Chettinad’ish Oxtail Curry


For someone who did not grow up eating oxtail—I think I had it once before I left India and very rarely in my first decade in the US—I do love it now in curries. It’s a perfect cut of beef for slow-cooked curries in particular. The meat becomes wonderfully tender as the bones and gelatin give depth of texture and flavour as they meld with the spices in the curry. If you can’t find oxtail near you—we get ours directly from a south Minnesota farm, but it’s also available in Middle Eastern and Korean groceries in the Twin Cities—you can use short rib or even brisket or cut up chuck. If using a boneless cut suitable for slow-cooking, you should reduce the meat to 2 lbs and add 1 lb of soup bones (ideally with marrow) for that extra oomph. The other essential ingredient here is kalpasi/dagad phool, a lichen that is essential in Chettinad cooking, and which thankfully is now available easily in desi stores in the US, and also online. Speaking of Chettinad cooking, I’m not following any specific Chettinad recipe here, which is why I call this a Chettinad’ish curry. Give it a go anyway! Continue reading

Shortbread with Cardamom and Ajwain


As I believe I have said on many occasions, I am not much of a baker—I don’t have the discipline for it. From time to time, however, I do try my hand at it. In this case, I was moved to make shortbread for the first time after helping our younger boy make some for a school project. The recipe he was given to work with was not very good and so I felt the need to redress it with some better shortbread for our own consumption. I looked around the interwebs for recipes, found them mostly interchangeable and finally settled on Melissa Clark’s Shortbread, 10 Ways in NY Times Cooking. For the base, that is. In her variations she suggests some spiced versions and I took that as encouragement to devise my own additions. I made it with powdered cardamom seed and ajwain [affiliate link] sprinkled in with the dry ingredients as they were mixed. You can therefore view this a variation on her “Spice Shortbread” variation. The resulting shortbread has a flavour, though not the texture, reminiscent of the Indian nankhatai and makes for a killer accompaniment with masala chai. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Chana Masala, Take 5


It’s been almost two years since my last chana masala recipe and that seems like a dangerous length of time. I still have a large stock of Rancho Gordo’s desi chana—which I don’t think they are carrying anymore or planning to bring back. When I cook them, I tend to cycle between the three recipes for those chickpeas that I’ve previously posted (here, here, and here). Of late, however, I’ve hit upon a variation that I like quite a bit more than those. Part of it is that the preparation involves a not unusual method of cooking the chickpeas with a bit of baking soda. This helps them soften up very nicely (and much quicker than without even in my old-school pressure cooker). The masala meanwhile is made very tangy with a fair bit of tamarind and cumin (along with other spices). It’s very tasty indeed and I recommend it highly. If you don’t have a large stock of desi chana and don’t have easy access to an Indian store, you can just use regular Rancho Gordo garbanzos (but you may not need to use the baking soda in that case). Whichever variety of chickpeas you do use, I think you’ll like it. Continue reading

White Bean Stew with Coconut Milk


This recipe came about largely because in mid-November of last year I purchased a large and extremely attractive bunch of cilantro from the green market at Hmong Village in St. Paul. Not only did the cilantro have the thickest parts of the stems attached, it also had the roots. I used half the roots to make a fusiony beef short-rib curry and came up with this recipe to use up the rest along with the rest of the thick stems. If you can’t find coriander root near you, just use more of the cilantro stems—the flavours are not the same but it’ll make for a tasty variation. Another important ingredient here is one of my favourite beans carried by Rancho Gordo: alubia blanca. These small, white beans cook up very fast, even without soaking, and have a delicate flavour that goes really well with the flavours of the coconut milk and the green puree. And the creamy texture of the beans likewise matches the texture of the stew. Now, you might ask yourself if this is an Indian dish. I’m not aware of any traditional, regional dish that resembles this (though, as always, it’s a large country and I’ve only eaten a very small fraction of its foods), but as far as I’m concerned the approach is very Indian. You can categorize it as you like. Continue reading

