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

Masoor/Mushoor Dal Variations


This post is for my fellow members of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club Facebook group. Bean Club members are currently receiving their November boxes and included in them is a legume new to Rancho Gordo: masoor dal, aka split red lentils. I consulted a little bit on some of the text on the packaging (I didn’t ask for payment) and I believe one of my recipes may possibly have gone out with the newsletter in the box. Or maybe not. You’re thinking I should know. Well, it’s a bit of a scandal but I’m in the Bean Club Facebook group even though I am not a member of the Bean Club (this—as I think I have mentioned before—is on account of certain photographs I have of Steve). Anyway, some Bean Club members are finding themselves in possession of masoor dal for the first time and so I thought I would put together a compendium of simple recipes—most already posted on the blog—for them to have at hand as a resource when starting out making Indian-style recipes with it. There is no need to thank me. That’s the kind of generosity and helpfulness I am famous for. 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

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

Double Brown Beans


When making beans my first instinct is to make some version of the classic Punjabi preparation of rajma. This is a good instinct: rajma is one of the great dishes of the world, especially when eaten with chawal/rice along with some pickle. Indeed, you could say that many of the bean recipes that I’ve posted on the blog are variations on rajma. You might say the same about this one as well but it moves a little further afield and into the intersection that exists between South Asian and Mexican cuisines, broadly construed. Both cuisines feature dishes of stewed beans and in general have many ingredients, flavours and textures in common. This recipe, a result of random improvisation in the kitchen has mole in mind along with rajma: one of the key ingredients is dark chocolate, used to thicken the sauce and give it an earthy base. Cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon and red chillies are some of the other crossover ingredients in it. The result is a bean stew or curry that I expect will be more familiar to South Asian palates but might also spark some recognition in Mexican ones. At any rate it’s quite tasty and goes well with rice or chapatis/tortillas or just straight out of a bowl with a big squeeze of lime. Give it a go and tell me what you think. Continue reading

Brown Rice Khichdi with Three Dals


Khichdi has become such an emblematic dish in Indian food discourse in the US that  I feel a little embarrassed to say that I never liked it as a kid or for that matter in my twenties. My mother made it with moong dal and I didn’t like moong dal as a kid. She invariably put cauliflower in it and even though I could and did eat around it, I did not care for the aroma or flavour of cauliflower. But in my late-middle age I have overcome many of my early life food aversions—see, for example, my sudden and sustained love affair with bainga/brinjal/eggplant—and these days I make and enjoy khichdi as well. And of late I’ve been making it mostly with brown rice, which I am also these days eating more often than I am eating white rice. And I’ve been making it with all kinds of dal variations. The very rough recipe I have for you today uses a combination of three dals and is probably my current favourite. If you don’t have all three dals feel free to just use one; and if you’re using just one the adult me would repudiate young me and tell you to make that moong dal. 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

Chana Masala, Take 3


This is my third recipe for chana masala made with the smaller, darker desi chana. Here, in case you missed them, is the first, made with regular desi chana and here is the second, made with Rancho Gordo’s desi chana. I have quite a lot of the Rancho Gordo chana in the pantry and so have been experimenting with cooking times/methods and masala mixes for a while. I think I have now got things to where I like them best. Of course, I’m going to keep tinkering with the mix and proportion of spices because that’s the kind of asshole I am. But I’ve been coming back to this version often—which says something. The thing that I have settled on though is the mode of cooking the chana itself. I started out doing them entirely on the stove-top—as I do with my all other Rancho Gordo bean preps—but the desi chana just take too long. Now that I am in the middle of a teaching term I can’t constantly get up to check and stir and add water and so forth; and so I’ve been deploying my workhorse Prestige pressure cooker—one of those terrifying, shaking-whistling ones. And I’ve been pressure cooking this chana quite a bit longer than I would normally pressure cook beans: about 50 minutes total (see the first note below). I’m sorry I don’t have conversion instructions for whatever new-fangled pressure cooker you might have but the recipe will provide excellent results no matter how you get the beans ready for the show. 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

