Tuesday, September 01, 2020

My Latest Book - Those Delicious Letters



I am thrilled to announce that my latest book, my first novel about food and love -- Those Delicious Letters published by Harper Collins India, has just been launched in India on August 20th. Please contact me if you would like to review the book or want a review copy for your bookclub.


The Details

Name: Those Delicious Letters
Author: Me. Yes, what were you thinking ?
Publisher: Harper Collins India

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About

Soon after her fortieth birthday, Shubha starts receiving monthly letters with traditional Bengali recipes from a mysterious lady in Calcutta claiming to be her grandmother. Drawn by the nostalgia in the letters and lured into the delicious world of forgotten food, Shubha starts experimenting with the recipes. Even as secrets are revealed and her own life unravels, the letters give her courage to take a second chance at life. Torn between the taste of success that the letters eventually bring her and her need to save her marriage, Shubha must find the perfect recipe for love.



Book Blurb

“SHUBHALAXMI SEN-GUPTA.”Sen-Gupta” and not “SenGupta” as in I was “sane” before marriage, I like to tell people”!

You would think, Shubhalaxmi Sen-Gupta aka Shubha, a tiny partner of a publishing boutique,
mother of teens, leads an “almost perfect life” in her charming house set in an idyllic east coast
neighborhood where she whips up delectable mushroom risottos. But when her workaholic and jet-
setting husband Sameer, throws her a surprise 40th birthday party, the tinkling of wine glasses sets off
a series of incidents that brings to surface the stark reality.

Compared to her marathon-running, dream job achieving friends, her life is actually more “Mother
India” than “Marilyn Monroe”...and with that realization, panic sets in. To top it all, her publishing
boutique has not had a single profit and is going steadily downhill, her marriage of eighteen years
seems to be crumbling and she feels a sad yearning for all those Bengali recipes her Mother cooked
and which she never had the courage to learn in her forty odd years.

Surprisingly, on the same month as her birthday, Shubha receives a handwritten-letter by postal mail
from Kolkata, India. A letter from a grandmother, she has never heard of or knows that existed.
Assuming it to be some postal service mishap, Shubha attempts to send the letter back. But her
curiosity gets the better of her and she is soon drawn into the grandmother’s rich narrative of another
era and aroma of delicious Bengali recipes which are just like her Mother’s.

The mysterious letters arrive each month, neatly written on paper, and follow the Bengali calendar
from month of Baishakh to Chaitra, replete with heirloom recipes typical of the season and month. As
Shubha navigates the letters, trying to find who they are from, she gets lured into the delicious world
of forgotten food; even as secrets are revealed and her own life unravels, the letters give her courage
to try out a new recipe each month. Through the fragrances of Hing er Kochuri, the pungent flavors of
golden mustard paste, the memories of silvery Ilish, she reconnects with her roots and deals with the
curve balls that life throws her way.

Traipsing through a year filled with delicious food and memories, Shubha tackles heartbreaks,
marriage, parenting, adventure and a failing business, with wit and élan.
Does Shubha find out who writes her those letters? Can she save her marriage and business? What
happens to the grandmother who shares her life and food through those letters?
A rich tapestry of rediscovering love and family while straddling two continents, peppered with humor,
colorful characters and lip-smacking food!

Download the free first Chapter

First Chapter-Those Delicious Letters

Book Reviews

Madhulika Liddle -- author of widely acclaimed books featuring the 17th century Mughal detective Muzaffar Jang, and also a prolific writer of short fiction, travel writing, and writing related to classic cinema.

"The simple sweetness of the story is matched by the heartwarming sweetness of most of the characters—of whom Shubha is especially endearing. She is the narrator, and I found her very relatable: not as perfect as most of the crowd she moves in, trying but not always succeeding, rather nutty, and so very real.


The letters from Didan were a delightful glimpse into the Bengal of the past: its traditions, its scenery, its seasons, its festivals. And the food. The food was mouthwatering, the descriptions making me want to rush out to shop for all the groceries and start cooking. (Fortunately, detailed recipes are provided, one per chapter, to help readers like me get their Bong food fix).

