Imperfect meyer lemon olive oil cake

My boys were away this afternoon and I woke up from an afternoon nap with a craving for cake and tea, faintly recalling a reference to olive oil cake made at dinner the previous night.  Which had brought to mind fruity olive oil, clementines, lemon zest, and of course a lazy Mediterranean vacation. This cakeContinue reading “Imperfect meyer lemon olive oil cake”

Crumbly, sticky jam tarts

I haven’t made jam tarts since I stepped out of the old kitchen in my childhood home at Bright Street.  Yesterday, while searching for an activity to do with five year old Agastya that didn’t involve colorful playdough bits stuck all over the carpet, these buttery jam tarts came to mind.  If you are not tooContinue reading “Crumbly, sticky jam tarts”

Sanjeev Kapoor’s lobia rassedar

Sunday mornings are when I leisurely cook a pot of beans.  I have made rajma for several weekends now, simmering the beans for almost three hours each time.  The boys enjoy sitting down to a hearty meal of rice and beans after their morning soccer class, and I feel sated just watching them eat.  BeansContinue reading “Sanjeev Kapoor’s lobia rassedar”

Chocolate chip cookies

Once in a while, just once in a while, you have to have a cookie.  A warm, straight from the oven, crunchy on the edges, soft-in-the-middle, tasting of butterscotch and vanilla, chocolate chip cookie.  Especially if you have two boys who mostly eat very good things, that suddenly start expressing desires for vending machine chocolateContinue reading “Chocolate chip cookies”

A simple chocolate cake

On Sunday, Agastya and I went Valentine cookie decorating with Dani Fiori who designs couture cookies for the likes of Martha Stewart and Real Simple magazine.  There were bottles of pink and white and lavender royal icing all around us on red tablecloths.  We were given cute owls, love-bugs and hearts to decorate with tinyContinue reading “A simple chocolate cake”

The proper browning of onions

I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a profound truth.  That the secret to good, north Indian, punjabi-style cooking is the proper browning of onions.  There I’ve said it. This summer I was leafing through of a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking that I had found in our rental home.  We were escaping a hurricaneContinue reading “The proper browning of onions”

Beerakaya ulli karam: ridge gourd in onion masala

My sister and I dreaded those lauki-toru-parval days that tended to repeat themselves in never-ending cycles in our home.  Mom had decreed that every meal must have a green vegetable, and our green vegetable selection was limited, especially in the summer, to the gourds.  Bottle gourd, ridge gourd, snake gourd, ivy gourd, bitter gourd.  ThisContinue reading “Beerakaya ulli karam: ridge gourd in onion masala”

Sanjeev Kapoor’s Punjabi Kadhi

There is a set of little books in my house written by Sanjeev Kapoor, the beloved Indian celebrity chef, that belong to my husband.  The books are so small and unassuming, marked Rs. 89 each, that you could miss them entirely.  One of them has the title “Accompaniments.”  That one I had never even botheredContinue reading “Sanjeev Kapoor’s Punjabi Kadhi”

Pav bhaji again, with fresh masala

I’ve written before about my favorite spicy street food stew that’s sopped up with buttered bread, but I’ve arrived at a new recipe.   My old recipe for pav bhaji was made with chopped vegetables in a pressure cooker.  Now, I use whole boiled mashed potatoes with lots of tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic, allContinue reading “Pav bhaji again, with fresh masala”

My adventures with milk

When I visited Ronnybrook Farm last summer, it was out of curiosity to see a big natural dairy brand.  They had a store in the Chelsea Market, a presence in the Union Square Greenmarket, and their products were even available at Sobsey’s in Hoboken.  Ronnybrook’s “beyond organic” milk was sold in quaint, impractical one literContinue reading “My adventures with milk”

Pineapple upside-down cake

Just the thought of a pineapple-anything brings up faint, early morning memories of my family’s pineapple patch in Assam and of the tins and tins of luscious, golden home-canned pineapple that lined our pantry shelves in Calcutta at the end of pineapple season.  My mother often made pineapple trifle — a simple but delicious concoctionContinue reading “Pineapple upside-down cake”

