The Balcony: a story about place

It took them two years to find a home.  Exactly as they had wanted.  “Location, location, location,” she remembered her friend in real estate saying.  The house was two blocks away from a park, two blocks away from the bus, less than a ten minute walk to the train station, the waterfront along the Hudson…

A festival of light

It’s choti Diwali, the day before big Diwali, the largest Hindu festival of the year.  A new year of sorts.  I grew up in a large family in India, and as a child, I waited for Diwali all year. When I look back, Diwali glimmers in my memory.  I remember my mom dressed in yellow. …

Snowflakes

It began snowing today.   You look at the window, and there they were, dancing outside, flurry-ing and twinkling.  Little ballerinas, these snowflakes in their white tutus with just a touch of holiday glitter.  Your first visit from them this year.  You can hear their laughter, the excited twitter.    You take the dog for a walk…

Bhatura, Sanjeev Kapoor style

“We are having chole bhatura for dinner today,” declared Agastya, early this morning at breakfast.  I had just dragged myself out of my warm bed, cranky because I had to be fasting before my annual physical and the accompanying blood test.  The nurse could only fit me for a 9.30am appointment, which seemed hours away…

A Secret Garden

My deck is a small square space in the back of the second floor of our home. The entrance is through the living room into the playroom. Suddenly the door opens into an open patio, sky and sun above it, with a view into all the small quiet backyards on this block. You could almost…

Bruno and a cookie recipe

A few months ago, Vijnan showed me a picture of a brown haired puppy, a tiny mite pictured on the deck in a basket, that had shown up somewhat unexpectedly in our search for a dog. We were longing for one, both of us secretly hoping for a dachshund, similar to the dogs we grew…

Cake everyday

I’ve become obsessed with cake and especially with tea cakes. Not once in a while. Not weekly. Every Day. Last week I started with the orange-lemon-almond-olive oil cake from Orangette to bring to a friend’s home for dinner. Alongside, I made the same cake with lemons only, for our home and as an “experiment.” Lemon…

Weekends – a recipe for

“What are you doing this weekend?”  It was a casual question, asked as I was walking to the train.  And I of course, yet to master the art of the easy answer, wanted to launch into the details of what makes a meaningful weekend for me.  What does the weekend mean, what role does it…

Fall at the Greenmarket

I went to the Greenmarket two days ago in the late evening, an hour before it closed.  The market was down to a few stalls, with some tables scattered with last of the season heirloom tomatoes from New Jersey.  Dark, leafy greens, touched by the cold, reminiscent of dark soil, cold air and days growing…

Pistachio cake

My heart beats so I can write.  Feel pen against paper.  It’s been so long.  I feel the beckon, the seduction.  Like the smell of warm pistachio cake rising from the oven.  Nuts, vanilla, and a hint of cardamom.  I’m not sure why I don’t give in.  Sometimes it feels as though I would stop breathing if…

Of love and chocolate cake

“Where were you?” I’m suddenly shy. I don’t know what to say. You have that look in your eyes. I have never been able to lie. You know what happened. I was off exploring a passion, something so deeply fulfilling, I didn’t look back. I knew you were there. But my mind was elsewhere. I…

A favorite pot

We had been discussing Christmas gifts.  “I know what we should get for you, Mommy,” said Agastya, very confidently, “a pot.” I was surprised.  “Why?”  I asked.  “Because you love to cook,” he said. I hadn’t realized that my then 5-year old knew this of me.  “But I don’t cook as well as nani or…

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 cake…

Summer corn

    Sometimes, some decisions are not easy to accept. Life might make them. Or we might make them for ourselves. In a short while, I have found myself everywhere. On and off carousels of different colors. Building relationships where the timing might not work.  Others rising, phoenix-like from ashes in the ground and taking…

French fries for dinner

In Food Rules, Michael Pollan says “The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes — and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because…

