Saturday, March 31, 2018

Edible Flowers from the Bengali Kitchen

Over the last few years my trips to Kolkata were quite frequent and in contrast to the standard visits in summer, I happened to be in Kolkata in the winters too. Moni's house is in a quiet lane in Selimpur and a variety of vendors come to the 'goli' or lane calling out their wares. From umbrella repair to ice cream, from variety plastic products to fresh veggies and fish, everything comes to our doorstep.

I found the steady stream of vendors quite entertaining and slowly began to buy vegetables and fish for the novelty of buying at the door, so much in contrast to my life in Mumbai where veggies were either bought online or from a supermarket, an entirely impersonal experience. As I chose vegetables every morning I started examining the variety on the cart more closely and questioning the vendor about specific vegetables I was unfamiliar with. I'd also ask Jethima from upstairs or go bug Moni to identify ingredients and then to cook them for me. My interest vegetables and local ingredients grew and if you've ever enjoyed winter vegetables in Bengal, you'll understand just why I succumbed.

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What a glorious variety there was! Leafy greens, beans, brinjals, gourds, root veggies, the list can go on and on. And among all this bounty I found an array of edible flowers and inflorescence that are all a regular, even mundane, part of the Bengali kitchen, enjoyed in season and then looked forward to once the season was over. As I took photograph after photograph the subziwala, seeing my interest and quite entertained by my enthusiasm, started bringing unusual seasonal ingredients to show me every morning. I'd happily be awake at 6 am waiting for him to make his first circuit of our goli. Thanks to him I learned about many vegetables that are a part of the Bengali's winter meals. Not only did I learn from him, Moni and Jethima, the neighbourhood mashimas (aunties) also started educating me, making the entire experience richer and so much more interesting.

Edible flowers maybe trendy today and perceived to be modern and hip but for the Bengali they are a part of everyday meals and I discovered a wide variety in Kolkata, some of which I have listed here. Whether it's the blooms, inflorescence or stems, the flowering portions of many plants are commonly cooked into simple dishes or more elaborate fare.

Malabar Spinach or Pui Shaak is a common ingredient in many Indian kitchens, but did you know the inflorescence on this plant is also eaten? It's sold separately as an individual ingredient and I first saw it on the subzi cart.

Pui Mituni (inflorescence on Malabar Spinach)

Similarly the inflorescence on Spinach or palak, called Shish Palong in Bengali, is also a delicacy and Jethima made a quick stir fry with potatoes for me. 

Shapla or water lilies also star on Bengali menus. The stem is cooked with prawns or made into fritters. While prepping the stems may feel tedious the resultant fritters are perfect as a snack at tea time or are served as the accompanying bhaja in the daal course of a traditional Bengali meal. The flowers aren't eaten but they look lovely floating in a flat vessel full of water.

Shapla or Water lIlies

Then there were onion scapes or Peyaanj Koli as we call them in Bengali. Such a pretty vegetable! Mostly added to chorchoris or made into a simple bhaja with potatoes, the markets are filled with these in season. 

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Peyaanj Koli

This post would be incomplete if I didn't mention Kumro Phool or pumkin flowers. Mostly served batter fried, sometimes with a stuffing of prawns (yes, we Bengalis cook many veggies with prawns) I had plenty of these thanks to my beloved Jethima.

Kumro Phool 

On my last trip to Kolkata I encountered Jukti Phool. This flower enjoys a very short season and, from what I understood from the vendor in Gariahat market, is gathered from plants growing in the wild. A strongly bitter flower, it can be stir fried with potatoes and panch phoron or can be used in a sukto to impart the bitter notes.

Jukti Phool in the foreground with other Sukto ingredients

I also found Bok Phool or Agasti phool on an earlier trip to the market. These are cooked by many communities across India and I have seen many getting excited over them on myriad food groups on Facebook. These too are mostly batter fried and served as a tasty snack, much looked forward to by the Bengalis when in season. A simple chickpea flour batter seasoned with salt and chilli powder, a dash of turmeric and some nigella seeds is made, the flowers (stamens removed) are dipped in and then deep fried till crisp and golden. Sometimes maida and/or rice flour are added to make the batter lighter and the fries crisper but all these are variations from kitchen to kitchen.

Bok Phool outside Gariahat Market

Mocha or banana blossom is very widely known so it wasn't really a discovery for me. This much treasured ingredient in cooked a million ways by the Bengali - ghonto, chop, with prawns, chop with prawns... the list can go on and on. 

Mocha or Banana Blossom

And here's a picture of the man himself, the shobjiwala or veggie vendor. As I write this I realise I've never asked him his name as I always called him 'bhai' or younger brother. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sukto with Jukti Phool

Sukto is a lovely light stew of assorted vegetables with a hint of bitter. Flavoured with a bit of mustard and a hint of poppy paste, this stew also has milk in it and must be cooked very carefully. Though you can make sukto without the bitter element, many Bengalis believe that a classic sukto must have the bitter ingredient. I always avoided sukto thanks to the bitter flavour and never bothered to even see how it was cooked, turning up my nose and shaking my head this utter waste of effort! 

Over the last few years my interest in Bengali food has increased greatly - maybe I'm feeling the need to understand my roots now that I'm well into my forties and the attraction of other cuisines has paled. Somewhere I also feel great ignorance where Bengali food is concerned - it is after all the cuisine of my forefathers and I should know it in some detail at least. My frequent visits to Kolkata and the discovery of new ingredients at practically every visit to the market only fuelled my curiosity. The door to door vegetable vendor, seeing my interest, would bring new things to show me - pui mituni, kolmi shaak, shapla, kochu'r loti, bok phul, shish palong... the list is endless. 

My visits to Kolkata are now incomplete without a visit to Gariahat market, if only for a quick walk through just to see what's available. The last visit to Kolkata was for less than a week and I squeezed in a quick trip to the market on my last morning there. This time I discovered Jukti phool. 