Goat Neck Curry with Potato


As you’re utterly sick of hearing from me, this past year we have been getting a whole goat from a local small farm and splitting it with friends. Processing happens at the excellent Dennison Meat Locker and our half is cut to my specifications by the butchers there. I actually send them links to Youtube videos of Pakistani butchers cutting goat and they follow their lead! Quite apart from the appeal of getting high quality mutton/goat cut in the proper desi style, a big advantage of getting a whole/half goat is getting all kinds of different cuts. Among these is the neck, which is very bone-heavy—which means curries cooked long and slow with those pieces have excellent flavour and rich texture. Such was the case with this curry with potatoes that I first made in early November, and which some people have been calling for the recipe of ever since I posted a Reel of the finished dish on Instagram. Here it is now. Continue reading

Tiranga Dal


It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe for dal (this Un-Makhni Dal, cooked with a smoked pork hock). Typically, my dal preps are with single dals. Today’s recipe, however, is for a mix of three dals of three different colours. Hence the name: tiranga or tri-colour. Mixed dal preps are quite common in North India—and I myself have previously posted a recipe that uses four different dals. This is similar, except it leaves out the toor dal and the tadka is not identical. Which is to say, it’s different. This is for me very much a cold weather, comfort food dal. (This is only a personal thing.) It’s a hearty dal with good texture to it and I like to use a lot of julienned ginger in the tadka. You should feel free to tone that down if you like. It goes very well with rice or chapatis and I’ve also enjoyed it very much directly out of a bowl. See how you like it. Continue reading

Keema with Potatoes, Peas and Green Onions


We split a goat from a local small farm again with friends this fall. I like everything about the mutton we get from this farm but I particularly enjoy cooking with the keema/mince. The slightly gamy flavour and the texture of coarsely ground mutton/goat is, in my opinion, unparalleled for most Indian keema and kofta/meatball preps. Or maybe I think so because that’s the only kind of keema I ate growing up. In fact, the flavour of goat keema is also crucial to hamburgers in India. At any rate, I find goat keema the best pairing with robust spices. In this case I deploy a bit of kabab chini or cubeb/tailed pepper [affiliate link]. It’s sold in desi groceries and you can find it online as well. You have to be careful though as the term kabab chini is sometimes used for allspice as well—look for a brand that specifies cubeb pepper on the packaging. As with any good keema prep this also features potatoes and peas; and at the end I dump in rather a lot of chopped green onions. I fully admit that this is because I had purchased a rather massive bunch of vibrant green onions from Hmong Village in St. Paul the weekend before I made this and needed to use them up—but they brought very good flavour and texture. Continue reading

Tangy Squash with Malvani Masala


The end of the growing season is basically squash season at our CSA, the excellent Open Hands farm. And so October and November usually find me cooking squash in all kinds of ways—from soups to pork combos to grated preparations. One of my favourite squashes is Ambercup; both because it is very tasty and because it does not need to be peeled (I am a very lazy cook). Open Hands usually has a lot of Ambercup in their shares but this year was an exception. While waiting for it to come in I took a flyer on a variety I had never seen or cooked with before: Starry Night. This is a variant of Acorn squash and does not give off much moisture when cooked, making it particularly suitable for dry preparations. It’s a bit fussy to peel, on account of the ridges, but the dish I improvised with it came out rather well: a tangy and slightly spicy preparation that deploys one of my new favourite commercial spice mixes, Bedekar’s Malvani masala. This masala has been available at my favourite desi store in the Twin Cities metro throughout the year but if you don’t see it—or another brand of Malvani masala—in a store near you, you can find it online. Continue reading

December’s Recipes: A Poll


Four Thursdays remain in December and each will feature a recipe. This month’s poll is meat-heavy, with four meat-centered dishes, and three of those optimally deploy goat/mutton—and two of them further optimally deploy a specific cut: the neck. But if you don’t have access to goat neck you can use any cut that’s heavy on bones in those recipes; and if you don’t have access to any kind of goat/mutton then you can use lamb or beef. Two of these meat recipes are leftover from November’s poll. The two vegetarian recipes are newcomers. The first is a dry and tangy preparation of squash that features my new favourite commercial spice mix, Bedekar’s Malvani Masala. The other is a very simple tiranga or tricolour dal (which uses, yes, a mix of three dals of different colours) which is the very epitome of comfort food, particularly if, like us, you are at the beginning of a long winter. The poll will be left open till the end of the day, Monday. As always, you can vote for up to four recipes (though some of you do seem to vote strategically). Continue reading