Mexican wedding cookies

My first cookbook was a Ladybird children’s book called We Can Cook.  I was ten or eleven at the time, and my mother bought it at the annual Calcutta Book Fair.  My sister and I spent hours flipping through the slim hardbound volume, marveling at recipes for strange dishes such as “Welsh Rarebit,” “Shepherd’s Pie” andContinue reading “Mexican wedding cookies”

My favorite carrot halwa

I’m easily seduced by the sight of orange carrots with their delicate green tops at a farm stall.  Last week, Hearty Roots at the Clermont Farmers market had carrots that looked so earthy, so beautifully sculpted and so vibrant that I couldn’t forget about them.  I didn’t buy any then thinking that I would findContinue reading “My favorite carrot halwa”

Potato curry with tomatoes, aloo bhaji

We spent last week in the Hudson Valley north of Red Hook.  The house that we stayed in dated from 1773, and it had an orchard that was brimming with apples that were beginning to turn red.  I loved the warm brick house with its generously sized rooms, well worn wide plank floors and whiteContinue reading “Potato curry with tomatoes, aloo bhaji”

Ivy gourd stir fry (by other names, dondakaya, kundru, tindora)

“Indian cooking is about the right balance of salt and chilli.  There’s not much else to it,” remarked my husband when encountering yet another subtly salted and chilli-less dish.  I had been cooking for the children and for us all together, in one big pot, for months.  That meant no chillies – no cayenne pepperContinue reading “Ivy gourd stir fry (by other names, dondakaya, kundru, tindora)”

Savory toast topped with chickpea flour and vegetables

Every week I think about vegetable pakoras.  Deep-fried, piping hot chickpea flour (besan) fritter like creations that are full of minced vegetables.  Served with a side of Maggi tomato ketchup.  I had some delicious pakoras in Jersey City recently that were stuffed with chopped methi and coriander leaves and green chilli.  I will attempt toContinue reading “Savory toast topped with chickpea flour and vegetables”

Dosakai pachadi: a creamy cucumber relish

We had hot steaming rice for lunch today with a most unexpected side – a cooling cucumber relish made with a paste of black mustard seeds and white sesame seeds.  Not much else was needed for a satisfying meal.  I was surprised by how good the relish tasted rubbed into the rice – it wasContinue reading “Dosakai pachadi: a creamy cucumber relish”

Spicy tamarind rice: pulihora

Last night I found myself mixing plain yogurt into my rice and then spooning it into my mouth with mango pickle.  It tasted soothing, nourishing, spicy….and incredibly delicious.  My husband always ends his meals in this traditional South Indian manner.  He also eats his meals in “courses” – first plain rice mixed with the vegetableContinue reading “Spicy tamarind rice: pulihora”

Tomato Dal, Andhra style

My mother-in-law, a sweet bespectacled lady with an infectious chuckle, arrived last week.  She stepped into my fifty square foot kitchen and immediately transformed it into her own space.  The spices were rearranged, the lentil shelves were cleaned out and essentials like garlic, ginger, onion and cilantro were restocked.  We went shopping for bags ofContinue reading “Tomato Dal, Andhra style”

Kala aloo dum, Calcutta street style

For a long time I couldn’t feel anything that resembled more than a faint sense of contented nostalgia for my home in Calcutta.  I had left home to study, to work and to build a family.  It was the natural order of things. Yet the minute my children began arriving I started to feel aContinue reading “Kala aloo dum, Calcutta street style”

Orange and apple ricotta cake

We spent a night at Sprout Creek Farm recently.  I’ve often bought their cheeses at the Union Square Farmers Market, but this was our first visit to this picture perfect farm that has cows, sheep, goats, hens and ducks.  They make cheese from goat’s milk and cow’s milk, and I returned home with several pounds of cheese.Continue reading “Orange and apple ricotta cake”

Stir fried baby potatoes

Whenever I make these golden stir-fried potatoes that are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and coated with a mixture of spices, I think of the word begin.   It’s a good way to begin Indian cooking.  First, it’s potatoes: starchy, universal, comforting and the baby ones, very cute in their roundness.  Everyone loves potatoes,Continue reading “Stir fried baby potatoes”

