White Bean Stew with Cumin and Ginger


My friend Aparna—she of “reading Christie during the lockdown” fame—recently acquired a kalchatti, a traditional soapstone pot used in parts of South India. Ever since then my life has become a living hell. She goes on about it in a nauseating manner on Whatsapp, with hourly odes to its glory, each accompanied by 32 photographs (on average). I have decided to purchase one of my own just so I can shut her up. The problem is it costs the fucking earth to have one shipped from India and the only one I can find in the US at a reasonable price will require me to season it before use—a process that involves a daily sensual massage of the damned thing with turmeric and castor oil for anywhere between 10-25 days. Yes, who am I kidding, I will almost certainly buy it and anoint it in this kinky manner. Until then, however, I have been inspired to break out a far inferior stoneware pot I purchased several years ago from a local Korean store and start cooking in it again on the regular. I made a traditional Kerala-style fish curry in it last week and yesterday I improvised a stew in it with ayocote blanco beans from Rancho Gordo that came out rather well. Herewith, the details. 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

Alu-Gobi, Lightly Spiced


I made this take on alu-gobi a couple of days ago and here now in response to some queries is the recipe. This is, I believe, my third alu-gobi recipe and it is by far the simplest. (The other two are here and here.) It involves very few ingredients and very few spices. Sometimes I am tempted to launch a campaign aimed at getting Americans to stop associating Indian food only with big flavours. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of classic Indian preparations that involve big flavours—and god knows, I often fall prey to over-spicing things as well. But that expectation and the many dishes that feed it often completely obscure all the ones that aren’t BIG in that way but which are rather tasty anyway. A lot of Indian food is very subtle, even if that’s not its reputation. This alu-gobi is one such. The major flavour here is that of the cauliflower set off by some cracked coriander seed. A light tadka of hing, zeera and red chillies give it a bit of umami depth and heat, some amchur for acidity at the end and that’s pretty much it. There’s no tomato, no garlic or ginger and only a bit of onion. Give it a go, you’ll like it. Continue reading

Chana Masala, Take 2


Way back in January, before there was a global pandemic, I posted a recipe for chana masala made with kala or desi chana. These smaller, darker chickpeas (compared to garbanzo beans aka Kabuli chana in India) have, as I said then, been eaten in India much longer than garbanzo beans. They can be prepared very similarly but are far from identical. They’re smaller and their skins are harder and their texture much denser; and their flavour is earthier and not as “sweet” as good garbanzo beans can be. So far, so repetitious. Here’s something new: back in January I’d said that I’d heard a rumour that Rancho Gordo—the Californian purveyor of bespoke beans—might soon start carrying desi chana. 10 months later that rumour has turned to fact. Rancho Gordo’s desi chana will be going on sale around Thanksgiving. If you’re not in their Bean Club (yes, I know) you’ll have to punch other people in the mouth to get them into your cart when they go on sale. (Well, you’ll be shopping online but you can always imagine.) Since I’m special (by which I mean, I know things Steve S. of Rancho Gordo doesn’t want you to know about his whereabouts in April of 1982), I was sent a few packets of these to play with before you heathens get anywhere near them. You can therefore view this as a sort of sponsored post if you like—I can certainly be purchased for less than the price of a few packets of beans. More accurate would be that Steve and I are old friends and that he clearly doesn’t need a D-list food blogger like me to talk him up when he has all of the North American food world falling over itself to praise his beans. At any rate, I’ve made a few different preps with them and this is the one the missus thinks I should share first with the public. Continue reading

Alu-Mirch Sabzi


I think I promised this recipe to people on Twitter a couple of months ago. It’s a very simple preparation of potatoes and peppers that I improvized some years ago to deal with the deluge of bell and other large hot and sweet peppers every August from our CSA—the excellent Open Hands farm. It’s made with very few ingredients, comes together very quickly and is very versatile: you can have it as a side with dal and rice (it’s particularly good with more lightly flavoured dals like this moong dal or this mushoor dal); it’s also very good with chapatis and parathas; and you can also eat it as as a side with non-Indian dishes in place of any roasted or sauteed potato dish (or even potato salad, for that matter). What kind of pepper(s) you use is entirely your call, as is the proportion of potato to pepper. It will be tasty no matter what your choices are. Continue reading

