Baghare Baingan

Baghare baingan is a classic Hyderabadi dish of eggplant stuffed with a tangy masala and cooked in a gravy redolent of tamarind. Despite having spent three years in Hyderabad before I turned 18, however, I never actually ate it there. This because I only started eating baingan/eggplant a couple of years ago, randomly, suddenly overcoming a lifelong aversion. Since then it has predictably become one of my favourite vegetables. I cook it often and order eggplant dishes from Indian and Chinese restaurants every opportunity I get. Eggplant dishes featuring a large dose of tamarind abound in southern India but none quite do it for me like a good preparation of baghare baingan. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I make the best baghare baingan I’ve ever had but it’s not bad at all. This is largely because it is basically the recipe from Bilkees Latif’s The Essential Andhra Cookbook, another in that excellent series released by Penguin India a couple of decades ago (that’s an affiliate link). I don’t follow the recipe to the letter and always leave out two ingredients but it comes out very well anyway. What follows is how I make it—the few departures from the original are listed in brackets in the ingredients list and in the notes. (The steps in the preparation are my language.) Continue reading

Spicy Grated Pumpkin

My mother sent me this recipe almost exactly 17 years ago, at a time when in my early-mid 30s I’d finally begun to eat a wider variety of vegetables. I must have asked her for recipes for pumpkin for the subject line of her email reads “kumro” (Bengali for pumpkin) and the body contains two recipes along with the headnote, “this is your father’s favourite vegetable”. The second recipe is one I’ve posted a version of before; that one I remember my mother making when I was young. This one, on the other hand, I have no memory of seeing on our dining table; but memory is unreliable and in any case I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. It is, however, an excellent recipe and a very simple one as long as you have a food processor with a grater attachment. In case you’re tempted to say that the texture of pumpkin grated with a food processor is inferior to that of pumpkin grated by hand, this is also a reminder that recipes like this can only originate in locations/times where kitchen labour is either cheap (via underpaid servants) or free (via women’s unpaid domestic labour). Kitchen gadgets may free some of us from these associations but it’s important to resist romanticizing traditional cooking practices or letting technology obscure their less savoury origins. Continue reading

Rajma, Take 3

Well, the worst of our national nightmare is over. The orange oaf is not going to go quietly, and he’s not going to go completely—and he’s going to do a lot more damage on the way out—but he’s been fired. No better fate for the loser who hates to lose than to be declared a loser on every TV set in the world (well, prison would be even better). Like everyone else in the US I spent the week unable to think about anything but the elections—and like most people on the Left I spent most of the first two days since the evening of November 3 in a state of dread, bracing for the worst. It began to become more apparent on Thursday that Pennsylvania and Georgia would make the final count in Arizona moot but I couldn’t bring myself to embrace it until Biden’s margins of victory became recount-proof (yes, recounts will happen in a few states but his lead is too large now to be overcome by a small plus/minus here and there). I began to hope yesterday but it was only this morning that I finally unclenched and exhaled. The only thing I did all week—other than obsessively check the vote counts—was cook. Cooking is not always relaxing but this week it kept me from going crazy. I thank my many-armed gods that the week ended the way it did; because if it hadn’t, no amount of good food would have taken that taste out of my mouth. Continue reading

Sookha Alu Sabzi, Take 2

You could think of this as a red version of the other sookha (dry) style alu sabzi I posted a recipe for earlier this year. It adds tomatoes and there’s some more plus/minus with spices—the end result is as tasty as the other but quite different in flavour. As with any dry style preparation of potatoes you have to be careful not to let things scorch but a little bit of caramelization on the potatoes at the bottom of the pan is a good thing. Stainless steel is very good for these kinds of dishes—though if you have a cast iron pan that is seasoned strongly enough to withstand the tomato then that might be even better. I like to serve this simply, ungarnished, with chapatis or parathas with some pickle and a bowl of dal on the side but it’s very tasty no matter how you eat it. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi, Lightly Spiced

I made this take on alu-gobi a couple of days ago and here now in response to some queries is the recipe. This is, I believe, my third alu-gobi recipe and it is by far the simplest. (The other two are here and here.) It involves very few ingredients and very few spices. Sometimes I am tempted to launch a campaign aimed at getting Americans to stop associating Indian food only with big flavours. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of classic Indian preparations that involve big flavours—and god knows, I often fall prey to over-spicing things as well. But that expectation and the many dishes that feed it often completely obscure all the ones that aren’t BIG in that way but which are rather tasty anyway. A lot of Indian food is very subtle, even if that’s not its reputation. This alu-gobi is one such. The major flavour here is that of the cauliflower set off by some cracked coriander seed. A light tadka of hing, zeera and red chillies give it a bit of umami depth and heat, some amchur for acidity at the end and that’s pretty much it. There’s no tomato, no garlic or ginger and only a bit of onion. Give it a go, you’ll like it. Continue reading