Jukti Phool  Dregea volubis is also known as Sneeze Wort or Green Milkweed Climber. This plant is known to many Indian cuisines and has names in many Indian languages. In Marathi it is called 'harandodi' or 'naaksikani'. In Hindi it's also known as 'akad bel'. The Malayalam word for it is 'velipparuthi'  while in Gujarati it's called 'kadvo kharkhodo', and in Bengali it's also called 'tita kunga'.  See here for more details -

I'd never heard of this ingredient nor seen it but the tiny, pretty bunches of blooms were irresistible and of course I bought some. I asked the vendor how to cook it and he said to either stir fry it with a little garlic and plenty of potatoes or to use it instead of uchhe (bitter gourd) to make sukto. It's quite bitter, he warned, and I wasn't to try to eat it on its own.

Back in Mumbai I read several sukto recipes before I attempted making it for the first time. My mother loved sukto - or 'suktuni' as she preferred to call it - and I keenly missed her because it would have been so easy to just call her on the phone and learn how to make one of her favourite dishes. I wish I had paid attention on the rare times she made it... 

Anyway! Here's the recipe for the Sukto I cobbled together today. This dish has a lot of ingredients and therefore there's a good amount of prep to do before you start cooking so make sure you read the recipe from start to finish and make a shopping list before you go to get the veggies. 

Jukti Phool diye Sukto

Jukti phool - half a cup
1 small potato
1 small sweet potato
1 small ridge gourd 
1 small long brinjal or a chunk from a large one
7-8 green beans (yard longs/borboti or french beans, either will do)
7-8 papdi or seem (flat beans) 
1 drumstick
2" piece of ginger

2 tbsp mustard paste 
2 tbsp poppy seed paste

1 tsp panch phoron
1 tsp randhuni (ajmod seeds)
1/2 cup milk
mustard oil

Wash the jukti phool and drain in a colander. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into thick batons. Peel the ridge gourd, discard seeds and pith, and cut into batons of the same size as the potatoes. Don't cut the vegetables too thin or small or they will disintegrate while cooking.
String the beans and cut into 3" pieces.
Peel the hard outer skin of the drumstick and cut into 5" batons.
Cut brinjal into proportionate pieces, not too small.
Grate or pound the ginger into a rough paste. 

Heat a generous quantity of mustard oil in a wok or kadai and wait till it's properly hot. Fry the prepared vegetables one by one for a couple of minutes each and remove to a plate or other flat vessel. 

In the same oil, after you've finished frying all the vegetables, chuck in the panch phoron, randhuni and grated ginger (add a little oil if required before you throw in the spices). Let the spices sizzle for a few seconds and then add the mustard and poppy seed pastes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Keep the flame low and stir well to cook everything. See that the pastes don't stick to the bottom of the kadai.

After a minute or two add a cup of water and the milk. There are different methods followed with the addition of milk - some recipes add it at the end of the cooking and some add it early. I added it at this stage. Bring the whole mix to a gentle boil and then add the fried vegetables. Mix gently and then cover the kadai and let it cook over low heat till the vegetables are done.

Once the vegetables are cooked switch off the flame and drizzle good ghee over the sukto. Cover and let it infuse for five minutes.

Sukto often has bori (vadi or lentil cakes) in it. My mom would fry the bori and then crumble it over the cooked sukto before serving. I didn't have any bori so I couldn't do that bit. 

You can make sukto without randhuni. It will taste different but no one will accuse you of cooking a sukto that's not authentic. So don't stress out over the randhuni. 

There are many variations to the vegetables in a sukto. Use whatever you have at hand - brinjal plantain, radish, potato, sweet potato, beans of various kinds, gourds, and something bitter, be it bitter gourd or jukti phool. Did you notice there are no spices here apart from the panch phoron and randhuni?

Serve the sukto as the first course of your meal with plain rice. Follow it up with daal accompanied by a couple of bhajas and then a light machh'er jhol and you'll be on your way to a proper Bengali meal! Or just keep it simple and have it with hot rice and daal to follow.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mogri Aloo Subzi - Radish Pods and Potatoes

Mogri, moogri, lila mogra, lila mogri, rat-tail radish, radish pod - just a few of the names I've encountered for this winter vegetable. Somehow I didn't notice it at my local veggie shop all these months till I chanced upon it yesterday. I duly bought some as in another couple of weeks it's going to be difficult to find seasonal fresh vegetables as the temperatures are already soaring.


The weather is pretty awful already and I don't feel like cooking elaborate or even spiced up dishes and nor do I feel like eating much - it's just too hot! The mogri was perfect for a light lunch paired with a simple Bengali style daal and plain rice. It works well with chapatis too.

Mogri Aloo Subzi

250 gms Mogri
1 or 2 potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic
1-2 green chillies
chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder

Wash the mogri thoroughly and drain in a colander. Cut into 2 inch pieces. I found it easier to snip them with my kitchen scissors but you can chop with a knife if that works for you.

Peel the potato and cut into thin fingers. Peel and smash the garlic. Remove the stalk from the green chilli and break the chilli into 2 inch pieces.

Heat oil in a kadai - you can use any neutral oil or even mustard oil, I used peanut oil.

Once the oil is hot drop in the green chillies and the garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add the cut potatoes and cook over a slow flame for a few minutes till the potatoes are 3/4th done.

Add the chopped mogri and stir well. Add the spices and salt, stir again to mix the spices in, and then let it cook covered on a low flame for roughly five minutes till the mogri is cooked.

Serve with hot rotis/chapatis or as a side with daal and rice.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pui Chorchori - Malabar Spinach Stir Fry with Vegetables

Chorchoris are light side dishes that liven up a meal and provide plenty of nutrition thanks to the myriad seasonal vegetables that go into them. The spicing is minimal, usually dried chilies and panch phoron, apart from the basic salt and turmeric though some recipes have cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic and even onions. As with most things, recipes and traditions vary from family to family, kitchen to kitchen. I like the chorchori with as few spices as possible and use just panch phoron and chilli, sometimes fresh green and sometimes dried red ones.

