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

Smoky and Tangy Eggplant


“Begun” in Bengali, “baingain” in Hindi, “brinjal” in Indian English, “aubergine” in British English, “eggplant” in American English: whatever the name, I don’t eat it. I’ve had an aversion since early childhood to vegetables with too many seeds. I’ve since managed to overcome it for some (bhindi/ladyfinger/okra, for example: here’s a recipe) but not for the devil’s tumour. It looks repulsive before it’s cooked and even more repulsive once it’s been cooked. People tell me it tastes good and I am willing to believe it, but I still can’t bring myself to eat it. The missus, however, loves it and she particularly loves Indian preparations of it. And so I’ve begun to cook it for her. It only took 14 years of marriage for me to begin doing it. Truly, I am the husband of the year.  Continue reading

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes
It has been a while since I last posted a recipe for beans. It’s been almost a year, in fact; I don’t know how you’ve all coped. That recipe was for North Indian style rajma or red beans, cooked, in a bit of a twist, with cauliflower. Cauliflower aside, that was a simpler variation on the very first recipe I posted on the blog, for a more classic rajma preparation. This one is simpler still: there are no esoteric ingredients here (depending on how often you use powdered turmeric) and it’s not a very fussy prep. The result, however, is very tasty. It would probably be less tasty if you were to use beans from a source other than Rancho Gordo (full disclosure: the proprietor, Steve Sando, is one of my proteges). Their vaquero bean is what I used here—the colour and markings make for a striking presentation. And its texture and ability to hold its shape makes it perfect for the pressure cooker (which I deployed here as I was a bit pressed for time). You’re probably more modern than I am and have an Instant Pot; it should be easy enough for you to figure out how to adapt this recipe for it. But if you have time, the results will be even better if you just cook it long and slow on the stove. Continue reading

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb
As I’ve mentioned before, it is hard to imagine Indian food without some ingredients that came with European colonizers and traders from the Americas: chillies, tomatoes, potatoes. Cumin, however, is not one of those ingredients. Like pepper, it has been grown and used in South Asia for a very long time. And also like pepper, it is not in fact native to South Asia: it has been grown in many parts of Asia for a long time now and probably originates in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Traders on the spice/silk roads may have taken it to China, where it is an ingredient in the cuisines of the Northwestern regions and also in certain Sichuan dishes. For travelers across the Levant, North Africa and Asia in earlier eras, the aroma and flavour of cumin must have been a sign of the familiar in otherwise foreign lands. It has also gone West, of course, and is now a staple ingredient in a number of South and Central American cuisines. Indeed, it is hard to say now what cumin’s nationality is.  Continue reading

Zeera-Alu (Fried Potatoes with Cumin)

Zeera-Alu
This recipe is a variation on one I posted last year for sweet potatoes with cumin. I said of that one at the time that it might have been the simplest recipe I’d yet posted. This one is both a bit more and a bit less involved. A bit less because it has even fewer ingredients; a bit more because it has one extra, fussier step: it calls for the potatoes to be first boiled and then peeled and fried. For this reason this is unlikely to be a recipe you might make on a weeknight (when two pots for one dish might be one pot too many) but it makes a mean side dish for when you have more time to cook. It’s great right out of the pan and it’s also quite good when it’s cooled—so it’s also a good option for picnics and potlucks. The recipe calls for small, waxy potatoes but would work just as well with larger potatoes cut in half or thirds (just make sure they’re not too starchy).  Continue reading

Braised Lamb Shanks with Potatoes

Braised Lamb Shanks
Holy Land, a Middle Eastern store that is a bit of a Minneapolis institution, is one of my regular sources of goat meat. From time to time I also purchase lamb shanks from them. Always very fairly priced, these shanks call out to be braised. Usually, I cook them slowly in a vaguely Italian style, with tomatoes and red wine and olives, and we eat them over polenta. Every once in a while I cook them the way I would cook goat in a North Indian style, cooked down slowly, with the meat falling off the bone in a rich, velvety gravy. This recipe, however, is not one from my regular repertoire. I improvised it last week, and as it came out rather well I am sharing it with you. It is a fairly simple preparation, not calling for overly esoteric ingredients for the non-South Asian cook, and after some initial fussiness it all but cooks itself. Continue reading

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
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