Red Pork with Wine and Spices


I didn’t post a recipe this Thursday. Apologies for ruining your Thanksgiving. But here it is today, just two days late. This is a recipe for braised pork shoulder that I improvized in July and have been trying to get on the blog ever since. It finally made it through the poll for November. Do you people not like pork that much? Or are you just tired of my braised pork recipes? God knows, I’ve posted a lot of them (here, here, here, here and here). They’re all different from each other, though—I swear. The one I posted earlier this year also had white wine in it but this has a completely different flavour profile. As with that recipe, I used white wine here because I had an open bottle in the fridge. In this case though the bottle had been open for a long while and the wine had begun to approach the border of vinegar. I ended up mellowing the sauce with coconut milk. I’ve listed coconut milk as optional in the recipe though because if you’re using wine from a freshly opened bottle you might not feel the need to add any. Taste it at the end and decide. Continue reading

Baingan Masala with Mustard


The first recipe of the month featured eggplant; here now is another. I improvised this in mid-October and I think it was the last dish I made with the last of the eggplant from my garden. Truth be told, as much as we like eggplant, it’s been a bit of a relief to not be cooking it twice a week as I pretty much had been since early August! These were all long eggplant: a mix of Ping Tung (a purple varietal) and Thai Long Green. Could this recipe be adapted for globe eggplant? Probably, but cut-up globe eggplant is not going to hold its shape the way that long eggplant cut into thick disks does. Long eggplant is easily found in Indian and other Asian stores though, so that shouldn’t be a difficult hurdle to clear. The key flavour in this dish comes from a spice I threw into my grinder on a whim: black mustard seed. Its sharp bite comes through quite cleanly in the finished dish. If you are able to use mustard oil like a good Bengali then you’ll taste the sharpness even more. But it will be good even with a regular neutral oil. I also use the home-made Bengali spice blend, bhaja moshla, to add a little more punch at the end. This is not commercially available but you can use a pinch of your favourite garam masala instead (if you do, keep the pan on the heat for another minute after adding it). Continue reading

Shrimp Curry with Tomatoes


Here’s another recipe from August when I was trying my best to use up the flood of tomatoes coming in from my plot at the community garden. In this case, I also had on hand a few pounds of excellent Gulf shrimp purchased from a seafood truck that drives up from Texas to the midwest every summer. Normally, I would have made malai curry with shrimp this good but, as I said, I had a metric tonne of tomatoes to use up. And so I pulled together a relatively basic shrimp curry. Relatively, because two ingredients give the curry extra depth and bite, respectively: dessicated coconut and Sichuan peppercorn. The heat comes mostly from the black peppercorn in the spice mix, with a Kashmiri chilli [affiliate link] used more for colour. It’s a simple recipe that comes together quickly and delivers great flavour for a weeknight or weekend meal. Continue reading

Hot and Sour Baingan Masala


This recipe was on the poll for September and October and it’s time has now come. I improvized it in early August when the flood of eggplant from my community garden plot was in full flow and variety in preparation was needed to keep exhaustion at bay. It turned out so well that I made it a few more times before the growing season ended in October. My eggplant of choice for this was a variety I grew for the first time this year: Little Finger. These plants produce a profusion of very dark purple eggplants that are 3-6 inches in length and tubular in shape. As they’re not commercially available—unless there’s a specialty grower at a farmers’ market near you—you can happily substitute whatever long eggplant you do have access to. Alas, globe eggplant, either cut into rings or cubed, is not optimal for this dish as you want the eggplant pieces to hold their shape and not begin to melt into the sauce. You begin by stir-frying the sliced eggplants, setting them aside, making the wet masala and adding the fried eggplant back in for the last step. While the first step requires constant stir-frying for 10 minutes or so, it is, on the whole, a simple and quick recipe—and I think you’ll find it’s very delicious. Great with pulao or with chapatis or parathas; and excellent as both a side dish or the star of the show. Continue reading

November’s Recipes: A Poll


The first Thursday of November is almost upon us and so here is the poll to select the four recipes I’ll post next month. Four of these recipes are the also-rans from October’s poll: Hot and Sour Baingan Masala; Lamb Shank Curry with Tomato and Potato; Shrimp Curry with Tomato; and Red Braised Pork with Wine and Spices (this one has been on the poll since the summer). Joining them are two new recipes. One of these is for a mutton curry with sweet potato that’s best made in a pressure cooker but could easily be adapted to stove-top cooking by the less hasty (and you can, of course, substitute lamb or beef for mutton/goat). The other is the second vegetarian/vegan recipe on the poll and it too features eggplant. It’s a recipe whose spice mix I improvised as I was making it—I added a fair bit of mustard seed and we quite liked the result. And so here it is for you to consider as well. As always you can vote for up to four candidates. The poll will be left open through Tuesday. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Fennel