Ginger + garlic momos

In Calcutta you will find little momo shops tucked here and there.  Momos, in my understanding, are steamed Tibetan dumplings, usually not vegetarian and very delicious – doughy, full of succulent filling and served piping hot. My sister and partner in all things forbidden, introduced me to fragrant herbed minced chicken dumplings at Hamro Momo,Continue reading “Ginger + garlic momos”

Bengali mixed vegetable chorchori

In every Calcutta home, you find a flat slab of stone upon which fresh spices are ground by hand.  It’s somewhat like a mortar and pestle, except that the mortar is flat and the pestle is held horizontally with both hands.  My nani’s sharp eyed Bengali cook, Radha, clad in widow white with her sparseContinue reading “Bengali mixed vegetable chorchori”

How to make paneer

Last year I visited Poonam aunty’s home-run organic dairy operation in rural Assam and learned how to make paneer.  Although paneer making is an everyday event in my mother’s home, standing beside Poonam aunty in her kitchen that overlooked her green kitchen garden and her cow barn, was quite a different experience.  Poonam aunty refinedContinue reading “How to make paneer”

Nani’s paneer with crushed cashews

  In the weeks leading up to my recent three month trip to Calcutta, I dreamed of how I would go to my nani’s house and stand beside her and soak in each little thing that she had to teach about cooking. I wasn’t disappointed. I spent several mornings in nani’s house this winter, peeringContinue reading “Nani’s paneer with crushed cashews”

Rajma: red kidney bean stew

Rajma, a spicy stew of red kidney beans, has always been on my mind.  I’ve encountered delicious ones here and there – for instance one that my friend Shalini makes.  When I ask her how and what, she says “It’s easy!”  Armed with those words, along with a recipe in a tattered cookbook that calls rajma,Continue reading “Rajma: red kidney bean stew”

Kala Chana: black lentil stew

My friend Antara tells me that she can’t cook.  “It’s too stressful,” she tells me when I try to probe.  “I should have ordered in,” she laments, when we arrive at her home, although an appetite whetting smell of roasted onions, ginger and garlic lingers tellingly in the air. “What did you make?”  I ask,Continue reading “Kala Chana: black lentil stew”

Aloo methi: potatoes with fresh fenugreek

I have recently begun to love cooking with fenugreek leaves.  It started with eating them kneaded into spicy rotis.  All as a result of becoming a frequent visitor of a take-out food counter called Rajbhog Foods in Jersey City. Rajbhog is a grimy, flourescent bulb-lit store that ladles out Gujarati food.  When I enter the store,Continue reading “Aloo methi: potatoes with fresh fenugreek”

Vankaya Allam Karam

This Sunday morning we all woke up tired.  My husband rushed Agasyta off for an early soccer class after breakfast while I pottered around the kitchen, thinking about what to do for lunch.   Yesterday, I had found leggy thin-skinned purple Asian eggplant in an Indian grocery store.  I pulled them out this morning, wonderingContinue reading “Vankaya Allam Karam”

Kali Dal

My South Indian mother-in-law makes this rustic and hearty North Indian-style kali dal which is a creamy buttery lentil dish made with whole black urad dal and rajma (red kidney beans).  I’m always surprised at how truly North Indian this comforting dal tastes, as if it somehow arrived out of a cold winter evening inContinue reading “Kali Dal”

a little laddu

My maternal grandmother, nani, makes delicious besan ka laddus.  Years ago I stood by her side watching as she transformed pale yellow chick-pea flour into a dark yellow gorgeously nutty and rich aromatic mixture moistened with a generous quantity of ghee by slow cooking it over the flame.  Sugar and crushed cardamom was kneaded intoContinue reading “a little laddu”

The First Naming

When I lift Agastya up to inspect my cooking, he looks at me expectantly.  I say “that’s matar paneer.”  He solemnly repeats the phrase “matar paneer” as if at a naming ceremony, and proceeds to ask for the dish by name several times, “Mommy, I want matar paneer,” as he grows hungrier in readiness forContinue reading “The First Naming”

