Lamb Curry with Tamarind


Back in December I purchased a large number of lamb shanks from a small farm in southern Minnesota—the same place from which I’d got the excellent oxtail that went into this New Year’s Day curry. A few weeks ago I finally got around to cooking some of them. Not paying close attention, I thawed almost exactly 4 lbs worth of shanks. I then decided to divide them into two lots and make two different preparations of them—this so that we wouldn’t be eating one curry forever. Of course, what I hadn’t thought through is that because so much of the weight is in the bones, 4 lbs of lamb shanks is pretty close to 2 lbs of meat from the point of view of portions. Still, I’m glad I made the two curries as both came out rather well and it was nice to alternate them till both were gone. You could make either recipe just as easily with beer or with mutton/goat. Indeed, if you look closely you’ll see that this recipe is a close relative of an earlier one I’d posted for mutton curry with star anise and vinegar—there are some differences in spices and ratios but those differences do make, well, a real difference, as does the fact that the souring agent here is tamarind. If you do make it with lamb shanks I’d advise not bothering with hacking the shanks up yourself inexpertly with a cleaver as I did. You can always just pull the meat off the bones before serving if the shanks are too large. Continue reading

Sabut/Whole Masoor Dal


On Tuesday I had a recipe for sabut or whole, unpeeled moong dal and today I have a recipe for sabut or whole, unpeeled masoor dal—is this what Americans call brown lentils? I’m not sure. Like moong/moog dal, masoor/mushoor dal is a staple Bengali dal but is made predominantly with the peeled and split versions. Or at least that’s the case in my slice of Bengal which may or may not be representative. As I noted on Tuesday, whole moong and masoor dal were never cooked in our home growing up. I’ve learned to enjoy their more robust textures and flavours relatively recently but I do very much enjoy them now. They do take longer to cook than their peeled and split versions but what is time during the pandemic? And once the pandemic is done I’ll just make them in the pressure cooker. As with Tuesday’s dal, this is a very simple affair: you boil the dal with haldi and then add a tadka to amp up the flavour. If you make a similar dal I’d be interested to know what tadka variations you use but this one is very tasty. Give it a go. Continue reading

Sabut/Whole Moong Dal


This week’s recipe comes a couple of days earlier than usual. Please excuse this segue but it’s also for a dal that until recently was not a usual part of my repertoire. As I mentioned on Twitter some weeks ago, sabut or whole versions of moong and masoor dal were not made in our home when I was growing up. My family’s dals are/were split and peeled masoor/mushoor, moong/moog and chholar/chana dal. My mother occasionally made whole kali urad dal (a very conscious Punjabi prep) but never whole masoor or whole moong (or for that matter chhilka moong dal). I hesitate to say that this is a Bengali thing more broadly because even at my advanced age I realize more and more how much my sense of “Bengali” is sliced by sub-region, community/caste, class and then just family preferences. Cooking outside the “tastes” we inherit from our homes/families is one of the marks of middle-class Indian modernity, I think, brought on by greater movement within India (and for those of us outside India by stores that sell to non-regional customer bases). I have grown to like these more robust dals quite a lot, especially in the broadly Punjabi style represented here. Continue reading

Indo-nesian Beef Curry


I’ve mentioned before that in the pre-pandemic times (you may or may not remember them) I had been hosting bi-monthly dinners for eight in our town that I call India’s Gandhi Tandoori Bollywood Mahal. I was getting ready for the 15th iteration when the first lockdown hit. These were 5-7 course meals, a mix of dishes traditional and less traditional. The fourth of these dinners featured an improvized beef curry that I called Indo-nesian beef curry. I’d started out making a slow-braised curry with South Indian accents and then decided to hit it with some Southeast Asian touches. The results were excellent—an intersection between Indonesian rendang and beef curry from some place between Kerala and Chettinad. There was only one problem—the dish had been improvized from beginning to end and in the rush of dinner prep I hadn’t taken any notes whatsoever. I’ve long planned to try and recreate it but until a few weeks ago I never got around to it. Well, it’s hard to say for sure after almost three years but I think this comes pretty close. It’s very tasty at any rate. I’ve made it with beef on both occasions but it would probably be just as good with goat or lamb and probably also very easily adapted with chicken. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Salmon, Two Ways


I have for you two recipes for salmon or rather two recipes in one. The second is the first plus one ingredient and a couple of very minor time adjustments. Both are centered on flavours from southwestern coastal Indian fish preparations, sometimes involving rawas or Indian salmon. These kinds of preps are pretty much the only Indian fish dishes in which I think American salmon works very well—but that may just be me.

