Chicken Curry with Tomato


This is not a finesse recipe. But the results are very tasty indeed. A variation on my usual “red curry” chicken that is a favourite of my children, this came about last month as part of a desperate attempt to use up the endless flood of tomatoes from my garden. It uses two pounds of tomatoes for one chicken. And the chicken cooks only in its own juices and the tomatoes as they cook down. That’s a lot of tomato flavour and so it is necessary to deploy a lot of masala to counter and balance it. I start by browning the onions to an almost dark brown, adding a healthy dose of fresh ginger-garlic paste and then a lightly toasted and powdered masala featuring cumin, coriander and pepper. A bit of jaggery and a few slit green chillies and the result is happiness, especially when eaten with rice. As you’ll see, the recipe also calls for a large chicken. We get our birds from a local small farm and the smallest from the last batch was the 6 lb’er I used to make this iteration of this curry. If the chickens you get are smaller you could either double ’em up or supplement one with a few drumsticks and thighs. I leave this decision to you. Continue reading

Stir-Fried Gobi with Ajwain


There is no dearth of gobi recipes on this blog. I’ve posted a recipe for shrimp curry with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for rajma with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for cauliflower-corn soup. I’ve posted four separate takes on alu-gobi (here, here, here and here). I’ve even posted a recipe for oven-roasted spicy cauliflower. But variety, as they say, is the masala of life and so here is yet another gobi recipe. I swear it’s not my “Alu-Gobi with Ajwain” with just the potatoes left out.

This is a very simple stir-fry on the face of it: it features very few ingredients and other than breaking/cutting the cauliflower into very small florets there’s nothing to the prep work. But looks can be deceiving. You have to handle the heat carefully at the outset because if you burn the spices or chillies there’s nothing else coming later to hide the evidence. The primary flavour here is that of ajwain (you might have to go to a desi store for this) but you only need a pinch. A little bit of ajwain goes a long way so resist the temptation to add more. Continue reading

Lobia Masala


You may have seen—or missed—my post last week about the booklet of bean recipes I recently wrote for Rancho Gordo.  This recipe is not in the booklet—which you can download directly here if you’re so interested (don’t worry, it’s free). It features Rancho Gordo’s black-eyed peas or as they’re known in North India, lobia. Lobia is eaten elsewhere in India as well—in Maharashtra, for example, where it is known as chawli—but growing up I only knew it as a Punjabi ingredient/dish. Unlike rajma it wasn’t made in our house but I always looked forward to eating it in the homes of Punjabi friends. This recipe is not a traditional Punjabi recipe per se, though it does broadly resemble Punjabi preparations. I tend to cook lobia in much the same way in which I prepare rajma, with a robust blend of spices that complements its more vegetal character. Which is to say if you don’t have black-eyed peas handy this recipe, which is how I most recently cooked it, will work well with many other beans as well. Give it a go. Continue reading

October’s Recipes: A Poll


And here now is the poll to select the recipes for this month.

Unlike September, October will not be focused on a single main ingredient. My garden is still giving me eggplant, courtesy our warmer than usual September, but it’s now a manageable trickle rather than a flood. Two of the recipes on this list of candidates were very good too, as it happens, for using up a glut of other garden produce this summer and early fall, namely hot peppers and tomatoes. And though my cauliflower harvest was no more bountiful than it has been in the past (i.e not very bountiful) the cauliflower recipe is also inspired by my own crop of white, yellow and (so far, one) purple cauliflower. But it’s not all vegetables. If after 4 weeks of vegetarian recipes some of you are hoping for some meat, there are two chicken recipes (one curry with lots of tomatoes and one roast with zero tomatoes) and one with pork. Cast your votes for up to four of these recipes below. Continue reading

Podi Potta Kathirikai


I said while setting up the poll to select this month’s recipes that this was currently my favourite way of cooking and eating eggplant. This is still true. It hurt me to say it then and hurts me more to repeat it now. This because the recipe comes to me from a Tamil nationalist who persecutes me on a near-daily basis: Aparna Balachandran (who you may remember from this piece last year on reading Agatha Christie during lockdown in Delhi). In August I had a brief flood of long green eggplant from my garden (I really recommend planting the Thai Long Green varietal if you can find it) and she suggested I make some of it this way. Normally, I would have discounted this as “make it in a Tamil style” is her answer to everything (her other favourite occupation is claiming that anything that is good about other South Indian cuisines is basically due to Tamil derivation); but I had a lot of eggplant and I needed new ways to cook it. And wouldn’t you know it, this is in fact a great recipe. Continue reading

