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

Spicy Chicken Fry


South Indian food continues to be identified in the US—and to be fair, in North India as well—with vegetarian food of the idli-dosa-sambhar variety. The notion that South India is largely vegetarian is a hard one to shake—it showed up last year in a New York Times feature on Kerala as well (it’s hard to understand how anyone could spend a lot of time in Kerala and believe that it is a “a land where vegetarianism is the predominant eating style”). In fact, the southern states are far more non-vegetarian than most of the rest of India—if you want to meet a lot of vegetarians, it’s actually to the north that you have to go. Whether it’s in Kerala or Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, fish and meat are everywhere. And these dishes are often pretty spicy indeed. In fact, the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is up there with some of the hottest cuisines in the world. One of the Andhra dishes that I particularly like to seek out when I am in India is the chicken fry or kodi vepudu. In its flavours and textures it is very unlike most North Indian chicken dishes. The recipe I have today is an attempt to approximate the flavours of some of the versions I’ve eaten, in restaurants and friends’ homes in India. It is not canonical, but the results are quite tasty. Give it a go.  Continue reading

Malai Curry


Malai curry is a quintessential Bengali dish of prawns cooked in coconut milk (in this version, with potatoes). It involves very few spices and is very easy to make. Doubtless, there are many variations among Bengali families. This recipe is from one of my aunts, one of the most redoubtable cooks in the extended family (my mother’s version is far less canonical). In Bengal it is common to make this with larger, head-on prawns. Head-on prawns/shrimp are always better because a) the more shell the more intense the prawn flavour, b) the texture of the meat is always better and c) the roe and other goo in the head both improve the flavour immeasurably and give the gravy a richer, red colour. I do make malai curry with head-on shrimp from East Asian stores from time to time but I try to avoid that as far as possible: given all the dubious stuff surrounding the harvesting of seafood in the region—from environmental concerns to the maltreatment of workers—without more knowledge of provenance it’s an ethical grey area. If only stores that did supply the provenance would stock head-on shrimp! Anyway, when I do succumb to temptation it’s usually for malai curry.  Continue reading

White Bean Curry with Green Peppers


It’s been a while since I last posted a recipe. I don’t know how you’ve all coped: you’ve probably been on bread and water, praying. Your prayers have been answered. Especially if you are a vegetarian. In fact, not only is this recipe vegetarian, it’s also vegan and gluten free. Alas, it is probably not paleo (though I’m not entirely sure what a paleo diet forbids) and nor is it nightshade free (I’m not making this one up). Nor is it made in an Instant Pot; though I don’t doubt that the more enterprising among you will be able to figure out how to make it in an Instant Pot—I assume you will use the time you save in some activity that will better your mind and character.

I kid, I kid: I make fun of the Instant Pot in order to bug friends who are high up in its cult; the truth is most Indians do cook dried beans in pressure cookers (though we were doing so long before the Instant Pot came along). This recipe, however, uses my friend Steve Sando’s excellent Rancho Gordo beans and those cook implausibly fast on the stovetop. If you’re using beans from some other source, a pressure cooker may be the prudent choice. If you’re using canned beans then I will pray for you.  Continue reading

Bhindi Masala


The only other recipe I’ve posted for bhindi/okra involves frying it with onions and trying to keep it as dry as possible. Keeping it dry—both as you get it ready to cook and while you cook it—is usually pretty much the only way to keep it from getting mucilaginous. Of course, in some recipes that quality is prized—see gumbo—but I’m with those who generally does not enjoy slimy bhindi. But it doesn’t have to be the case that bhindi cooked with any kind of a sauce becomes slimy. Here’s one of them. The key is to fry the okra first till almost crispy, then make the sauce and toss them together at the end. You can adjust the ingredients to make the sauce more or less spicy but I like to make it so it’s spicy, sweet and tangy all together. As a bonus, it’s very easy to make with limited ingredients and it comes together very quickly. Give it a shot.  Continue reading

Squash “Bisque”


I made this squash “bisque” with Indian spices for a dinner party recently and it turned out quite well. I put bisque in quotes because traditionally a bisque has shellfish or shellfish stock in it and this doesn’t. I was planning to deploy dried shrimp for that purpose but it turned out we were out. The Korean corner of the pantry, however, had some dried anchovies and so I used that instead. It came out very well. The picture here has mussels in it because when I heated up the leftovers a few days later, I brought it to a boil and threw in a pound of mussels. That made it even better. But it’s pretty good without the mussels (and would be very good with shrimp too) and, indeed, the recipe can be very easily adapted to make it vegetarian or even vegan (see below).  Continue reading

Mushroom Masala


I didn’t eat mushrooms till I was in my late-teens. They are not really a part of Bengali cuisine—or at least the subsets of Bengali cuisine that are made in the two branches of my extended family—and even though we lived all over India, mushrooms never entered my mother’s kitchen when I was a kid. It wasn’t until we moved to Delhi, when I started college, that they flashed upon our consciousness and that my mother started cooking them. They were a winter delicacy and cheap and I thought they were incredibly exotic (as my only encounter with them had been in Western literature). I know very little even now about their place in Indian foodways writ large: I still tend to think of them as largely a north Indian thing. I’m probably wrong. Anyway, as you might guess, this is not a traditional recipe of any kind. It is, however, quite delicious.  Continue reading

Kohlrabir Torkari


In North India kohlrabi is known as knol khol, ganth gobi and monj (in Kashmir where it is a staple). I’d never associated it with Bengali cooking and indeed when I posted a picture of this dish on Twitter a few days ago, I said that kohlrabi isn’t used in Bengali cooking. It turns out that it’s not as unusual as I’d thought; it’s just that it’s not cooked in my extended family. It’s known as olkopi in Bengali—the “kopi” part is a reference to the cauliflower family (cauliflower is phool-kophi/kofi in Bengali, where “phool”=”flower”; cabbage is “bandha-kofi” where “bandha”=”tied”); I’m not sure what “ol” refers to there. The lesson, as always, is to not trust my generalizations about Indian cuisines too far. You can trust this recipe though as it’s quite good. Continue reading