This is not, however, a traditional preparation. It does not follow any particular regional recipe but instead seeks to approximate vague taste memories of dishes eaten in friends’ homes and in restaurants. There are two ingredients that are certainly not traditionally Indian in any way: balsamic vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn. But both work well here, the balsamic playing a role similar to tamarind and the Sichuan peppercorn doing the work that its South Indian relative tirphal might otherwise do. Despite the ersatz nature of these recipes and two unorthodox ingredients the results are excellent and I recommend both dishes to you highly. Continue reading

Oxtail Curry


Oxtails are at a premium in our home. Korean-style oxtail soup as made by the missus is one of the boys’ absolute favourite foods and so any oxtail we purchase almost always goes into making that. Alas, good oxtail is not always easy to find. In December, however, I connected with a small farm in the far south of Minnesota that sells their beef and lamb both directly from their website and from a trailer they bring up north once a month and park in a lot, usually in Burnsville. As it happens their route takes them right past the exit on Highway 35 to our town and so I made a date to meet them in the parking lot of the Flying J gas station (aka The Big Steer). The tryst was originally going to be for the purpose of purchasing lamb shanks. I asked if they had oxtails as well and they said they did. I took their entire inventory (less dramatic than it sounds: they had five left). With that many in the freezer at once, and the promise of a re-supply when done, I was able to claim two for my own uses. Continue reading

Chicken “Korma”


A couple of times a year a local farmer sells these massive chickens that weigh roughly 8 lbs each and we buy a bunch at a time and freeze ’em. You’d think at this size the birds would be older and the meat tough but that’s not the case at all—must be some kind of large breed grown for meat. I usually separate the breast, take it off the bone and cube it up for chicken tikkas and use the dark meat for a curry. Right before Christmas I defrosted and cut up another one of these birds. But this time I turned them into two curries, one for the boys, one for us. Both started out the same way, more or less, with identical marinades, except added extra-hot chilli powder for this one. Both were marinated for quite a while and cooked in the marinade and the chicken’s own juices. They were finished very differently though and the final dishes were very different. I’ll post the milder recipe sometime next month (probably). Here now is this iteration that ended up resembling a korma even though it doesn’t follow a strict recipe for one. Whatever you call it it’s very tasty. Continue reading

An Incomplete Guide to Regional Indian Cookbooks, Part 2


Back in late November I’d posted an annotated list of regional Indian cookbooks available in English. This post was quite widely read, having been shared by a large number of people online. In the wake of that post friends and others wrote in to suggest other regional cookbooks that I had either missed/forgotten the first time around or that I had not known about then. I’d originally thought I’d post this second list in December but as anyone who actually follows my blog knows, I am very bad at follow-ups—some people are still waiting for the annotated list of 1960s Bombay films I’d promised back in September.  Even with these additions this remains an incomplete list and I hope to receive even more suggestions and recommendations. If you’ve made some in the past and don’t see those reflected in this second list, please don’t be offended. This is a list that I have to vouch for and so for books that I don’t actually have on my own shelves I am only comfortable listing those recommended to me by people I can also vouch for. But please know that I will do my best to track down your suggestions for myself and they may yet appear in further entries in this series. Continue reading

Seafood Rasam


If you are familiar with rasams the idea of a seafood rasam may seem outlandish to you. Indeed, it would probably seem so to most Indians in India as well. In North India, in particular, South Indian food has long been associated with vegetarianism, and the same is true to an even larger extent outside India. The truth, in fact, is that the South is far more massively non-vegetarian than the North. Of course, in recent years non-vegetarian South Indian food has made more inroads into the North: the food of Kerala in particular has become more available and popular. Certain dishes, however, continue to be associated with vegetarianism, among them rasam, familiar to most North Indians as the peppery broth one drinks before getting stuck into a meal of idli-dosa-vada with sambar and coconut chutney. But, of course, that’s merely the hegemony of upper-caste Hindu norms at play. Non-vegetarian rasams abound in the South. All this to say that there is nothing very unusual or creative about the fact that this is a recipe for rasam with seafood. Which is not to suggest that what I have for you is a traditional recipe for seafood rasam. I have merely taken my usual prep for simple tomato rasam and enhanced the broth with the shellfish. Continue reading

