Baingan Masala with Pork Keema


I improvised this recipe late last summer as part of my desperate campaign to hold at bay the endless flood of eggplant from my vegetable garden. It came out rather well and I’ve been trying to share it on the blog ever since. But you bastards shot it down in the recipes poll in November and December. I was tempted to just declare that it would be posted in January but I kept faith in the democratic process and it finally limped into the top four this month. (Now if we can only get justice in February’s poll for the masala spare ribs which have been shot down in the poll for four months straight.) Anyway, if you like pork and if you like eggplant you will like this. I guarantee it or your money back. Indeed, I may have to go get some long eggplant from the desi store and make it again for us. If you don’t have access to long eggplant, don’t fret: it’ll be good with regular globe eggplant as well. The only real controversy here is whether this should be named Baingan Masala with  Pork Keema or Pork Keema Masala with Baingan. It’ll taste as good either way. Continue reading

Sweet Potato Curry with Tamarind and Peanuts


Almost all of my cooking is not only improvisatory in nature but also often a hodgepodge of ingredients and approaches from different parts of India. I do sometimes cook from cookbooks that features dishes/cuisines of regions of India other than my own and when I do I follow those recipes closely—at least the first time. But invariably aspects of those recipes—be they combinations of ingredients or broad flavour profiles—enter unpredictably into the improvised dishes I make far more often. Not every bit of hybridization works or has particularly striking results but when one does it feels very satisfying. This improvised sweet potato curry, which draws on ingredients and flavours in dishes from Marathi and various South Indian cuisines, is one of my recent hits. For all I know it ends up close to some community or the other’s traditional preparation of sweet potato. If so, please don’t give me a hard time for departing in some crucial way from a canonical preparation you’re familiar with; this is not trying to be whatever that might be. What I can tell you is that—sour and hot and sweet and thickened with ground peanuts—it makes for a hearty winter meal with rice. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Paneer Mirch Masala


First things first: home-made paneer is the best and it is very easy to make. As I’ve said before if you have the skills to bring a liquid to a slow boil and then stir it then you have the skills to make paneer—see here for the method I learned from a friend, the late, great Sue Darlow. But if you don’t have the time to make paneer at home by all means go out and get some from your local desi store. For that matter, Costco has giant blocks of paneer too these days—I’ve not tried it; if you have and have an opinion please do share in the comments. In short, use whatever paneer you have but if nervousness is the only thing stopping you from trying to make your own then just know it’s not difficult. Anyway, when I make paneer my default uses for it are either palak-paneer or matar-paneer. This summer, however, I started making paneer-mirch masala in yet another attempt to use up the endless flood of Hungarian hot wax peppers from my vegetable garden. I played around with a number of variations with spices, the amount of tomato, the amount of gravy etc. and this is my current favourite version. Give it a go. Continue reading

Roasted Moog Dal with Rosemary


When I was a child—back in the Devonian—I did not really care for moog dal. Mushoor dal was my absolute favourite, with chholar dal and kali dal rounding out the triumvirate. There was something about the flavour of moog dal that I just did not care for. Perhaps it was on account of the fact that my mother usually cooked it with vegetables and vegetables were a separate and entire class of things I did not care. Well, unsurprisingly, I grew to love moog dal as an adult; more surprisingly, perhaps, my kids absolutely love it. They will tolerate mushoor dal but it is moog dal they actually get excited to eat—all the rest are currently rejected. And so I make moog dal often. To keep things interesting for them—and for us—I experiment ever so often with tadkas. This, by the way, has been a major development in their relationship with dal. It used to be that they only wanted moog dal made without tadka (which can be very good, by the way). But now they put up with and even enjoy the flavour of various tadkas. This one in particular was a favourite in the early winter this year as my rosemary plant was slowly dying after having been dug up and brought indoors. Yes, I add a few sprigs of rosemary to the tadka. It goes really well with the flavour and aroma of the dal, which in the Bengali manner is dry-roasted before it is cooked. Continue reading