The vegetables in a chorchori vary with availability and of course the preference of the cook and those who will eat. The usual suspects include brinjal, pumpkin, potatoes, flat beans, white radish.. the list is endless. Pui Shaak or Malabar spinach makes the base of this version.

Pui Chorchori

2 cups Pui tender stalks and leaves
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup red pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 cup brinjal, cubed

1 tsp panch phoron
1/4 tsp fennel
2 green chillies
mustard oil.

Separate the leaves and stalks of the Pui greens, discarding the wilted sticky leaves and the thicker hard stalks. Wash the leaves and the stalks separately. Wash really well. Leave in the colander to drip off excess water.

Prep the vegetables. Chop the pui stalks into small pieces (2-3 inches) and chop the leaves too.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of mustard oil in a kadai and once it's properly hot reduce the heat and chuck in the chillies, panch phoron and the fennel seeds. It will all sizzle.

Add the cubed potatoes and saute for a minute. Then add the pui stalks and the pumpkin pieces and saute for another couple of minutes.

Add the brinjal pieces, salt and turmeric and mix well. Cover and let it all cook on a medium flame for a few minutes. Then add the pui leaves and mix again.

Add half a cup of water, cover and cook on a low flame till the potatoes and pumpkin pieces are cooked through. Dry off the water and check for salt before you take it off the heat.

Serve the chorchori with daal and rice, and a bhaja for a perfectly light Bengali meal. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mangsho'r Jhol, Pound Cake, and Moni

It's Moni's birthday today. The first one after her death and it feels strange. A year has gone by marking the first this and the first that after she's been gone and in a couple of weeks it will be her first death anniversary too. Yes, a year has passed as years inevitably do. And we are figuring out what to do to mark the date.

She specified very strongly that there were to be no rituals. No rituals at the funeral, no observance of 'ashauchh' or the immediate days of ritual mourning, no Shraadh on the 13th day. While we followed her wishes to the letter it left me feeling a little lost, rudderless and even deprived...

We scoff at rituals, deem them meaningless, a show, a waste, and very often they are just that. But sometimes the rituals are an anchor, something to hold on to, something to focus on as you grieve, as you accept change, especially as you accept death. Maybe they were designed to simply keep the mind occupied; the rules told you what to do so you went the through the days mechanically without having to engage your mind wondering what to do, thinking about what to cook/eat, what to wear, etc. And then, after a reasonable period of time you have a ceremony where family gathers and you formally end the mourning period. And limp back to life because life goes on regardless.

And so here we are again with no rituals to cling to, to show us the way. Instead we have to make up our own and get through the days.

Mothers are usually the person we learn cooking from and I learned from Moni. The first thing I learned from her (apart from prepping the pressure cooker with washed daal and rice put neatly in the separator containers) was a basic pound cake.

It was a random afternoon and post lunch I was bored. She was in bed enjoying a Mills and Boon. To get me out of her hair so she could read in peace she set me baking a cake. Since she always make a double batch (my brother could, and often would, devour an entire pound cake on his own while reading his comics or a Loius L'Amour novel) I was doing the same. I went back and forth from the kitchen to her bedroom getting the recipe in installments and showing her what I was doing.

Ingredients were carefully measured, brown paper packets were cut to line the bottoms of the cake tins, the oven was set to preheat, and I proudly mixed the batter using Moni's precious Kenwood stand mixer. Eventually the batter was ready, the cakes were in the oven and I waited quite impatiently for the fruits of my labour. Finally they were out, and then cooled enough to be cut.

Oh NO! My cakes were thick and fudgy instead of being beautifully light and spongy. I was heartbroken and Moni was not amused at the monumental waste of all those ingredients. As usual I got a solid scolding for not paying attention to her instructions. In tears, I went through her instructions again and that's when we realised she'd only said three eggs instead of doubling them to six! My father had a hearty laugh and all he had to say was - this is what happens when you have your nose buried in those blessed Mills and Boons! Of course, Moni insisted she'd said six and not three eggs...

While Moni wasn't particularly fond of cooking she was ironically, a fantastic cook. Whenever we had friends over she'd make mangsho'r jhol and it eventually became her signature dish and we couldn't envision a get together without her making mangsho'r jhol. Every visit home to Kolkata involved demands of mangsho'r jhol to be kept ready for me to dig into as soon as I stepped into the house. The brother's demand was the same. Make mangsho'r jhol. And make cake.

So on that first anniversary I will make mangsho'r jhol, and cake. I can't think of a better ritual. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Green Garlic, Spring onion, Bacon, and Egg Tart

Green garlic season is on and as it's one of the favourite ingredients for Parsis I've been seeing it very often in my kitchen. One dish that we made quite often is leela lasan (green garlic) ne leela kanda (spring onion) per eeda which is eggs steamed on a bed of the two greens with salt, pepper and a light spicing of cumin or jeera. To be honest, I got a bit bored making this same thing so often and decided to play with basic concept and do something fun while still retaining the basic character of the dish.

I always have puff pastry sheets in my freezer and I also found a packet of bacon in there. And the idea of a tart was born.

Leela Lasan, Leela Kanda, ne Bacon per Eeda Tarts

1 bunch green garlic
1 bunch spring onions
1 onion
1 tsp cumin seed

1 sheet puff pastry
a few rashers bacon

To make the filling.

Wash the greens well and then chop as fine as possible. Use the roots of the green garlic too, they pack a lot of flavour.
Chop the onion fine.
In a pan heat some oil and add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Chuck in the chopped greens and the onion and saute on a slow flame till it is all cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the heat on medium to low as you cook because the onions and garlic mustn't brown at all. Stir frequently as you cook.
You can make this mix in advance and store it in the fridge up to two or three days, ready to use whenever you like.