Matar Paneer

This morning I wake up bright up and early.  I am going to make my mother-in-law’s matar paneer for the first time.  Her delicious recipe comes from various North Indian neighbors, such as “Singh Bhabhiji” from her old residential colony in Bombay.  So I call mummy who is back in Vizag to talk about theContinue reading “Matar Paneer”

Kattu, toor dal with garlic

In the winter, Agastya starts sniffling.  One sniffle turns into the next and we start on a progression of back-to-back colds. Sometimes they start with a fever, sometimes with runny sneezes and sometimes with a bad cough.  They last a week, sometimes two, and a new cold often starts before the old one finishes.  IContinue reading “Kattu, toor dal with garlic”

Paneer Butter Masala

I like looking at cook books, but the Indian cooking ones usually scare me.  The list of ingredients will be long and complicated and some recipes will say something to the effect of “two medium tomatoes” and “one large onion” and “a generous pinch of cumin.” I am unsure of what that means, having hadContinue reading “Paneer Butter Masala”

Andhra-style potatoes

My husband introduced me to the food from his native state of Andhra Pradesh when we were dating.  The cuisine and its cooking style was a revelation for me.  For instance, a simple sookha aloo-pyaaz or dry potato-onion dish tasted completely different because of the cooking process, the treatment of ingredients and a slightly differentContinue reading “Andhra-style potatoes”

Stir-fried Okra

Sometimes when I am in the kitchen, the strongest association that I have with the food, in this case okra, is the memory of a two-and-half year old Agastya hovering around, helping in some way or just getting involved in the vegetable that I am making.  My mother has always claimed that all little childrenContinue reading “Stir-fried Okra”

The Empty Kitchen

              My kitchen feels oddly cold and empty.  Everything is in its place.  There is no mad confusion of spices, profusion of dry lentils and messy spread of vegetable peels on the countertop. My mother-in-law has just left today for India, after almost three months of being here inContinue reading “The Empty Kitchen”


Sometimes my tiny toddler clambers into his dad’s lap at dinner time and proceeds to messily eat everything on the plate, small fingers moving busily from table to mouth, with a look of intense concentration on his face.  This, in spite of having finished his own dinner just an hour ago.  During such moments, IContinue reading “Cauliflower”

Pappu Charu

“What will your mother-in-law say? You don’t even know how to boil dal,” my mother would fret during my growing up years in Calcutta.  Strangely, she never actually required me to enter her kitchen or help with chores in any way.  “No, no, go study,” she would say.  Perhaps we both had an inkling ofContinue reading “Pappu Charu”


Khichri, a dry (khilwa) or moist preparation consisting of rice and lentil in equal parts,  is one of my favorite foods.  With a pressure cooker, it is an easy one-pot meal to prepare.  My simplest khichri is rice and moong dal, with some salt, turmeric, heeng or asafoetida and ghee or clarified butter.  I then add any vegetables that I haveContinue reading “Khichri”

Masala Chai

There is no “right way” to make Indian-style spiced tea (masala chai) flavored with ginger and cardamom.  You can vary the ingredients based upon taste, and create your own unique formula for masala chai.  I like to use milk from organic pasture-fed cows as the milk is sweet and naturally flavorful.  I also believe that thisContinue reading “Masala Chai”


I wait all year for July when luscious firm glossy dark-skinned eggplants start appearing in the local farmer’s markets.   I see them piled in wicker baskets, and their tender freshness brings me to my first summer with Agastya and his paternal grandmother, Lakshmi. My South Indian mother-in-law had just flown in from Visakhapatnam to spendContinue reading “Eggplant”

Santara ka Kheer

This slow-boiled milk dessert or kheer is traditionally made in winter in my Calcutta home with tangerines or santara that have been peeled, segmented and then the inner skin removed.  It is usually served during the festival of Diwali.  The kheer arrives at dinner on the main Diwali day, resplendent in a large silver bowl, the bits of orangeContinue reading “Santara ka Kheer”