Sweet-Spicy-Sour Squash


I’ve mentioned a number of times since the summer that we had some difficulty keeping up with the large amounts of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers we got from my community garden plot this year. That is, however, a problem we have every fall with a completely different vegetable: squash. Our CSA gives us a lot of squash in the early fall and by the time the last pickup happens in the second half of October our countertops are groaning under the weight of several weeks’ worth of squash of various types. And then the last share pickup is always a double share, sending another 8 lbs or so of squash home. Thanksgiving helps use some of it up as I always make a roasted squash soup. But with our smaller than usual gathering this year I needed to use up more of it even before we got to the last week of November. I made it in some of our favourite ways (including this one) and I also improvised this particular recipe over the base of one of Suvir Saran’s recipes, which I first encountered on a food forum 18 years ago and which is also in his first cookbook. His recipe has far fewer spices and is very good indeed. I immodestly think this is too. Try it and see. Continue reading

Masala Alu with Dried Cranberries


I guess you could call this a Thanksgiving recipe. I confess freely that I originally added cranberries to this dish only to troll my friend Aparna who has a hatred of all things cranberry-related that can only be due to some kind of unexamined trauma. She stopped talking to me for weeks when I made oats pongal with dried cranberries. I can only hope that she will get help and some day make her way to eating this dish which is very tasty indeed.

In making this I was trying to recover the faint taste memories of a similar dish that a gent I worked with briefly in my advertising days in Delhi in the early 1990s used to bring to work in his lunchbox. His family had an old-school cook and his lunches were always very good—the rest of us pillaged them mercilessly. Anyway, I have no idea if I actually managed to replicate any part of the dish except the colour—I suspect the original had yogurt in it as well—but this is very good and very different from the usual dum-alu that you may associate with North Indian potato dishes. Give it a go. And you probably still have enough time to make it as a Thanksgiving side today. Continue reading

Mirchi Sabzi


If you read my recipe posts regularly you are probably sick of hearing about the overwhelming bounty from my plot at the local community garden this year. The majority of my garden was taken up by nightshades: tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Among the most productive pepper plants were the two Hungarian Hot Wax I planted. They produced early in the summer and kept going into the fall, each plant laden with mid-sized glossy peppers featuring bright, medium heat. We used them in all kinds of ways but one of our favourites was this simple recipe I improvized for lunch one day when eyeing yet another massive pile of ’em that had made its way back to our kitchen. There are very few ingredients here and it comes together very quickly but the flavours are very nice. Put it together with a bowl of dal and some chapatis and you’ve got yourself a very nice meal. Continue reading

Masoor/Mushoor Dal Variations


This post is for my fellow members of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club Facebook group. Bean Club members are currently receiving their November boxes and included in them is a legume new to Rancho Gordo: masoor dal, aka split red lentils. I consulted a little bit on some of the text on the packaging (I didn’t ask for payment) and I believe one of my recipes may possibly have gone out with the newsletter in the box. Or maybe not. You’re thinking I should know. Well, it’s a bit of a scandal but I’m in the Bean Club Facebook group even though I am not a member of the Bean Club (this—as I think I have mentioned before—is on account of certain photographs I have of Steve). Anyway, some Bean Club members are finding themselves in possession of masoor dal for the first time and so I thought I would put together a compendium of simple recipes—most already posted on the blog—for them to have at hand as a resource when starting out making Indian-style recipes with it. There is no need to thank me. That’s the kind of generosity and helpfulness I am famous for. Continue reading

Oven-Braised Masala Pork Shoulder with Eggplant


Back in the late summer/early fall when we were drowning in eggplant from my plot at the community garden, I had started to put it in almost everything I cooked. For example, in the lamb shanks curry that I posted a recipe for in early September. Buoyed by the success of that dish I kept on going, adding it to more meat dishes made with Indian ingredients. This is another that turned out very well.

I was also trying to free up space in our chest freezer for all the tomato sauce I was freezing for the winter and one of the things that had to go was the pork from the last pig we split with friends earlier this year. And so this pork shoulder got the eggplant treatment as well. I’m calling the dish “Oven-Braised Pork Shoulder with Eggplant” but you could just as easily think of it as pork curry with eggplant, just made in the oven rather than on the stove top. The meat is browned and removed; shallots, ginger and garlic are then sauteed with spices in the way they usually are in meat curries, tomato is added and cooked down. The eggplant—cut into thick segments so it holds its shape—goes in next, the browned shoulder is placed on top and then the whole is slow cooked in the oven. When done the pork is pulled off the bone and shredded and mixed in gently with the sauce and the eggplant. You can eat it with rice or parathas as you would a pork curry or you can eat it with dinner rolls or similar too. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi-Matar


