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

Bharli Vangi (a la Anjali)


About six months ago I posted a recipe for the iconic Hyderabadi dish, baghare baingan. That dish features small baingans/brinjals/eggplants that are slit cross-wise and “stuffed” with a thick paste and then braised. The Hyderabadi classic is in fact part of a larger family of similar stuffed bainan dishes that can be found all over the south and southwest of India. The recipe I have for you today for bharli vangi—or filled/stuffed baingan—is Marathi in origin and bears a number of similarities to its Hyderabadi cousin, though there are some key differences. One of these key differences is the use of the classic Marathi spice mix, goda masala. If you live in an area with a well-stocked Indian store you should be able to find it there; otherwise, look to Amazon [affiliate link]. I should also note that while this is a Marathi recipe there is by no means only one way of making bharli vangi in Maharashtra and its border zones. Ingredients and steps can vary in important ways between communities and,) of course, from home to home. Continue reading

Alu Sabzi


This is the kind of dish you will never find served at a fancy Indian restaurant or for that matter at a dinner party in an Indian home. It also gives the lie to the kind of overheated food writing you sometimes see in the US in which an Indian/Indian-origin chef or writer tells you that every single component of every Indian dish, every spice is intentionally selected to create a very particular set of layered flavours. That kind of thing has its time and place but this here is a recipe whose most crucial component may be a blender. It is quick and easy and it is very tasty. I’m sorry if that disappoints but this is—more often than not—the kind of quick and easy cooking that happens in a lot of Indian homes on a daily basis. It comes together in a hurry and all but cooks itself. Which is not to say that it’s not tasty because it is. And you can adapt it in all kinds of ways to make it your own. Think of it as an approach not a strict recipe. Who knows, you might even like it enough to serve it at a dinner party. Continue reading

Dum Alu with Sesame and Peanut


Is there a term in India now for home cooking that wanders over the map and isn’t strictly regional? Whatever that term might be, it would describe this recipe (and also most of my cooking these days). I’m calling this dum alu but it looks and tastes nothing like the Bengali alur dom or broadly North Indian dum alu I am most familiar with. It looks like it could be Kashmiri dum alu but really the flavours are borrowed from a range of South Indian preparations. Its most immediate relative or inspiration is probably the Hyderabadi baghare baingan. That’s where the sesame seeds and peanuts probably come from, but there’s no coconut here and also no onions or garlic. If there is indeed a regional version of dum alu or some other potato curry that is made like this, please let me know. It is almost impossible to come up with anything new in the Indian context, given the vastness of the country’s foodways. What I can tell you for sure is that this is a very tasty dish, one that works very well as a side or a main. Give it a go. Continue reading

Baghare Baingan

Baghare baingan is a classic Hyderabadi dish of eggplant stuffed with a tangy masala and cooked in a gravy redolent of tamarind. Despite having spent three years in Hyderabad before I turned 18, however, I never actually ate it there. This because I only started eating baingan/eggplant a couple of years ago, randomly, suddenly overcoming a lifelong aversion. Since then it has predictably become one of my favourite vegetables. I cook it often and order eggplant dishes from Indian and Chinese restaurants every opportunity I get. Eggplant dishes featuring a large dose of tamarind abound in southern India but none quite do it for me like a good preparation of baghare baingan. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I make the best baghare baingan I’ve ever had but it’s not bad at all. This is largely because it is basically the recipe from Bilkees Latif’s The Essential Andhra Cookbook, another in that excellent series released by Penguin India a couple of decades ago (that’s an affiliate link). I don’t follow the recipe to the letter and always leave out two ingredients but it comes out very well anyway. What follows is how I make it—the few departures from the original are listed in brackets in the ingredients list and in the notes. (The steps in the preparation are my language.) Continue reading

Spicy Grated Pumpkin


My mother sent me this recipe almost exactly 17 years ago, at a time when in my early-mid 30s I’d finally begun to eat a wider variety of vegetables. I must have asked her for recipes for pumpkin for the subject line of her email reads “kumro” (Bengali for pumpkin) and the body contains two recipes along with the headnote, “this is your father’s favourite vegetable”. The second recipe is one I’ve posted a version of before; that one I remember my mother making when I was young. This one, on the other hand, I have no memory of seeing on our dining table; but memory is unreliable and in any case I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. It is, however, an excellent recipe and a very simple one as long as you have a food processor with a grater attachment. In case you’re tempted to say that the texture of pumpkin grated with a food processor is inferior to that of pumpkin grated by hand, this is also a reminder that recipes like this can only originate in locations/times where kitchen labour is either cheap (via underpaid servants) or free (via women’s unpaid domestic labour). Kitchen gadgets may free some of us from these associations but it’s important to resist romanticizing traditional cooking practices or letting technology obscure their less savoury origins. Continue reading

Sookha Alu Sabzi, Take 2


You could think of this as a red version of the other sookha (dry) style alu sabzi I posted a recipe for earlier this year. It adds tomatoes and there’s some more plus/minus with spices—the end result is as tasty as the other but quite different in flavour. As with any dry style preparation of potatoes you have to be careful not to let things scorch but a little bit of caramelization on the potatoes at the bottom of the pan is a good thing. Stainless steel is very good for these kinds of dishes—though if you have a cast iron pan that is seasoned strongly enough to withstand the tomato then that might be even better. I like to serve this simply, ungarnished, with chapatis or parathas with some pickle and a bowl of dal on the side but it’s very tasty no matter how you eat it. Continue reading