Savory semolina upma

I don’t know where to begin.  Let’s just say I’m here.  Back again, happy, optimistic… My mother-in-law makes a spicy, savory upma from semolina (sooji).  It’s South Indian any time comfort food, and takes minutes to make.  Last week my friend Sukanya made sooji upma as I stood watching.  I love her cooking, and I…

Butter pasta

I know that restaurants all over America frequently carry “pasta with butter” on their children’s menu.  When I see these words, I always think, seriously?  no peas, no carrots, no broccoli, not even a soupçon of garlic?  Just butter and pasta? Until of course one day, when my friend Vrushali begins telling me about the…

Mom’s very green rice

I’ve been counting days with a sinking heart.  Three months later is finally here.  Mom and dad are leaving for India.  These parents didn’t give birth to me, but as I keep telling them, they’ve given me re-birth, the chance at a new life. Until recently, I was a mother who worked part time, working…

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 too…

As good as it gets

Do you remember the times that your life moved forward in an almost unseen way?  When in a moment you knew, for certain, that life had changed.  When, despite everything, a shadowy dream seemed to take life. Like the words from Rainbow Connection. Have you been half asleep? And have you heard voices I’ve heard…

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.  Beans…

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 chocolate…

Better than fries

“This tastes even better than fries,” I thought, as I bit into the crisp red-brown morsels that were soft and a tad chewy inside. They were dusted with salt and chilli powder, and the crackle, softness, spice and salt present in one hearty, umami-filled bite meant that I couldn’t stop popping them in my mouth….

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 tiny…

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 hurricane…

Green banana stir fry

Being married and living in close proximity with another human being means that I sometimes come under close scrutiny.  Not only are my good attributes admired, like my very straight nose or winsome smile, but my flaws are also held up to the light and dissected. “But I don’t want to change, love me as…

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.  This…

in love with…Delhi

I love old cities like Rome, Athens, Delhi, where you can feel that you are standing upon history.  There are old stones everywhere with hints of blue glazed tile and flocks of bright green parrots, and you keep passing monuments that have stood witness to centuries.  I always imagine that if I start digging in…

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 bothered…

How to: Samosas

Before I return home to India, my mother calls and asks me each time”What would you like to eat?  What should I make for you?”  I always find the question amusing and quaint and sweet, and put it down to one of my mother’s quirks.  But recently, I am becoming the same way.  When I’m…

Back from India

I returned from my trip to India.  It was wintry, dark and bleak when we landed.  My house felt stark and empty and there was no food.  I struggled to adjust to the cold, the dry heat from the radiators, the need to cook again. I’m more homesick than usual this time.  It’s growing harder…

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, all…

Maple walnut cake

It’s fall.  The air has turned crisper.  It’s still dark at 6.30am.  The leaves hang suspended in the air, as though awaiting their fate.  Some have turned yellow.  Some will turn into a bright red.  In past years, I’ve bundled my entire family into the car and we’ve set off to look at the changing…

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 liter…

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 concoction…

Grilled eggplant, three ways

How much do I love thee, eggplant?  Let me count the ways… Alright, in too many ways.  I am beginning with one technique, that of grilling whole eggplant. Now that the summer is at an end and those big baskets full of shiny eggplant are going to disappear from the farmer’s market, I am already…

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” and…

A good egg

A few years ago I began buying cage-free hen eggs that were fed an organic vegetarian diet, and were not injected with hormones etc.  The eggs I presumed would be healthier and would taste better.  I didn’t find anything remarkable about these eggs.  Pale yellow yolks, the usual whites.  There was a subtle taste difference…

Of rice and dal…and pulusu

I never know what to make when we return from a trip.  We usually arrive back in time for lunch or dinner, and perhaps there is at most an hour before everyone starts getting really, really hungry. This time, after a weekend away at Sprout Creek Farm, my mother-in-law promised us a meal in no…

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 find…

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 white…

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 pepper…

Red bell pepper chutney

I love red bell peppers.  Although they are available all year round, for me, the most exciting time of the year is when they show in big piles at my farmers market.  I like to stick a whole bunch of them into my oven and roast them until they are charred and black.  Then I…

