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

Carrot Halwa Cake


May my many-armed gods have mercy on my soul for I have messed with one of Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. Her classic recipe for carrot cardamom cake, to be specific. I believe this recipe was first published in her cookbook World-of-the-East: Vegetarian Cooking but I have never read that book. I heard about her recipe some years ago when my friend Pradnya posted about it—on Facebook or Instagram—and found it on some website that looked like it hadn’t been updated since 1995. I can’t find that site anymore but it lingers elsewhere on the web. I was drawn to the recipe because in the headnotes Jaffrey refers to it as being halfway between carrot cake and gajar/carrot halwa (one of the few things that makes life worth living) but without the hassle of having to stir gajar halwa for hours. Now, it’s a different matter that courtesy a friend—the late, great Sue Darlow—I have a recipe for a pressure cooker gajar halwa that is barely any hassle, but the thought of a carrot cake that could scratch my gajar halwa itch was enticing. And so I made Jaffrey’s recipe. And it was good; perhaps the best carrot cake I’d had. But it did not scratch my gajar halwa itch. Despite the fact that I am an indifferent baker I resolved to try to figure out how to make it scratch my itch and to my great surprise I hit upon it on the first try. Now you too can have your life changed for the better. You’re welcome. Continue reading

Tomator Chatni


One of the signs, probably, of the tomato’s late entry and adoption in Indian foodways is that its name hasn’t changed much in some major Indian languages from the Spanish tomate and the English tomato. In Hindi, for example, the word is “tamatar”, pronounced “tuh-maa-tur”; and the English transliteration of the Bengali would be “tomato”, though pronounced “tom-ae-toh” (with hard t’s all around). Whereas in the Hindi belt in North India the tomato has been fully indigenized—it is a crucial ingredient in a number of iconic savoury dishes—in the east its incorporation is less complete, more belated. I think I’ve noted before that, as per my aunts, one of the marks of North Indian influence in my mother’s cooking is that she uses a lot more tomato in savoury dishes than is strictly traditional in Bengal. However, though the recipe for this dish which centers almost entirely on the tomato is from my mother, it is for a fairly traditional Bengali dish: tomator chatni. Tomatoes are used here though as a fruit rather than as a vegetable. Continue reading

Kaancha Aamer Chatni/Green Mango “Chutney”

Aamer Chatni
Here is a classic Bengali dish and one of the true pleasures of summer. You are not going to find this in any Indian restaurant outside India (and within India only Bengali restaurants are likely to serve it and those are not so common). Luckily, you can make it very easily at home. It is made with mangoes. Here in Babylon we may not get mangoes that can approach even the third tier of Indian mango glory but that’s not a problem for this dish. That’s because it is made with green, unripe mangoes, of which all that is required is that they be sour without being astringent.

Now, why have I put “chutney” in quotes up top? That’s because the Bengali chatni (pronounced with a long aa) is neither chutney as it is understood in North India (a condiment, as in tamarind chutney or mint chutney) nor as it is understood in most of the West (as a sort of pickle/preserve a la Major Grey’s chutney). The Bengali chatni is closer to dessert, though it is not a dessert proper as it is not primarily sweet. It is a tart-sweet dish and in a structured Bengali meal (of the kind now seen mostly in Bengali weddings) it would come before the sweet/dessert course proper. When not eating a structured Bengali meal it works just fine as dessert, and I’ve been known to devour it by the bowlful at all times of the day and night. Continue reading