Mushroom Masala


I didn’t eat mushrooms till I was in my late-teens. They are not really a part of Bengali cuisine—or at least the subsets of Bengali cuisine that are made in the two branches of my extended family—and even though we lived all over India, mushrooms never entered my mother’s kitchen when I was a kid. It wasn’t until we moved to Delhi, when I started college, that they flashed upon our consciousness and that my mother started cooking them. They were a winter delicacy and cheap and I thought they were incredibly exotic (as my only encounter with them had been in Western literature). I know very little even now about their place in Indian foodways writ large: I still tend to think of them as largely a north Indian thing. I’m probably wrong. Anyway, as you might guess, this is not a traditional recipe of any kind. It is, however, quite delicious.  Continue reading

Kohlrabir Torkari


In North India kohlrabi is known as knol khol, ganth gobi and monj (in Kashmir where it is a staple). I’d never associated it with Bengali cooking and indeed when I posted a picture of this dish on Twitter a few days ago, I said that kohlrabi isn’t used in Bengali cooking. It turns out that it’s not as unusual as I’d thought; it’s just that it’s not cooked in my extended family. It’s known as olkopi in Bengali—the “kopi” part is a reference to the cauliflower family (cauliflower is phool-kophi/kofi in Bengali, where “phool”=”flower”; cabbage is “bandha-kofi” where “bandha”=”tied”); I’m not sure what “ol” refers to there. The lesson, as always, is to not trust my generalizations about Indian cuisines too far. You can trust this recipe though as it’s quite good. Continue reading

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

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes
It has been a while since I last posted a recipe for beans. It’s been almost a year, in fact; I don’t know how you’ve all coped. That recipe was for North Indian style rajma or red beans, cooked, in a bit of a twist, with cauliflower. Cauliflower aside, that was a simpler variation on the very first recipe I posted on the blog, for a more classic rajma preparation. This one is simpler still: there are no esoteric ingredients here (depending on how often you use powdered turmeric) and it’s not a very fussy prep. The result, however, is very tasty. It would probably be less tasty if you were to use beans from a source other than Rancho Gordo (full disclosure: the proprietor, Steve Sando, is one of my proteges). Their vaquero bean is what I used here—the colour and markings make for a striking presentation. And its texture and ability to hold its shape makes it perfect for the pressure cooker (which I deployed here as I was a bit pressed for time). You’re probably more modern than I am and have an Instant Pot; it should be easy enough for you to figure out how to adapt this recipe for it. But if you have time, the results will be even better if you just cook it long and slow on the stove. Continue reading

Zeera-Alu (Fried Potatoes with Cumin)

Zeera-Alu
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

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

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts

Pulao with Cranberries and Pine Nuts
I’ve previously posted a recipe for a Bengali-style sweet pulao with whole “garam masala” and raisins. Today I have a somewhat different version. It riffs on some different pulaos I’ve had in different parts of India—from Kashmir and elsewhere in the north it borrows the use of pine nuts; the use of tart dried cranberries pays homage to the berry pulao of Irani and Parsi restaurants in Bombay. Like all good pulaos it places these ingredients in supporting roles to the rice. Pulaos, in my opinion, are about the fragrance of good basmati rice (this is, of course, a North Indian prejudice—Basmati is not used much elsewhere in India) and that fragrance should not be suppressed or muddied by other overly strong flavours. The subtle nuttiness of pine nuts complements the basmati perfectly, the cranberries add a tart-sweet counterpoint, and a bit of mint brightens it all up. Give it a go: it works wonderfully with rich curries (like this korma, for example) but also just by itself. 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

Sweet Pulao

Sweet Pulao
Here’s a very simple Indian recipe for a change, for pulao (puh-lao), or pee-laff, as most Americans call it. You could think of it as biryani’s vegetarian cousin, even though that’s probably not very historically accurate. What I mean is both that there is of course such a thing as vegetarian biryani and that the earliest subcontinental references to pulao seem to indicate rice and meat cooked together. You could, however, more accurately think of it as biryani’s more laid-back cousin, as it’s generally much easier and less time-consuming to make. Can you think of it as Indian fried rice? Well, some people will get very upset if you do: Chinese-style fried rice generally involves steamed rice that’s then fried with other things, whereas pulao usually involves rice cooked with other things that have been fried or sauteed. What you absolutely should not think of it as is as a dish with any sort of fixed recipe: there are various iterations up and down the subcontinent and every home kitchen probably adds an idiosyncratic twist.  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

Cranberry Chutney (Thanksgiving 2015)

Cranberry Chutney
We host a dinner every year for our friends who are in town for Thanksgiving. I usually do the classic meal centered on roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce etc. (plus lots of add-ons). This year I”ve decided to Indianize the meal. My friend Sandra says that immigrants incorporating the flavours of their source cuisines into Thanksgiving meals is a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition in its own right, but the truth of the matter is after 22 years in this country I’m a little bored of eating (and in the last decade and more, making) more or less the same meal. Sure, I’ve brined and spatchcocked the turkey and improvised different spice rubs; sure, I’ve made various different stuffings and cranberry sauces—but this year I wanted to go further. And so here is the core of this year’s menu: turkey “roast” in a Kerala style; pulao in place of stuffing; spicy and sour roasted squash soup with tamarind and coconut milk; mashed roasted squash with ghee and garam masala; and this cranberry chutney. I made a test batch this week and it came out quite well. Continue reading