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 to…

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 was…

Dahi vada

Vadas are savory lentil doughnuts that are made entirely with urad dal.  You can eat with them as is with coconut chutney or sambar or both or even just plain old ketchup, but my mother-in-law serves them dipped in salty yogurt that is flavored with a paste of green chillies and coriander leaves.  There’s a…

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 vegetable…

Baghare Baingan

What’s on the menu today?  Baghare baingan, meaning tempered eggplants, from Hyderabad.  Agastya fondly calls this dish “eggplants in peanut sauce” but to be fair it also has an equal quantity of coconut and sesame seeds in it.  My husband’s cousin, Kasturi, made this richly flavored eggplant dish for me at our first meeting, about…

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 of…

Making aloo parathas

“You haven’t cooked even once the entire time I’ve been here,” my mother sniffed, as her ten-day visit came to a close.  “I think you like to eat more than you like to cook.” I protested “But mom, if you cook I get to taste your cooking.  Then I know what to make, how to…

Chilli cheese toast

Amul cheese, the medium cheddar kind that comes packaged in a canned tin in India, was my first love.  I remember creeping to our white fridge at night to steal slices of comforting white bread and cheese for a midnight snack.  It was the only cheese that was readily available when I was growing up…

Dahi aloo: potatoes in a yogurt curry

Recently, my mom and her sister, my masi, came to visit me for a few days from India.  On the morning that they were about to arrive, I knew that I had to make lunch for them.  What should I make, I wondered?   My mom I’d seen nibbling on lettuce leaves and other bits for…

Lavender tea cake

In June last year, I found a lavender pound cake at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market.  I had never encountered lavender in a cake before, and this cake had a sprig of lavender pressed into the middle.  It looked both romantic and rustic.  Slices of this buttery pound cake went wonderfully well with cups of English breakfast…

Quick matar paneer

Once in a while, the day rushes by without any attention to what we will do for dinner.  I find myself in need of a very simple recipe and a quick dish that I can get on the table in a half hour or less.  I want minimal chopping, uncomplicated prep work and as little…

Mint chutney sandwich

On my last trip to Mumbai, I discovered a café in the lobby of our hotel that looked like it had stepped out of New York or London or some other big city.  The menu featured trendy sandwiches and salads and soups.  Where was pav bhaji and sev puri and pani puri,I wondered, as I looked at the menu.  Bombay…

Cherry cinnamon cake

My birthday weekend featured many treats: a trip to the countryside of Columbia County in upstate New York, a visit to Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, a stop at the Hawthorne Valley farm store, and two cakes: a mango upside down cake and a fresh cherry cinnamon cake.  I made one for myself and the other…

Strawberry cake

We were at a scantily populated park early on Sunday morning.  When we bundled into the car, Agastya piped up from the back “Daddy, let’s not go home.”  My thoughts exactly.  If I had ever needed proof that this was my son, with my exact set of peripatetic genes, here it was.   “How about strawberry…

Capsicum paneer

When I left home, my mother gave me a few cookbooks.  Amongst them was a diminutive volume called Paneer by Tarla Dalal.  I had often seen my mother consult Tarla Dalal’s recipes.  Tarla was a prolific cook and writer, and her books tried to capture practically every cuisine in the world for the Indian vegetarian…

Carrot loaf cake

I love carrot cake.  However, it’s usually drowning in frosting and while good frosting tastes delicious, sometimes I just want a simple, hearty cake that’s studded with nuts and raisins. My recipe is inspired by David Lebovitz.  I like this recipe for several reasons.  First it uses the basic cake mix that I love: 1…

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 a…

Rhubarb upside down cake

On Fridays I give myself permission to make dessert.  A whole weekend lies ahead, there may be a friend or two to save me from eating the entire thing myself and it’s entirely pleasurable to have the smell of say, vanilla or pineapple suffusing the home.   I love fruit in my desserts, and a…

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….