Baingan Bharta


God, I hated the sight of baingan bharta as a kid! I had, as I’ve said before, a huge aversion to eggplant that continued into adulthood and indeed only ended a few years ago. And no preparation of the vegetable was more repulsive to me than this dish: the mashed baingan, replete with seeds, looking like the insides of some disgusting squashed creature.

Well, now that I’ve got your appetite stimulated, here’s the general way in which I’ve been making the dish since I suddenly started eating eggplant. You have to understand, as I always say about dishes from the vast Indian home cooking repertoire, that baingan bharta is a genre more than a specific dish. It involves mashed eggplant, ideally first charred, and then cooked with onions and spices. In its simplest form it can be nothing more than roasted eggplant mashed with chopped onion and chillies and salt. More involved iterations bring in different combinations of spices. It’s very common to add tomatoes as well. But in most versions the goal is to let the smoky flavour of the charred and peeled eggplant remain the star of the show. This is the case in this recipe as well. I use a mix of black peppercorn and fresh green chillies for heat and balsamic vinegar rather than tomatoes as the souring agent. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Green Tomato and Habanero Chutney


As with my ongoing onslaught of eggplant recipes this chutney has its origin in a need to use up excess produce from my vegetable garden: in this case, green/unripe tomatoes that fell off the vines while I was picking ripe ones and many, many peppers, hot and sweet. The first version was made entirely by the seat of my pants, with nothing measured. I filled three jars, kept one for us and gave the other two away. That would have been the end of it except that the recipients raved about it and two of them in particular have been persecuting me endlessly for the last couple of weeks to replicate it and post the recipe. Well, I have some good news and I have some bad news. You want the bad news first? Well, I wasn’t able to replicate it exactly. The good news? This is pretty close anyway and very good in its own right. Will it get Ben and Lisa off my back? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, they and our friends Aaron and Kip are the only ones other than us who ever tasted the original so that shouldn’t matter very much to the rest of you. Continue reading

Pasta Alla Bharta


Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, the compendium volume that brings her first two cookbooks together, is one of the two most stained cookbooks in my collection (Mrs. K.M Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast is the other). I have been cooking from it for almost 25 years and many of her recipes have become family staples over the years. But since it’s only been a few years since I began eating baingan/eggplant, I’d never really paid much attention to her eggplant recipes. This summer, however, the eggplants in my community garden plot went off like a bomb and in desperate search of more and more ways to cook them I finally came to Marcella’s recipe for Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chilli Pepper. I made it with spaghetti and it was dynamite. I made it again and it was dynamite again. Since it needed no amendment, leave alone improvement, I obviously immediately began to think of ways to tinker with it. This led in short order to this fusiony variation that we might possibly now like even more. Continue reading

Lamb Shanks Curry with Eggplant


All the recipes this month will feature eggplant. This is because this summer I have had a LOT of eggplant to cook up. I grew eggplant seriously for the first time this year—last year I planted a few seedlings a friend gave me more than a month after the season had started—and was surprised and then overwhelmed by how early and prolific most of the plants were. I planted eight different varietals and 15 plants total. The first to come in were a long black Japanese variety, the Pot Black (a small varietal perfect for stuffing) and a lot of lovely little Fairy Tales. In August the larger varietals (Galine and Nadia) began to go off. I started giving a lot of it away to friends but could still barely keep up. The solution? Figure out new things to put eggplant into. One of them was this curry made with lamb shanks from a small farm in southern Minnesota from which I get lamb shanks, oxtails and other things every few months (in fact, there’s a big delivery today). I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out but the results were really very good indeed. The lamb shanks are cooked long and low and the eggplant just melts into the gravy giving it depth of both texture and flavour. I recommend it highly, even if you’re not struggling to keep up with your garden bounty. Continue reading