Black (Caviar) Dal


Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago. Continue reading

Mushoor Dal (No Tadka)


This recipe is technically a repost. I’d hidden a quick version of it in the notes to one of the very first dal recipes I posted on the blog, way back in January 2015. That was a recipe for split, peeled mushoor dal—or red lentils, as they’re prosaically known in the US—made in a classic Bengali style. The dal there is boiled with water and turmeric and salt and then a phoron or tadka of cumin seeds/panch phoron + onion, garlic and green chillies is added to it. That’s a very nice dal and if you haven’t made it yet you should. But this version is both more nourishing and far less fussy: everything is cooked together and there is no tadka/phoron at the end. Instead there’s a lot of whole garlic and a bit of tomato. It makes for a deeply flavoured, richly textured dal that can be eaten with rice or chapatis or just slurped out of a bowl. Continue reading

Tindora Fry


Tindora, which goes by many names in India and is, I believe called ivy gourd in English, is a vegetable I’d never eaten in India and indeed had not eaten until fairly recently. It has a name in Bengali as well—kundri—but it’s not a vegetable that was ever cooked in the kitchens of my extended family. That’s not the final word, of course: even at the age of 50 I’m constantly learning how limited my knowledge of Bengali cuisines is, leave alone the cuisines of the rest of India. I do believe it’s eaten more commonly in the southern parts of the country. If you’ve never seen or eaten it, it looks and tastes a bit like a miniature cucumber, with textural crunch and snap and a mildly acidic, lemony flavour. After years of seeing it in Indian groceries in the US I purchased some on a whim some months ago and improvized a version of the recipe I have for you today. I’ve been making it off and on ever since; at some point I should really consider making it some other way as well. Continue reading

Snap Peas and Potatoes with Panch Phoron


One of the highlights of the farm we have a CSA share with—the excellent Open Hands—is their U-Pick program which allows members to pick a number of crops for themselves over the course of the growing season. Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and herbs are some of the highlights, and early in the season so are peas. We get shelling peas as well as sugar snap peas. It’s a fleeting window but a tasty one. We recently picked a fair bit of sugar snaps and to use them up one of the things I made with them this week was this dish that falls in the general Bengali genre of the chenchki: a simple prep that involves at the least mustard oil, panch phoron (or just kalonji/nigella), turmeric, red chillies and a vegetable. You stir-fry the veg and then cover the pan and let it finish cooking either in its own moisture or with the help of a little bit of water. Ginger and green chillies are often added as well but I decided to leave them out so as to feature these lovely sweet pea pods more clearly. I did add some potatoes for contrast. Continue reading

Oats Pongal with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Coconut


Late last year I posted a recipe for pongal made with oats. That recipe was a take on my friend Pradnya’s recipe, which was itself an adaptation of a rice-based pongal from the cookbook, Dakshin. I’ve been making various iterations of that pongal for breakfast ever since—it beats a bowl of oatmeal in the American style any day of the week as far as I’m concerned. A couple of months ago I randomly improvized a more savoury version for lunch. My description of it caused a Tamil friend to pretend to faint in mock horror—this because I made it with dried cranberries, which are certainly not a traditional ingredient. It may not in fact be the only complaint that people who actually have cultural ties to pongal—which as a Bengali I don’t—have with this recipe. To them I say, just call it porridge if you prefer; but do give it a go: you’ll probably like it. Then again, for all I know, it actually resembles a traditional preparation quite closely. Indian foodways are wide and varied and it’s very hard to come up with anything truly new. Continue reading

Toor Dal with Turnips


This recipe has its origins in one of my favourite recipes posted to the Another Subcontinent cooking forum, back in its heyday more than a decade ago. Most of my readers will not know what I am talking about. Another Subcontinent was a collection of forums on South Asian culture that a few friends and I started back in 2004 (a bit later we also added a features site). Well, technically both the features site and the forums still exist but both have been in suspended animation for a long time now. The cooking forum was the beating heart of Another Subcontinent and in my (not unbiased) view it was in its heyday the best resource on Indian cooking there has yet been on the internet. Populated by avid home cooks, both in India and the diaspora, the cooking forum brought together people who knew their own regional cuisines but not necessarily each others’ and we all learned a great deal from each other. And then the rise of first food blogs and then Facebook and, let’s face it, cliques and feuds among the membership killed it off. Nonetheless I still cook recipes I learnt on that forum pretty much every week. Continue reading

