Oats Pongal


Pongal is in a genre of rice porridge made in parts of South India, often with some lentils added. Usually eaten at breakfast, it’s a savoury porridge. Though I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve had it, it’s not something I’ve been very drawn to in the past and in recent years I’ve been trying to limit my white rice intake in order to try to make a dent in my high triglyceride levels. Related concerns have also had me trying to increase my consumption of oats. But every time I try to make a habit of eating a bowl of oatmeal every morning I run out of steam in about a week. I’ve tried counter-programming with oats upma (upma with roasted oats in place of sooji/rava) but for whatever reason that never feels like breakfast food to me. However, about 10 days ago when I posted a picture of my latest iteration of oats upma on Facebook a friend recommended I try making oats pongal as well. She gave me her basic recipe which I tinkered with a little bit and now present here. I am not exaggerating when I say that I actually look forward to eating this every morning. Continue reading

Hot and Sour Fish Curry


Here is a variation on a dish I make on the regular but which I have not gotten around to posting a recipe of yet. Why do I say “a variation on a dish I make on the regular”? Well, because that’s what home cooking is, or at least what it is to me. I rarely measure ingredients, add more or less (or none) of some things on different occasions, and generally improvize each dish each time I make it. In that sense the recipes I post on the blog are lies or at least not accurate representations of how I actually cook. Recipes suggest exactness but I’m not a very exact person. A recipe I think should be treated as a general roadmap: you don’t want to deviate so far from it that you end up somewhere completely different but you don’t need to have it dictate every stop along the way either.  At least you don’t want it to dictate one fixed route for every destination. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Peanut Butter


I made a somewhat involved chicken curry for a dinner party last week. Made in a Hyderabadi style it involved roasting and then making a paste of sesame and peanuts and various spices. It turned out very well and as we were eating I began to think of a simpler version I could make for more everyday cooking and which might be a little more kid-friendly. This recipe was the result of that thinking. It sits somewhere between that more complex Hyderabadi prep and a “white” chicken prep that one of my aunts is famous for (and which I’ve hybridized before). It involves very few ingredients and only whole spices. And if you have a good not-too chunky peanut butter at hand you’re well past the starting line. Give it a go. It’s very tasty and goes well with rice or parathas—or for that matter you could sop it up with dinner rolls.  Continue reading

Alur Torkari


A very popular weekend brunch in our home when I was a child was luchi-alur torkari. Luchis are a Bengali relative of puris, a type of fried bread; where puris are made with whole wheat flour (aata), luchis are made with white flour (maida). They’re also typically smaller. Torkari is a term for a style of preparation of vegetables—usually with a thinner gravy. Alur-torkari = torkari made with alu (potatoes). There is more than one way to make a torkari with any vegetable; this particular version is with a thin soupy gravy and very few spices. The flavours here are of the Bengali panch phoron (five seed) mix which infuse into the tomato gravy in which the potatoes cook. This dish is very much a taste of childhood for me. I’ve been known to eat it directly out of a bowl with a spoon. Continue reading

Steamed Fish in Spicy Red Curry


It has been a long time since my last recipe post—almost exactly six months in fact. I imagine you have been subsisting in the interim on water and stale bread, hoping each day that I would bring you something new, never letting disappointment crush you entirely. Good news! Your wait is at an end! Here is a recipe for a very tasty fish dish and you can make it today as long as you have banana leaves on hand. What’s that? You don’t have banana leaves on hand? I don’t know why I bother with you bastard people. Well, I suppose you could get by with parchment paper, or perhaps even foil; but if you have an East Asian market somewhere in your vicinity you should stop reading now and go get some banana leaves and come back and find out what to do with them. And, oh yes, get some fresh fish fillets as well. Continue reading