To make the tarts

Preheat the oven at 180C

Fry the bacon rashers lightly and then chop into small pieces. Don't let the bacon become crisp - remember it will be baked on the tarts later.

Let the pastry sheet thaw a bit and then cut into four equal squares. Run a pizza wheel or a knife lightly along the edges to trace a 'frame'. Don't cut through the pasty. With a fork poke the middle of the pastry till the entire surface has been marked. Once again, don't go through the pasty.

Line your baking tray with parchment or baking paper and arrange the pastry squares on the sheet.
Arrange the leela lasan filling on each square in a thin layer making a slight hill along the edges. This will help keep the egg in the middle when you add it later.

Once all the squares are done pop the tray into the oven and bake for around 12-15 minutes till you see the pastry puffing up along the edges. 

Remove the tray carefully and get ready to add the eggs. Now this gets a little tricky so it's best if you break each egg into a cup or bowl instead of directly onto the tart. The egg white can spill all over and out of the tart so you have better control if you break it in a cup first. Use a tablespoon and carefully pick up the yolk and place it in the centre of a tart. Arrange bacon pieces around the yolk (it strengthens the 'fort' and helps keep the egg white in). Spoon over the egg white carefully. I found it harder to keep the egg white within the filling.

Crack fresh pepper over the tarts once you have placed eggs and bacon on each and then put it all back in the oven to bake at 160C till the eggs are set to your liking. This could take anything from 6-8 minutes to longer depending on how set you want your eggs but once the whites turn opaque it's good to go.

Enjoy the tarts hot straight out of the oven!

These are great for breakfast and work well as an evening snack too. Kids and adults will enjoy the crunch of the pastry and this is a great way to get your family to eat some greens :)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

A couple of weeks ago I made a spicy, coconut-y Kerala Pork Fry for a pop up. It was delicious and I was lucky to have found a good recipe and friends to approve and confirm that it would give me good results and authentic flavours. For that pork fry I'd made a batch of fresh Kerala Garam Masala and there was plenty left over.

I also had some of the toasted coconut that I'd made for the same fry.

Since I didn't have any pork in the freezer but wanted to enjoy those flavours again I thought of trying the same recipe adapted for prawns.

Oh my, did that work out well or what?!

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

500 gms prawns, cleaned
chilli powder
pepper powder

2 large onions, chopped
5-6 sprigs curry leaves
2-3 green chillies, more if you're okay with a lot of heat
1 pod garlic, peeled and chopped
3 inch piece ginger, peeled and pounded roughly
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp Kerala Garam masala*
1 cup toasted grated fresh coconut

Wash the prawns and marinate in salt, turmeric, chilli powder and some freshly ground, slightly coarse black pepper. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a wok, be generous, and once the oil is hot chuck in the curry leaves along with the green chillies. You can roughly break up the chillies, or chop them into small pieces. Add the garlic and fry for a minute and then throw in the pounded fresh ginger. Mix and fry for another minute or two. Now add the onions.

Fry the mix till the onions start to brown. Now add the dry spices and a little salt and mix well so it all cooks evenly. Add oil if required or the spices will burn and stick to the bottom of your cooking pot. Stir in the toasted coconut and mix properly. Cook on a low flame till the whole mix is fragrant and cooked. Adjust salt keeping in mind that the prawns have salt in the marinade.

In a separate pan heat some oil and fry the prawns in batches for around 30 seconds, just till they turn opaque. Add them to the cooked masala, stir well and cook covered for just a few minutes till the prawns are done. Remove the lid, ramp up the heat and dry off any moisture in the pot. You can add some more fried curry leaves for added flavour at the end.

Serve hot as an accompaniment with evening drinks, or make a meal of it paired with pav, rice, or rotis.

* Kerala Garam Masala

2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp pepper corns
2 star anise
4 inches cassia bark (desi cinnamon)
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp cloves

Broil all the spices till fragrant, cool a bit and then whizz in a spice grinder.
There are variations of this with the fennel, pepper, cardamom, cloves being common and mace, nutmeg, star anise  or cinnamon adding to the flavours. You can add the combination that you like.
Store in an air-tight bottle. 

I Eat Pulish'er Daal to Grow Up Fast!

I was around seven or eight years old, on yet another summer vacation trip to Kolkata. On a warm afternoon I was at Khukhun Didin's house discussing the menu for the special feast she would cook for us, my brother and I, her very honoured guests. The shiny kansa dinner ware had been approved (at Lokhi Didin's house we ate off banana leaves with terracotta bowls and water glasses) and now we had to fix the dishes we wanted to eat. We'd also go across to Ranu Didin's for another feast or she'd feel left out, wouldn't she?! This was the advantage of having three of my Didin's sisters living just a few houses away from her. 

Mutton would have to be on the menu of course, with mishti bhaat, machher kalia, and yes chingri maach would be good too, cooked in any way Khukun Didin fancied. Now that we'd finished discussing the main parts of the menu I condescended to approve the less attractive bits like daal, torkari, shukto (eewww we don't like it so it can't be on the menu, no way!) and the bhajas.  

Oh yes, bhajas were expected in large quantities, and only aloo please because though I was happy to eat begun bhaja the brother hated begun (brinjal) in any form. With bhaja was always daal - actually it's the other way around but our primary interest was the bhaja so that's how we looked at it. Once the bhajas were sorted we moved on to discuss daal. 

"Ki daal khabe?" Khukun Didin asked. What daal will you have? And I promptly answered "Pulish'er daal! Ami pulish'er daal khai, pulish'er daal khele taratari boro hoa jay!" Police Daal! I eat Police Daal because Police Daal makes you grow up quickly. She stared at me in fascination and then went into complete peals of laughter! After drying her tears of pure delight she asked me which daal was 'pulish'er daal' and I looked at her in amazement - such ignorance! She didn't know what pulish'er daal was! Of course I couldn't enlighten her and she eventually asked my Didin what pulish'er daal was.

