Maachher Jhol


Maachher jhol is a name for a rather broad genre of fish dishes in Bengal—it’s not actually very descriptive at all. “Maachh” means “fish” in Bengali and “jhol” (rhymes with “goal”) would translate to “gravy” or “sauce” in English. So “maachher jhol” literally means “fish in gravy”. As such, in English “fish curry” would be an entirely adequate translation in the sense in which “curry” is used in India. The particular sub-genre of the preparation that this recipe falls into involves a paatla or thin jhol and various versions of this form one of the central pillars of Bengali comfort food. In its most basic form the dish involves mustard oil, kalo jire, ginger, green chillies, fish and water. Vegetables are often added: sometimes potatoes, sometimes brinjal/eggplant, sometimes cauliflower. It’s also not uncommon to add bori (a type of dal-based fritter). Though tomatoes and garlic are not very traditional in Bengali cooking, it’s not unheard of for either or both to be used as well. Some may use no tomato, some may use a little, some more than a little. My approach comes to me from my mother, who learned to cook after marriage while living outside Bengal. Her cooking therefore employs more tomato than that of my Calcutta aunts but is—as far as I’m concerned—no less Bengali for that. Continue reading

Pork and Beans II


One of my earliest recipes on the blog was this one for an Indian-style stew of pork and beans. Five years later, here is another. It is a simpler preparation than the previous but no less delicious. There are a number of similarities. Both use large white beans from Rancho Gordo. The first uses the very popular Royal Corona bean, this one uses the Large White Lima. The Large White Lima is a very underrated bean, in my opinion, if somewhat in the Royal Corona’s sizable shadow (I don’t mean to set up a Royal Corona backlash on account of its namesake.) You set the beans to cook simply with water and while they’re getting done you prepare the pork. When both are done, you add the pork to the beans, stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so to let the flavours meld. You’re basically adding the pork as a sort of tadka to the beans. The pork itself in this recipe is made very simply, with very few ingredients, as a dry’ish curry. The combination of the pork and beans, however, is anything but basic: the flavour is complex and rich; and the whole is highly comforting. That’s a good thing at any time but especially in these times. Give it a go: you won’t regret it. Continue reading

Hornbill (Delhi, January 2020)


Back to Humayunpur, back to another restaurant featuring the food of a North Eastern state. On Sunday I reviewed a dinner at the Manipuri restaurant, Eat Pham—a dinner we really enjoyed. A few days later we went back to the same market and embarked on a very similar hunt for another restaurant, Hornbill, which serves food from Nagaland. While our Eat Pham outing was our first encounter with Manipuri food, Hornbill was our second Naga meal in Delhi in as many trips as a family. We were last here all together in January 2016 (I’ve come on my own in between a few times) and on that trip one of our favourite meals was at Dzükou in Hauz Khas. Dzükou has since closed in that location. I’ve heard tell it has reopened in Vasant Kunj, but we didn’t need to go quite that far from Noida when there are a number of Naga places in Humayunpur and environs, and Hornbill particularly well-reviewed among them. We descended on them with the same friends we’d eaten at Dzükou with four years ago. Here is what we found after we found the restaurant. Continue reading

Chana Masala


This is a dish prepared in two ways that are unusual for me. First, it uses non-Rancho Gordo chickpeas. That is because this uses kala chana or black chickpeas (though in practice they’re usually a dark brown). These smaller, darker chickpeas have been eaten in India much longer than the relatively recently arrived garbanzo bean or Kabuli chana—which name likely refers to its direction of entry. Kala chana has an earthier flavour and denser texture than Kabuli chanaa and maintains its shape as it cooks. Rancho Gordo does not currently sell kala chana (though I have heard a rumour this may change in the near future). It is, however, easily found in South Asian groceries and also on Amazon. Non-Rancho Gordo beans means a longer stovetop cooking time but if you use a pressure cooker—as I do—this is not an issue. Continue reading

Roasted Beet Soup with Cracked Cumin


What is this, a roasted vegetable soup blog? Last week I had a recipe for a soup made with roasted carrots; two weeks ago I had a recipe for a soup made with pan-roasted asparagus; this week I have a recipe for a soup made with roasted beets. If you’ve made the two other soups and fretted that they were not carroty or asparagusy enough then you will be happy to learn that this soup is quite beet-forward. It includes very few other ingredients and a relatively light touch with spices. It does, like the other two, require blending the soup.