Though I’ve made it look different by adding “matar” to the name, this is probably my 78th or 79th recipe for alu-gobi (other versions here, here, here and here). And it probably won’t be my last. As the name of the dish indicates, it’s not a fixed specific dish but a genre: alu-gobi or potato-cauliflower, in this case with matar/peas added on. I am not in search of the “perfect” or “best” alu-gobi—it does not exist. I am merely recording the variations in how I approach it. Modulations in the spices and proportions of spices used have a major effect on the final flavours; and textures too can be varied significantly by varying techniques and steps and also by varying the amount and type of liquid ingredients used. This is a version which is somehow both hearty and subtle: there isn’t a huge amount of spices used; just enough to showcase the cauliflower. The peas add a bright, savoury accent of their own and the whole—especially when eaten with chapatis and dal—is the very definition of comfort food. Continue reading

Roast Chicken with Cumin and Curry Leaf


This recipe is an adaptation of an adaptation. I came across a reference last month to a David Lebovitz recipe for roast chicken with shallots. Looking on his site I discovered that his recipe is adapted from a cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis. I don’t know the original and am not sure how much or what change the recipe went through in Lebovitz’ adaptation but you will be entirely unsurprised to hear that my adaptation of the adaptation was an answer to the question, “Hmmm looks interesting, now how can I Indianize this?” I started with the tediously obvious swap of ghee for olive oil. I considered thin tamarind paste in place of red wine vinegar but was too lazy to soak a ball of tamarind and extract the paste; and so I went with lime juice. To the pepper in the recipe I added a lot of ground cumin and some ground Kashmiri chilli for colour. And I tore up a bunch of curry leaves and added them to the mix. I fully expected this to get me a lot of side-eye from the family—who would be happy if I made no roast chicken other than Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe blast furnace classic for the rest of my days—but what do you know, it was a big hit and is now in the rotation. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Tomato


This is not a finesse recipe. But the results are very tasty indeed. A variation on my usual “red curry” chicken that is a favourite of my children, this came about last month as part of a desperate attempt to use up the endless flood of tomatoes from my garden. It uses two pounds of tomatoes for one chicken. And the chicken cooks only in its own juices and the tomatoes as they cook down. That’s a lot of tomato flavour and so it is necessary to deploy a lot of masala to counter and balance it. I start by browning the onions to an almost dark brown, adding a healthy dose of fresh ginger-garlic paste and then a lightly toasted and powdered masala featuring cumin, coriander and pepper. A bit of jaggery and a few slit green chillies and the result is happiness, especially when eaten with rice. As you’ll see, the recipe also calls for a large chicken. We get our birds from a local small farm and the smallest from the last batch was the 6 lb’er I used to make this iteration of this curry. If the chickens you get are smaller you could either double ’em up or supplement one with a few drumsticks and thighs. I leave this decision to you. Continue reading

Stir-Fried Gobi with Ajwain


There is no dearth of gobi recipes on this blog. I’ve posted a recipe for shrimp curry with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for rajma with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for cauliflower-corn soup. I’ve posted four separate takes on alu-gobi (here, here, here and here). I’ve even posted a recipe for oven-roasted spicy cauliflower. But variety, as they say, is the masala of life and so here is yet another gobi recipe. I swear it’s not my “Alu-Gobi with Ajwain” with just the potatoes left out.

This is a very simple stir-fry on the face of it: it features very few ingredients and other than breaking/cutting the cauliflower into very small florets there’s nothing to the prep work. But looks can be deceiving. You have to handle the heat carefully at the outset because if you burn the spices or chillies there’s nothing else coming later to hide the evidence. The primary flavour here is that of ajwain (you might have to go to a desi store for this) but you only need a pinch. A little bit of ajwain goes a long way so resist the temptation to add more. Continue reading

Lobia Masala


You may have seen—or missed—my post last week about the booklet of bean recipes I recently wrote for Rancho Gordo.  This recipe is not in the booklet—which you can download directly here if you’re so interested (don’t worry, it’s free). It features Rancho Gordo’s black-eyed peas or as they’re known in North India, lobia. Lobia is eaten elsewhere in India as well—in Maharashtra, for example, where it is known as chawli—but growing up I only knew it as a Punjabi ingredient/dish. Unlike rajma it wasn’t made in our house but I always looked forward to eating it in the homes of Punjabi friends. This recipe is not a traditional Punjabi recipe per se, though it does broadly resemble Punjabi preparations. I tend to cook lobia in much the same way in which I prepare rajma, with a robust blend of spices that complements its more vegetal character. Which is to say if you don’t have black-eyed peas handy this recipe, which is how I most recently cooked it, will work well with many other beans as well. Give it a go. Continue reading