If you like food novels, this one’s a must-read. Fun, engrossing, light-hearted—and truly delicious."



"Those Delicious Letters, by Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta aka The Bong Mom, is the kind of book that is funny, carefree, enthralling and not preachy, and does not carry a political message (thank god for that), and where Shubha, the main protagonist, is everywoman or everyman in her anxieties, hopes and beliefs. It is a book that one might want to go back to now and then, not only for the recipes if you are a culinary enthusiast but more so for reliving those moments with Shubha and her family, and for the best parts of its feel-good."

The Daily Guardian



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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lal Shak Bhaja - Red Amaranth Stir fry



Laal Shaak or Shaag Bhaja | Red Amaranth Leaves Stir Fry

Lal Shaak Bhaja is usually a stir fry made with the red amaranth leaves and some garlic and Chilli. A sprinkle of dry posto seeds or bori adds the crunch to this dish. Sometimes the red leaves are also stir fried with shrimp and finished off with a sprinkle of roasted poppy seeds.

I don't know why I am posting this recipe.I mean it is a simple dish.
"Shaak niye adikhyeta korche," as any nosy Bong aunty would proclaim while rolling their eyes. "Eto boyesh holo, ekhono laal shaak bhaja jaane na, ajkalkar meyeder shob dhong" as another Bong pishima would whisper to her neighbor across the street.

It could well be because it is a very easy recipe to post, so perfect for someone lazy like me.

It could also be because I am at that age when I should get excited with red mustangs but in absence of that I am excited seeing Laal Shaak (Red Amaranth leaves).

So the thing is, every year I grow some perfunctory vegetables, just to make sure that my kids know vegetables come from plants and not aisles of grocery stores. That a tomato actually grows on a tree and not in a box at Costco. yes, these are important parenting tips.

And then this year, one of my neighbors gave me a bunch of amaranth seeds and some saplings and said that Amaranth grows very quickly and easily. Now if anywhere in the Universe I hear the word "easy", I just latch on to it. So I quickly put the seeds in soil without even knowing what exactly Red Amaranth was. Turns out Red Amaranth leaves is what we call "laal shaak" in Bengali. They are packed with nutrition and several sources say "Amaranth leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, Swiss chard and spinach, but are genetically closer to their wild ancestors and offer a far superior source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and trace elements."

Even after the chipmunks ate half of the amaranth seeds I planted, we got decent number of plants growing. So with the red amaranth leaves growing in my backyard, I made this simple stir fry. Usually this is how I cook spinach too.



Laal Shaak Bhaja is usually a stir fry made with the red amaranth leaves and some garlic and Chilli. A sprinkle of dry posto seeds or bori adds the crunch to this dish. Sometimes the red leaves are also stir fried with shrimp and finished off with a sprinkle of roasted poppy seeds.

I love my greens with soft, flesh eggplants and so have made this stir fry with eggplants and laal shaak.
You can use potatoes instead of eggplants in this recipe.


Begun diye Laal Shaak Bhaja | Red Amaranth leaves stir fried with eggplant

Prep

Wash the red leaves under running water. Finely chop the leaves including the stems and tips. About 2 cups of chopped amaranth leaves. Soak them in water.

Next chop 2 slender Japanese eggplant in small cubes. The idea is to have about 2 cups of cubed eggplant.

Mince 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil, fry the boris until they are brown and crunchy. Remove with slotted spoon and keep aside.
If you do not have bori, then saute a handful of peanuts till brown. Remove and keep aside.

Start Cooking

Heat mustard oil to smoking. Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp of Kalonji, 2 Dry Red Chili and 3 cloves of garlic minced.

Once the spices sizzle and you get the aroma of garlic, add the eggplant. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and saute until eggplant pieces are lightly browned.

