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

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

Chicken Curry with Yogurt and Tomatoes


I am tempted to name this recipe “Better Than Butter Chicken” in a shameless attempt to go viral. This would be generically appropriate—it too is a creamy chicken curry involving tomatoes and dairy. It would also be accurate—it is better than butter chicken. Big talk? In a world that identifies Indian food with butter chicken, yes. But make it and apologize for doubting me.

As I noted on Twitter a few days ago, this was the first dish I learned to make really well when I started cooking in earnest in the early-mid 1990s after starting graduate school in the US. The original dish is a chicken curry that was part of my mother’s dinner party repertoire. She’d packed me off to the US with a collection of hand-written recipes and sent me many more over the years but this was never one of them. I recreated the first versions of this from memory before finally arriving at the broad contours within which it now resides. By which I mean that home cooking is never exact or nailed down. Recipes, when written down, seem more fixed than they usually are in practice but there’s always at least a bit of variation when you make dishes over and over again. My own version of this curry is now different from both my first iterations in the 1990s and from my mother’s but it’s very much in the same family (in fact, when she visits she always asks me to make it for her and my father). I encourage you to add your own twists to it after first trying it as outlined below. 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

Mushoor Dal (No Tadka)


This recipe is technically a repost. I’d hidden a quick version of it in the notes to one of the very first dal recipes I posted on the blog, way back in January 2015. That was a recipe for split, peeled mushoor dal—or red lentils, as they’re prosaically known in the US—made in a classic Bengali style. The dal there is boiled with water and turmeric and salt and then a phoron or tadka of cumin seeds/panch phoron + onion, garlic and green chillies is added to it. That’s a very nice dal and if you haven’t made it yet you should. But this version is both more nourishing and far less fussy: everything is cooked together and there is no tadka/phoron at the end. Instead there’s a lot of whole garlic and a bit of tomato. It makes for a deeply flavoured, richly textured dal that can be eaten with rice or chapatis or just slurped out of a bowl. Continue reading

Tindora Fry


Tindora, which goes by many names in India and is, I believe called ivy gourd in English, is a vegetable I’d never eaten in India and indeed had not eaten until fairly recently. It has a name in Bengali as well—kundri—but it’s not a vegetable that was ever cooked in the kitchens of my extended family. That’s not the final word, of course: even at the age of 50 I’m constantly learning how limited my knowledge of Bengali cuisines is, leave alone the cuisines of the rest of India. I do believe it’s eaten more commonly in the southern parts of the country. If you’ve never seen or eaten it, it looks and tastes a bit like a miniature cucumber, with textural crunch and snap and a mildly acidic, lemony flavour. After years of seeing it in Indian groceries in the US I purchased some on a whim some months ago and improvized a version of the recipe I have for you today. I’ve been making it off and on ever since; at some point I should really consider making it some other way as well. Continue reading

Snap Peas and Potatoes with Panch Phoron


One of the highlights of the farm we have a CSA share with—the excellent Open Hands—is their U-Pick program which allows members to pick a number of crops for themselves over the course of the growing season. Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and herbs are some of the highlights, and early in the season so are peas. We get shelling peas as well as sugar snap peas. It’s a fleeting window but a tasty one. We recently picked a fair bit of sugar snaps and to use them up one of the things I made with them this week was this dish that falls in the general Bengali genre of the chenchki: a simple prep that involves at the least mustard oil, panch phoron (or just kalonji/nigella), turmeric, red chillies and a vegetable. You stir-fry the veg and then cover the pan and let it finish cooking either in its own moisture or with the help of a little bit of water. Ginger and green chillies are often added as well but I decided to leave them out so as to feature these lovely sweet pea pods more clearly. I did add some potatoes for contrast. Continue reading

Red Curry Chicken


“Red curry chicken” is my children’s name for the chicken curry that has been my gateway to slowly Indianizing their palates for the last few years. It is one of their absolute favourites of all the things I cook for them (though Marcella Hazan’s pesto is in unassailable first place). The “it” however is not a stable referent. By which I mean that this is a recipe that has been subtly, progressively tweaked to bring them along into an appreciation of spicy/spicier food without their quite realizing it’s been happening. Please note that when I say “spicy/spicier” I am not referring to capsaicin heat but to a fuller flavour via the use of a greater body of spices: cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom etc. And, yes, also increasing amounts of red chilli powder. That said, though they eat hotter food than most of their Minnesotan peers, the current iteration of this curry is not very hot either. But over the last four or five years it’s gone from being a fairly bland chicken stew with tomatoes to becoming something that the missus and I enjoy eating alongside them. Here is the current iteration for your enjoyment as well. Continue reading

