I have a review for you of takeout barbecue from another restaurant in South Minneapolis. The two restaurants could not, however, be more different. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole is a 51 yo Black-owned restaurant that is takeout-only and which serves no-nonsense barbecued meats and sides. Tenant, on the other hand, is a 3 yo hard-to-get-into, cheffy prix fixe restaurant in what I call the Global Cosmopolitan school. That’s in normal times. The pandemic has caused a temporary convergence as Tenant, like most other local fine dining restaurants, has pivoted to a takeout model to keep its doors open and its staff employed. The restaurant’s bare bones structure—very few people in the kitchen, doing all the jobs—has perhaps allowed it to be more flexible in this regard than most of its fine dining peers. They’ve not, however, been serving the food people normally book six weeks in advance to eat. For the first couple of months of the pandemic they were selling takeout soup and sandwich packages; as of about a month ago they’ve pivoted to barbecue. Continue reading

Teekha Alu Sabzi


At the end of April I posted a recipe for sookha or dry alu sabzi. Here is a close relation: a spicy (or teekha in Hindi) alu sabzi which has a little more gravy but not a whole lot of it. It too is made without any tomato and with even fewer spices. I improvized this take on a broader family of homestyle potato dishes—eaten in wide swathes of North India with chapatis or puris—entirely in order to test out a new (to me) ingredient that I purchased in Delhi right before departure in February. And so I did not want to mix in too many strong flavours. The ingredient in question is yellow chilli powder. I purchased a packet at an outlet of FabIndia (where else?) and then promptly forgot about it until I found it two weeks ago in the back of the pantry shelf where I’d stowed it upon our return. I purchased it because I’d never come across yellow chilli powder before. I’d expected it would be relatively mild but when I tasted it raw it packed a decent punch. I asked a number of Indian friends—in India and in the US—who are avid cooks and very knowledgable about Indian food (some of them far more so than me) if they’d come across it before and drew a complete blank. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 10: Ted Cook’s 19th Hole (Minneapolis)


I had planned to post this review of this large takeout barbecue meal earlier this week. But the prefatory comments I’d wanted to make about American food media and race became a much longer thing, and rather than have this review disappear into that I posted those as a separate piece on Thursday. One of the things I noted in that post was how little awareness I have of Black-owned/run restaurants in the Twin Cities metro beyond Somali and Ethiopian places. Indeed, the other two that I have reviewed—Big Daddy’s* and Handsome Hog—are also barbecue restaurants, albeit at different ends of the price and ambience spectrum. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole is even more informal than Big Daddy’s—it’s takeout-only here and things are as functional as you might imagine for a takeout-only establishment: a counter where you order and pay, the kitchen behind and a few seats in the bare bones room in front for people waiting (in non-pandemic times) for their orders. There is little here that signals the history of the restaurant—it’s been around since 1969. You pick up your food, you pay, and you go on your way. Continue reading

Yellow Eye Beans with Smoked Chicken

It’s a wild time in American food media right now. It’s an ecosystem I observe from a bit of a (privileged) remove and it’s been wild to see problems that have been obvious for years suddenly seemingly coming a head and spilling over. I might have a bit more to say about this in a couple of days if it doesn’t all get worked over by smart(er) people on Twitter who are closer to/in that world. On Thursday, probably. Today all I have is a recipe for beans. As always, I use beans from Rancho Gordo. In this case, it involves Yellow Eye beans but you can also make it with a number of their other beans, including Cranberry, Marcella, Moro and even the Midnight Black. This is a very simple prep indeed—as long as you have a carcass of a smoked chicken on hand. And if you don’t, a smoked pork hock or smoked ham will do. And if you don’t have that either, maybe just the carcass of a roast chicken. Or if you’re vegetarian/vegan maybe some smoked tofu. Just as long as you have a way of getting some smoke in there (liquid smoke?). Continue reading

Eating by the Water (Goa, Jan 2020)


More than four months after we left, here, finally, is my farewell to Goa. We spent a week there, living in the lovely home of old friends who now live in Hong Kong and it was one of the best vacations we’ve had as a family. It seems a world and two lifetimes away now but I see my other trip reports and look back with pleasure at our time there—hanging out at the beach every day, eating (mostly) very good Goan food both in restaurants and at home, visiting the local fish market, visiting old Portuguese cathedrals, touring the Paul John distillery etc. It was a charmed week and I don’t know when we will ever be able to do it again. Continue reading