Is this an Indian dish? You may well ponder this question after eating this soup or even just after reading the recipe. Well, it’s not a traditional preparation. There aren’t a whole lot of soups per se in the broader Indian repertoire (caveat: it’s a large country) and this does not follow any sort of traditional recipe. But to me it tastes very Indian. I could see making a dish of sauteed beets with much the same ingredients, save the stock. I’d say it’s an Indian dish insofar as it deploys an Indian flavour palette and an Indian technique: adding a tadka of cumin seeds and curry leaves at the end just as you would do with most dals. If you like beets, give it a shot. Continue reading

Roasted Carrot Soup with Tamarind


The very first vegetable soup I ever made was a carrot soup, the recipe for which I found, of all places, on the Williams-Sonoma website. That bookmarked link no longer goes anywhere but the recipe lives on in my kitchen as a sort-of template for a large number of vegetable soups: carrots cooked with sauteed leeks in stock till softened, pureed and given some brightness with acid. The recipe I have for you today differs in some important ways—there are no potatoes in this, the acid comes from tamarind, and I add toasted spices and finally the nutty zing of a mustard seed-curry leaf tadka. But the structure is still the same. My thanks to whoever it was that put that recipe up on the Williams-Sonoma site back in the day. Continue reading

Kumar’s Mess and the Changing Face of Indian Food in the Twin Cities Metro (Apple Valley, MN)


We are well into the Golden Age of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro. You might not have a sense of this from the local food media’s restaurant coverage but over the course of the last half-decade or so the Indian population of the Twin Cities metro has been growing steadily and newer restaurants have been opening to cater to this market. As I’ve noted in a number of write-ups on the blog, the new(er) population is likely highly skewed towards South Indians. This can be seen both in what’s on offer in Indian groceries around the metro (see my look at TBS Mart in Bloomington, for example) and in the fact that more and more restaurants have opened in the last few years that have menus focused on South Indian dishes. (I’ve reviewed a few of these—Persis, Bay Leaf, Hyderabad Indian Grill.) Continue reading

Panch Mishali Torkari


I have for you today a recipe for a homely but essential dish from the Bengali repertoire: panch mishali torkari. “Panch” means five, “mishali” more or less means mixed, and this is by definition a dish that involves five vegetables cooked together (except when it involves four or six). It is a highly flexible dish. Classically, I suppose, you are most likely to see potatoes and radish and eggplant and snow peas/broad beans and pumpkin in it but really you can make it with whatever mix of vegetables you have at hand. This version, for example, uses asparagus, which you are rarely likely to see used in Bengali kitchens in a dish like this. The dish is a concept not a fixed list of ingredients—I make versions with zucchini and bell peppers as well. No matter what combination of vegetables you use, it is a good idea to have a mix of textures. The flavour of the dish is really carried by the ingredient that more than any other ties the Bengali kitchen together: panch phoron, the mix of five seeds that goes in almost ever Bengali vegetable and fish dish. When I first came to the US panch phoron was not easily found but these days you can purchase it easily in any decent South Asian grocery store. and if you live somewhere without a decent South Asian grocery store at hand you can even buy it on Amazon. Get some and get cooking (and while you’re at it, get some mustard oil too). Continue reading

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Kashundi


Like any other above average Indian home cook in the United States, I’ve been told over the years by American dinner guests that I should open a restaurant etc. It’s flattering to be told this, of course, even if in the context of most Indian restaurants in the US it seems like somewhat dubious praise. Of course, I am never going to open a restaurant. But two and a half years ago I decided to scratch that occasional itch without flirting with bankruptcy, and launched a little series of “pop-up in my own home” dinners for eight. As a tribute to the North American curry house I call it India’s Gandhi Tandoori Bollywood Mahal. The guests are all friends and friends of friends and the dinners have become quite popular. I’ve done 14 of them so far. The first 13 were seven course meals with each course served individually plated. The recipe I have today was the second course at the tenth dinner. It is, as you will see, very much a slight play on a very traditional dish. I thought it came out very well, and the diners enjoyed it very much. Continue reading

