Baingan Masala with Mustard


The first recipe of the month featured eggplant; here now is another. I improvised this in mid-October and I think it was the last dish I made with the last of the eggplant from my garden. Truth be told, as much as we like eggplant, it’s been a bit of a relief to not be cooking it twice a week as I pretty much had been since early August! These were all long eggplant: a mix of Ping Tung (a purple varietal) and Thai Long Green. Could this recipe be adapted for globe eggplant? Probably, but cut-up globe eggplant is not going to hold its shape the way that long eggplant cut into thick disks does. Long eggplant is easily found in Indian and other Asian stores though, so that shouldn’t be a difficult hurdle to clear. The key flavour in this dish comes from a spice I threw into my grinder on a whim: black mustard seed. Its sharp bite comes through quite cleanly in the finished dish. If you are able to use mustard oil like a good Bengali then you’ll taste the sharpness even more. But it will be good even with a regular neutral oil. I also use the home-made Bengali spice blend, bhaja moshla, to add a little more punch at the end. This is not commercially available but you can use a pinch of your favourite garam masala instead (if you do, keep the pan on the heat for another minute after adding it). Continue reading

Hot and Sour Baingan Masala


This recipe was on the poll for September and October and it’s time has now come. I improvized it in early August when the flood of eggplant from my community garden plot was in full flow and variety in preparation was needed to keep exhaustion at bay. It turned out so well that I made it a few more times before the growing season ended in October. My eggplant of choice for this was a variety I grew for the first time this year: Little Finger. These plants produce a profusion of very dark purple eggplants that are 3-6 inches in length and tubular in shape. As they’re not commercially available—unless there’s a specialty grower at a farmers’ market near you—you can happily substitute whatever long eggplant you do have access to. Alas, globe eggplant, either cut into rings or cubed, is not optimal for this dish as you want the eggplant pieces to hold their shape and not begin to melt into the sauce. You begin by stir-frying the sliced eggplants, setting them aside, making the wet masala and adding the fried eggplant back in for the last step. While the first step requires constant stir-frying for 10 minutes or so, it is, on the whole, a simple and quick recipe—and I think you’ll find it’s very delicious. Great with pulao or with chapatis or parathas; and excellent as both a side dish or the star of the show. Continue reading

Zucchini “Chenchki”


A vegetable that you enjoy when it first becomes available from the garden in the summer—or in our case, our CSA—but which then increasingly begins to feel like a curse, is zucchini. I don’t grow it for that reason: it’s good but then there’s altogether too much of it. If another gardener offers you some of their zucchini it’s probably a passive-aggressive move—especially here in the upper midwest. But it is a mainstay of the CSA table earlier in the season before the more charismatic vegetables show up and so we find ourselves with a decent amount of it on hand most weeks from mid-July on. As I grill a lot in the summer, it’s easy enough to slice some zucchini, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper and slap it on the grate. The missus makes a Korean banchan with it as well. And from time to time I put it into Bengali vegetable recipes as well. Continue reading

Baingan with Malvani Masala


Here to close out September in cooking is my third eggplant recipe of the month. (The first was for Baingan-Zeera Masala and the second for Baingan “Bharta”.) Today I have for you a recipe for a simple preparation with Bedekar’s Malvani Masala. If you follow my recipe posts this may strike a chord in your memory. Back in July—when the eggplant from my garden had just begun to come in—I’d posted another recipe that used Bedekar’s Malvani Masala. Malvani cuisine is one of the cuisines of the southwestern coast of India. It’s not very well represented in the US (or the UK, I’d imagine). Indeed, it’s not even until relatively recently that packets of Malvani masala began to appear in desi groceries in the Twin Cities metro and they’re still not consistently or widely available here. Bedekar’s is the brand I’ve seen and bought but any brand of Malvani masala should be close. And if you can’t find it in a desi store near you, you can find it online. I can tell you it’s become one my go-to all-purpose masalas for quick cooking. I’ve added it to various eggplant dishes, to chicken curries and also to beef curries. It’s an easy route to big flavour. Continue reading

Baingan “Bharta”