Years later, when I was in my early teens and learning to cook, pulish'er daal was a faint memory when one day I suddenly remembered it and asked Moni which daal it was. She looked at me in amusement, tinged with her own memories of her efforts at making the two of us brats eat our food without fuss, and revealed - arhar daal or tuvar/toor daal. 

Even today when I cook arhar daal there's a part of me that still calls it Pulihs'er daal and smiles. 

Pulish'er Daal

1/2 cup arhar or toor daal
a couple of green chillies
1 onion sliced
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
fresh coriander, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp jeera
mustard oil

Wash the daal and let it soak for 10-15 minutes if you like. You can cook it without soaking too. Pressure cook the washed daal with enough water and around half a teaspoon of turmeric. The daal shouldn't become a mush, the grains should be cooked but remain whole. 

In a kadai heat mustard oil and once hot chuck in the jeera and the whole green chillies. Add the sliced onion and fry till the onion just starts going brown. Add half a teaspoon of sugar while frying the onions. 

Pour in the cooked daal and bring it all to a boil. Add salt at this stage. My mom would add chopped tomatoes with the daal, I don't. I prefer the daal without tomatoes. 

Once the daal has come to a good boil stir in a generous dollop of ghee and switch off the heat. If you're vegan don't add the ghee.

Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve hot with plain rice. 

Accompaniments with the daal are ideally a bhaja or two - this could be fried fish, fried potatoes, brinjals, pointed gourd, lady's fingers, bitter gourd, etc. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

It was one of those days when breakfast outside has been a sore disappointment and I was feeling irritable and in dire need of comfort. The hubby had a rare day off from work and wanted a nice lunch to wipe away the memories of a truly bad breakfast experience. As much as I wanted the comfort of a home cooked meal, confident that whatever I cooked would be a balm on our abraded minds, I wasn't up to cooking a complicated time consuming dish. Yet I didn't want the 'same old thing'.

My first thought was prawns - delicious, easy to cook, and most importantly - done with minimum hassle. The fact that my local fish shop stocks excellent produce and a kilo of cleaned, shelled, and deveined prawns was just a phone call away only made the prospect of prawns more attractive. I decided to make a simple prawn curry to be paired with plain white rice.

I follow a basic easy recipe and make this light curry quite often but as I mentioned earlier, I wasn't in the mood for the same old thing. A trip to the veggie shop earlier that day meant that I'd come home with a bunch of fresh green garlic and a couple of green limes among the other vegetables I'd bought. We've been enjoying the green garlic in plenty of breakfast omelettes and scrambles and I thought it's high time I used them in something else. And that's how they landed up in the curry.

I replaced the coconut cream with coconut milk and ended up with a thin broth like curry which I liked so much I had a bowlful as soup while the rice cooked.

Coincidentally the theme for the week for a food photography challenge I'm doing with a small bunch of friends was soup, and since I suddenly had a lovely soup at hand I proceeded to dig out some pretty props and put together a photograph for the week. Instead of going the predictable soup bowl and spoon route I pulled out fancy tea ware and made an effort to style the photo instead of simply plonking a bowl of soup on my windowsill and taking a quick pic. I'm quite pleased with the result of my efforts :)

Well anyway, here's the recipe for the soup/curry-

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

I cup prawns, shelled and deveined
2 inch stick, cassia bark
a sprig or two, curry leaves
a small bundle of green garlic, washed and chopped fine
1 tbsp, chopped fresh coriander
1 small onion, chopped fine
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 green lime

Marinate the prawns in salt and turmeric and set aside while you prep the curry ingredients.

Heat oil in a wok and lightly fry the prawns till they turn just opaque. This should take a couple of minutes at the most. Do it in batches so all the prawns are cooked evenly. Remove from the wok and set aside.

In the same wok add a little more oil and heat it well. Chuck in the green chillies, roughly snapped into two or three pieces along with the curry leaves and the cassia bark. Fry for 30 seconds and then add the chopped onion. Fry till translucent (don't allow the onions to brown) and then add the chopped green garlic (shoots, garlic bulbs, and roots) and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the chilli powder, a little turmeric, and salt, stir well and fry for another few minutes.

Now pour in the coconut milk and bring the curry to a boil. Add a little water so you have a proportionate amount of curry for the amount of prawns going in. Once the curry comes to a boil chuck in the prawns and cook for just a few minutes till they are nearly cooked, just a minute or so shy of being completely cooked. Put off the flame and grate in the zest from the green lime. Give it a stir, add the fresh coriander leaves, cover the wok and let it infuse for a minute.

Serve hot with plain rice and wedges of lime. Or enjoy it as a soup before main course.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari ar Luchi - Bengali Style Long Cut Potatoes with Puris

Sometimes breakfast demands to be elaborate. The usual toast and eggs or muesli simply don't make the cut and the heart demands something more. And then, if it's Kali Pujo, the demands are louder. Since I don't make luchis very often I decided Kali Pujo was a special enough occasion to put aside all thoughts of counting calories and carbs and to simply indulge. And thus we had luchi and alu'r torkari for breakfast today.

Now there are many different kinds of alu'r torkari, or potato preparations, that can be paired with luchis, the pale, pure maida Bengali puris. From a simple alu bhaja (fried potato) to a more elaborate alu'r dom, alu phulkopi, sada alu'r torkari, Bengalis have a wide range of options. One that my mom used to make very frequently was a lomba kaata alu'r torkari.

This is a very simple preparation with barely any spices or ingredients and is absolutely delicious. It's also quick to cook which makes it perfect for breakfast. Once in a way mom would make this early in the morning for our school tiffins too. She'd roll up luchis with the torkari tucked inside and put three or four rolls in the box, enough for me and my friends to have a high treat at tiffin break!