Chana Masala, Take 2

Way back in January, before there was a global pandemic, I posted a recipe for chana masala made with kala or desi chana. These smaller, darker chickpeas (compared to garbanzo beans aka Kabuli chana in India) have, as I said then, been eaten in India much longer than garbanzo beans. They can be prepared very similarly but are far from identical. They’re smaller and their skins are harder and their texture much denser; and their flavour is earthier and not as “sweet” as good garbanzo beans can be. So far, so repetitious. Here’s something new: back in January I’d said that I’d heard a rumour that Rancho Gordo—the Californian purveyor of bespoke beans—might soon start carrying desi chana. 10 months later that rumour has turned to fact. Rancho Gordo’s desi chana will be going on sale around Thanksgiving. If you’re not in their Bean Club (yes, I know) you’ll have to punch other people in the mouth to get them into your cart when they go on sale. (Well, you’ll be shopping online but you can always imagine.) Since I’m special (by which I mean, I know things Steve S. of Rancho Gordo doesn’t want you to know about his whereabouts in April of 1982), I was sent a few packets of these to play with before you heathens get anywhere near them. You can therefore view this as a sort of sponsored post if you like—I can certainly be purchased for less than the price of a few packets of beans. More accurate would be that Steve and I are old friends and that he clearly doesn’t need a D-list food blogger like me to talk him up when he has all of the North American food world falling over itself to praise his beans. At any rate, I’ve made a few different preps with them and this is the one the missus thinks I should share first with the public. Continue reading

Chaar Dal

“Chaar” means four in Hindi (and Bengali and other languages) and this is a dal made with a mix of four lentils or dals. While the most common way of making dal in India is with a single dal at the time, there is nothing very unusual about dals made with a mix of two, three, four or even five dals (the Rajasthani panchmel dal, for example). Who knows, some day I might even go to seven. I made this particular version on a whim two weeks ago with equal parts of split masoor, toor, chhilka moong and split kali urad dals. For all I know, I hit upon an existing traditional combination from some part of the large country but the major logic in my mix was that these dals would cook in roughly the same amount of time. As it happens it works out very well texturally and in terms of flavour as well. The result is earthy with a bit of tang and even a hint of, yes, char. The tadka is a standard one: zeera, onions, garlic, chillies and a bit of tomato—you can adjust the proportions up and down as you want but don’t overdo any of it. Continue reading

Alu-Mirch Sabzi

I think I promised this recipe to people on Twitter a couple of months ago. It’s a very simple preparation of potatoes and peppers that I improvized some years ago to deal with the deluge of bell and other large hot and sweet peppers every August from our CSA—the excellent Open Hands farm. It’s made with very few ingredients, comes together very quickly and is very versatile: you can have it as a side with dal and rice (it’s particularly good with more lightly flavoured dals like this moong dal or this mushoor dal); it’s also very good with chapatis and parathas; and you can also eat it as as a side with non-Indian dishes in place of any roasted or sauteed potato dish (or even potato salad, for that matter). What kind of pepper(s) you use is entirely your call, as is the proportion of potato to pepper. It will be tasty no matter what your choices are. Continue reading

Tomato Chutney, Take 2

I posted a recipe for a spicy tomato chutney a couple of weeks ago. Here now is a variation on it that is less hot but has a more complex flavour. The major things that are in this that were not in the previous are habanero chillies, ginger, Sichuan peppercorn and—wait for it, wait for it—raisins. The latter—I fully admit—were put in there mostly to troll my friend Aparna—a renowned hater of dried fruits being added to anything savoury—but they work really well here. Speaking of haters, when I posted the recipe of the first chutney on a food forum a gent there got very wound up about the fact that the recipe did not follow the convention of listing the ingredients in the exact order in which they appear in the preparation. He was apparently so confused by this that he had to stop reading. This is one of the most hilarious things I’ve come across in a while. You’d have to work really hard, I think, to be confused by that recipe. As for the convention itself, I suppose it may be a useful one. My own recipes rarely follow it, and when I cook from any recipe I set all the ingredients out and then follow the cooking steps—it hardly matters whether I set the ingredients out in the order of the cooking steps. My position, in any case,—as I noted on Twitter—is that you fuckers should be happy I list quantities and cooking times at all, having been “trained” by my mother on a steady diet of “a little” and “some” and “cook till it smells good”. If it really does bother you so much you should apply to management for a refund. Continue reading

Keema with Peppers and Potatoes

The word “keema” refers to both the ingredient—ground or minced meat—and to the stew-like dishes—not a million miles from chili—that are often made with it. In India the most common kind of keema by far is that of mutton or goat. In the US where goat/mutton is not as easily found I mostly use ground beef—though ground turkey does well in these preps too. In fact, I would say that it is in this kind of preparation that beef comes closest to substituting for goat in Indian cooking. That’s just my opinion, of course, and it shouldn’t be taken as implying that beef doesn’t have a place of its own in Indian foodways. No matter what the Hindu fundamentalist dispensation that is well into the process of destroying what remains of India’s secular fabric will tell you, beef is an Indian ingredient too. Continue reading