Almost exactly a month ago I was reeling under the onslaught of eggplant from my plot at the community garden and trying to come up with new ways/variations to cook it all. On this particular occasion I started out to make a variation on baingan bharta but things went off track fast. First, I was feeling too lazy to roast the eggplant. So I figured I’d make a version of the recipe I posted last week, for baingan-zeera masala. As I started to make the masala though I kept adding things willy nilly, almost a bit deliriously. These kinds of experiments can often end badly but wouldn’t you know it, this came out rather well: rich texture and big, bold flavour. The only problem was what to call it. Since I’d started out to make baingan bharta, and since the texture of the finished dish was not a million miles from that of bharta, I figured I’d call it that. But as it’s so far away from the canonical versions of the dish I normally think of as baingan bharta, I’ve put bharta in quotes here. If even that seems wrong to you, you can call it what you like. But do make it. I am pretty sure that if you like baingan/eggplant you will agree that it’s very good. Continue reading

Baingan-Zeera Masala


I started growing eggplant in earnest last summer. And I had such a monstrous bounty that even after giving at least half of it away we almost had more than we could cope with at home. Thankfully, eggplant is a very versatile vegetable and can be cooked in all kinds of ways and so we never tired of it. Though my readers may have, as all my recipes last September involved eggplant. And as I planted a lot of eggplant again in my community garden plot this year I find myself in a similar situation, both in our kitchen and on this blog. Four of the recipes on the poll for this month involved eggplant and it’s by a hair that we missed having another all-eggplant September: only three out of four recipes this month will feature eggplant—what a relief! Where to begin? Well, maybe with the one I made first back in August. It featured not just single garden eggplant but single plant eggplant: all of it came from one Chinese String plant in my garden. Chinese String, as the name might indicate, is a varietal that produces long thin fruit. I’d never grown or encountered it before but certainly hope I’ll be able to find it again next year as we really enjoyed it, in this preparation and others. You don’t need that specific varietal, of course—any long eggplant will do. Continue reading

Purple Potatoes, Red Masala


I’ve previously posted at least three recipes for alur-dom/dum alu (here, here and here). You might think that’s enough but here’s a fourth. Alur dom/dum alu is made in certain broad ways in the parts of India that make dishes by that name. I do like more traditional ways of making it but I also think of the name of the dish as authorizing all kinds of approaches: as long as you cook potatoes, covered, in a thick or thin gravy with masala I think you’ve made alur dom/dum alu. You may disagree but that’s how I see it. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m leading this post off with these observations because this recipe is nothing very wild or unexpected. The only really unusual thing here is the use of small purple potatoes. Everything else is just a matter of plus/minus from ways in which you might already make alur dom/dum alu. You could, of course, make this dish with small yellow or red potatoes as well but I really like the sweet flavour of purple potatoes and think they work particularly well here. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Mushroom and Cauliflower Curry


I love king oyster mushrooms and buy them every opportunity I get—which is to say, every time I am at a Vietnamese or other East Asian store in the Twin Cities. We cook them up in a number of different ways at home. What I have for you today is a relatively unusual prep for me for these mushrooms but otherwise fairly familiar. By which I mean that this is essentially a take on alu-gobi with the mushrooms taking the place of the potato. A little more gravy than I typically make in alu-gobi and so I’m calling it a curry. There are not very many ingredients and it comes together very easily. I start out by frying the cauliflower and mushrooms till they’re half-done. If you’re short on time you could skip this step. It won’t be quite as good but it will still be very tasty. As with a lot of my recipes, the ingredients list is really a general guideline and not a specific prescription. I used the quantities of cauliflower and mushrooms I had. You could change that ratio and still end up with a very similar dish as long as you stay close to the spice blend. Continue reading

Roasted Cauliflower and White Bean Salad


Here is a somewhat unusual recipe from me. It is for a warm salad, a genre I rarely make as the centerpiece of a meal but then when I do I wonder why I don’t make it more often. It’s not the first such recipe I’ve posted—see also this Bean Salad with Artichoke Hearts and this Octopus and Chickpea Salad—but it might be my favourite. It’s very tasty and comes together very quickly with a nice mix of flavours and textures. As always with my bean cooking, I use Rancho Gordo beans. I recommend something like their Ayocote Blanco bean for this but you can’t go very wrong with any of their other white beans or with their Flageolets for that matter. This recipe only uses two cups of cooked beans and rather than cooking them for this recipe, I recommend saving two cups of beans you’ve prepared for another purpose (such as this Lamb and Bean Stew). Good tomatoes are a must. I’ve been using Jaune Flamme tomatoes from my garden: these are roughly ping pong ball-sized and have a wonderful sweet and slightly tart flavour. If you don’t have any at hand substitute the best cherry tomatoes you have. The other important thing is to crisp up the cauliflower nicely. I use a cast iron pan and a hot oven to caramelize the tops of the florets without the whole becoming too soft. The florets are coated in ground cumin first and this adds a savoury warmth. Continue reading