White Bean Curry


I have previously posted a few other recipes for white beans made in a broad Indian stye. See, for example, this, this, this and this. Looking at these recipes—or, for that matter, at my other Indian bean recipes as well—you might think that they’re all iterations of each other. And you’d be right—that is pretty much what cooking is. You find a general palette of flavours you like and play with proportions and with a few additions and subtractions and expand the range of preparations you make. Today’s recipe for white beans is most obviously an iteration on the recipe I posted in December for “White Bean Stew with Cumin and Ginger”. This one adds more spices and alters the proportions of acid and sugar and ends up a clear relative but with an identity of its own. I make it with Rancho Gordo’s Alubia Blanca beans but if they’re not available when you read this it would be just as good with their Cassoulet, Gay Caballero, Ayocote Blanco or Marcella beans. And if you don’t have any white beans, any other mild bean such as the Mayacoba would work well too. What you want is a bean that will hold its shape and whose pot liquor will let the flavour of the spices come through. I have a block against using the much larger white beans like Royal Corona or Large White Limas in a dish like this but I couldn’t explain why. Just go with it. Continue reading

Bean Salad with Artichoke Hearts


My go-to way of cooking beans for lo these many decades has always been in the form of a stew or braise—be it a curry of some kind (like so, so, so, so, so, so or so, to take just a few examples) or in a non-Indian style (like so). This changed at the end of last year when I cooked up a pot of Rancho Gordo flageolets and used them as a base for grilled pork and poached fish. This acted as a gateway drug of sorts and I”ve been preparing beans more in this style. The recipe I have for you today takes it to the logical conclusion: the beans becoming not the base for something more flavourful placed atop them but the main story in and of themselves. I first made this salad for the New Year’s Eve dinner we shared with the friends we have been podding with (please forgive the unintentional pun) and have since made a few variations. Here’s the “original”. Continue reading

Sabut/Whole Masoor Dal


On Tuesday I had a recipe for sabut or whole, unpeeled moong dal and today I have a recipe for sabut or whole, unpeeled masoor dal—is this what Americans call brown lentils? I’m not sure. Like moong/moog dal, masoor/mushoor dal is a staple Bengali dal but is made predominantly with the peeled and split versions. Or at least that’s the case in my slice of Bengal which may or may not be representative. As I noted on Tuesday, whole moong and masoor dal were never cooked in our home growing up. I’ve learned to enjoy their more robust textures and flavours relatively recently but I do very much enjoy them now. They do take longer to cook than their peeled and split versions but what is time during the pandemic? And once the pandemic is done I’ll just make them in the pressure cooker. As with Tuesday’s dal, this is a very simple affair: you boil the dal with haldi and then add a tadka to amp up the flavour. If you make a similar dal I’d be interested to know what tadka variations you use but this one is very tasty. Give it a go. Continue reading

Sabut/Whole Moong Dal


This week’s recipe comes a couple of days earlier than usual. Please excuse this segue but it’s also for a dal that until recently was not a usual part of my repertoire. As I mentioned on Twitter some weeks ago, sabut or whole versions of moong and masoor dal were not made in our home when I was growing up. My family’s dals are/were split and peeled masoor/mushoor, moong/moog and chholar/chana dal. My mother occasionally made whole kali urad dal (a very conscious Punjabi prep) but never whole masoor or whole moong (or for that matter chhilka moong dal). I hesitate to say that this is a Bengali thing more broadly because even at my advanced age I realize more and more how much my sense of “Bengali” is sliced by sub-region, community/caste, class and then just family preferences. Cooking outside the “tastes” we inherit from our homes/families is one of the marks of middle-class Indian modernity, I think, brought on by greater movement within India (and for those of us outside India by stores that sell to non-regional customer bases). I have grown to like these more robust dals quite a lot, especially in the broadly Punjabi style represented here. Continue reading

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