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

Cauliflower-Corn Soup

As we are about to go out of town soon and about to turn our kitchen over to the people who will be living in our house while we are gone, I have been engaged for the last week in cooking to clear space in the fridge and cupboards for them. This, it turns out, is a pretty useful exercise. I’ve used up lots of vegetables that I would normally have probably forgotten about and allowed to rot; and I’ve also managed to use up some canned stuff I might have been embarrassed to have people see in my pantry. In the process I’ve actually come up with some recipes that we’ve really liked and which will enter my normal rotation when we’re back. This cauliflower-corn soup fits all those descriptions. It’s also easy, delicious and healthy: rich and creamy without the presence of cream. And if you’re the enterprising sort you can also replace the one potentially embarrassing ingredient with a more virtuous freshly made version. Continue reading

Zeera-Alu (Fried Potatoes with Cumin)

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

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

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish
Seven years ago I would not have believed that a radish could be beautiful. Seven years ago I had never heard of a watermelon radish. Then we joined a CSA and in the late fall I cut into my first watermelon radish and it was a startling thing: the very opposite of your regular salad radish, which, as you know, is red on the outside, plain white inside. The watermelon radish, however, is innocuous on the outside, homely even: large, lumpy, the peel coloured a mix of fungal green and mottled, pockmarked white—you might even mistake it for a turnip. But inside there’s an explosion of purplish-pink, like a grenade of pink has gone off, suffusing the flesh but stopping just short of the outer rim.

It’s good not to be sentimental about even beautiful vegetables though and I don’t want you to think that I left my family to take up with a bunch of watermelon radishes with whom I’ve since been living in uncomfortable and confusing sin. I cut  that radish into chunks, dipped them into salt and ate them. Continue reading

Corn Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumber

Corn Salad
A couple of weeks ago I posted a recipe for a warm octopus and chickpea salad. As good as I think that salad is, it requires both an ingredient not easily to hand as well as a lot of preparation time. And in the height of summer that’s not always what you want to do. This corn salad, however, is a different story. It’s not so much a recipe as a list of ingredients and you can vary the proportions according to your liking and how much of each you have. And getting the corn off the cob is as much hard work as you’ll have to do. Do get farm-stand sweet corn though—there’s no substitute for it. We’re very lucky in our town to have a local grower (Grisim’s Sweet Corn) set up a stand as soon as their corn is ready for harvest—the sweetness of freshly harvested sweet corn can’t be beat. In this recipe I also use cucumber and sweet onions from our CSA (the excellent Open Hands farm) and heirloom tomatoes and mint from my garden. The secret weapon is Rancho Gordo’s pineapple vinegar, which lends just enough tang to liven up the salad but doesn’t in any way fight with any of the other flavours. However you do it, you’ll end up with a great and easy side dish for barbecues and potlucks—it’s particularly good with simply grilled steaks. 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

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

Cabbage with Sweet Potatoes

Cabbage with Sweet Potatoes
Here is a very simple version of a dish that, in one form or the other, is very common across large parts of India. Normally, I make it very simply, with just cabbage, onion and potatoes, frying the potatoes first and cooking the cabbage so that it still retains a lot of snap. In this instance, however, I was in the middle of using up a lot of stuff in the fridge and pantry that needed to be disposed of before leaving town for a bit; and so I threw in some sweet potato and a cup of chopped tomatoes. It turned out quite well. And so here is the recipe so I can remember what I did and do it again. It’s still a very simple recipe and past the (minor) hassle of chopping the cabbage there’s not a whole lot to it. And if you don’t have sweet potatoes on hand, regular potatoes will be fine too.  Continue reading

Roasted Squash with Ghee and Garam Masala (Thanksgiving 2015)

Mashed Squash with Ghee and Garam Masala
As mentioned earlier, I am doing an Indian Thanksgiving this year (please construct your own ironic, historical joke). I’ve already posted the recipe I improvised for spicy cranberry chutney; in place of the roast turkey I’m going to do braised turkey drumsticks in the style of a Kerala “roast” (I’m going to do a dry run with a couple of drumsticks tomorrow, and if it turns out well I’ll post that recipe on Tuesday); I’m also making a Bengali-style sweet pulao in place of stuffing; and I’m making two dishes with roasted squash: one a spicy and sour soup with tamarind and coconut milk, and the other this mash with ghee and garam masala. I made a test batch today and it came out quite well. I might tweak it a bit for the main event but so that I remember what I did here’s the base recipe.  Continue reading

Tangy Sweet Potato with Cumin

Tangy Sweet Potatoes with Cumin
Is this the simplest recipe I’ve posted so far? It may well be. Very few ingredients—none of them hard to find, most probably already in your pantry; easy prep; and past the the first few minutes on the stove you can mostly ignore it till it’s done (and that’s in not very much time either). The interplay of cumin and sweet potato is what this is about—a little bit of chilli powder adds a spicy counterpoint and if you have a lime and/or chaat masala on hand, squeeze and/or sprinkle them over at the end to give it a tangy kick as well. A very good side-dish with dal and chapatis, but would also go very well with roasted meats made in a non-Indian style. In fact, I’m considering serving it alongside turkey at our Thanksgiving dinner this year (and I’m also considering Indianizing the roast turkey this year—more on that later).  Continue reading

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower
Some of my non-Indian friends complain that my recipes are too complicated and/or call for too many ingredients that they don’t have in their kitchens and/or take too long to pull together. This is weakness and I don’t usually like to reward weakness but here, anyway, is a very simple recipe for cauliflower roasted with spices. There’s minimal prep work and once the oven is at temperature it takes only 20 fuss-free minutes to be ready to eat. Never say I never did anything for you, you ungrateful bastards.

This is, again, a hybrid recipe that deploys Indian spices and an American approach to vegetables. The resulting flavour is very North Indian though.
Continue reading

Bandhakophir Chorchori (Stir-fried Cabbage)

Bandhakophir Chorchori
Chorchoris are sometimes referred to as the Bengali analogues of Chinese stir-fries but they’re not exactly the same thing. Vegetables are fried in in a hot pan with spices but after water (or some other moist ingredient) is added the cooking is finished without much further stirring, letting the bottom layer crisp up a bit. The final dish is mostly dry (no gravy/sauce). That’s the general rule anyway. When I’m cooking cabbage in this general way I don’t let it get too tender as I like my cabbage to be a little crunchy. Anyway, it’s a very simple dish and you can cook other vegetables in much the same way (pumpkin, cauliflower etc.) or in combination. And you can also add some diced potatoes and even some small shrimp to this cabbage version. Continue reading

Alur Dom/Dum Alu

Alur Dom
Alur dom (in Bengal) or dum-alu (in the Hindi belt) is a popular dish made in a variety of ways across India. The name implies cooking on “dum”, or in a tightly sealed vessel so that the potatoes cook in their own “breath”, so to speak; in practice, however, it’s rarely prepared that way in most homes. At least the potatoes are rarely cooked entirely on “dum”. This is certainly the case for this recipe, which comes to me from one of my aunts who is one of the best cooks in the extended family and has a very successful, small catering business in Calcutta. Ideally, you’d eat it with luuchis (luuchis are a lighter, fluffier version of puris) but it goes very well with parathas and rice. Indeed, match it with some chholar dal and rice and you’re all set for a great vegetarian meal. Continue reading