The last recipe of the month is for a chicken curry that I was inspired to make by and for a long-time reader of the blog, Dan Davies (who goes by yak_lord on Instagram and whisky_yak on Twitter). He has made and posted pictures of a number of my recipes over the years and I have always appreciated it: it gives me great pleasure when my recipes enter other people’s repertoires. Last month a post he made on Instagram citing one of my recipes caught my eye. He noted that he’d not used garlic and had substituted fennel for onion. At first I was foxed by this. But, of course, there was a good reason for it: a dietary restriction in his household that makes cooking with onions, garlic and other alliums untenable. This got me thinking and I resolved to come up with a chicken curry recipe that centered fennel and omitted onions and garlic from the get-go. The recipe also eschews red chilli powder and tomatoes and the spice mix includes quite a lot of poppy seed. This makes for a “white” gravy that is mild yet flavourful: the fennel brings a bright sweetness, the pepper and ginger a bit of bite and the whole garam masalas and green chillies add fragrance. For best results use chicken on the bone as without onion or garlic you need more depth of flavour in the gravy than boneless chicken will give you. Continue reading

The Red Death (Roasted Tomato and Trinidad Scorpion Chutney)


There comes a point at the end of every growing season when I tire of making and freezing more and more batches of tomato sauce for pasta for the next nine months. One of the ways I deal with the excess—after giving loads away to undeserving and ungrateful bastards—is by making spicy tomato chutney. My general go-to recipes are this and this (versions of each other). This year, however, I put a twist on the second one that turned out remarkably well. I’m not referring to the fact that I used a Trinidad Scorpion pepper from my garden (I normally grow Habaneros for my satanically hot pepper needs but our local nursery didn’t have any this year). No, the twist was that I oven-roasted the tomatoes first. I’d made a batch of regular oven-roasted tomatoes with herbs with some garden San Marzanos a few days earlier. We normally eat those in sandwiches with mozzarella and arugula etc. but it struck me that the concentrated, savoury tomato flavour would probably make an excellent spicy chutney as well. And so that’s what I did with my next batch of San Marzanos and then with an even larger batch of Amish Pastes. The result is a complex, hot chutney that you can dab small amounts of on top of sliced, dressed tomatoes, smear lightly in sandwiches or eat as you would a regular achaar/pickle alongside dal and rice. The first step—oven-roasting the tomatoes—will take a long time. But it needs no supervision and once the tomatoes are ready the rest comes together very fast. Continue reading

Zucchini “Chenchki”


A vegetable that you enjoy when it first becomes available from the garden in the summer—or in our case, our CSA—but which then increasingly begins to feel like a curse, is zucchini. I don’t grow it for that reason: it’s good but then there’s altogether too much of it. If another gardener offers you some of their zucchini it’s probably a passive-aggressive move—especially here in the upper midwest. But it is a mainstay of the CSA table earlier in the season before the more charismatic vegetables show up and so we find ourselves with a decent amount of it on hand most weeks from mid-July on. As I grill a lot in the summer, it’s easy enough to slice some zucchini, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper and slap it on the grate. The missus makes a Korean banchan with it as well. And from time to time I put it into Bengali vegetable recipes as well. Continue reading

Kofta Curry with Green Peppers


This may be a recipe for kofta or meatball curry but really, it too had its origins in trying desperately to use up my vegetable garden bounty. The curry was made with a lot of tomato and with green Carmen peppers that had not yet turned/begun to ripen before the first killing frost a week ago. Carmen peppers turn a lovely scarlet colour when fully ripe but are also quite sweet and very tasty when green. The koftas were made here with ground beef (from Goette Farms) but you can use ground lamb or goat or even turkey (keema and koftas being the best ways for turkey to shine in the Indian kitchen in my experience). The large amount of tomato used makes the curry quite tangy and the flavour of the green peppers matches it well. It’s a pretty quick and simple preparation—largely because I don’t bother frying the koftas first—and rather tasty. Continue reading