September’s Recipes: A Poll


Yesterday’s look ahead to the coming month on the blog presented the usual long list of whisky reviews and invitation to nominate those you’d particularly like to see reviewed. Here now is the poll to select the four recipes for September. There are six recipes on the poll and you can vote for up to four of them. The top four vote getters will show up on the remaining four Thursdays of the month. In the past—when I did a version of this poll on Twitter and also the last couple of times on the blog—I’ve used the ranking to sequence the posts. But this month I might juggle that depending on the selection. And oh, there’s a twist this month: all the recipes feature eggplant/brinjal. We have been drowning in eggplant from my plot in a local community garden and as a result I’ve been cooking it in all kinds of ways of late. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Pepper, Star Anise and Vinegar


Here at the My Annoying Opinions haveli we eat a lot of chicken curry. To broaden the kids’ horizons past their favourite “red curry chicken“, and to keep things interesting for the missus and myself as well, I am constantly tinkering with spice blends and souring agents. I improvised this version in early July and as the missus deemed it worthy of addition to the rotation, I wrote down what I did. Accordingly, I am able to present it to you as well to try.

I use Kashmiri chillies here for colour, black peppercorns for the heat and Sichuan peppercorn to accentuate the black peppercorn’s bite. Star anise adds a nice brightness as well around the edges. In place of tomatoes or tamarind I use Chinkiang black vinegar as the souring agent (if you don’t have any you can use balsamic or sherry vinegar). Give it a go: you might like it a lot as well. Continue reading

Bharli Vangi a la Pradnya


About two and a half months ago I posted a recipe for the classic Marathi dish, bharli vangi. That recipe came to me from my good friend Anjali, who in turn had got it from a neighbour many years prior. As I noted in that post, bharli vangi—like so many dishes in the vast regional repertoires of India—is not a dish so much as a genre, changing subtly from region to region, from community to community and from home to home. Anjali’s version departs from some more familiar versions—depending on your point of view—in that it does not feature coconut at all; instead deploying a mix of roasted sesame seeds and peanuts. The recipe I have for you today comes to me from another Maharashtrian friend, Pradnya (who comments on the blog from time to time and who sent me the goda masala I used to make the other version). This one does include coconut—and there are some other differences too. Pradnya originally posted it many years ago on the food forum of Another Subcontinent, a long dormant website whose food forum was once one of the important nodes on the early Indian foodie web. With her permission, I am posting it again on my blog. The formatting and language are mostly mine and some of the ingredients and steps are lightly adapted as well from her original instructions. My version ends up more sour than hers (she says her mother would approve). Continue reading

Spicy Mango Chutney


Mango discourse in the South Asian diaspora is focused almost entirely on nostalgia for varieties not available outside the home countries—a condition that leads some to overpay by some orders of magnitude for fruit flown in by small scale importers and distributed via ad hoc channels. I miss my mangos too—especially the langda, daseri and chausa—but I find this to be folly. Far better to embrace the good mangos that are available in the US—see the ataulfo, for example. And also to embrace the easily available unripe, green mango and all the excellent things that can be done with it: from Bengali kaancha aamer chatni to aam panna (the green mango drink that is as central to surviving South Asian summers as ripe mangos are as a reward) to Kerala-style curries to various pickles and chutneys. But then I understand that not everyone can be as tranquil and reasonable as me. Speaking of aam panna, this recipe is one I improvised this summer on a day when I boiled and mashed mangos for a batch of aam panna that would have been so large as to challenge even my ability to consume it over a couple of weeks. So I kept a third of it aside and made this versatile chutney that works great as a pickle (with dal and parathas/chapatis or rice), as a sandwich spread, and even as an accompaniment to cheese (like manchego, for example). And it’s very easy. You’re welcome. Continue reading