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari

4 large potatoes
2 green chillies
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
1 tomato
chilli powder
mustard oil

Cut the potatoes into matchsticks, not too thin. You can retain the peel, make sure you wash the potatoes really well.

Chop the tomato and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and once it's properly hot chuck in the green chillies followed by the kalonji.

Once the kalonji finishes sizzling, add the potatoes.

Stir well to coat the potatoes with the oil and kalonji seeds.

Cover the wok and lower the flame, let the potatoes cook for a couple of minutes. Do not let the potatoes brown.

Once the potatoes are translucent add the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and tomato and stir properly to mix well. Let it cook for a bit, a couple of minutes.

Now add enough water to just cover the potatoes.

Bring it to a boil and cook uncovered till the potatoes are done and the water nearly dried up.

This dish doesn't have a gravy, but don't let the water dry out completely. The gravy should be barely there, just coating the potatoes.

Serve with hot luchis.

Here's the recipe for Bengali luchi.

This torkari goes well with porota and with regular everyday rotis too. Mom made it for dinner paired with rotis quite often. On days when you'r short of ingredients this torkari can be a lifesaver. For me, this torkari is something I associate very strongly with my mother - memories of Sunday breakfasts and special dabbas for for school. Such a simple torkari, but so much more than just a torkari.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Jaffna Mutton Curry

After two trips to Sri Lanka it goes without saying that my pantry is well stocked with Sri Lankan spices! A few days ago as I looked through my collection of spice blends I found the stash from Sri Lanka and decided it was high time I started using them. The easiest and most appealing (to me) would be a curry, redolent of spices and coconut milk and so I went looking for a recipe and settled on Peter Kuruvita's recipe for Jaffna Goat Curry which you can see here. Needless to say, I adjusted the recipe according to the ingredients I had at hand.

Here's what I did -

Jaffna Mutton Curry

500 gms Mutton, on the bone, cut into regular curry pieces
1 stick Sri Lankan cinnamon (As you can see in the photo this is a thin papery cinnamon, quite different from Indian cassia. If you're using Indian cassia a 2 inch piece should do)
7-10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
1 tbsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped fine or blitzed
200 ml coconut milk
2 onions, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh curry leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, bashed
1 inch ginger, bashed
3-4 green chillies
1 tsp dried pandan leaves or one long 4 inch fresh leaf
Juice from half a lime
10 cm lemongrass stalk (I didn't have it so I went without it)
oil for cooking
salt as required

Wash the mutton pieces lightly and set aside.

In a clean bowl make the marinade by putting the dry spice powders, tomato and coconut milk together and mixing well to combine. Pour this over the meat pieces, mix well to coat properly and set aside for an hour or so.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed vessel and fry the onions with curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chillies, pandan leaf, and lemon grass stalks. Stir and fry till the onions turn translucent.

Add the marinated meat to this onion mix, stir well and braise for a couple of minutes. Though the original recipe doesn't require you to braise the meat, I am so used to braising meat a little before I add any liquid, I did it anyway. I also added salt at this stage.

Now add water to just cover the meat, bring it to a boil and then simmer it for 25 minutes or as long as necessary till the meat is cooked and tender and your gravy is not very watery. Squeeze in the lemon juice and serve with hot steamed rice.

This is one of the easiest curries I've ever made. There's hardly any prep to be done, the marinade is simple, and it's cooked in an hour if you follow the original which does't call for any long marination. I love easy, no fuss recipes like this and I'm going to make this pretty often.

Like most curries this one too tastes better eaten the next day so if you can wait that long, good for you! Otherwise just dive in right away.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Personalised Whiskey Glasses from Perfico - Or How to Please the Husband!

Every birthday I wonder what to get for the hubby and ever so often the birthday passes by with plenty of good food and celebration but no gift. This year too it was the same. And it left me feeling disappointed once again that I hadn't found anything interesting or perfect enough for my man, my rock, my best friend.

A month or so ago I saw an email from The subject line mentioned gifting and out of curiosity I had a look. A quick browse through the email and then through their website and I was caught. He'd sent me links to his range of personalised whiskey, champagne, and wine glasses.

As I looked at the various options the idea of having whiskey glasses with the hubby's initials etched on them looked more and more attractive. Here was something I thought would be appreciated by the Single Malt loving hubby. Not quite a birthday gift I know considering a few months had passed but why get technical?

I responded expressing my interest and in a week the postman rang my bell. The glasses were superbly packed in form fitting thermocole inside a sturdy cardboard box. As I took them out I was quite delighted to see the hubby's initials framed in a wreath perfectly positioned on the sides of the glasses. The glasses themselves are of good quality and very clear and the etching has survived a couple of washes in my dishwasher quite well. To be honest we've also been enjoying juice at breakfast time in these glasses.

Perfico has a massive range of personalised gift options and when I say massive I really mean it! Browse their website to find everything from personalised coffee mugs, beer mugs, wine glasses, etc., to aprons, passport holders, flip flops (!),  and much, much more. You can personalise the item of your choice with whatever writing you like including images. Impress the boss, woo a girl, say sorry to Mom, please the hubby, whatever is the need of the hour!

They're also offering free shipping across India.

Disclaimer: The product was sent by Perfico, not purchased by me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Masala Day and Sunday Malvani Chicken

Sunday Malvani Chicken
Sunday Malvani Chicken
Among the myriad blends of masalas that I got for the Masala Day Spice Swap was a Malvani Sunday Masala sent by Shakti Salgaonkar. This fiery vermillion coloured mix smelled heavenly and I was eager to cook with it. The weekend was on us and I decided to make a Sunday Malvani Chicken using the masala she'd sent. I followed the recipe Shakti shared and the only thing I tweaked was the quantity of onions (I used more). The recipe below is completely Shakti Salgaongar's and like I mentioned, just the quantity of onions is greater.

