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

Begun Bhaja


Begun bhaja literally means “fried brinjal/eggplant” in Bengali. It is one of the simplest preparations in the Bengali repertoire and one of the most quintessential. A meal comprising just dal and rice and a few slices of begun bhaja is an excellent meal indeed. Well, I say that now. As I’ve noted before, I did not actually eat brinjal/eggplant till just a few years ago. But it is also true that even in my most baingan-phobic youth I always liked the taste of begun bhaja and would eat small bits of the non-seedy parts of the flesh along with the crispy, almost smoky peel. Now I am older and wiser and enjoy all of it.

In its simplest form, all this dish requires is baingan, salt, haldi, red chilli powder and oil. The version I make most often adds only one ingredient to the above, probably making it less quintessentially Bengali in the process. That ingredient is amchur or dried mango powder. Some people add some sugar to the mix as well (the love of sugar is a sickness among us Bengalis); some also add flour; I’ve sometimes sprinkled some rava/sooji/semolina over right before frying. I like these fine as variations but most often come back to the simple version in this recipe. Continue reading

July’s Recipes: A Poll

For a while now I’ve been doing polls on Twitter at the start of each month to figure out the sequence of the month’s recipes. Twitter’s poll function is very limited, however, and so I’ve decided to do these polls on the blog going forward. If you are among those who are interested in my recipes please respond to this poll in the next 48 hours. You can vote for up to three options. The top four vote getters will be posted on the remaining Thursdays in July. The others will enter the pool for August’s poll. Continue reading

Peach Panna


I was at the municipal pool with the boys last afternoon armed with a novel (my friend Ben Percy’s The Ninth Metalavailable from Content Books and everywhere else) and a large container of aam panna. As anyone who has had it knows, aam panna is one of the best things about life and especially about life in the summer. If you haven’t had it and don’t know what it is, aam panna is a tart-sweet drink made with boiled unripe mangos whose flesh is pulped and mixed with sugar, rock salt and a few ground spices to form a thick concentrate. A few tablespoons of this concentrate per 8 oz glass of water + ice = refreshing bliss. Between sips of my supersized serving of refreshing bliss, sprawled very elegantly on an unclean and uncomfortable plastic deckchair, I wondered idly on Twitter if some Indian-American food influencer or the other had yet presented a recipe for an “elevated” aam panna or made it with peaches in place of the mangos  (re elevated aam panna see Commandment 2). Naturally, this led in less than 24 hours to my making peach panna. And it was good. Here now before I forget what I did is the recipe. You are welcome. Continue reading

Double Brown Beans


When making beans my first instinct is to make some version of the classic Punjabi preparation of rajma. This is a good instinct: rajma is one of the great dishes of the world, especially when eaten with chawal/rice along with some pickle. Indeed, you could say that many of the bean recipes that I’ve posted on the blog are variations on rajma. You might say the same about this one as well but it moves a little further afield and into the intersection that exists between South Asian and Mexican cuisines, broadly construed. Both cuisines feature dishes of stewed beans and in general have many ingredients, flavours and textures in common. This recipe, a result of random improvisation in the kitchen has mole in mind along with rajma: one of the key ingredients is dark chocolate, used to thicken the sauce and give it an earthy base. Cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon and red chillies are some of the other crossover ingredients in it. The result is a bean stew or curry that I expect will be more familiar to South Asian palates but might also spark some recognition in Mexican ones. At any rate it’s quite tasty and goes well with rice or chapatis/tortillas or just straight out of a bowl with a big squeeze of lime. Give it a go and tell me what you think. Continue reading

Brown Rice Khichdi with Three Dals


Khichdi has become such an emblematic dish in Indian food discourse in the US that  I feel a little embarrassed to say that I never liked it as a kid or for that matter in my twenties. My mother made it with moong dal and I didn’t like moong dal as a kid. She invariably put cauliflower in it and even though I could and did eat around it, I did not care for the aroma or flavour of cauliflower. But in my late-middle age I have overcome many of my early life food aversions—see, for example, my sudden and sustained love affair with bainga/brinjal/eggplant—and these days I make and enjoy khichdi as well. And of late I’ve been making it mostly with brown rice, which I am also these days eating more often than I am eating white rice. And I’ve been making it with all kinds of dal variations. The very rough recipe I have for you today uses a combination of three dals and is probably my current favourite. If you don’t have all three dals feel free to just use one; and if you’re using just one the adult me would repudiate young me and tell you to make that moong dal. Continue reading