Spinach paneer

I’d like to believe that my mother always cooked for me, but the truth of the matter is that Sukumar was the king of the stove in our Calcutta kitchen.  Tall, thin and hawk-like, Sukumar was our cook who made a monotonous yellow dal and “mixed” vegetables in a ubiquitous red sauce, day after day….

Nani’s kala chole

A recipe from my nani feels like a fragile thing, like the first blooms of spring. When I graduated from college in 2000, my maternal grandparents came all the way to the United States from Calcutta.  Just six years later, nani and nana decided that they couldn’t travel to my wedding in Jamaica.  I was…

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,…

Gujarati kadhi

During my second pregnancy nothing tasted better than a simple meal of Gujarati kadhi and rice.   Kadhi is a light yogurt curry that is flavored primarily with curry leaves and thickened with a chickpea flour called besan.  It is simultaneously spicy, sweet, salty and sour and has a mild, soothing texture. My recipe for kadhi…

Chivda or crispy poha

Every other Friday I arrive for a playdate at my friend Dalia’s place with my boys in tow.  Dalia always makes me a comforting cup of tea, and I look very forward to the sharing of tea and conversation with a good friend.  On one occasion, I peer at Dalia’s stove and find thin crispy…

Black eyed peas

A few months ago, a friend said casually in passing, “I love black eyed peas.”  That statement intrigued me.  I’d never been too fond of lobia when I was growing up.  It was time to revisit these beans.  At Journal Square, I found them amongst the rows of glistening jewel-like legumes on the shelf at Bhavani’s….

Gujarati sweet hot peppers

This is an addictive sweet-spicy dry green chilli preparation.  These chillis are the long hot sweet type that you get in the Indian grocery store or at farmers markets in the summer.  The color varies — the hottest ones are dark green and very gnarled, almost like you’d imagine the fingers of the witch that…

Bise bela bhath

Bise bela bhath means dal and rice in Kannada.  To me, the words always sound like a happy, anytime, tantalize-your-tastebuds type of one-pot comfort.  It’s because this dish engages all my tastebuds with its full bodied spicy, sweet and sour flavor.  The dish uses tamarind extract for the sourness and employs dried red chillies boldly…

Mushroom Crespelle

This baked dish of delicate mushroom crepes topped with tomato sauce and cheese was a childhood favorite when I was growing up in Calcutta. It represented the best of Continental cuisine as I understood it – crepes from France, tomato sauce from Italy, along with exotic un-Indian mushrooms and a crust of delicious melting cheese…….

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,…

Perfect chole

I’ve always been envious of the tasty chole (chickpeas) that my Punjabi friends seem to make so effortlessly.  When I ask for the recipe, often the whole operation seems hopelessly complicated.  One friend slow cooks the raw chickpeas for over 2 hours.  Another places a tea bag in her chole while cooking.  An online recipe…

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 sparse…

Lauki chana dal

This warmly spiced lauki chana dal recipe is a childhood favorite.  I grew up in Calcutta, and this nutty, hearty yellow lentil soup studded with pieces of translucent green bottle gourd showed up frequently at mealtimes. It’s a complete and nourishing meal when served with rice or Indian style bread. This dal can be made…

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 refined…

Bengali cholar dal

I’m from Calcutta, but I’m new to Bengali food.  I think it’s because I grew up eating North Indian food cooked at home – my mom frowned upon eating out in restaurants when we were growing up, and beyond one or two invitations to meals at my friend Pramita’s home, I don’t think I ever…

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, peering…

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,…

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,…

Agastya’s guacamole

Agastya has always been in my kitchen, but recently I’ve discovered that he can make guacamole.  If I give him a soft avocado split in half, he scoops out the flesh and pounds it in the molcajete.  A little sprinkle of salt, and it’s almost good enough to eat.  If there is onion at home,…