Potato-Leek-Cheese Gratin


I started making potato-leek-cheese gratins as a side-dish at Thanksgiving a few years ago. And while this year I am not roasting a turkey, I’m making this gratin again. There’ll be a slight change though. In the past I have always used crumbled local blue cheese; this year, however, I will be using goat cheese. This because I am not cooking a turkey at all this year: the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving gathering will be roasted leg of goat (two legs, to be exact), and it seems appropriate to goat it up elsewhere on the table as well. This is a really simple recipe—it’s not original: I’ve over time “averaged” a number of recipes I’ve seen online. There are some that have you boil the potatoes first, some that have you do complicated dances with temperatures. I, being a lazy bastard, do none of those things. But the results are tasty anyway.   Continue reading

Simple Chana Masala


Chana masala is a very popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US and its popularity is not a mystery. It is also one of the rare dishes made in North Indian restaurants in the US in a manner not unlike that of home kitchens. This is not to suggest that there is only one proper way to make chana masala. Like most Indian dishes, it is subject to a wide variety of variations—of texture and flavour—depending on what part of the country you are in. And dishes that may seem obviously to be in the chana masala family may have different names in different parts of the country—see ghugni in Bengal, for example.

The recipe I have today is my lazy, short-cut method for making chana masala in a North Indian style. Well, it’s not so much of a short-cut, I guess, as it involves first cooking Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans on the stove-top. But that’s the only bit that requires time—everything else is quick and easy!  Continue reading

Black Beans with Cracked Spices


I posted a picture of this black bean dish on Twitter yesterday and said I’d rustle up a recipe if there was interest. Among those who said they were interested was Mollie Katzen. Well, even though I was not planning to post a recipe this week, and even though our town was hit by a tornado last evening, I cannot say no to Mollie Katzen. Here therefore is the recipe. I made it with Rancho Gordo’s Midnight black beans, which are my absolute favourite black bean. They cook up fast, have a wonderful creamy texture and yield a delicious pot liquor that matches up well with whatever you throw at it. In this case, I did not throw very much at it. I cooked the beans on their own with a stick of cinnamon and tez patta (dried cassia/Indian bay leaf) and when done added to the pot a “tadka” of onion, tomato and garlic with a simple spice hit from cumin seeds split in hot oil, cracked coriander seed and a few dry red chillies. Not much to it, very easy to make, and extremely delicious. I had a big bowl for lunch, garnished with a bit of cilantro and with a squeeze of lime on top. Simple is good.  Continue reading

Simple Bean Curry


Every time I post a recipe for a curry I hear from friends who wish I would post recipes for Indian dishes that didn’t require too many ingredients they don’t have on hand. I don’t quite understand this complaint. Most Indian spices can be used in a wide range of dishes, it’s possible to get them in small quantities, and in the era of the internet it’s possible to get them easily even if you don’t have a good South Asian store within easy reach. And if you have more than you need just cook more Indian food. Problem solved. All that being said, here is a recipe for the whingers and moaners: it’s for a curry of dried beans cooked a la rajma, but made with very few spices indeed—and with ones that even those who don’t cook Indian food very often are likely to have on hand.  As with all my bean cooking, this was made with my friend Steve’s Rancho Gordo beans. This particular batch was made with the excellent but elusive Snowcap bean. I don’t think they have it available right now but the good news is that you’ll achieve excellent results with beans such as Domingo Rojo, Ayocote Morado, the almighty Royal Corona, and even the cassoulet bean. If you don’t have any of those on hand either, use whatever you have.  Continue reading

Spicy Chicken Fry


South Indian food continues to be identified in the US—and to be fair, in North India as well—with vegetarian food of the idli-dosa-sambhar variety. The notion that South India is largely vegetarian is a hard one to shake—it showed up last year in a New York Times feature on Kerala as well (it’s hard to understand how anyone could spend a lot of time in Kerala and believe that it is a “a land where vegetarianism is the predominant eating style”). In fact, the southern states are far more non-vegetarian than most of the rest of India—if you want to meet a lot of vegetarians, it’s actually to the north that you have to go. Whether it’s in Kerala or Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, fish and meat are everywhere. And these dishes are often pretty spicy indeed. In fact, the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is up there with some of the hottest cuisines in the world. One of the Andhra dishes that I particularly like to seek out when I am in India is the chicken fry or kodi vepudu. In its flavours and textures it is very unlike most North Indian chicken dishes. The recipe I have today is an attempt to approximate the flavours of some of the versions I’ve eaten, in restaurants and friends’ homes in India. It is not canonical, but the results are quite tasty. Give it a go.  Continue reading

