Radish Raita

Radish Raita
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe; the last one was back in late October and coincidentally had the same featured ingredient as this one: radish, or to be more specific, watermelon radish. But whereas that October recipe was essentially for thinly sliced and dressed watermelon radish, in this one the watermelon radish does not form the base of the dish; that role is played by yogurt. No one needs me to explain what raita is. I can tell you, however, one thing it isn’t, and that is a dish made with any sort of fixed recipe. The necessary ingredient is yogurt and it needs to be beaten; beyond that it’s a free world. From texture to flavourings, you can do pretty much whatever you want (though it should stay vegetarian and you should remember that the primary function of raita is to act as a supporting, cooling agent during a meal). Continue reading

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish
Seven years ago I would not have believed that a radish could be beautiful. Seven years ago I had never heard of a watermelon radish. Then we joined a CSA and in the late fall I cut into my first watermelon radish and it was a startling thing: the very opposite of your regular salad radish, which, as you know, is red on the outside, plain white inside. The watermelon radish, however, is innocuous on the outside, homely even: large, lumpy, the peel coloured a mix of fungal green and mottled, pockmarked white—you might even mistake it for a turnip. But inside there’s an explosion of purplish-pink, like a grenade of pink has gone off, suffusing the flesh but stopping just short of the outer rim.

It’s good not to be sentimental about even beautiful vegetables though and I don’t want you to think that I left my family to take up with a bunch of watermelon radishes with whom I’ve since been living in uncomfortable and confusing sin. I cut  that radish into chunks, dipped them into salt and ate them. Continue reading

Keema Chops

Chops
Chops mean something very different in India than they do in the West (and when I say India I mostly mean Bengal). They do not refer to a particular cut of meat; in fact, they don’t refer to any cut of meat at all. Chops can have meat in them, they can have fish in in them, and they often have vegetables in them. By “chop” you see we mean what people elsewhere refer to as croquettes. How it is that we came to call them chops I don’t know, and I have no idea why other people didn’t start calling them chops either. Indian English is generally better when it comes to food names: brinjal is a much better word than eggplant or aubergine; and you would have to be mad to think that okra is a better name for that vegetable than lady’s finger (oh the confusion when Indians first see ladyfinger on menus in the West). Anyway, just so you know, a chop is made by taking mashed potato, stuffing it with a savoury filling, breading it and deep-frying it. You can eat them as snacks or as accompaniments with dal and rice. Continue reading

Pork Pickle

Pork Pickle
I’d said that I wasn’t sure if I’d have any recipes this month either (I last posted one in mid-August) on account of the backlog of restaurant write-ups I need to put up. But then earlier this week I improvised this pork pickle and it came out so well that I couldn’t resist throwing a quick recipe up. It is extremely easy (though not extremely healthy) and if the notion of pork pickle seems odd—we’re not talking Western-style pickled meats here, but an Indian-style pickle/achaar with pork in place of a vegetable—just think of it as confit of pork shoulder with Indian spices. It’s very rich and a little goes a long way. But you can eat it with rice and dal, with chapatis or parathas, and you can even make sandwiches with it. It’s delicious and versatile and, as I already said, it’s very easy to make. The toughest part is to resist eating it on the first or second day as it “matures”.  Continue reading

Spice-Crusted Tip Roast

Roast Beef
We go in with friends on half a cow/steer each year but this year we doubled our take. Rather than all of us take 1/8 each as we usually do, our household took a quarter and the others took 1/12th each. I’m sorry for beginning this post about food with advanced mathematics. The point is we have rather a lot more beef in our freezer than we usually do. It’s good beef, so having a lot of it is not a problem in and of itself. The cattle are raised locally, without any hormones or antibiotics, they roam freely but are not  entirely grass-fed. When it comes time for slaughter they are taken to a local meat-processing facility/butcher’s and we place our cut order. This is not a fancy artisanal butcher and most of the cuts available are standard-issue: we get flank and skirt, for instance, but not flat iron or hanger. This is not a problem either. The problem is that when you have a quarter of a large cow or steer in your freezer you need to come up with many ways of cooking it for, no matter how delicious they are, if only a few recipes comprise your repertoire, monotony must follow, as the night the day or as hateful inanity follows the opening of Donald Trump’s mouth.  Continue reading

Corn Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumber

Corn Salad
A couple of weeks ago I posted a recipe for a warm octopus and chickpea salad. As good as I think that salad is, it requires both an ingredient not easily to hand as well as a lot of preparation time. And in the height of summer that’s not always what you want to do. This corn salad, however, is a different story. It’s not so much a recipe as a list of ingredients and you can vary the proportions according to your liking and how much of each you have. And getting the corn off the cob is as much hard work as you’ll have to do. Do get farm-stand sweet corn though—there’s no substitute for it. We’re very lucky in our town to have a local grower (Grisim’s Sweet Corn) set up a stand as soon as their corn is ready for harvest—the sweetness of freshly harvested sweet corn can’t be beat. In this recipe I also use cucumber and sweet onions from our CSA (the excellent Open Hands farm) and heirloom tomatoes and mint from my garden. The secret weapon is Rancho Gordo’s pineapple vinegar, which lends just enough tang to liven up the salad but doesn’t in any way fight with any of the other flavours. However you do it, you’ll end up with a great and easy side dish for barbecues and potlucks—it’s particularly good with simply grilled steaks. Continue reading

