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

Masala Alu with Dried Cranberries


I guess you could call this a Thanksgiving recipe. I confess freely that I originally added cranberries to this dish only to troll my friend Aparna who has a hatred of all things cranberry-related that can only be due to some kind of unexamined trauma. She stopped talking to me for weeks when I made oats pongal with dried cranberries. I can only hope that she will get help and some day make her way to eating this dish which is very tasty indeed.

In making this I was trying to recover the faint taste memories of a similar dish that a gent I worked with briefly in my advertising days in Delhi in the early 1990s used to bring to work in his lunchbox. His family had an old-school cook and his lunches were always very good—the rest of us pillaged them mercilessly. Anyway, I have no idea if I actually managed to replicate any part of the dish except the colour—I suspect the original had yogurt in it as well—but this is very good and very different from the usual dum-alu that you may associate with North Indian potato dishes. Give it a go. And you probably still have enough time to make it as a Thanksgiving side today. Continue reading

Mirchi Sabzi


If you read my recipe posts regularly you are probably sick of hearing about the overwhelming bounty from my plot at the local community garden this year. The majority of my garden was taken up by nightshades: tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Among the most productive pepper plants were the two Hungarian Hot Wax I planted. They produced early in the summer and kept going into the fall, each plant laden with mid-sized glossy peppers featuring bright, medium heat. We used them in all kinds of ways but one of our favourites was this simple recipe I improvized for lunch one day when eyeing yet another massive pile of ’em that had made its way back to our kitchen. There are very few ingredients here and it comes together very quickly but the flavours are very nice. Put it together with a bowl of dal and some chapatis and you’ve got yourself a very nice meal. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi-Matar


Though I’ve made it look different by adding “matar” to the name, this is probably my 78th or 79th recipe for alu-gobi (other versions here, here, here and here). And it probably won’t be my last. As the name of the dish indicates, it’s not a fixed specific dish but a genre: alu-gobi or potato-cauliflower, in this case with matar/peas added on. I am not in search of the “perfect” or “best” alu-gobi—it does not exist. I am merely recording the variations in how I approach it. Modulations in the spices and proportions of spices used have a major effect on the final flavours; and textures too can be varied significantly by varying techniques and steps and also by varying the amount and type of liquid ingredients used. This is a version which is somehow both hearty and subtle: there isn’t a huge amount of spices used; just enough to showcase the cauliflower. The peas add a bright, savoury accent of their own and the whole—especially when eaten with chapatis and dal—is the very definition of comfort food. Continue reading

Stir-Fried Gobi with Ajwain


There is no dearth of gobi recipes on this blog. I’ve posted a recipe for shrimp curry with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for rajma with cauliflower. I’ve posted a recipe for cauliflower-corn soup. I’ve posted four separate takes on alu-gobi (here, here, here and here). I’ve even posted a recipe for oven-roasted spicy cauliflower. But variety, as they say, is the masala of life and so here is yet another gobi recipe. I swear it’s not my “Alu-Gobi with Ajwain” with just the potatoes left out.

This is a very simple stir-fry on the face of it: it features very few ingredients and other than breaking/cutting the cauliflower into very small florets there’s nothing to the prep work. But looks can be deceiving. You have to handle the heat carefully at the outset because if you burn the spices or chillies there’s nothing else coming later to hide the evidence. The primary flavour here is that of ajwain (you might have to go to a desi store for this) but you only need a pinch. A little bit of ajwain goes a long way so resist the temptation to add more. Continue reading

Podi Potta Kathirikai


I said while setting up the poll to select this month’s recipes that this was currently my favourite way of cooking and eating eggplant. This is still true. It hurt me to say it then and hurts me more to repeat it now. This because the recipe comes to me from a Tamil nationalist who persecutes me on a near-daily basis: Aparna Balachandran (who you may remember from this piece last year on reading Agatha Christie during lockdown in Delhi). In August I had a brief flood of long green eggplant from my garden (I really recommend planting the Thai Long Green varietal if you can find it) and she suggested I make some of it this way. Normally, I would have discounted this as “make it in a Tamil style” is her answer to everything (her other favourite occupation is claiming that anything that is good about other South Indian cuisines is basically due to Tamil derivation); but I had a lot of eggplant and I needed new ways to cook it. And wouldn’t you know it, this is in fact a great recipe. Continue reading

Baingan Bharta


God, I hated the sight of baingan bharta as a kid! I had, as I’ve said before, a huge aversion to eggplant that continued into adulthood and indeed only ended a few years ago. And no preparation of the vegetable was more repulsive to me than this dish: the mashed baingan, replete with seeds, looking like the insides of some disgusting squashed creature.