Kolkata via Bangkok: Red Lentils with Coconut Milk and Lime Leaf

Almost five years ago we hosted some friends for an elaborate lunch to thank them for taking care of our dogs while we were in India for a month. I made multiple courses of traditional and non-traditional dishes and printed a menu and everything. This was the origin of India’s Gandhi Tandoori Bollywood Mahal, the bi-monthly dinners for eight that I’d been hosting for a couple of years before the pandemic hit. Those dinners too featured a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional dishes (there have been 14 dinners so far featuring 5-7 courses and only a few dishes have yet been repeated). This dal/soup which was enjoyed by guests at the 7th IGTBM dinner could in fact be said to be the seed of the whole enterprise as I’d first made it for that lunch in February 2016. My intention was to play on the boundary between Bengali and Thai cooking. At base this is a fairly traditional Bengali preparation of mushoor dal. Indeed, the core recipe is one I’ve posted before. The departures are that it’s blended and then simmered again with coconut milk and infused with the flavour of lime leaf (a play on the squeeze of lime typically added to traditional mushoor dal with rice). The fish sauce adds some umami depth. It works very well both as soup and as a dal with an untraditional texture. Continue reading

Spice-Crusted Lamb Chops with Chocolate-Curry Reduction


Saala, main toh sahab ban gaya! Yeh lamb chop mera dekho! yeh chocolate-curry reduction mera dekho! Jaise gora koi Londhon ka!

Don’t ask me to translate or explain the above: not everything is for everyone. Just go get a package of lamb loin chops and be happy I am giving you this recipe. Where can you go to get lamb loin chops? How the hell am I supposed to know what the options are where you live? We get ours from our local Costco; I have no idea if they’re a difficult thing to find generally—I had never looked for them before seeing them at Costco. If you can’t find them, feel free to use whatever kind of lamb chops you can find; or in a pinch go ahead and use beef sirloin steak or similar—just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Continue reading

Fish Curry with Coconut Milk


I think I’ve mentioned before that my sister and my favourite fish growing up was white pomfret. This is not a very Bengali thing, pomfret being a sea fish and Bengalis being of the river fish persuasion. But we grew up outside Bengal and particularly loved the quasi-Parsi green masala pomfret my mother made for us as a treat. When I moved to the US I thought my pomfret life was over. And then I discovered it in the large East Asian markets in Los Angeles and again later in Denver. I’ve not yet encountered it in East Asian markets in the Twin Cities—though there are many I have not yet been to—except in the freezers of Indian stores (but I no longer buy frozen fish from India). However, I don’t really miss it since we did find a fish in East Asian markets in Minnesota that is very similar to pomfret: pompano. I cook it in all the ways I cook pomfret: lightly coated in haldi/turmeric and salt and fried to a crisp; fried with onions; made a la my mother’s quasi-Parsi green masala recipe; and most often in this curry inspired by various southwestern coastal preps I’ve had. This is not a traditional recipe—though for all I know I have more or less approximated one by following taste memory. It is very tasty though: best with pompano or pomfret if you can find them, but also excellent with any meaty white fish. As a bonus, our kids love it too. Give it a go; you probably will like it a lot too (I’ve learned not to promise love). 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

Regional Indian Cookbooks, An Incomplete Guide


Earlier this week I enjoyed reading Bettina Makalintal’s piece for Munchies on American food media’s tendency to flatten and collapse heterogeneous culinary traditions into national ones. Late in the piece the owner of a culinary bookstore, Ken Concepcion, is quoted as follows: “I’m sure there are amazing regional books about Chinese food, about China, or regional Pakistani books, but they’re not written in English”. On Twitter I noted that in the case of Indian cuisines, at least, a number of excellent regional cookbooks exist, many written in English, others translated into it. The problem, I noted, is that American food media has no interest—for the most part—in these books. Then I thought that I should put my money where my mouth is and actually list some of these books for interested parties. Global ecommerce means we aren’t limited to what American publishers choose to put out: most of the books that follow are easily available online for less than you would pay for some overpriced restaurant or cooking show host’s cookbook that you will never actually cook anything from. You’re welcome. Continue reading

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