Masaledar Alu


I noted with some amusement a couple of days ago a major publication’s food section’s announcement that they would henceforth be switching to specifying fine sea salt in all their recipes. It seems to be a well-meaning gesture: an embrace of fine sea salt rather than the far more specific Diamond Crystal kosher salt beloved of others. What amused me is the attitude encapsulated in this statement: “The amount of salt can make or break a dish, and we don’t want to leave anything to chance.” The fantasy of control here is caught up with the fantasy that most cooks actually follow recipes with anything approaching fastidious precision. Over here at the My Annoying Opinions test kitchen, of course, we, I mean, I embrace sloppiness; indeed, I consider it integral to the process of cooking whose value I do not find to be related to mechanistic reproducibility of recipes. By “sloppiness” I really mean looseness. For one thing, in a world where the flavours of onions, garlic, tomatoes, chillies etc. etc. vary wildly from place to place and season to season the fantasy of control, of not wanting to “leave anything to chance” seems particularly quixotic. For another, cooking in my opinion is about variation, about combinations of flavours, not exact ratios. Anyway, the recipe that follows would never be published by the Washington Post’s food section: like all my recipes, it’s more a sketch than precise instructions. I encourage you as always to play with it and make it yours, adjusting things to your preferences. Continue reading

August’s Recipes: A Poll

As in July, the poll to select recipe posts for August will be conducted here on the blog instead of Twitter. The poll function on the blog allows for more choices and also allows multiple selections. This month’s poll includes three of the dishes that didn’t make the cut in July plus five new ones. (I replaced the crab curry in July’s poll with a crabmeat poriyal in this one.) You can vote for up to three dishes. The poll will be open till noon Minnesota time on Tuesday.The top four vote-getters will be posted in order on Thursdays this month, starting on Aug 5—the others will enter the poll for September. Photographs of the dishes are included to give you a better sense of what you are voting for. Continue reading

Braised Pork with Coconut Milk


We split a whole pig or two with friends every year. This is one of the perks of living in the semi-rural midwest. There are a large number of small farms all over Minnesota, many/most of which raise animals in a “humane” manner without the use of hormones and antibiotics and so on. You make contact with a farmer—or you can approach a meat locker/butcher that processes animals for small farmers and see if they know of any coming in—and when the time comes you get to specify your own cuts and sizes. It works out well for everyone involved. You get to support small farmers who raise their animals well and respect the land; and you get a lot of good meat at very good prices for the quality. This, at least, has been our experience. Of course it helps that we have a very massive freezer in the basement. Our cuts from the last pig we split included a couple of fresh ham roasts (basically hams that have not been cured or smoked). These can be cooked up just as you would a loin or shoulder roast and that is what I did here in an improvized recipe that is very loosely inspired by some combinations in Malayali cooking. It makes for an elegant dish with complex flavour that can be enjoyed equally with steamed rice or mopped up with some nice bread. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Ground Peanuts


This recipe is basically the byproduct of having made my friends Anjali and Pradnya’s recipes for bharli vangi a number of times this summer. It also owes something to the baghare baingan recipe from the The Essential Andhra Cookbook that I’d posted late last year. I really enjoy the mix of sweet, sour and spicy in all those dishes and the richness that comes from the use of peanuts and/or sesame seeds. In this recipe I use both peanuts and sesame seeds (though no coconut) and instead of tamarind I use sweet black vinegar. The heat comes mostly from black pepper—the byadgi chilies are used mostly for colour and for a light smoky flavour. If you don’t have byadgi chillies you could substitute Kashmiri or even ancho chiles. If the latter strikes you as too fusiony a choice keep in mind that this recipe—in addition to Chinkiang vinegar—also uses Sichuan peppercorn. I never have its southwestern Indian cousin tirphal on hand and it’s a more than plausible substitute. But it’s best not to think too much about these things and just roll with it. The results, I can promise you, are delicious. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi with Ajwain


This is my fourth recipe for alu-gobi. As I’ve said before, alu-gobi is a category rather than a specific dish. My previous versions have included recipes for a rich version with a lot of gravy, a dry version with a lot of spices, and a lightly-spiced version with no tomatoes. In this version there is some tomato and a light hand with spices. The crucial variation here is the presence of ajwain among the spices. (You can find ajwain easily at your nearest South Asian store or your online retailer of choice.) More commonly used in dough—for samosas, pooris, parathas etc.—ajwain can also be used to flavour vegetable dishes. A little goes a long way as it is rather assertive, its herbal aroma and flavour a bit like a lovechild of cumin and aniseed. Here a couple of pinches are deployed early in the process and its flavour and aroma build and suffuse the dish as it cooks without completely dominating it. The dish comes together very easily and served with rice or chapatis/parathas/pooris with dal and a pickle is the very epitome of comfort food. Continue reading