Baingan Masala


Eggplant season has begun to get underway here in Minnesota—I just harvested my first eggplant today, a small Pot Black. If all goes well, we will have plenty of eggplant in August. And as I am growing three different long varieties (Ping Tung, Nagasaki and Chinese String), I am constantly on the lookout for recipes where these will particularly shine. I am happy to say that this recipe—which I improvised at the end of May—is one of them. The secret weapon here is a commercial masala mix. As I may have mentioned before, one of the things I am exploring more this year is the use of commercial regional spice mixes. There are so many of these available now at my local Indian stores and it’s a world I need to spend more time in. One of the mixes I bought back in May was Bedekar’s Malvani Masala. If you can’t find it near you, you can probably find it online. Malvani cuisine is one of the cuisines of southwestern India, the flavours of which I just love. I used this Malvani masala in a beef curry when I first got it and while that came out quite well it is in this dish that I like it even more. I add it at the point at which I would normally add whatever spice mix I would have ground myself. Coconut milk adds some richness and the final result is a dish with a sticky texture and robust flavour. Give it a go. Continue reading

Bhindi Masala with Yogurt


Normally, when I make bhindi/okra, I end up without much conscious thought with this excellent bhindi-fry with onions which is a beloved staple in our house. On some occasions, however, I blaspheme and experiment with other preparations. Not all these experiments are successful enough to merit repetition. This one, however, has joined the semi-regular repertoire. Where the bhindi-fry with onions is minimalist, with barely any spices used, this has a bit more going on—which is not to say that it is particularly complicated. And what it adds in ingredients it subtracts in prep time for the bhindi. You don’t have to slice it thinly. Instead, just cut off the tops and then cut each pod in half (or into three pieces for particularly long pods). The onions provide the base, the spices the punch and the tomato and yogurt add tang and turn the masala into a sticky coating for the bhindi. And if you cook it in mustard oil it will add a bit more pungency around the edges. It goes very well with rice and dal but is even better with chapatis or parathas. Continue reading

Alur Dom/Dum Alu, Take 2


Alur dom/dum alu was the top vote getter in this month’s recipe poll, which closed on Monday. I was not expecting it to be as popular as it turned out to be—I guess it’s a dish with a lot of Indian restaurant name recognition. I have actually previously posted another recipe for alur dom (which is the Bengali name, whereas dum alu is the Hindi name). That recipe—which came to me from one of my aunts—is very good in its own right; of late, however, I’ve been making it more often in this style which adds a few spices and leaves out the yogurt. In both recipes the final dish has a thick, sticky gravy/sauce that clings to the potatoes. The only challenge here is to get it to that point without scorching anything. A heavy-bottomed pan will help tremendously with that and I also have a cheat in the notes below the recipe which will not give identical results, probably, but will probably give you greater peace of mind. Either way, you’re likely to like this. And, oh yes, of course I made a Reel on Instagram the last time I cooked this. And of course you want to watch it. Continue reading

Mixed Veg Torkari


One of my favourite quick weeknight dishes is zeera-alu—potatoes stir-fried simply with cumin, dried red chillies and turmeric. That’s the base recipe (not a million miles from the version posted here). After the initial frying step it literally cooks itself and so it’s a well I go to often. The last time I set out to make it, however, I couldn’t resist adding more and more things and ended up with a mixed-veg torkari (to use the West Bengali term for a slightly moist stir-fry of vegetables). And in true Bengali manner I also couldn’t resist when a packet of shrimp came to hand when I was looking for peas in the freezer. The resulting dish was really rather good and I offer you an approximation of it here. An approximation because—as the shoddy Instagram reel I made of the process shows—it was all done by the seat of my pants. Well, that’s home cooking—a little bit of plus/minus here and there is not going to hurt anything and I would hardly expect slavish fidelity to any recipe I post anyway. Give it a go. And you can just as easily leave out the shrimp and make it vegan. Continue reading

Lau with Milk


My last recipe post for the month comes to you from my mother’s kitchen in Delhi (well, Gurgaon technically). I am writing this up 12 hours before my scheduled departure. By the time it posts my plane will be approaching North America and I will be approaching an altogether healthier diet for the next few months. As I noted in my post on the Chittaranjan Park fish market, I have been eating a lot of my meals in Delhi at home but that’s not to say these have all been light meals. In the sea of richness, however, there has been one dish that I’ve asked to be made a number of times and it’s for a very simple preparation of lau (in Bengali) or lauki, doodhi, ghia etc. depending on where you are. In English it’s bottle gourd and in most East Asian markets you’ll see it called opo. I like it by any name and I particularly like this minimalist preparation with just a bit of kalonji and a couple of green chillies to accent the subtle flavour of the lau, and a bit of milk and sugar to enhance the texture and natural sweetness. The directions below may seem a bit imprecise—a hallmark of all my recipes, I suppose—but that’s home cooking. If you want to see an edited, abbreviated video of this being made, check out this reel on my Instagram (where I’ve also posted other cooking videos from this trip). Continue reading

