Radish Raita

Radish Raita
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe; the last one was back in late October and coincidentally had the same featured ingredient as this one: radish, or to be more specific, watermelon radish. But whereas that October recipe was essentially for thinly sliced and dressed watermelon radish, in this one the watermelon radish does not form the base of the dish; that role is played by yogurt. No one needs me to explain what raita is. I can tell you, however, one thing it isn’t, and that is a dish made with any sort of fixed recipe. The necessary ingredient is yogurt and it needs to be beaten; beyond that it’s a free world. From texture to flavourings, you can do pretty much whatever you want (though it should stay vegetarian and you should remember that the primary function of raita is to act as a supporting, cooling agent during a meal). Continue reading

Keema Chops

Chops mean something very different in India than they do in the West (and when I say India I mostly mean Bengal). They do not refer to a particular cut of meat; in fact, they don’t refer to any cut of meat at all. Chops can have meat in them, they can have fish in in them, and they often have vegetables in them. By “chop” you see we mean what people elsewhere refer to as croquettes. How it is that we came to call them chops I don’t know, and I have no idea why other people didn’t start calling them chops either. Indian English is generally better when it comes to food names: brinjal is a much better word than eggplant or aubergine; and you would have to be mad to think that okra is a better name for that vegetable than lady’s finger (oh the confusion when Indians first see ladyfinger on menus in the West). Anyway, just so you know, a chop is made by taking mashed potato, stuffing it with a savoury filling, breading it and deep-frying it. You can eat them as snacks or as accompaniments with dal and rice. Continue reading

Pork Pickle

Pork Pickle
I’d said that I wasn’t sure if I’d have any recipes this month either (I last posted one in mid-August) on account of the backlog of restaurant write-ups I need to put up. But then earlier this week I improvised this pork pickle and it came out so well that I couldn’t resist throwing a quick recipe up. It is extremely easy (though not extremely healthy) and if the notion of pork pickle seems odd—we’re not talking Western-style pickled meats here, but an Indian-style pickle/achaar with pork in place of a vegetable—just think of it as confit of pork shoulder with Indian spices. It’s very rich and a little goes a long way. But you can eat it with rice and dal, with chapatis or parathas, and you can even make sandwiches with it. It’s delicious and versatile and, as I already said, it’s very easy to make. The toughest part is to resist eating it on the first or second day as it “matures”.  Continue reading

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts
I’ve previously posted a recipe for a Bengali-style sweet pulao with whole “garam masala” and raisins. Today I have a somewhat different version. It riffs on some different pulaos I’ve had in different parts of India—from Kashmir and elsewhere in the north it borrows the use of pine nuts; the use of tart dried cranberries pays homage to the berry pulao of Irani and Parsi restaurants in Bombay. Like all good pulaos it places these ingredients in supporting roles to the rice. Pulaos, in my opinion, are about the fragrance of good basmati rice (this is, of course, a North Indian prejudice—Basmati is not used much elsewhere in India) and that fragrance should not be suppressed or muddied by other overly strong flavours. The subtle nuttiness of pine nuts complements the basmati perfectly, the cranberries add a tart-sweet counterpoint, and a bit of mint brightens it all up. Give it a go: it works wonderfully with rich curries (like this korma, for example) but also just by itself. Continue reading

Meatball Curry, Kerala Style

Kerala Meatballs
This recipe is taken from one of my very favourite Indian cookbooks, Mrs. K.M. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast. A classic, published in 2002 by Penguin India, though written/compiled over a long period of time before that, it contains a large number of recipes, non-vegetarian and vegetarian, from Kerala. I regard it with the same kind of affection I have for my copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cookingand it is the only other cookbook on my shelves that I’ve thumbed through as often. That’s not to say that the two books are equivalent. For one thing, Flavours of the Spice Coast is not quite as comprehensive in its coverage of recipes. For another, it contains far less additional information on the recipes themselves (unlike in Vijayan’s The Essential Kerala Cookbook, you will not be told which community a particular recipe comes from). And finally, the recipes are not always terribly precise—you will sometimes get the feeling that a step or two might have been omitted or misheard in the transcription. Here’s the kicker though: every recipe I’ve made from this book has been dynamite. Buy it now, before going on to read the rest of this post; you won’t regret it.  Continue reading