Mutton Curry with Yogurt


Here is yet another entry from the Indian home cooking repertoire that is really an approach and not a set recipe. This is one of my favourite ways of making mutton (which for Indians refers to goat). It is on the surface a not particularly sophisticated recipe—you marinade the meat in yogurt with a bunch of spices and cook it all up together with sauteed onions, ginger and garlic—but the result is invariably excellent. You can vary the ratio of spices as you like and it will probably turn out well. Despite the red in the photo there is no tomato in this. The red comes entirely from the mild Byadgi or even milder Kashmiri chilli {affiliate links] and yogurt is the souring agent. I make it in my stone-age whistling Indian pressure cooker. And I make sure there are a lot of marrow bones/shanks in my mutton—the easiest way to ensure this is to buy a leg of kid ad have it cut up such that the shanks are at least three inches long. In an old-school pressure cooker all the flavour will be extracted from the bones. Or you can just cook it slow on the stove-top. My assumption is that most of my readers don’t have old-school pressure cookers and so the recipe that follows is adapted for the stove-top; but be warned that this is an estimation—I only ever make it in the pressure cooker (see the notes for old-school pressure cooker instructions). No matter how you make it, it will be good. Continue reading

Bharli Vangi (a la Anjali)


About six months ago I posted a recipe for the iconic Hyderabadi dish, baghare baingan. That dish features small baingans/brinjals/eggplants that are slit cross-wise and “stuffed” with a thick paste and then braised. The Hyderabadi classic is in fact part of a larger family of similar stuffed bainan dishes that can be found all over the south and southwest of India. The recipe I have for you today for bharli vangi—or filled/stuffed baingan—is Marathi in origin and bears a number of similarities to its Hyderabadi cousin, though there are some key differences. One of these key differences is the use of the classic Marathi spice mix, goda masala. If you live in an area with a well-stocked Indian store you should be able to find it there; otherwise, look to Amazon [affiliate link]. I should also note that while this is a Marathi recipe there is by no means only one way of making bharli vangi in Maharashtra and its border zones. Ingredients and steps can vary in important ways between communities and,) of course, from home to home. Continue reading

Chicken Curry Noodle


One of the missus and my absolute favourite dishes is the Malay/Singaporean classic, Nyonya laksa. Truth be told, we love the entire genre of curry noodle soups that arc up from southeast Asia through Hong Kong and China to Japan; but it’s Nyonya/curry laksa, with the richness of coconut milk that is our favourite. This recipe here is my homage to curry laksa, which is not to say that it seeks to replicate it or in any way improve upon it. It merely adapts the form to use a vaguely Kerala-style chicken curry as the base for a bowl of nourishing noodle soup. That is to say, at one (not insignificant) level this is merely a rich chicken curry served as a soup with noodles rather than over rice or with appams. Okay, that’s really the only level but it really comes out very well. I first made it for a dinner party in the Before Times—it was improvised then but was so popular among the guests that I kept tinkering with it till I had a version I didn’t feel like tinkering with any more. I do encourage you, however, to tinker with it further. You can change the spices, add less tomato if you like etc. etc. But maybe try it this way first to set a baseline to iterate on. If you enjoy noodle soups I can all but guarantee you will like it. Continue reading

Alu Sabzi


This is the kind of dish you will never find served at a fancy Indian restaurant or for that matter at a dinner party in an Indian home. It also gives the lie to the kind of overheated food writing you sometimes see in the US in which an Indian/Indian-origin chef or writer tells you that every single component of every Indian dish, every spice is intentionally selected to create a very particular set of layered flavours. That kind of thing has its time and place but this here is a recipe whose most crucial component may be a blender. It is quick and easy and it is very tasty. I’m sorry if that disappoints but this is—more often than not—the kind of quick and easy cooking that happens in a lot of Indian homes on a daily basis. It comes together in a hurry and all but cooks itself. Which is not to say that it’s not tasty because it is. And you can adapt it in all kinds of ways to make it your own. Think of it as an approach not a strict recipe. Who knows, you might even like it enough to serve it at a dinner party. Continue reading

Green Masala Fish


The story of this dish is as good an allegory as any of how recipes travel and mutate over time and space. It was one of my sister and my absolute favourite dishes made by our mother when we were children. It was not made very often but was always looked forward to as a treat. This was only partly because she made it with white pomfret which we loved—both for its sweet taste and for the fact that it wasn’t as fiddly as the usual riverine Bengali fish. I think we knew it was not a Bengali dish—our mother was the only one in the extended family who made it—but we weren’t really very interested in food provenance in those days. Many years later when I was in grad school in Los Angeles and finally a confident cook I asked my mother to send me the recipe. I too began to make it on special occasions. By now I had learned of the Parsi dish patra ni machhi and assumed this was basically the same dish except instead of steamed in banana leaves it was braised on the stove-top. But a few months ago I randomly described the dish to the Parsi food writer Meher Mirza and she—after consultation with her mother—declared it too different from the iconic patra ni macchi for her to use the same name for it. And so finally after more than 50 years on this planet—more than 40 of those eating this dish—I got around to asking my mother what was up with it. Continue reading