I had heard of charred onions being used in recipes but had never done so myself. This was my first time and I was quite excited to learn a new technique. I have to say the results were worth all the effort.

Prep for Malvani Chicken

Sunday Malvani Chicken

3 full chicken legs cut into thighs and drumsticks

3 tbsp curd
1 1/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste

2-3 tbsp Malvani Sunday masala
3 medium onions sliced
2 onions charred over the gas flame
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
A few sprigs fresh coriander

Half a dried coconut (vati)
2 tbsp fried onion


Marinate the chicken in the marinade ingredients for an hour or longer. Make slashes in the fleshy parts of the meat so the marinade goes in nicely.

Grind the charred onions to a paste.

Heat ghee in your cooking vessel and fry the sliced onions till they turn brown. Don't burn the onions. I like to add half a teaspoon of sugar for a richer brown and deeper flavour. Set aside a couple of tablespoons of fried onions for the Vaatan.

To make the vaatan grate the dried coconut and toast on a tava till you get a nice aroma. Cool slightly and then grind to a paste with the reserved fried onions.

In the wok with the fried onions add the Malvani masala powder and the charred onion paste. Fry slowly till the masala is cooked and has no raw smell.

Add the marinated chicken legs and cook further till the masala is nicely coated on the chicken and the meat has turned opaque. Add water and cook till the chicken is half done.

Now add the vaatan and mix it all well. Adjust salt and then cook covered till the chicken is cooked through.

Remove to a serving dish, garnish with fresh coriander and serve with rotis or parathas or even with rice if you like. A simple kachumbar of sliced onions, minced coriander and lemon juice also goes really well with the Sunday Malvani Chicken and parathas.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On Grandmothers and Half-Fried Potatoes

My Maternal Grandmother


Most of us have fond memories of our grandmothers and a big part of those memories are linked to food. I guess the most pampering happened through food, followed by bed time stories and snuggling up to their softness in the night, and of course protection from the parents' scoldings and spankings that invariably followed all our mischief.

Since my parents moved to Bombay I got access to my grandmothers only in the summer holidays when we went to Calcutta. Needless to say the pampering was even more because we weren't around all year through.

My Didin, mother's mother, and her sisters married into the same family, marrying brothers and cousins. Consequently they all lived quite close together and whenever we visited it was like having multiple grandmothers to indulge us in every whim. There would be umpteen unplanned meals, teas, and treats, and then there would be the planned and orchestrated meals where I would expect to be served on banana leaves with terracotta bowls and glasses to complete the experience. The thing is, we invariably missed most family weddings thanks to exam schedules and this was our chance to experience the traditional spreads at least to some extent.

The grand uncles would be packed off to the market and the grand aunts would sweat over the hot and smoky 'unoon' (clay coal-burning stoves)cooking for us spoiled brats. At lunch time we would be seated at the table, just my brother and me, and we would be fed a royal repast - the menu decided by us of course!

On the road leading from Didin's house to her sisters' house (three of them lived in a large house divided into three portions) was a coal shop that also stocked soft drinks. This was another great source of indulgence as we would often stop at the shop and share a bottle of Campa Cola or Rush or Limca. It was taken for granted that some uncle or aunt would pay for these! Soft drinks were never permitted by the parents in Bombay so the few we had from this coal shop were treats of the highest order!

This same road housed many momo shops, some of which are now very well known. Though the grand aunts, Didin, and in fact, most of the women in the family including my mother looked down their noses at the food from these shops, occasionally one of the numerous uncles would indulge us with a plate of hot steaming pork momos and the inevitable plate of chow mien.

My fondest memory, however, is of the stolen half-fried potatoes. Potatoes are always present in some form or other in Bengali meals and Didin was always frying them for use in various vegetable preparations or the mutton or fish jhols (stews). Potatoes would be peeled and cut in specific shapes and proportions for the dishes of the day and would be lightly fried and kept aside. Oh the joy of whacking a piece or two! These would be semi-fried and not quite cooked through so once in a way if you chanced upon one that was completely fried it was heaven!

Half fried potatoes

I was indulged even more by my Thakuma - dad's mother. I was the first granddaughter after a long string of grandsons and I was spoiled thoroughly by everyone. Thakuma was a strict matriarch and ruled her daughters in law with an iron hand. She supervised the cooking of all the meals and her daughters in law assisted and worked under her instruction. She would sit at the unoon and proceed with the cooking and one of the things that was a daily affair was frying potatoes. The fried potatoes would be lifted out of the hot oil and placed carefully in a stainless steel bowl waiting to be added to whatever dishes they were set aside for.

One day as she cooked she reached for that bowl of potatoes only to find it missing. I was discovered sitting under the dining table, hiding behind the chairs enjoying those potatoes.  I was a toddler then, and Thakuma was so amused and pleased with her apparently faultless granddaughter, from then on she would fry a small bowl of potatoes and leave them aside for me to find.

How sweet those simple indulgences and the sheer love. Those indeed were the days...

Friday, June 2, 2017

On My Love-Hate Relationship with Fruit

Lemon Blueberry Tray Bake

In the years at Deccan College I encountered many people. And among them was Mrs Misra, Dr V N Misra's wife. Dr Misra was the hubby's PhD guide and the hubby therefore spent a lot of time with him in his office, and at his house too. The ties were closer than that of the other students with their guides because Dr Misra had also been my mother in law's PhD guide - probably a unique occurrence among guides and students the world over.

My memories of Mrs Misra are of a typical Indian housewife immersed in her husband, her family, and her household. And like most women of her generation, immersed in her kitchen. It goes without saying that she saw a steady stream of students at her table over the decades and must have cooked countless meals and made gallons of tea! And of course I heard stories about her cooking.

