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

Tangy Sweet Potato with Cumin

Tangy Sweet Potatoes with Cumin
Is this the simplest recipe I’ve posted so far? It may well be. Very few ingredients—none of them hard to find, most probably already in your pantry; easy prep; and past the the first few minutes on the stove you can mostly ignore it till it’s done (and that’s in not very much time either). The interplay of cumin and sweet potato is what this is about—a little bit of chilli powder adds a spicy counterpoint and if you have a lime and/or chaat masala on hand, squeeze and/or sprinkle them over at the end to give it a tangy kick as well. A very good side-dish with dal and chapatis, but would also go very well with roasted meats made in a non-Indian style. In fact, I’m considering serving it alongside turkey at our Thanksgiving dinner this year (and I’m also considering Indianizing the roast turkey this year—more on that later).  Continue reading

Chickpea-Potato “Chaat”

Chickpea-Potato Chaat
On Thursday I posted a recipe for a simple tamarind chutney. Here now is a recipe that it plays a central role in. You can make the chutney while the components of this one cook and it’s very easy to pull the final dish together. This has all the flavours of chaat—I put the word in quotes because it’s not a classic chaat; you might just as easily think of it as a chickpea-potato salad with Indian flavours. It will feed two as a main dish and 4-6 as a first course or snack. As always, I use Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans which require no soaking, cook incredibly quickly anyway and have a wonderful sweet taste and great texture. If you’re using chickpeas from some other source you will have to adjust the cooking time to their reality; if you are using canned chickpeas please don’t tell me about it. Continue reading

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower
Some of my non-Indian friends complain that my recipes are too complicated and/or call for too many ingredients that they don’t have in their kitchens and/or take too long to pull together. This is weakness and I don’t usually like to reward weakness but here, anyway, is a very simple recipe for cauliflower roasted with spices. There’s minimal prep work and once the oven is at temperature it takes only 20 fuss-free minutes to be ready to eat. Never say I never did anything for you, you ungrateful bastards.

This is, again, a hybrid recipe that deploys Indian spices and an American approach to vegetables. The resulting flavour is very North Indian though.
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Moog Dal with Vegetables

Moog Dal
In the first dal recipe I posted I listed mushoor dal, chholar dal and moog dal as the Bengali dal trinity (kali dal is a Punjabi thing). Here now is a recipe for moog dal (or mung dal in most other places). I have to admit that as a child this was my least favourite dal but I’ve grown to like it a lot as an adult.

This is the way my mother makes it most of the time, with peas and carrots Her use of tomatoes may seem to be a non-Bengali addition (my mother’s cooking, as I’ve mentioned before, is inflected heavily by the fact that after their marriage my parents have lived almost entirely outside Bengal); but my mother, who is currently visiting, tells me that the use of tomatoes in this dal was common in her mother and aunts’ Calcutta kitchens.

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Bandhakophir Chorchori (Stir-fried Cabbage)

Bandhakophir Chorchori
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