Will cook for love

On Mother’s Day Agastya came home from preschool with a card that he had made.  Inside, his teacher had transcribed “I love my mommy… because… she makes pasta for me.”  I was surprised.  To begin with, pasta was an occasional quick meal in our home.  It was our equivalent of fast food.  I liked to…

of guilty pleasures

Writing about food is my guilty pleasure.  Recently, with a baby on the move, there hasn’t been time for any sorts of pleasure.  I cannot understand why my six month old baby feels the need to crawl aggressively, clamber up and take flying, frog like leaps on the carpet.  “What’s the hurry,”I wonder, as I follow…

A simple corn chowder

It seems that I was all alone in an apartment in New York city just a little while ago.  Now life seems like it is bursting at the seams with a growing family.  I always have company for a walk or a talk.  Even my five month old baby appreciates a good stroll with Mommy…

A lentil love affair

The staple dal of my childhood was a yellow, insipid affair.  A small bowl of yellow lentils, presumably toor dal, that showed up on my plate day after day, usually tempered with ghee and cumin seeds and turmeric.  Monotonous and never-changing and nothing of what I wanted or missed when I came to the United…

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,…

Pumpkin

I’ve grown to love the change of seasons in the northeast United States.  Each year I find that I wait for spring blossoms and fall leaves.  I’ve been here for fourteen years now, but this longing for the change in seasons keeps growing.  I crave it more with every passing year: there is something so…

Mixed vegetables, Andhra-style

    I have to confess that my mother-in-law’s recipes hold an exotic appeal.  Whoever heard of cooking with freshly roasted and ground chana dal and urad dal and white sesame seeds in the form of a spice mixture? This mixed vegetable dish of hers allows me to throw into a pan every leftover and straggling…

Spinach dal

Mom’s left again.  Her twice daily cooking has left with her too.  Now every time I go into the kitchen and try to toss a bunch of wilted spinach or throw away leftover rice, I’m accosted by the question “what would mom have done?”  That spinach would have found itself in a dal or a…

Banana bread

My roommate in college, Serena, taught me how to make a moist banana cake studded with chocolate chips during our sophomore year in school.  I still remember how I fell in love with it at first bite.  And despite having a pastry chef for a sister, it was the only cake that I knew how…

A daily soup

I’m often at a loss for weekday lunch meals for Agastya.  We did a one-pot khichdi for a long time, but after a while he seemed to crave variety, and I somehow couldn’t manage to gather a proper Indian meal with roti, dal and sabji in time for lunch.  For dinner, yes, but not lunch.  So…

Giada’s Nut Torta

After each of my two boys was born, my mom arrived from India with strict postpartum dietary instructions from nani, my maternal grandmother.  Never mind that I had been eating all kinds of things up until then. Nani’s recommended diet consisted of ghee, milk, ajwain, and a couple of less-known compounds such as gond, which…

Stuffed baby eggplant

At 8am on certain days each week, my door opens to reveal a small, dark lady with a dimpled smile.  I’m usually waiting for her anxiously, and I breathe easier when I hear the doorbell ring.  My morning has started much earlier and fairly reluctantly, with two bright-eyed and widely awake kids.  Kirti behn is…

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, wondering…

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 in…

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 into…

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 for…

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 the…

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.  I…

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 had…

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 different…

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 children…

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 in…

Cauliflower

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, I…

Sambar

Every Sunday, my parents and I would go to eat dosa, or crispy South Indian rice crepes at the Super Snack Bar in Alipore, which seemed at the time a long drive from our home in Calcutta’s Ballygunge neighborhood.  My dad loved dosa, and since he was frequently away on business trips, I looked forward…

Pav Bhaji

When I first came to the United States in the mid-90s, I knew that the food in the college cafeteria and the three local pink-and-gold gaudy Indian restaurants would be different from the food that I had grown up on.  More than my daily meals, I missed the tangy and spicy street foods that are…

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 of…

Khichri

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 have…

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 this…

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 orange…