Friday, March 31, 2006

Live from New York City

In my mayo-related posts (see "Making Mayonnaise" and "Tuna Sandwich, Transformed in Bengal"), I wrote about the twist I give to the classic tuna salad. The tuna sandwich becomes, in my hands, a bekti sandwich, which tastes as good.

Another classic salad made with mayonnaise is the Waldorf salad, which is a fruity variation of the regular chicken sandwich filling. Waldorf salad originated in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1890s.

I replicated exactly the classic Waldorf salad recently. This time I hadn’t wanted to give any twist of my own to a classic. I wanted it to be 100 percent authentic: You could have it in the hallowed NY hotel or the tacky duplex I inhabit in a seedy Calcutta neighborhood, and the taste should exactly be the same. This was my goal from the very beginning.

Every ingredient of the salad that I would normally have in my pantry would be the same anyway – except the apple’s variety. All a Waldorf salad would need is cooked chicken (I prefer breast for a mild flavor), mayonnaise, celery, spring onion, walnuts, lemon (or lime) juice, apple and, of course, seasoning.

For the apple, I wanted Granny Smith, no other. Not that apples are in short supply in Calcutta. In crowded Sealdah, the largest market of its kind in Asia, fruit vendors sell several kinds, among them Red Delicious, round the clock. They are red and sweet, the kind most popular in India. They come from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, two Himalayan states in the north of the country.

But, I wanted Waldorf-Astoria in my humble home; I wanted Granny Smith, which is crunchy, juicy, and tart. So, off I went to New Market.

And, lo and behold, I found plenty. Green, round, smooth, firm, with a label, “Washington Apples,” in boxes with the lids ripped off. What more could I have asked for? But, the price? Rs. 150 (about $3.5) a kilogram, which is about 2 lbs. That is a prohibitive price in India. But, I wanted authentic; so, I picked a single apple weighing a little less than 200 grams (7 oz) despite the storekeeper’s murmur of discontent.

“We make no money on one,” he said, putting the apple in a thonga, or a newspaper bag, which is a smaller and cheaper version of the staple brown-paper bag at US supermarkets.

I returned home with the booty. I created the Waldorf salad. Just to compare, I prepared a second batch with a red apple. They weren’t the same. The red apple-Waldorf salad was too sweet for my taste despite my effort to balance the flavor with extra lime juice. Sweet is good when used in desserts or eaten plain, but in chicken or something predominantly savory, I prefer tart. That is another debate, another story, another post, though.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What's the Theme Nonight?

Several years ago, when I lived in the United States, trying to finish up my graduate degree and living life to the lees, if you will, I cooked for my roommates and friends. Cooking would be the brightest spot of the day, a grand finale, even though it was routine -- my roommates took turns in cooking.

On my turn, especially when I would have guests, I often declared the theme of the dinner ahead of time. "Tonight's theme is ginger," I would say, for example.

On a night, when my roommates were starving and waiting hungrily for me to finish, one of them might ask, "Angshuman, what's tonight's theme?"

A theme, I thought, made me look fashionable, my cooking sound special. A theme, or a single flavor, meant elegance.

Now, I am happy to say, that concept is more than just fashion or elegance; it's a diet idea!

Earlier this year, David L. Katz, M.D., a top authority on nutrition and weight control (and disease prevention), came out with his Flavor Point Diet. He published a book, based on research at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, that says if people consume a single flavor in a whole day's meals, they would lose weight without starving!

After I wrote to Dr. Katz, a professor at the Yale med school, complimenting on his research and this happy coincidence (my penchant for "themed" dinners), he responded with equally kind words. How great it feels to hear from such a luminary!

In a later post, I will give you a few recipes based on a dominant flavor. How about ginger?

In the meantime, read more about The Flavor Point Diet on ABC News.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tuna Sandwich, Transformed in Bengal

True to my promise, this post is a recipe for the fish sandwich I described in my previous post. I use bekti, a fish prized in Bengal for its soft, flaky flesh full of flavor and omega-3 fatty acids, which are so healthful. This sandwich, served with potato chips, could be a simple lunch or even a light dinner.

Bekti sandwich

Serves 4


For the salad:
½ lb (225 gm) cooked bekti, boned and skinned
½ cup of chopped celery or green bell pepper (capsicum)
½ cup of chopped green (or spring) onion
¼ cup of mayonnaise (see recipe in earlier post, “Making mayonnaise”)
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 tbsp of lemon (or lime) juice
salt and pepper to taste

For the sandwich:
8 slices of large sandwich bread
lettuce, one head, or four large leaves
2 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced


  1. Mix all the ingredients for the bekti salad.
  2. Place a lettuce leaf and spoon about 1/4th of the salad on each bread slice.
  3. Put tomato slices and press another slice on top. Put extra pepper, if you so desire.
    Cut each sandwich diagonally and serve with potato chips or French fries and ketchup.

Note: To get ½ lb (225 gm) of bekti, boil or steam about 1 lb (450 gm) of fresh fish in salted water. In India, canned bekti is unheard of.