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts
I’ve previously posted a recipe for a Bengali-style sweet pulao with whole “garam masala” and raisins. Today I have a somewhat different version. It riffs on some different pulaos I’ve had in different parts of India—from Kashmir and elsewhere in the north it borrows the use of pine nuts; the use of tart dried cranberries pays homage to the berry pulao of Irani and Parsi restaurants in Bombay. Like all good pulaos it places these ingredients in supporting roles to the rice. Pulaos, in my opinion, are about the fragrance of good basmati rice (this is, of course, a North Indian prejudice—Basmati is not used much elsewhere in India) and that fragrance should not be suppressed or muddied by other overly strong flavours. The subtle nuttiness of pine nuts complements the basmati perfectly, the cranberries add a tart-sweet counterpoint, and a bit of mint brightens it all up. Give it a go: it works wonderfully with rich curries (like this korma, for example) but also just by itself. Continue reading

Octopus and Chickpea Salad

Chickpea and Octopus Salad
I’ve posted a number of recipes that use my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans. I think his beans are great and I haven’t had better. But I’ve secretly always thought that the best thing he carries might actually be a vinegar. Specifically, banana vinegar. It’s made from fermented bananas on a plantation in Mexico, and costs a lot, but it smells like heaven and tastes pretty good too. I can’t bring myself to cook with it; I can’t even bring myself to make a vinaigrette with it: instead, I just pour glugs of it over things so I can get that aroma. This summer I’ve been making a number of warm salads that use it to impart a tang with just the right amount of fruity sweetness. Here is a recent version that came out quite well. It features “baby” octopus along with another great Rancho Gordo product, their incredibly fresh garbanzo beans. If you don’t have octopus at hand or it’s not to your taste, you can just as easily substitute shrimp; you could even make it vegetarian and go with potatoes instead.  Continue reading

Fried Fish with Onions

Fried Pompano with Onions

Bengalis eat a lot of fish (maach) and fish is a major part of Bengali identity. The classic Bengali fish are almost all bony riverine fish of one kind or the other. As a kid my favourites were magur (a type of catfish) and koi (the small climbing perch). The magur, I remember, was always purchased alive from the fish sellers who came to our door and kept swimming either in a bucket or the kitchen sink before it was time to cook them for lunch. That thin magur maacher jhol (gravy) with long wedges of potato was one of my very favourite things to eat as a child. Later I learned to appreciate fish like pabda (another type of catfish), rui (a type of carp), katla (another type of carp) and particularly the unfeasibly bony ilish (hilsa, a type of shad) in various other richer and spicier preparations (for example, as shorshe-bata maach). Continue reading

Meatball Curry, Kerala Style

Kerala Meatballs
This recipe is taken from one of my very favourite Indian cookbooks, Mrs. K.M. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast. A classic, published in 2002 by Penguin India, though written/compiled over a long period of time before that, it contains a large number of recipes, non-vegetarian and vegetarian, from Kerala. I regard it with the same kind of affection I have for my copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cookingand it is the only other cookbook on my shelves that I’ve thumbed through as often. That’s not to say that the two books are equivalent. For one thing, Flavours of the Spice Coast is not quite as comprehensive in its coverage of recipes. For another, it contains far less additional information on the recipes themselves (unlike in Vijayan’s The Essential Kerala Cookbook, you will not be told which community a particular recipe comes from). And finally, the recipes are not always terribly precise—you will sometimes get the feeling that a step or two might have been omitted or misheard in the transcription. Here’s the kicker though: every recipe I’ve made from this book has been dynamite. Buy it now, before going on to read the rest of this post; you won’t regret it.  Continue reading

Crispy Fried Karela (Bitter Gourd/Melon)

Crispy Karela
Karela, or bitter gourd/melon, is an acquired taste. As far as I can tell this taste is acquired through the process of aging. It’s also not a candidate for winning any vegetable beauty contests—and its exterior (reminiscent of the hide of a chameleon that fell asleep on a bright green leaf) finds an echo in its interior, massive seeds and all. It’s eaten all over India but if you can find an Indian kid who willingly eats it you should next set out to look for Amelia Earhart’s plane. It’s English name is not a misnomer: it is an extremely bitter vegetable, more bitter than anything else I’m aware of that is eaten as the principal component of a dish (methi/fenugreek seeds may be as or more bitter but they’re used sparingly). I am now closer to 50 than to 10 and I’ve only just barely begun to eat karela. And I know lots of Indian adults who still won’t eat it. That said, once you acquire the taste for it you may find yourself unable to stop eating it.  Continue reading

Steak Two Ways, Indian and Korean

Spice-Rubbed T-Bones
It’s summer, we bought a quarter of a cow, and so we’re grilling a lot of steak. Sometimes just with salt and pepper, often with some improvized rub of Indian spices, occasionally marinated a la Korean kalbi. A note on the last: kalbi/galbi refers to a particular cut of short rib. However, the butcher who processes the beef we buy doesn’t do that cut; and the Korean stores in the Twin Cities sell less than optimal versions for very high prices. So, even though my wife doesn’t like the idea very much we’ve been doing it of late with other cuts of meat (in this case sirloin). And for the Indian part, I’ve noted before that far more beef is eaten in India than most people (including most Indians) realize, but we don’t really have a tradition of grilled steak. Most beef preparations are braises of one kind or the other. So, when you see me post recipes for steak with Indian flavours that’s just me substituting Indian ingredients in marinades and rubs. I’ve previously posted a recipe for flank steak—that was a wet marinade, this one is a dry rub.  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