Crispy Fried Karela (Bitter Gourd/Melon)

Crispy Karela
Karela, or bitter gourd/melon, is an acquired taste. As far as I can tell this taste is acquired through the process of aging. It’s also not a candidate for winning any vegetable beauty contests—and its exterior (reminiscent of the hide of a chameleon that fell asleep on a bright green leaf) finds an echo in its interior, massive seeds and all. It’s eaten all over India but if you can find an Indian kid who willingly eats it you should next set out to look for Amelia Earhart’s plane. It’s English name is not a misnomer: it is an extremely bitter vegetable, more bitter than anything else I’m aware of that is eaten as the principal component of a dish (methi/fenugreek seeds may be as or more bitter but they’re used sparingly). I am now closer to 50 than to 10 and I’ve only just barely begun to eat karela. And I know lots of Indian adults who still won’t eat it. That said, once you acquire the taste for it you may find yourself unable to stop eating it.  Continue reading

Steak Two Ways, Indian and Korean

Spice-Rubbed T-Bones
It’s summer, we bought a quarter of a cow, and so we’re grilling a lot of steak. Sometimes just with salt and pepper, often with some improvized rub of Indian spices, occasionally marinated a la Korean kalbi. A note on the last: kalbi/galbi refers to a particular cut of short rib. However, the butcher who processes the beef we buy doesn’t do that cut; and the Korean stores in the Twin Cities sell less than optimal versions for very high prices. So, even though my wife doesn’t like the idea very much we’ve been doing it of late with other cuts of meat (in this case sirloin). And for the Indian part, I’ve noted before that far more beef is eaten in India than most people (including most Indians) realize, but we don’t really have a tradition of grilled steak. Most beef preparations are braises of one kind or the other. So, when you see me post recipes for steak with Indian flavours that’s just me substituting Indian ingredients in marinades and rubs. I’ve previously posted a recipe for flank steak—that was a wet marinade, this one is a dry rub.  Continue reading

Of Mangoes and Bullshit

Perhaps the lesson is that when it comes to mangoes you can’t trust a magazine named for a peach.

Yesterday I came across this piece on mangoes on the Lucky Peach website by one Rupa Bhattacharya. It is described as follows: “An unprompted email from a father with a lot of good information”. Now, while I’m not generally well-versed in the genre of unprompted emails from fathers, this one actually contains quite a bit of bad information and so here I am. My apologies to Rupa Bhattacharya for callously critiquing her Father’s Day post and to her father, who seems like my kind of bullshitter, ranging in one brief email from exact mathematical analyses of the correct firmness at which Central and South American mangoes seem designed to be eaten (75% apparently) to description of soil types to origin stories for the names of mango varietals. As to whether any of this is actually correct is, as any good bullshitter will tell you, besides the point. The better question is why a serious (?) food magazine would publish such an anecdotal piece and slap a “Guides” tag on it. I’ll ask this question again at the bottom but first let’s get the good/bad information out of the way.  Continue reading

Kaancha Aamer Chatni/Green Mango “Chutney”

Aamer Chatni
Here is a classic Bengali dish and one of the true pleasures of summer. You are not going to find this in any Indian restaurant outside India (and within India only Bengali restaurants are likely to serve it and those are not so common). Luckily, you can make it very easily at home. It is made with mangoes. Here in Babylon we may not get mangoes that can approach even the third tier of Indian mango glory but that’s not a problem for this dish. That’s because it is made with green, unripe mangoes, of which all that is required is that they be sour without being astringent.