Podi Potta Kathirikai


I said while setting up the poll to select this month’s recipes that this was currently my favourite way of cooking and eating eggplant. This is still true. It hurt me to say it then and hurts me more to repeat it now. This because the recipe comes to me from a Tamil nationalist who persecutes me on a near-daily basis: Aparna Balachandran (who you may remember from this piece last year on reading Agatha Christie during lockdown in Delhi). In August I had a brief flood of long green eggplant from my garden (I really recommend planting the Thai Long Green varietal if you can find it) and she suggested I make some of it this way. Normally, I would have discounted this as “make it in a Tamil style” is her answer to everything (her other favourite occupation is claiming that anything that is good about other South Indian cuisines is basically due to Tamil derivation); but I had a lot of eggplant and I needed new ways to cook it. And wouldn’t you know it, this is in fact a great recipe. Continue reading

Baingan Bharta


God, I hated the sight of baingan bharta as a kid! I had, as I’ve said before, a huge aversion to eggplant that continued into adulthood and indeed only ended a few years ago. And no preparation of the vegetable was more repulsive to me than this dish: the mashed baingan, replete with seeds, looking like the insides of some disgusting squashed creature.

Well, now that I’ve got your appetite stimulated, here’s the general way in which I’ve been making the dish since I suddenly started eating eggplant. You have to understand, as I always say about dishes from the vast Indian home cooking repertoire, that baingan bharta is a genre more than a specific dish. It involves mashed eggplant, ideally first charred, and then cooked with onions and spices. In its simplest form it can be nothing more than roasted eggplant mashed with chopped onion and chillies and salt. More involved iterations bring in different combinations of spices. It’s very common to add tomatoes as well. But in most versions the goal is to let the smoky flavour of the charred and peeled eggplant remain the star of the show. This is the case in this recipe as well. I use a mix of black peppercorn and fresh green chillies for heat and balsamic vinegar rather than tomatoes as the souring agent. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Green Tomato and Habanero Chutney


As with my ongoing onslaught of eggplant recipes this chutney has its origin in a need to use up excess produce from my vegetable garden: in this case, green/unripe tomatoes that fell off the vines while I was picking ripe ones and many, many peppers, hot and sweet. The first version was made entirely by the seat of my pants, with nothing measured. I filled three jars, kept one for us and gave the other two away. That would have been the end of it except that the recipients raved about it and two of them in particular have been persecuting me endlessly for the last couple of weeks to replicate it and post the recipe. Well, I have some good news and I have some bad news. You want the bad news first? Well, I wasn’t able to replicate it exactly. The good news? This is pretty close anyway and very good in its own right. Will it get Ben and Lisa off my back? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, they and our friends Aaron and Kip are the only ones other than us who ever tasted the original so that shouldn’t matter very much to the rest of you. Continue reading

Lamb Shanks Curry with Eggplant


All the recipes this month will feature eggplant. This is because this summer I have had a LOT of eggplant to cook up. I grew eggplant seriously for the first time this year—last year I planted a few seedlings a friend gave me more than a month after the season had started—and was surprised and then overwhelmed by how early and prolific most of the plants were. I planted eight different varietals and 15 plants total. The first to come in were a long black Japanese variety, the Pot Black (a small varietal perfect for stuffing) and a lot of lovely little Fairy Tales. In August the larger varietals (Galine and Nadia) began to go off. I started giving a lot of it away to friends but could still barely keep up. The solution? Figure out new things to put eggplant into. One of them was this curry made with lamb shanks from a small farm in southern Minnesota from which I get lamb shanks, oxtails and other things every few months (in fact, there’s a big delivery today). I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out but the results were really very good indeed. The lamb shanks are cooked long and low and the eggplant just melts into the gravy giving it depth of both texture and flavour. I recommend it highly, even if you’re not struggling to keep up with your garden bounty. Continue reading