Now add the laal shaak(red amaranth leaves) tossing it with the eggplant. Add salt to taste, 3 green chili slit and let the leaves cook.
As the leaves wilt as they cook, they will also release their juices. If you think the juice is not enough then add a little water. Now cover and cook.
Stir intermittently until the eggplant and greens are all cooked.

Once the veggies are cooked and the dish looks dry add just a tsp of kashundi if you have some. If not finish off with a little mustard oil.

Sprinkle the fried bori or the fried peanuts to garnish.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Goan Pork Vindaloo -- from the husband-man


There is this Netflix show called "the Indian Matchmaking" which has created quite a furore in the Indian community!! I am not aware of current match making scenarios in India but the show was entertaining reality TV. At first I couldn't believe some of the things I heard like the constant demand for "flxible, fair, slim" girls as a bride!!! This was the 21st century goddammit. but then I never believed in a virus stopping life either.
Many reviews and comments on FB felt the show was vile and cringeworthy but I feel that it is partly true of the Indian society. You might deny it and downplay it, but it is not far from the truth.

In India, the discussion, judgements and arguments over eating habits, veg or non-veg, pork and beef is as vehement as the show!!

Last year November when I was in Kolkata, I was on the Calcutta roads a fair amount of time. There was a particular driver whose car I would rent. I had a really good time chatting with him as we plied the roads of the city, from one corner to the other.

One day he asked me "Didi, apni pork khan?" (Didi do you eat pork?)

I ho-hummed and admitted that I did. "It tastes almost like chicken", I assured him.

"Kintu Didi beef? Beef o okhan America te?" (What about Beef? Do you eat beef also in America?)

I ho-hummed again. Well we do eat beef once in a while. I don't like steak because I find the meat too gamy to my taste but my kids love Italian meatballs and those are best with ground beef

"Haa khai majhe majhe," I admitted to eating beef occasionally.

The driver was alarmed and he admonished me, "Kintu Goru to Ma, Goru khaoa apnar thik noy." (but Cows are our Mother, you shouldn't eat them).



Probably his words came from the heavy hand of religion but I couldn't blame him. I did not eat beef or pork growing up in my home in India. Ours was a middle class Brahmin family, pretty conventional about the food that was cooked and eaten. So pork and beef were strictly beyond the realms of food that we could eat. In fact for a long time even chicken was not allowed in my grandmother's home, though we were allowed to cook it in the garden or eat outside. I never saw any of our family or friends eat pork sausages or steaks either, and I largely categorized them as meats that were popular only outside India. Only later did I learn that sausages and cold cuts were very popular among a certain section of Calcutta Bengalis even in the days when my Mother warned me never to eat such meat.

I desperately looked for a reasoning beyond that it tasted good. I mean eating meat, any meat itself is not the kindest thing as my daughter keeps reminding.

"But oita to America'r goru, ora amader Ma noy," I mumbled. (Those are American cows. They are not our mothers.)

The driver pondered over this, and reluctantly nodded his head. I breathed a sigh of relief.

A month later, my Mother calls me on the phone, "You eat beef? And you discussed that with the driver? He complained to me about your eating habits."

I stayed mum.

While I did broaden my eating habit, after coming to the US, only recently (in the last two years) have I started buying and cooking meat other than goat, lamb and chicken. We are still not great at cooking beef other than in meatballs or burger but pork is right up our alley.



During the lockdown when chicken was scarce, we bought pork loins a few times from Costco. The husband-man made a Pork Vindaloo, from his memory of pork curries that he ate in small eateries around his hostel in Kolkata. We asked a couple of our Goan neighbors for recipes and they shared a few which I duly forwarded to the husband-man on whatsapp. he combined teh recipes, did something and madea relaly mean pork Vindaloo.

Now I have never had a Pork Vindaloo back in Goa but his tastes so good with just the right balance of spices -   the curry is on the thinner side like a jhol but spicy hot, the tartness of vinegar balances the heat but still man it is hot. In all it tastes delicious with white rice and a salad on the side.

Do try it!