Peach-Habanero-Ginger Chutney

Before I became a pickling fool I used to be a jam-making fool. My jam making has slowed to a trickle in recent years with one exception: peach chutney/jam. I make one version or the other of it every year. Ginger always goes into it (as in this jam with bourbon from five years ago) but the rest usually depends on what’s at hand. This year what was at hand was a lot of habanero peppers from my community garden plot and so I decided to throw them in. To cut the heat I added apple cider vinegar and then at the end I randomly decided to roast and powder some cumin seeds and toss them in too. One of the reasons my peach chutney varies from year to year is that I never write down whatever seat of the pants improvization I come up with. This year, however, some of the friends I gave a lot of the chutney to liked it so much that I wrote it down the next day. I don’t know if I’ll make it the exact same way again next year—I probably won’t—but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it like I did, is there? Continue reading

Spicy Tomato Chutney

I’ve been on a preserving tear over the last few months, filling jars with pickles and chutneys of various kinds. The greatest beneficiary has been the missus who has been heard making demands at lunch that the full array of pickles be placed on the table. The secondary beneficiaries have been various undeserving friends. In some ways it is easier to make pickles (by which I mean achaars as we call them in North India) in large quantities, and since I’m making so many, we have more than we can eat ourselves. The only real roadblock is the ongoing shortage of lids and bands for Ball jars. Ideas for pickles, I have no lack of. This is largely because I have a copy of Usha’s Pickle Digest. I’ve been making pickles from the book and also improvizing some recipes of my own. Such, for example, was the carrot-garlic pickle I posted a recipe of a few weeks ago. And such too is this spicy tomato chutney. While the carrot-garlic pickle was more of a pure improvization, this one starts out as a mashup of two adjoining tomato pickle recipes in the Pickle Digest. To that mashup I add a few twists of my own. The results, if you’ll forgive the immodesty, are outstanding. Continue reading

Carrot-Garlic Pickle

My pickling career began late, in my late 30s, with a couple of carrot pickles whose recipes were posted on the Another Subcontinent cooking forum (R.I.P) many years ago. Later, I branched off into green chilli and lime pickle as well. I have already posted the recipe for a lime pickle from the almighty Usha’s Pickle Digest. After finally getting my hands on my own copy of that book last year, however, I’ve become an all-around pickling fool. I currently have seven home-made pickles on the go. The greatest beneficiaries are friends who get 50% of my production. It is, you see, easier in some ways to make pickles in larger quantities than smaller; and if you have as many pickles on hand as I usually do, it’s better to give a big chunk of your production away than to risk it going bad on your countertop or in your refrigerator. Continue reading

Fish Curry with Vinegar

As I’ve noted before, I’m not a big fan of salmon in Bengali fish preparations. Its flavour is a bit too strong in my opinion—or maybe it’s just too unfamiliar for me in those flavour contexts. I have far less cognitive dissonance using it in preparations that come out of the broad South Indian palette, however, especially with some coconut milk in the mix. This recipe does not use coconut milk (though you could add some for a variation) but salmon works very well here too.

This is also a recipe that comes together very easily. There’s a bit of a backlash these days online against “ethnic” recipes being presented as simple and so forth in the US. I’m sympathetic to the impulse there: the simplification of complex dishes is rarely a good idea to begin with and when applied to dishes from cuisines outside the mainstream it can also signal a refusal to take those cuisines seriously. That said, working Indians also make dishes that are optimized for simplicity—whether traditional or contemporary—and this one is a fish curry I can pull together in 30 minutes after getting home in the evening after a faculty meeting. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. Continue reading

Ginger-Mint Raita

Another week, another raita. Last week’s iteration was a simple one involving cucumber, radish and onion (and a bit of green chilli). This week’s is even simpler. There are only two main ingredients beyond the yogurt: ginger and mint. In this particular case, I used a variety of mint I’m growing in my garden for the first time this year: ginger mint. But if you don’t have any—which, why would you?—you can just use whatever mint you have. Despite the low number of ingredients this is a slightly fussier raita than last week’s, however, as it involves julienning and frying the ginger to just short of a crisp first. But once you’ve done that all that’s left to do is some mixing and I feel confident that you are capable of that. Make some today and have it as a cooling side with whatever you’re eating. 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

Cucumber-Radish-Onion Raita

I made alu parathas for lunch today and obviously had to make a bowl of raita to go with it. Raita is not a recipe but a canvas. You take yogurt and beat it, add whatever you want to flavour it, mix it all in and you’re done. You can make salty raitas, sweet raitas, salty-sweet raitas. You can make raitas that incorporate cooked ingredients and you can make raitas that are entirely raw. The only thing I haven’t come across is non-veg raitas but I would not be at all surprised to discover they exist. As always, my knowledge of Indian food extends to only a small sliver of it. Anyway, as variegated as raitas can be, my own preference—usually—is for simple raitas with a few chopped veg (I’ve previously posted my recipe for raita made with grated watermelon radish). I like my raita to emphasize the yogurt and not be crunchy with too much veg and toppings. In fact, I sometimes think that in the era of Instagram a lot of people overload their raitas because otherwise it doesn’t make for a very interesting photograph. It’s a simple dish; in my opinion, best when simply made and is a perfect summer side to all kinds of dishes. Continue reading

Black (Caviar) Dal

Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago. Continue reading