“Steamed” Red Snapper with Ginger and Soy Sauce


Before lunch at Ichiddo Ramen last week we popped into Shuang Hur—the large East Asian market a couple of blocks away on University Avenue in St. Paul. We stop in there from time to time, mostly in search of whole fish that aren’t available in mainstream American markets—think anything with heads still attached—and, in particular, mackerel. On this occasion, however, it was some very fresh-looking whole red snappers that caught my eye. I picked the smallest one they had (still pretty large), had them pack it in a bag of ice and headed off to lunch (they also had some Indian mackerel, and I picked up a couple of pounds of those too). Two days later I cooked it for lunch, improvizing my way towards a dish we really enjoy at Grand Szechuan. The result was not identical but it was very good. And it’s very easy too.  Continue reading

Malai Curry


Malai curry is a quintessential Bengali dish of prawns cooked in coconut milk (in this version, with potatoes). It involves very few spices and is very easy to make. Doubtless, there are many variations among Bengali families. This recipe is from one of my aunts, one of the most redoubtable cooks in the extended family (my mother’s version is far less canonical). In Bengal it is common to make this with larger, head-on prawns. Head-on prawns/shrimp are always better because a) the more shell the more intense the prawn flavour, b) the texture of the meat is always better and c) the roe and other goo in the head both improve the flavour immeasurably and give the gravy a richer, red colour. I do make malai curry with head-on shrimp from East Asian stores from time to time but I try to avoid that as far as possible: given all the dubious stuff surrounding the harvesting of seafood in the region—from environmental concerns to the maltreatment of workers—without more knowledge of provenance it’s an ethical grey area. If only stores that did supply the provenance would stock head-on shrimp! Anyway, when I do succumb to temptation it’s usually for malai curry.  Continue reading

White Bean Curry with Green Peppers


It’s been a while since I last posted a recipe. I don’t know how you’ve all coped: you’ve probably been on bread and water, praying. Your prayers have been answered. Especially if you are a vegetarian. In fact, not only is this recipe vegetarian, it’s also vegan and gluten free. Alas, it is probably not paleo (though I’m not entirely sure what a paleo diet forbids) and nor is it nightshade free (I’m not making this one up). Nor is it made in an Instant Pot; though I don’t doubt that the more enterprising among you will be able to figure out how to make it in an Instant Pot—I assume you will use the time you save in some activity that will better your mind and character.

I kid, I kid: I make fun of the Instant Pot in order to bug friends who are high up in its cult; the truth is most Indians do cook dried beans in pressure cookers (though we were doing so long before the Instant Pot came along). This recipe, however, uses my friend Steve Sando’s excellent Rancho Gordo beans and those cook implausibly fast on the stovetop. If you’re using beans from some other source, a pressure cooker may be the prudent choice. If you’re using canned beans then I will pray for you.  Continue reading

Bhindi Masala


The only other recipe I’ve posted for bhindi/okra involves frying it with onions and trying to keep it as dry as possible. Keeping it dry—both as you get it ready to cook and while you cook it—is usually pretty much the only way to keep it from getting mucilaginous. Of course, in some recipes that quality is prized—see gumbo—but I’m with those who generally does not enjoy slimy bhindi. But it doesn’t have to be the case that bhindi cooked with any kind of a sauce becomes slimy. Here’s one of them. The key is to fry the okra first till almost crispy, then make the sauce and toss them together at the end. You can adjust the ingredients to make the sauce more or less spicy but I like to make it so it’s spicy, sweet and tangy all together. As a bonus, it’s very easy to make with limited ingredients and it comes together very quickly. Give it a shot.  Continue reading