Alu-Posto


Don’t tell my children but I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. In fact, I barely ate any vegetables till I was in my twenties. The big exception was potatoes—and I guess technically potatoes may not even be vegetables. I ate potatoes in all forms, from simple alu-sheddho (boiled potatoes mashed with either ghee or sharp mustard oil and minced onion) to alu-parathas to alu-bhaja (fried potatoes of various sizes and textures) to alur torkari to alur dom. [Be patient, I’m almost done with this fascinating dietary autobiography.] A favourite dish, however, was alu-posto, a quintessential Bengali dish of potatoes cooked very simply with a few spices and poppy seed paste. Mild in flavour and somewhere between grainy and smooth in texture, the poppy seed paste (or posto) made this dish unlike anything else made in my mother’s kitchen and all through childhood it was a major comfort food. For whatever reason, I didn’t start making it in the US until relatively recently but now I make it often. I have not yet had any success in getting my own kids to eat it though: in a wry twist neither of them is particularly into potatoes except in French fry form, and one of them doesn’t even care very much for French fries. Meanwhile the missus and I both love potatoes. Who knows how these things work. Anyway, here is the recipe for alu-posto as it is made in my family. Continue reading

Oats Pongal


Pongal is in a genre of rice porridge made in parts of South India, often with some lentils added. Usually eaten at breakfast, it’s a savoury porridge. Though I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve had it, it’s not something I’ve been very drawn to in the past and in recent years I’ve been trying to limit my white rice intake in order to try to make a dent in my high triglyceride levels. Related concerns have also had me trying to increase my consumption of oats. But every time I try to make a habit of eating a bowl of oatmeal every morning I run out of steam in about a week. I’ve tried counter-programming with oats upma (upma with roasted oats in place of sooji/rava) but for whatever reason that never feels like breakfast food to me. However, about 10 days ago when I posted a picture of my latest iteration of oats upma on Facebook a friend recommended I try making oats pongal as well. She gave me her basic recipe which I tinkered with a little bit and now present here. I am not exaggerating when I say that I actually look forward to eating this every morning. Continue reading

Alur Torkari


A very popular weekend brunch in our home when I was a child was luchi-alur torkari. Luchis are a Bengali relative of puris, a type of fried bread; where puris are made with whole wheat flour (aata), luchis are made with white flour (maida). They’re also typically smaller. Torkari is a term for a style of preparation of vegetables—usually with a thinner gravy. Alur-torkari = torkari made with alu (potatoes). There is more than one way to make a torkari with any vegetable; this particular version is with a thin soupy gravy and very few spices. The flavours here are of the Bengali panch phoron (five seed) mix which infuse into the tomato gravy in which the potatoes cook. This dish is very much a taste of childhood for me. I’ve been known to eat it directly out of a bowl with a spoon. Continue reading

Simple Chana Masala


Chana masala is a very popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US and its popularity is not a mystery. It is also one of the rare dishes made in North Indian restaurants in the US in a manner not unlike that of home kitchens. This is not to suggest that there is only one proper way to make chana masala. Like most Indian dishes, it is subject to a wide variety of variations—of texture and flavour—depending on what part of the country you are in. And dishes that may seem obviously to be in the chana masala family may have different names in different parts of the country—see ghugni in Bengal, for example.

The recipe I have today is my lazy, short-cut method for making chana masala in a North Indian style. Well, it’s not so much of a short-cut, I guess, as it involves first cooking Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans on the stove-top. But that’s the only bit that requires time—everything else is quick and easy!  Continue reading

Black Beans with Cracked Spices


I posted a picture of this black bean dish on Twitter yesterday and said I’d rustle up a recipe if there was interest. Among those who said they were interested was Mollie Katzen. Well, even though I was not planning to post a recipe this week, and even though our town was hit by a tornado last evening, I cannot say no to Mollie Katzen. Here therefore is the recipe. I made it with Rancho Gordo’s Midnight black beans, which are my absolute favourite black bean. They cook up fast, have a wonderful creamy texture and yield a delicious pot liquor that matches up well with whatever you throw at it. In this case, I did not throw very much at it. I cooked the beans on their own with a stick of cinnamon and tez patta (dried cassia/Indian bay leaf) and when done added to the pot a “tadka” of onion, tomato and garlic with a simple spice hit from cumin seeds split in hot oil, cracked coriander seed and a few dry red chillies. Not much to it, very easy to make, and extremely delicious. I had a big bowl for lunch, garnished with a bit of cilantro and with a squeeze of lime on top. Simple is good.  Continue reading

Simple Bean Curry


Every time I post a recipe for a curry I hear from friends who wish I would post recipes for Indian dishes that didn’t require too many ingredients they don’t have on hand. I don’t quite understand this complaint. Most Indian spices can be used in a wide range of dishes, it’s possible to get them in small quantities, and in the era of the internet it’s possible to get them easily even if you don’t have a good South Asian store within easy reach. And if you have more than you need just cook more Indian food. Problem solved. All that being said, here is a recipe for the whingers and moaners: it’s for a curry of dried beans cooked a la rajma, but made with very few spices indeed—and with ones that even those who don’t cook Indian food very often are likely to have on hand.  As with all my bean cooking, this was made with my friend Steve’s Rancho Gordo beans. This particular batch was made with the excellent but elusive Snowcap bean. I don’t think they have it available right now but the good news is that you’ll achieve excellent results with beans such as Domingo Rojo, Ayocote Morado, the almighty Royal Corona, and even the cassoulet bean. If you don’t have any of those on hand either, use whatever you have.  Continue reading

White Bean Curry with Green Peppers


It’s been a while since I last posted a recipe. I don’t know how you’ve all coped: you’ve probably been on bread and water, praying. Your prayers have been answered. Especially if you are a vegetarian. In fact, not only is this recipe vegetarian, it’s also vegan and gluten free. Alas, it is probably not paleo (though I’m not entirely sure what a paleo diet forbids) and nor is it nightshade free (I’m not making this one up). Nor is it made in an Instant Pot; though I don’t doubt that the more enterprising among you will be able to figure out how to make it in an Instant Pot—I assume you will use the time you save in some activity that will better your mind and character.

I kid, I kid: I make fun of the Instant Pot in order to bug friends who are high up in its cult; the truth is most Indians do cook dried beans in pressure cookers (though we were doing so long before the Instant Pot came along). This recipe, however, uses my friend Steve Sando’s excellent Rancho Gordo beans and those cook implausibly fast on the stovetop. If you’re using beans from some other source, a pressure cooker may be the prudent choice. If you’re using canned beans then I will pray for you.  Continue reading

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