Monday, November 19, 2012

Global vs. local cuisine: Does it makes sense?

My mother mostly cooks Bengali food, but sometimes she goes global unwittingly. Hey, wait a minute! Maybe I am wrong -- global is a misnomer. All food is one. There are overlaps among foods of the world.

Just the other day, she prepared a topping for toasts. It was a variation of a simple yogurt topping she often serves. That day, she prepared a topping with steamed cauliflower, spiced with roasted cumin powder, and seasoned with red and black pepper, and salt. The robust flavor of the cumin made all the difference.

A day later, I read in The New York Times as story about squash on toast, a dish rustled up by no less a cook than chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I realized, again, how food has an ecumenical character. So, dear reader, I hope will forgive this post on a blog that celebrates Bengali cuisine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poppy seeds are small, but big in flavor - I

One of Bengal's best-known -- and most homey and delicious -- vegetarian dishes is alu posto, or potato with poppy seeds. Poppy seeds used in Bengal are mostly tiny, brownish white, and grain-like. It may sound strange -- and scary -- that posto is derived from the same plant as opium poppy. But, fear not, dear reader. Poppy seeds used for cooking are harvested from dried pods versus the green pods, which used to extract opium.

Today's post is merely the tip of the iceberg. So much can be written about the tiny seeds and they pack so much of flavor. A recipe of alu posto is in order, too. So stay tuned. Until then, here is the Wikipedia entry. Enjoy.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The story of a lemon

I love lemon -- despite its negative connotation in informal meanings. And the kind of lemon I like most is gandharaj lemon, available only in Bengal and other eastern states of India. At least, I haven't seen it anywhere else; nor have I heard the kind of praise showered on gandharj, or fragrant, lemon, anywhere else.
Gandharaj lemon deserves all the credit it gets, for it is truly fragrant. You need to actually taste it to perceive its flavor -- the fragrance is indescribable. The shape is longish, the rind thick. It's beautiful. And divine when squeezed over hot rice mixed with a dollop of ghee! Gandharaj lemon, then, makes me give in to sin, too.
What kind of lemon or lime do you like, dear reader?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ma's Kitchen Is Immortal

This week, read an essay, "Ma's Kitchen," just published in the Prairie Wolf Press Review magazine. Feel free to offer comments.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Food magazine features Cooking in Calcutta recipe

Recently, I discovered that Saveur magazine had featured my recipe for payesh as part of the publication's Best of the Web series. I am not complaining! Go enjoy the recipe, again. Thanks, Saveur.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Modak and its cousins bind two states

Pithey, puli, and modak offered to Ganesha

Recently, my wife prepared modak, a kind of sweet dumpling eaten during Ganesh Chaturthi, the start of the Indian festive season. Modak is a Maharashtrian specialty. We grew fond of modak in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, where we stayed for 5 years before returning to our home state of Bengal earlier this year. Modak, like the festival of Ganesha itself, is a strong connection we have developed with Maharashtra.

My blog is about the food of Bengal, yet here I am writing about modak and Ganesha, both part of Maharashtrian heritage. For Bengal and Maharashtra share a food connection. In Bengal, home-makers and shops prepare pithey and puli, sweet dumplings akin to modak. My wife even created a clay idol of Ganesha to replicate the Maharashtrian home on Ganesh Chaturthi. On that auspicious day, the elephant God reigned in our home, feasting on modak, pithey, and puli. How similar our festival customs are and how unified all of India is in spite of differences! And God is one. Dear reader, do you find any common food connections among states during the festive season?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Learning to cook home food in a faraway place

When I think about how I learnt to cook Bengal's food, my journey is amazing and ironic. True, the seeds of cooking were sown early in me during adolescence in India, but it was not until my stay in America, 10,000 miles away, as a graduate student that I really learnt to cook.

Books and mandatory cooking turns in a house shared by room mates did the trick. It was by chance that I found a book in the library where I worked part time. The book, a yellow hardcover, was written by an author from -- of all places -- Texas. That book taught me a lot about how to cook Bengali dishes. I learned to cook alu dum, and potato and cauliflower curry, which my room mates and friends adored. Thanks to that book and my deep interest in cooking, I developed a reputation and found fulfilment in a foreign land.