Now, why have I put “chutney” in quotes up top? That’s because the Bengali chatni (pronounced with a long aa) is neither chutney as it is understood in North India (a condiment, as in tamarind chutney or mint chutney) nor as it is understood in most of the West (as a sort of pickle/preserve a la Major Grey’s chutney). The Bengali chatni is closer to dessert, though it is not a dessert proper as it is not primarily sweet. It is a tart-sweet dish and in a structured Bengali meal (of the kind now seen mostly in Bengali weddings) it would come before the sweet/dessert course proper. When not eating a structured Bengali meal it works just fine as dessert, and I’ve been known to devour it by the bowlful at all times of the day and night. Continue reading

Palak Posole

Palak Posole, Rancho Gordo
My friend Steve, of Rancho Gordo notoriety, has been talking up his posole/prepared hominy for some time now but I’ve only just got around to making my first order. This is because when I think of posole I think of the Mexican soup/stew of the same name (well, in Mexico it’s called “pozole”) and since El Triunfo, our local Mexican restaurant of choice, offers excellent pozole on the weekends it didn’t seem like anything I needed to learn to make myself at home. But then I began to think of possible uses for posole/hominy in Indian dishes. I really like the texture of prepared hominy (right between chewy and soft) and while it doesn’t bring much flavour to the party (a mild corn sweetness) it seemed like it would be a plausible substitute for ingredients that work the same way in certain dishes.  Continue reading

Mutton Curry with Star Anise and Vinegar

Mutton Curry with Star Anise and Vinegar
I’ve been stuck in a rut with mutton curries of late. It’s a delicious rut to be sure, variations on this basic Bengali-style approach, but it’s good to change things up. And so I did. This is an improvized recipe not trying to follow any particular regional style. In fact, what I had in mind here is more Malay and Indonesian braised meat dishes with star anise playing a big role. It’s not that star anise is not used in Indian cooking (it’s a common component of garam masala) but it’s not quite as ubiquitous as cinnamon, clove or cardamom—at least not in the meat dishes I’m used to eating or cooking. It’s the presiding whole spice here, along with cardamom, especially aromatically, but the sweetness it imparts is cut by vinegar on the palate. No tomatoes are used, which results in a “darker” flavour profile. Anyway, I think it’s quite good: give it a go.  Continue reading

Prawns of Doom

Prawns of Doom
A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for something I called “Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry“. Well, you could call this one “Hotter and Sourer Shrimp Curry”, or “Shrimp Curry in a Kerala Style, Generally Speaking”. I prefer to call it “Prawns of Doom”. It’s really quite hot, you see; but it’s also very balanced: you don’t feel the full force of the heat till you breathe out; the richness of the coconut milk lulls you and then the heat hits you. And despite the coconut milk it’s also quite sour—unlike the previous recipe, which used tomatoes, the sourness here comes from tamarind and quite a bit of it. It’s a slightly fussy recipe, ingredients and preparation-wise but if you like hot food, give it a go. As noted above, it’s in a very general Kerala/Malayali style. That is to say that the core of the dish is a mash up of some recipes in Vijayan Kannampilly’s Essential Kerala Cookbook and Mrs. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast, but there are a couple of twists of my own in there. It ends up tasting very much like a Malayali/Kerala dish but it’s not following a traditional recipe.   Continue reading

Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry

Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry with Coconut Milk
Here is a shrimp version of a dish I’ve been riffing on ever since we got back from Delhi in early February. It is loosely inspired by a shrimp dish I ate at Coast Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, but it is based not on any recipe but on following taste memory. It’s reasonably close to that dish in some of my versions but it’s not the same. That was a canonical Kerala/Malayali dish, this one is not—though, for all I know, it may be close enough to someone’s traditional, family recipe. I’ve made it with fish as well—whole and fillets—and there’s probably no reason you couldn’t also try to adapt it for pumpkin or tofu if you wanted to make a vegetarian or vegan version.

It’s a slightly fussy recipe but yields a delicious hot and sour curry tempered and rendered rich by coconut milk. Continue reading