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 (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
This is another Indian restaurant favourite and like many Indian restaurant favourites it is usually made in restaurants with a gallon or so of cream. Home-made versions have a much lighter touch and, as in my version below, often leave out the cream altogether. This means you can actually taste the spinach and paneer—a radical concept, I know. Again, palak=spinach; you can make this with a combination of greens and if you do then you’ll have saag paneer (saag=leafy greens).
There are two major components to good palak paneer: good spinach and good paneer (ideally, home-made). If you have those two it’s hard to go wrong. You can tweak the other ingredients (proportions and texture) to your liking and make it entirely your own. You can even add some cream, I suppose, but to my mind palak paneer is best when it’s pureed spinach and soft home-made paneer that are the source of the velvety richness. Continue reading
Okra is not a universally beloved vegetable in the US, primarily due to its reputation for becoming slimy when cooked. This was not an idea I’d encountered before coming to the US. It is eaten all over India but no one seems to complain about this quality. This is not because Indians like slimy vegetables but because in the ways that most Indian cuisines prepare it it doesn’t turn slimy. This is the case in this fairly simple recipe as well. The key is to keep it away from moisture. Dry the pods thoroughly after washing them; slice them with a dry knife on a dry cutting board after they are completely dry and you’ll barely see anything mucilaginous at this point; after that cook them quickly and add a bit of acid (mango powder in this case) and any slime that develops while it is cooking will dissipate. Read on for more detail and photographic corroboration. Continue reading
Yesterday you made paneer (you did, right?); now here is something to make with some of that paneer.
Matar-paneer (literally peas-paneer) is a fairly ubiquitous dish on Indian restaurant menus in the US but, as with almost everything on most Indian restaurant menus in the US, often drowned in cream. The recipe below is a version of the basic way in which it is made in most homes in North India: a tomato sauce with clean, bright flavours that offsets the paneer nicely, with the peas providing textural contrast.
It is a very easy recipe, calling for not very many ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, with a very light touch with the spices. Continue reading
For the first two entries of this edition of Indian Home Cooking Week I’ve posted two fairly traditional parts of a Bengali meal. This third entry is neither traditional nor Bengali. It is my take on non-Indian roasted squash soups with Indian flavours and techniques. It is very easy to make and I think you will like it a lot—it’s a great winter soup. You can serve it as part of a multi-course meal (Indian or otherwise) or just have a big bowl of it as a standalone meal. It could even probably work as a sauce for fish along with rice. The possibilities are endless. By which I mean that there are at least three possibilities.
You’ll often see the word saag (shaak in Bengali) used as a synonym for spinach in the US. In fact, saag/shaak refers to any kind of leafy greens. Thus spinach (palak in hindi, palok-shaak in Bengali) is only one kind of saag/shaak and various other kinds of leafy greens (from mustard greens to beet greens to amaranth leaves to water spinach) are eaten as saag/shaak. As far as I know Swiss chard is not grown much (or at all) in India, but unsurprisingly it is very good when used in most saag/shaak recipes (though I wouldn’t use it in recipes that call for leafy greens to be steamed and pureed).
Traditionally, Bengali meals incorporate one shaak dish, and this recipe is for the simplest possible such preparation plus an easy variation. It will go excellently with yesterday’s mushoor dal for a simple vegetarian meal. You could make it with spinach, radish greens, beet greens etc. (or some combination)—I used chard here because it’s what I had at hand.
Indian Home Cooking Week kicked off yesterday with a recipe for chholar dal; here today is a recipe for a vegetable dish to eat with it: mishti kumro. “Mishti” means sweet in Bengali, and for those of you know Bengali food it may seem redundant for a Bengali dish to be qualified thus. My people have a renowned sweet tooth (though we can’t compare to most Gujaratis) and often add a bit of sugar to a lot of savoury dishes as well. The “mishti” in the name of this dish, however, is a qualifier of the second word “kumro”, which means pumpkin, and means only that the dish features sweet pumpkin—the dish itself is not particularly sweet. I’m not really sure which of the bewildering multiplicity of pumpkins and squashes available in the US is closest to the Bengali pumpkin. If I had to guess, I’d go with buttercup, but really I use whatever I have at hand: butternut, buttercup, kabocha, delicata, or in this case ambercup. Continue reading