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

Steamed Fish in Spicy Red Curry


It has been a long time since my last recipe post—almost exactly six months in fact. I imagine you have been subsisting in the interim on water and stale bread, hoping each day that I would bring you something new, never letting disappointment crush you entirely. Good news! Your wait is at an end! Here is a recipe for a very tasty fish dish and you can make it today as long as you have banana leaves on hand. What’s that? You don’t have banana leaves on hand? I don’t know why I bother with you bastard people. Well, I suppose you could get by with parchment paper, or perhaps even foil; but if you have an East Asian market somewhere in your vicinity you should stop reading now and go get some banana leaves and come back and find out what to do with them. And, oh yes, get some fresh fish fillets as well. Continue reading

Just Kerala (Bombay, December 2018)


Dinner plans on my second day in Bombay were for a seafood blowout at Jai Hind. The proper thing to do would have been to eat a light breakfast and early lunch to prepare. Accordingly, I had a big bowl of uppma for breakfast at the hotel and went out for a late and massive Malayali lunch. I was meeting a friend—whose love of good food matches mine but whose capacity I may have pushed to the limit over the three days we spent hanging out, discussing work and so on. Anyway, I wanted to eat Malayali food in Bombay—on the principle that it must be better than in Delhi given the greater proximity of Bombay to Kerala. Just Kerala on the second floor of Hotel Samraj in Andheri East was her pick as a casual, no-frills old-school Kerala eatery and so it proved to be. This is a good thing.  Continue reading

Jai Hind Lunch Home (Bombay, December 2018)


The food of the southwestern coast of India is something I had almost no sense of when I was growing up in India. I grew up all over India but, other than brief visits to Goa, never went further south than Hyderabad; and as an adult I didn’t spend much time in Bombay till after I’d left India for the US. It wasn’t until I ate at Swagath in Delhi in the early 2000s that I realized just how different the cuisine of coastal Karnataka, particularly Mangalore, and of the adjoining Konkan coast is from the South Indian cuisines I was more familiar with. And I just loved it. But as good as Swagath was in its heyday, its food cannot compare to what is available in Bombay—which makes sense as the cuisine is both seafood-heavy and because Bombay, due to proximity, is chock-full of people from those parts of the country. As a result, whenever I am in Bombay I try to eat at at least one restaurant that specializes in Mangalorean/Konkani/Malvani cuisines. On this trip Jai Hind Lunch Home was my first such stop.  Continue reading

Simple Chana Masala


Chana masala is a very popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US and its popularity is not a mystery. It is also one of the rare dishes made in North Indian restaurants in the US in a manner not unlike that of home kitchens. This is not to suggest that there is only one proper way to make chana masala. Like most Indian dishes, it is subject to a wide variety of variations—of texture and flavour—depending on what part of the country you are in. And dishes that may seem obviously to be in the chana masala family may have different names in different parts of the country—see ghugni in Bengal, for example.

The recipe I have today is my lazy, short-cut method for making chana masala in a North Indian style. Well, it’s not so much of a short-cut, I guess, as it involves first cooking Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans on the stove-top. But that’s the only bit that requires time—everything else is quick and easy!  Continue reading

Black Beans with Cracked Spices


I posted a picture of this black bean dish on Twitter yesterday and said I’d rustle up a recipe if there was interest. Among those who said they were interested was Mollie Katzen. Well, even though I was not planning to post a recipe this week, and even though our town was hit by a tornado last evening, I cannot say no to Mollie Katzen. Here therefore is the recipe. I made it with Rancho Gordo’s Midnight black beans, which are my absolute favourite black bean. They cook up fast, have a wonderful creamy texture and yield a delicious pot liquor that matches up well with whatever you throw at it. In this case, I did not throw very much at it. I cooked the beans on their own with a stick of cinnamon and tez patta (dried cassia/Indian bay leaf) and when done added to the pot a “tadka” of onion, tomato and garlic with a simple spice hit from cumin seeds split in hot oil, cracked coriander seed and a few dry red chillies. Not much to it, very easy to make, and extremely delicious. I had a big bowl for lunch, garnished with a bit of cilantro and with a squeeze of lime on top. Simple is good.  Continue reading

Simple Bean Curry


Every time I post a recipe for a curry I hear from friends who wish I would post recipes for Indian dishes that didn’t require too many ingredients they don’t have on hand. I don’t quite understand this complaint. Most Indian spices can be used in a wide range of dishes, it’s possible to get them in small quantities, and in the era of the internet it’s possible to get them easily even if you don’t have a good South Asian store within easy reach. And if you have more than you need just cook more Indian food. Problem solved. All that being said, here is a recipe for the whingers and moaners: it’s for a curry of dried beans cooked a la rajma, but made with very few spices indeed—and with ones that even those who don’t cook Indian food very often are likely to have on hand.  As with all my bean cooking, this was made with my friend Steve’s Rancho Gordo beans. This particular batch was made with the excellent but elusive Snowcap bean. I don’t think they have it available right now but the good news is that you’ll achieve excellent results with beans such as Domingo Rojo, Ayocote Morado, the almighty Royal Corona, and even the cassoulet bean. If you don’t have any of those on hand either, use whatever you have.  Continue reading