Monday, March 26, 2012

Profile in magazine brightens up day

This is a post to acknowledge a gesture, not to write about a specific food topic. This afternoon took on a bright flavor when I saw in our company's house magazine, I Can, a profile of me, "A writer who loved his kitchen," as part of a column, Pet Pastime. The article, written by a team member, Noopur, and copy-edited by my supervisor, Nandu, talks about my passion for both writing and cooking -- and my reverence for my mother, whom I credit for providing first inspiration. The feature also mentions this blog. I wish I could share the article with you, but, unfortunately, the magazine is for internal circulation only. Anyway, thank you, team, for a glowing profile.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nothing fishy about it

If you are an Indian, that is, an Asian Indian, you might already know that people in the state of Bengal are fish-lovers. Bengal, being a state full of wonderful rivers and deltas, is rich in fish. Even though I consider myself a global citizen, I am at heart a Bengali, and I love fish.

Recently, I bought a book, The New Fish Cooking Encyclopedia, by Kate Whitman, that covers fish widely -- casts a wide net, if you will -- and I found several kinds of fish in it that my family loves to cook and eat. One such fish is the mullet. But that is another post -- stay tuned! In the meantime, you might like to read as a prelude an article I wrote several years ago about how I came to love fish.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The bitter truth

When you think of greens, what comes to mind? Spinach, kale, rocket leaves (arugula), lettuce, even mustard greens? How about bitter leaves? People in India eat leaves of the neem tree, a member of the mahogany family native to this country and Pakistan. The leaves are bitter, but take on a distinctive flavor when sauteed in oil or ghee. In Bengal, neem leaves are especially popular this time of year, when they are tender.

I remember eating, under coercion from my mother, fried neem leaves during childhood and adolescence. My parents always said neem is good for health -- it helps clean the blood and, of course, it helps diabetics control blood sugar. Later, I ate neem leaves voluntarily whenever the dish was cooked. The medicine became palatable, even delicious. My mother swears by tender leaves fried or sauteed. You can eat it another way if you want to follow the Bengali tradition. You can saute the leaves first in a kadahi, or wok, to crispness, and then, after removing them, saute diced eggplant (aubergine), and, finally, mix the two, adding seasoning (which in Bengali homes means salt and turmeric).

Have you tried neem? How does the idea appeal to you?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Summer’s still far, but the pointed gourd returns

Summer is still a month or two away in India, but here is a seasonal vegetable featured in fulfillment of a promise I made a long time ago. It is a recipe involving parwal, or the pointed gourd. I have my mother close at hand; the credit for the recipe goes to her.

Potoler dalna

1 lb (450 gm) parwal, peeled, and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (small ones cut crosswise into only two pieces)
½ lb (225 gm) potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin seeds, plus ½ tsp powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp chili (cayenne) powder
1 bay leaf
½ tsp ginger paste
¼ tsp garam masala powder, dry-roasted
Salt, to taste
½ cup water
½ cup mustard oil


  1. In a kadahi, or wok, fry parwal and potatoes, until light brown (no need to crisp) in mustard oil.

  2. Drain and remove, setting aside and leaving only 2 tbsp of oil.

  3. On medium heat, sauté cumin seeds, bay leaf, and ginger paste for a minute or so.

  4. Add coriander and cumin powder, turmeric, and, chili powder, sautéing for another minute.

  5. Add water, return parwal and potatoes to kadhai, and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender.

  6. Sprinkle garam masala power.

  7. Serve with steamed rice, roti, or paratha.