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Bhaja Moshla


We are of late trying both to reduce the amount of meat we eat during the week and to cut down dramatically on our intake of triglyceride-heavy carbs. Yes, growing old really is a lot of fun. As a result our meals both involve a lot of vegetables and require us to make things that don’t call for rice or chapatis/parathas/tortillas to eat them with. I’ve been making a lot of stews with beans (with and without small amounts of meat) and I’ve also been searing fish and serving it alongside Indian veg dishes in a non-Indian manner (think a piece of fish on a plate with some vegetables alongside). And I’ve been making this cauliflower soup. It uses many of the same spices I’d deploy in a traditional sabzi with gobi. It makes for a very nice meal by itself or with a slice of whole wheat toast. As with my recipe for khatta alu, I garnish it with a pinch of home-made bhaja moshla. If you don’t have any you can sub your favourite garam masala instead. Or you could leave the last bit of masala out completely and just call it roasted cauliflower soup. The main thing is that it is easy and tasty (and perfect in the Minnesota winter). Continue reading

Khatta Alu


Tok is Bengali for sour and also the name of a broad genre of dishes that feature sourness, often imparted via the use of tamarind. Alur tok, or “sour potatoes”, is one such dish in the genre. I am, however, calling this dish khatta alu, which is Hindi for “sour potatoes” because the ingredients owe more to the North Indian spice box—broadly speaking—than the Bengali one. There’s no panch phoron here, for example, only zeera or cumin seeds, and the other major spice is coriander seed. There is, however, a Bengali touch at the end: the sprinkling of bhaja moshla over the finished dish. Bhaja moshla is the name of a family of masalas made by dry roasting and then powdering a mix of spices (the word “bhaja” means fried but no oil is used in the roasting). There’s a fair bit of variation in the recipe from home to home but they all provide a burst of flavour to whatever dish they’re sprinkled over. I use my mother’s recipe but as it is proprietary I am not going to share it with you—some secrets even idiot food bloggers must keep. You can google recipes for yourself or you can just use whatever garam masala you have at hand. Continue reading

Sweet Potato Curry with Tamarind and Peanuts


Almost all of my cooking is not only improvisatory in nature but also often a hodgepodge of ingredients and approaches from different parts of India. I do sometimes cook from cookbooks that features dishes/cuisines of regions of India other than my own and when I do I follow those recipes closely—at least the first time. But invariably aspects of those recipes—be they combinations of ingredients or broad flavour profiles—enter unpredictably into the improvised dishes I make far more often. Not every bit of hybridization works or has particularly striking results but when one does it feels very satisfying. This improvised sweet potato curry, which draws on ingredients and flavours in dishes from Marathi and various South Indian cuisines, is one of my recent hits. For all I know it ends up close to some community or the other’s traditional preparation of sweet potato. If so, please don’t give me a hard time for departing in some crucial way from a canonical preparation you’re familiar with; this is not trying to be whatever that might be. What I can tell you is that—sour and hot and sweet and thickened with ground peanuts—it makes for a hearty winter meal with rice. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Sweet-Spicy-Sour Squash


I’ve mentioned a number of times since the summer that we had some difficulty keeping up with the large amounts of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers we got from my community garden plot this year. That is, however, a problem we have every fall with a completely different vegetable: squash. Our CSA gives us a lot of squash in the early fall and by the time the last pickup happens in the second half of October our countertops are groaning under the weight of several weeks’ worth of squash of various types. And then the last share pickup is always a double share, sending another 8 lbs or so of squash home. Thanksgiving helps use some of it up as I always make a roasted squash soup. But with our smaller than usual gathering this year I needed to use up more of it even before we got to the last week of November. I made it in some of our favourite ways (including this one) and I also improvised this particular recipe over the base of one of Suvir Saran’s recipes, which I first encountered on a food forum 18 years ago and which is also in his first cookbook. His recipe has far fewer spices and is very good indeed. I immodestly think this is too. Try it and see. Continue reading