Chana Masala, Take 3


This is my third recipe for chana masala made with the smaller, darker desi chana. Here, in case you missed them, is the first, made with regular desi chana and here is the second, made with Rancho Gordo’s desi chana. I have quite a lot of the Rancho Gordo chana in the pantry and so have been experimenting with cooking times/methods and masala mixes for a while. I think I have now got things to where I like them best. Of course, I’m going to keep tinkering with the mix and proportion of spices because that’s the kind of asshole I am. But I’ve been coming back to this version often—which says something. The thing that I have settled on though is the mode of cooking the chana itself. I started out doing them entirely on the stove-top—as I do with my all other Rancho Gordo bean preps—but the desi chana just take too long. Now that I am in the middle of a teaching term I can’t constantly get up to check and stir and add water and so forth; and so I’ve been deploying my workhorse Prestige pressure cooker—one of those terrifying, shaking-whistling ones. And I’ve been pressure cooking this chana quite a bit longer than I would normally pressure cook beans: about 50 minutes total (see the first note below). I’m sorry I don’t have conversion instructions for whatever new-fangled pressure cooker you might have but the recipe will provide excellent results no matter how you get the beans ready for the show. Continue reading

Golden Beet Pickle


I usually post only one recipe a week but my backlog of recipes is getting a bit long and so I’ll be putting up the occasional bonus recipe post on the weekends for the next couple of months—not every weekend, mind, but 1-2 weekends a month. First up is this recipe for a simple achaar made with golden beets, the milder, sweeter cousin of the more familiar red, the one that is less likely to make you panic the morning after. It has its origins in a carrot-garlic pickle I posted the recipe for back in August. That recipe eventually morphed into one for a combination carrot-red beet achaar that I never got around to posting a recipe for. This is a simpler prep than both of those and may be even tastier. It comes together very quickly and goes well with almost anything. In addition to eating it with dal and rice since making it earlier in the week I’ve been drizzling the “syrup” over pan-seared fish as well. No matter how you eat it I think you’ll enjoy it. And, oh, this is not tested for ph etc. and I wouldn’t suggest that you keep it around forever. This recipe makes one jar that you should store in the fridge and finish within a month. Continue reading

Braised Lamb Belly, Curry Reduction


Back in December I started purchasing lamb and beef from a small farm in southern Minnesota. I’ve previously posted recipes for an oxtail curry made with one of the tails we got from them and also for two curries with lamb shanks (here and here). At my most recent pick-up from them—in a gas station parking lot off Highway 35—I also got a 2 lb pack of lamb bellies. I had not previously known that lamb bellies were a thing. Well, I knew lambs have bellies but I had not encountered this cut before. Still I couldn’t resist it when I knew they carried it. Looking it up when I finally got around to defrosting it to cook I learned that this is probably not a belly cut at all. What part of the lamb it is actually from I’m not sure. What I can tell you though is that it is very good in a braise, which is to say, it is very good given the curry treatment. The broad contours of the recipe are inspired by this one; the flavours etc. here are, of course, squarely North Indian in nature. It makes for a dramatic presentation—the kind of dish you might trot out for a dinner party—but we also enjoyed it for lunch on a weekday. It might seem like a complicated preparation but it actually comes together very easily (you can see most of the steps in the thread I posted on Twitter when I made it). Continue reading

Pork and Squash with Roasted Cumin


Many years ago the top Sichuan restaurant in Los Angeles—which is to say in the San Gabriel Valley, which is to say in the US—was Chung King in Monterey Park. In the early 2000s we ate there almost as often as we now do at Grand Szechuan here in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, when we left Los Angeles for Boulder in 2003 there was a period when if one of us had to go back to L.A for a few days they were tasked with picking up an order of our favourite dishes the evening before their return, freezing it and bringing it back in their suitcase. We’re not as insane anymore—and, of course, Chung King’s heyday faded long ago, as they moved, lost their chef and closed; and as newer and, let’s face it, even better Sichuan restaurants opened in the SGV (your Chengdu Tastes and your Szechuan Impressions). Why am I going on about Chung King? Well, because on one occasion we saw a special come out of the kitchen and head to another table: it looked like a kabocha squash stuffed with meat. We managed to order one too and it did indeed turn out to be kabocha stuffed with highly spiced ground pork and cooked together. The only other thing I remember clearly is that it was dynamite and that we never had any luck finding it again. Continue reading