Teekha Alu Sabzi


At the end of April I posted a recipe for sookha or dry alu sabzi. Here is a close relation: a spicy (or teekha in Hindi) alu sabzi which has a little more gravy but not a whole lot of it. It too is made without any tomato and with even fewer spices. I improvized this take on a broader family of homestyle potato dishes—eaten in wide swathes of North India with chapatis or puris—entirely in order to test out a new (to me) ingredient that I purchased in Delhi right before departure in February. And so I did not want to mix in too many strong flavours. The ingredient in question is yellow chilli powder. I purchased a packet at an outlet of FabIndia (where else?) and then promptly forgot about it until I found it two weeks ago in the back of the pantry shelf where I’d stowed it upon our return. I purchased it because I’d never come across yellow chilli powder before. I’d expected it would be relatively mild but when I tasted it raw it packed a decent punch. I asked a number of Indian friends—in India and in the US—who are avid cooks and very knowledgable about Indian food (some of them far more so than me) if they’d come across it before and drew a complete blank. Continue reading

Mussels Moilee


I made this for dinner last night with the last of a mega-bag of mussels from Costco. I posted the picture on Facebook and a friend asked for the recipe—you may as well have it too.

Moilee—often also transliterated as “molee” or even “molly”—is a Malayali (as in from Kerala) stew made with coconut milk. Where a lot of Malayali food is very robustly spiced, and often very hot, moilees tend to be mild. They usually feature seafood of one kind or the other—typically fish or prawns. I make it with fish and prawns as well but mussels are really my seafood of choice for it. I haven’t come across mussels moilee in Malayali restaurants in Delhi but for all I know it’s a very common variation down Kerala way (I’ve never been). At any rate, I find the briny-umami flavour of mussels goes really well with the other flavours in the stew. As a bonus it’s also a very easy dish to make: I pulled it together in less than half an hour last evening. Continue reading

Achaari Baingan


Where “achaari”=”a la achaar” where “achaar=Indian pickles”. There are actual baingan/brinjal/eggplant achaars/pickles—this is not one of them. Instead, as with most achaari recipes, this is made with ingredients that you would use in pickling. There are a large number of variations in how this general family of eggplant dishes is made; this is the one I use more often than not. It comes together very quickly and easily and it is very tasty indeed. As made in this recipe it is also quite hot but you can adjust that down by either using less red chilli powder or using a mild chilli such as Kashmiri or the slightly hotter Byadgi chilli. Either will be available from Amazon if there isn’t a South Asian store doing curbside pickup near you. But I do hope there is a South Asian store doing curbside pickup near you because the recipe calls for curry leaves. It’s not the case that you can’t make the dish at all if you don’t have them but it’ll be much better with a sprig of this otherwise un-substitutable ingredient. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi, Dry Style


I posted a recipe for alu-gobi last November. In the tedious preamble to that recipe I noted that alu-gobi—like most dishes in the vast Indian home cooking repertoire—is more of a genre than a specific dish. That shouldn’t be surprising considering the dish is just named for the two major ingredients in it. Cauliflower and potatoes cooked with a rotating cast of spices: that’s all alu-gobi is. The recipe I posted in November involved a simple spice-mix heavy on the coriander seed, and a fair bit of water for a fair bit of gravy. This one has a different mix of spices and tastes quite different. And as it’s made with very little water the texture is also very different. I like to make it keeping the cauliflower fairly crunchy but that’s easy enough to sort out if your tastes run otherwise. It’s a simple dish that’s not going to set off any fireworks but it’s very good. Continue reading

Anda Curry, Again


Another month, another anda/egg curry recipe. This actually has very similar ingredients as last month’s anda curry but with a bit of crucial +/- turns out very differently in terms of both flavour and texture. This is less aggressively spiced both because there’s no mellowing coconut milk being added in this version and because it was made with my children in mind. I’m happy to report they loved it and asked that I make it again. For my kids at least this has to do not just with the less aggressive spicing but also with the fact that the sauce is pureed and so there’s no onion or other crunchy bits floating around in it. It feels like my life’s work right now is to convince them that onions are actually why they like almost everything they like to eat. (You may not need to be so convinced but you’ll like this pureed sauce  too.) They are also not yet able to resolve their relationship with dhaniya. They like the flavour of dishes that are garnished with it but perform intricate surgery to get every bit of green off their plates before they eat. Fascinating, I know. Continue reading