Beetroot Poriyal


I’ve mentioned on many occasions before that growing up in India in the 1970s and 1980s my sense of South Indian food—like that of most North Indians—was restricted to the idli-dosa-vada-sambhar-rasam complex. It wasn’t till much later—not till I had left India, in fact—that my limited view of South Indian cuisines really began to open up. I don’t mean to imply that this opening up required leaving India because, of course, it did not: it’s only that it was in that time period—in the late 1990s and 2000s—that I began to become truly aware of the wider world of South Indian food. This  was due both to the publication in that period of higher profile English language Indian cookbooks on regional cuisines (see the titles in the excellent Penguin series) and to the first flowering of the South Asian food web on forums and then blogs. As I began to cook some of these dishes—this was also the period in which South Indian ingredients began to become easily available in South Asian groceries in the US—I was particularly drawn to poriyals. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi


Alu-gobi or cauliflower cooked with potatoes is a North Indian staple. It is also a dish that has no fixed recipe beyond calling for potatoes and cauliflower. Like most dishes from the home-cooking repertoire (which is almost all of Indian food) it is more a genre than a specific dish. While generally there’s a lot more cauliflower than potato in it, I’ve had and made versions where the ratio was 1:1. I’ve had and made versions that have a lot of gravy and I’ve had and made versions that are completely dry. I’ve had and made versions with pureed onions and had and made versions with fried onions. And I’ve had and made versions with various combinations of spices. I make various versions of it often. Today I have for you a recipe for a simple but extremely tasty version—as long as you are a fan of coriander seed. Continue reading

Alu-Posto


Don’t tell my children but I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. In fact, I barely ate any vegetables till I was in my twenties. The big exception was potatoes—and I guess technically potatoes may not even be vegetables. I ate potatoes in all forms, from simple alu-sheddho (boiled potatoes mashed with either ghee or sharp mustard oil and minced onion) to alu-parathas to alu-bhaja (fried potatoes of various sizes and textures) to alur torkari to alur dom. [Be patient, I’m almost done with this fascinating dietary autobiography.] A favourite dish, however, was alu-posto, a quintessential Bengali dish of potatoes cooked very simply with a few spices and poppy seed paste. Mild in flavour and somewhere between grainy and smooth in texture, the poppy seed paste (or posto) made this dish unlike anything else made in my mother’s kitchen and all through childhood it was a major comfort food. For whatever reason, I didn’t start making it in the US until relatively recently but now I make it often. I have not yet had any success in getting my own kids to eat it though: in a wry twist neither of them is particularly into potatoes except in French fry form, and one of them doesn’t even care very much for French fries. Meanwhile the missus and I both love potatoes. Who knows how these things work. Anyway, here is the recipe for alu-posto as it is made in my family. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Peanut Butter


I made a somewhat involved chicken curry for a dinner party last week. Made in a Hyderabadi style it involved roasting and then making a paste of sesame and peanuts and various spices. It turned out very well and as we were eating I began to think of a simpler version I could make for more everyday cooking and which might be a little more kid-friendly. This recipe was the result of that thinking. It sits somewhere between that more complex Hyderabadi prep and a “white” chicken prep that one of my aunts is famous for (and which I’ve hybridized before). It involves very few ingredients and only whole spices. And if you have a good not-too chunky peanut butter at hand you’re well past the starting line. Give it a go. It’s very tasty and goes well with rice or parathas—or for that matter you could sop it up with dinner rolls.  Continue reading

Alur Torkari


A very popular weekend brunch in our home when I was a child was luchi-alur torkari. Luchis are a Bengali relative of puris, a type of fried bread; where puris are made with whole wheat flour (aata), luchis are made with white flour (maida). They’re also typically smaller. Torkari is a term for a style of preparation of vegetables—usually with a thinner gravy. Alur-torkari = torkari made with alu (potatoes). There is more than one way to make a torkari with any vegetable; this particular version is with a thin soupy gravy and very few spices. The flavours here are of the Bengali panch phoron (five seed) mix which infuse into the tomato gravy in which the potatoes cook. This dish is very much a taste of childhood for me. I’ve been known to eat it directly out of a bowl with a spoon. Continue reading