Teekha Alu Sabzi


At the end of April I posted a recipe for sookha or dry alu sabzi. Here is a close relation: a spicy (or teekha in Hindi) alu sabzi which has a little more gravy but not a whole lot of it. It too is made without any tomato and with even fewer spices. I improvized this take on a broader family of homestyle potato dishes—eaten in wide swathes of North India with chapatis or puris—entirely in order to test out a new (to me) ingredient that I purchased in Delhi right before departure in February. And so I did not want to mix in too many strong flavours. The ingredient in question is yellow chilli powder. I purchased a packet at an outlet of FabIndia (where else?) and then promptly forgot about it until I found it two weeks ago in the back of the pantry shelf where I’d stowed it upon our return. I purchased it because I’d never come across yellow chilli powder before. I’d expected it would be relatively mild but when I tasted it raw it packed a decent punch. I asked a number of Indian friends—in India and in the US—who are avid cooks and very knowledgable about Indian food (some of them far more so than me) if they’d come across it before and drew a complete blank. Continue reading

Achaari Baingan


Where “achaari”=”a la achaar” where “achaar=Indian pickles”. There are actual baingan/brinjal/eggplant achaars/pickles—this is not one of them. Instead, as with most achaari recipes, this is made with ingredients that you would use in pickling. There are a large number of variations in how this general family of eggplant dishes is made; this is the one I use more often than not. It comes together very quickly and easily and it is very tasty indeed. As made in this recipe it is also quite hot but you can adjust that down by either using less red chilli powder or using a mild chilli such as Kashmiri or the slightly hotter Byadgi chilli. Either will be available from Amazon if there isn’t a South Asian store doing curbside pickup near you. But I do hope there is a South Asian store doing curbside pickup near you because the recipe calls for curry leaves. It’s not the case that you can’t make the dish at all if you don’t have them but it’ll be much better with a sprig of this otherwise un-substitutable ingredient. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi, Dry Style


I posted a recipe for alu-gobi last November. In the tedious preamble to that recipe I noted that alu-gobi—like most dishes in the vast Indian home cooking repertoire—is more of a genre than a specific dish. That shouldn’t be surprising considering the dish is just named for the two major ingredients in it. Cauliflower and potatoes cooked with a rotating cast of spices: that’s all alu-gobi is. The recipe I posted in November involved a simple spice-mix heavy on the coriander seed, and a fair bit of water for a fair bit of gravy. This one has a different mix of spices and tastes quite different. And as it’s made with very little water the texture is also very different. I like to make it keeping the cauliflower fairly crunchy but that’s easy enough to sort out if your tastes run otherwise. It’s a simple dish that’s not going to set off any fireworks but it’s very good. Continue reading

Boiled Moog Dal


Here is a recipe for a dal that is very easy to make and which, despite featuring very few ingredients, has a rich, complex flavour. Is made with moog dal (moong dal in Hindi) or split, peeled mung beans. I’ve previously posted another recipe for it made with carrots and peas and tomatoes. That one is very good too—and even healthier—but this is the one my children love and ask for, and so it’s the dal I make most often. I smile wryly, by the way, at their affection for this dal. When I was their age, moog dal was my least favourite dal: mushoor dal prepared in this style and chholar dal were my favourites. I realize this is deeply uninteresting information all around. Anyway, this moog dal is made in the Bengali style by first pan-roasting the dal and then washing it before cooking it. It’s a very unglamorous dal but it is very tasty indeed. Continue reading

Sookha Alu Sabzi


Here is another recipe from the Indian home-cooking repertoire that is more a genre than a specific dish. Something like this preparation is made all over the country with regional variations but even within regions there will be significant variations in how it’s made. The point of the dish is not actually the exact flavours but the texture of the potatoes and the almost paste-like masala clinging to it when it’s done. I give you seemingly-precise instructions here but this is a classic andaaz-se (or “by estimation”) recipe. I myself make it a new way pretty much every time I make it. Play with it and make it your own. The ideal way to serve it in the Indian context is with chapatis/parathas and dal and achaar, and it’s also good with dal and rice. But there’s no reason you can’t serve it as a warm potato salad at a barbecue. Make and eat it as you would like. Continue reading