What intrigued me the most was the fact that she was a staunch vegetarian but would often cook chicken when there were guests at her table, be they students or Dr Misra's colleagues. I used to wonder how she cooked with ingredients whose flavours she had no idea about.

A few days ago I'd baked this blueberry and lemon cake and on an impulse I took some over for my friend Deepa. She said something to me that somehow explained how Mrs Misra cooked chicken without knowing how it tasted. Deepa said she was amazed at how in spite of my deep dislike for fruit I looked forward to fruits of the season, sought them out, lovingly photographed them, cooked or baked with them, and in fact, enjoyed them so thoroughly without needing to eat them.

Fresh Cherries

The hubby loves fruit and desserts and I love baking and cooking. Somehow fruit would always get left out because of my dislike but somewhere along the way as I spent hours on Pinterest, friends' blogs, and various websites, seeing beautiful cakes and desserts my interest was piqued. Alongside my friends would get excited over the variety of fruit as the seasons changed - mangoes, berries, stone fruit, citrus, the list was ever-changing and endless all the year round. There they were squealing over cherries or mulberries, planning strawberry trips to Mahabaleshwar, posting pictures of rambutans and dragon fruit, going ga ga over mangoes and pineapples - I felt left out.

Fresh Apricots

And thus began my love/hate affair with fruit. The first fruity thing I baked was probably a banana cake - the hubby mashed the bananas and I was just this far from putting a clothes peg on my nose to keep from breathing in that banana-y smell (oh LORD!). But now you will nearly always find fruit in my house waiting to be flung into a cake, pie, or clafoutis, turned into a compote, zested within an inch of its life, or cooked in some form or other.

Plum Clafoutis

The journey is exciting. From learning how to buy fruit to learning how to prep, to anticipate flavours, think of combinations, and to finally create something edible - but with stuff I don't eat - the experience wasn't strange, I never felt handicapped. There's so much information out there to tell you what works and what doesn't. You just find that starting block and you go on from there.

Lemon Zest and Microplane

And now I understand how Mrs Misra did it. It made her man happy and yeah, it makes mine happy too. And that is the biggest motivation indeed.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Vietnamese Dinner with Peckish, Mumbai

The home chef scene in Mumbai is buzzing and in all the noise there are some who leave a lasting impression. Aparna Surte who runs Peckish is one. I met Aparna at a couple of home chef meets and events and finally had the chance to sit at her table for a Vietnamese dinner thanks to my very dear friend Manisha.

I've never eaten Vietnamese food but have read and seen so much about it online, and heard friends discuss it, I had a reasonable idea what to expect. So I looked forward to meeting a bunch of my food enthusiast friends and an evening of new flavours.

We started the meal with Cha Pe Sua Da - Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. This had been made with cold brew coffee and a VERY generous slug of condensed milk. And I really mean very generous! I didn't stir mine too vigorously because I'm not too fond of strongly sweet things (and thanks to being diabetic and therefore not having a lot of sugar anyway, I'm hypersensitive to sweet). The coffee was lovely and being an instant coffee loving barbarian I was surprised how much I liked it. There's much to be recommended about the cold brewing technique and I'm going to learn it soon.

Aparna made us more coffee later in the evening and she customised mine with just a fraction of the condensed milk she would use normally - and it was perfect.

Vietnamese Cold Coffee

After coffee came the first appetiser - Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps. Crisp ice berg with pickled veg, Asian spiced minced pork, herbs and a spicy Asian mayo. I'm always wary of 'salad-y' wraps because they're invariably stuffed with raw tomatoes and cucumbers. Aparna made mine without the pickled cucumbers and I could honestly have eaten two of these - the only reason I didn't was there was a lot more food coming up in the meal!

The next appetiser was Nem Cuon - Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp served with Nuoc Cham, a beautifully tangy dipping sauce, which I consumed in copious quantities! These were among the prettiest foods I have ever seen. See through rice paper wraps stuffed with pickled veggies, fine rice noodles, herbs, and shrimp.

While I totally loved the sophistication of the nuoc cham, the nem cuon felt unbalanced. Too much of the fine rice noodles in the wrap ruined the balance and masked the flavours of the other ingredients. I would have liked half the quantity of noodles/vermicelli in the wrap which otherwise would have been fantastic.

Next up was Pho, albeit a vegetarian one. Such a famous dish and I was a teeny bit disappointed that it was vegetarian, till it was served. The mushroom-y broth was surprisingly flavourful and I lapped up every last drop. This pho had mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, chillies, and rice noodles.

After the pho we took a break. Phew!

Then came the main course - Pork Bun Cha. This was pork meat balls served over rice, drizzled with garlic scallion oil, accompanied by pickled veggies, lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham on the side. For me this was the star dish of the evening in close contest with the lettuce wraps. Yes I'm biased, both had pork in them. But they were flavourful and beautifully balanced and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Succulent juicy meatballs smothered in an Asian sauce with sweet notes, the hit of garlic from the oil, the crunch of the lettuce and the pickled veggies, all worked together to make a wonderful bowl of food.

Next up was dessert - Che Chuoi, a plantain, coconut cream, and tapioca pearl dessert. Though I didn't have any (I'd feasted on enough carbs through the meal and being diabetic I choose savoury carbs over sweet desserts) going by the reactions of the others at the table this was a hit. Ermm.. the hubby had two. I guess I needn't say more about how good this was!

This was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I've had in a long time. The anticipation of trying something new and finding it to be quite up one's street - it was good. While this was a non vegetarian meal I liked the fact that it was full of vegetables  and wasn't very meat heavy. It suited the hot summer of Mumbai perfectly.

Another thing I really liked is the fact that Aparna knew her food and the cuisine she was serving, and was able to answer our questions quite capably. It's easy to whip out the phone and ask Google but getting that information from your host and having a discussion while eating what you're talking about is just incomparable. I think that really added to my experience at this meal.

If you have the chance go for Aparna's pop up events, you won't be disappointed.