Well, now that I’ve got your appetite stimulated, here’s the general way in which I’ve been making the dish since I suddenly started eating eggplant. You have to understand, as I always say about dishes from the vast Indian home cooking repertoire, that baingan bharta is a genre more than a specific dish. It involves mashed eggplant, ideally first charred, and then cooked with onions and spices. In its simplest form it can be nothing more than roasted eggplant mashed with chopped onion and chillies and salt. More involved iterations bring in different combinations of spices. It’s very common to add tomatoes as well. But in most versions the goal is to let the smoky flavour of the charred and peeled eggplant remain the star of the show. This is the case in this recipe as well. I use a mix of black peppercorn and fresh green chillies for heat and balsamic vinegar rather than tomatoes as the souring agent. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading

Bharli Vangi a la Pradnya


About two and a half months ago I posted a recipe for the classic Marathi dish, bharli vangi. That recipe came to me from my good friend Anjali, who in turn had got it from a neighbour many years prior. As I noted in that post, bharli vangi—like so many dishes in the vast regional repertoires of India—is not a dish so much as a genre, changing subtly from region to region, from community to community and from home to home. Anjali’s version departs from some more familiar versions—depending on your point of view—in that it does not feature coconut at all; instead deploying a mix of roasted sesame seeds and peanuts. The recipe I have for you today comes to me from another Maharashtrian friend, Pradnya (who comments on the blog from time to time and who sent me the goda masala I used to make the other version). This one does include coconut—and there are some other differences too. Pradnya originally posted it many years ago on the food forum of Another Subcontinent, a long dormant website whose food forum was once one of the important nodes on the early Indian foodie web. With her permission, I am posting it again on my blog. The formatting and language are mostly mine and some of the ingredients and steps are lightly adapted as well from her original instructions. My version ends up more sour than hers (she says her mother would approve). Continue reading

Masaledar Alu


I noted with some amusement a couple of days ago a major publication’s food section’s announcement that they would henceforth be switching to specifying fine sea salt in all their recipes. It seems to be a well-meaning gesture: an embrace of fine sea salt rather than the far more specific Diamond Crystal kosher salt beloved of others. What amused me is the attitude encapsulated in this statement: “The amount of salt can make or break a dish, and we don’t want to leave anything to chance.” The fantasy of control here is caught up with the fantasy that most cooks actually follow recipes with anything approaching fastidious precision. Over here at the My Annoying Opinions test kitchen, of course, we, I mean, I embrace sloppiness; indeed, I consider it integral to the process of cooking whose value I do not find to be related to mechanistic reproducibility of recipes. By “sloppiness” I really mean looseness. For one thing, in a world where the flavours of onions, garlic, tomatoes, chillies etc. etc. vary wildly from place to place and season to season the fantasy of control, of not wanting to “leave anything to chance” seems particularly quixotic. For another, cooking in my opinion is about variation, about combinations of flavours, not exact ratios. Anyway, the recipe that follows would never be published by the Washington Post’s food section: like all my recipes, it’s more a sketch than precise instructions. I encourage you as always to play with it and make it yours, adjusting things to your preferences. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi with Ajwain


This is my fourth recipe for alu-gobi. As I’ve said before, alu-gobi is a category rather than a specific dish. My previous versions have included recipes for a rich version with a lot of gravy, a dry version with a lot of spices, and a lightly-spiced version with no tomatoes. In this version there is some tomato and a light hand with spices. The crucial variation here is the presence of ajwain among the spices. (You can find ajwain easily at your nearest South Asian store or your online retailer of choice.) More commonly used in dough—for samosas, pooris, parathas etc.—ajwain can also be used to flavour vegetable dishes. A little goes a long way as it is rather assertive, its herbal aroma and flavour a bit like a lovechild of cumin and aniseed. Here a couple of pinches are deployed early in the process and its flavour and aroma build and suffuse the dish as it cooks without completely dominating it. The dish comes together very easily and served with rice or chapatis/parathas/pooris with dal and a pickle is the very epitome of comfort food. Continue reading

Begun Bhaja


Begun bhaja literally means “fried brinjal/eggplant” in Bengali. It is one of the simplest preparations in the Bengali repertoire and one of the most quintessential. A meal comprising just dal and rice and a few slices of begun bhaja is an excellent meal indeed. Well, I say that now. As I’ve noted before, I did not actually eat brinjal/eggplant till just a few years ago. But it is also true that even in my most baingan-phobic youth I always liked the taste of begun bhaja and would eat small bits of the non-seedy parts of the flesh along with the crispy, almost smoky peel. Now I am older and wiser and enjoy all of it.

In its simplest form, all this dish requires is baingan, salt, haldi, red chilli powder and oil. The version I make most often adds only one ingredient to the above, probably making it less quintessentially Bengali in the process. That ingredient is amchur or dried mango powder. Some people add some sugar to the mix as well (the love of sugar is a sickness among us Bengalis); some also add flour; I’ve sometimes sprinkled some rava/sooji/semolina over right before frying. I like these fine as variations but most often come back to the simple version in this recipe. Continue reading