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

Buy here:

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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, Laal Shaak Bhaja, Laal Saag, Red Amaranth

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. These red amaranth leaves are a good source of Vit A and C. In some parts of India these red leafy veggies are called laal math,

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. Though as a child, I wasn't fond of green leafy vegetables, I liked "laal shaak" because of their magical power to turn boring white rice to a pretty pink!!

They are also 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 or Laal saag 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.

Laal Shaak, Laal Shaak Bhaja, Laal Saag, Red Amaranth

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!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Avial or Aviyal -- the BongMom version

Avial recipe, Kerala Avial

Kerala Avial Recipe

Avial is a traditional Kerala dish where a variety of different vegetables is cooked into a thick coconut based stew. There are some mythological references as per which, Bheema is said to have prepared Avial, when there were unexpected guests for King Virata and he needed to serve meals for them. There were no sufficient vegetables to cook any single recipe for a side dish, so Bheema used whatever available vegetables to make a new dish, which came to be known as Avial. However these might not be true

Every time I make a Shukto, someone tells me that it reminds them of Aviyal. I am not a Shukto fan so I never get riled up with the comparison. I mean at least Aviyal doesn't have bitter gourd (or maybe some version of it does but the most generic version of Avial doesn't have bitter gourd). Anyway I am not an Avial fan either. But the husband-man loves all kinds of vegetables, be it Shukto, Charchari or Aviyal and so we end up cooking and eating them once in a few weeks! (I won't admit how many weeks :-p)

Before I go into this post, let me tell you the Avial I made is not exactly the traditional Kerala or Tamil recipe. The traditional recipe has a list of 13 or 15 vegetables and cooked in coconut oil. I have also heard that depending on the region, the recipe of Avial varies a little. While I have followed the same base recipe and used coconut paste, I have taken some liberty with the vegetables used and the tempering of the dish. The end result was fantastic though your Tambram MIL or  Kerala ammachi might beg to differ.

So, last weekend, we had a couple of friends over for a backyard-social-distancing get together!That sounds so cool right?
Now that we are in the 2nd phase of reopening and outdoor meetups are allowed, we meet in small groups of friends in the backyard (For all in India and places where Covid cases are rising, stay safe and don't meetup yet, you will get there 🙏).
I am loving these backyard meetups more than the indoor one honestly!!! 🌳🏡
No compulsive cleaning needed...yaayy😛 and under the sky adda can be actually very relaxing in our summer evenings.
The husband-man made his killer pork-vindaloo for the party. To keep in theme with it I also made the Kerala Egg Roast from my blog. Then a Avial and a Goan Shrimp Curry. Only my Goan Shrimp Currry was a fusion and tasted more Chingri Malaikari than Goan!!!

So the Avial I made was based off 3 different recipes -- the base recipe was from here, the tadka/tempering was as suggested by a friend and the vegetables were as per my convenience. To understand the actual vegetables that go into an Aviyal please refer to this recipe. I had toned down the coconut a notch as I did not want a strong coconut flavor but I wanted the sweet creaminess that coconut brings, so I used only 1/2 cup of grated Coconut as opposed to 1 Cup. I did not have Coconut oil to cook the dish so I have used Vegetable oil and ghee. I will never claim this as the authentic Avial recipe but we loved this version.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Easy Fresh Mango Cake

Today I got a big surprise. A DHL courier yellow truck pulled up in front of our house and dropped a package by the door. Every other day, it's only Amazon who delivers to our doorstep, so DHL threw us off!! After the mandatory 2 hrs quarantine-at-porch method, when I brought in the huge envelope, the sender's address read Harper Collins India.

Of course the kids were too excited, "Maybe your book", they said. Since the book release date has now been pushed to August due to lock-down in India, I wasn't too hopeful. Yet, I had this sick feeling in the stomach. I had not seen the book and cover in print yet and thought everything must have gone wrong at the printing press!!

I took deep breaths and acted calm while the girls lapsed into due criticism and lecture about excessive plastic waste and blah, blah. I mean seriously? Here your Mom is dying and there you are thinking of plastic!! Anyway they finally opened the packaging and the cover looked so beautiful. However instead of letting me savor the moment, they excitedly flipped the pages, looking for guess what -- The Acknowledgement section. Now, finally they have lost interest and handed it over to me.

I cannot dare to open and read it. Not now. But I feel a deep love for the book -- for all 260 pages of it, for the story that unfolds in those pages.Like I am its mother and if anyone criticizes it, I might just bite them, so be aware!

A cake looks like the right thing for today and since I don't have one, I might as well write about the cake we had last week!

I love simple cakes with chunks of real fruits and low on added sugar. Those are the only ones I can bake. Any cake recipe that starts with a sentence like "Separate the egg white and beat to a stiff peak" does not hold my attention. If you bake one of those for me, I will be too glad.

But ahem, if I have to bake them, Lordie help me and the family. This delicious mango cake is just the kind I love, a very easy and simple recipe with less sugar and lots of fresh mangoes. I loved it from the very beginning. The kids who are more fond of the fancy layered cakes, were a little suspicious but with the frosting done, they were eager to take more bites. Finally they too agreed that it was a delicious cake. This cake tastes even better the next day after a night in the refrigerator.

Original Recipe from Taste of Home

Monday, July 06, 2020

Chili Garlic Shrimp

Chili Garlic Shrimp, Chili Garlic Shrimp

Chili Garlic Shrimp

Shrimp tossed with lots of garlic, a hot chilli-garlic and soy sauce is the easiest dish to make. I added some of the Korean Gochujang sauce to the shrimp and it added a burst of flavors

Long back in elementary school, we had to routinely write essays in class, and I often wrote  one with an opening sentence like  "Man is a social animal". I don't think I understood what it meant. The heft of that sentence deluded my 10-11 year old mind. I had found it in some book and it seemed an important enough sentence to get the teacher's attention, and so  many of my school essays be it personal narratives like "My Best Friend" or autobiographical like " Life of a Bovine Creature", began with an opening of "Man is a social animal."

I understand that sentence now in my own way. Human beings seek company, even when it is not needed. Just for the heck of it.
Take me for instance. I was leading  a perfectly peaceful life during the quarantine period. I never felt the need to go out to party or meet people or have dinner together. Whenever I needed to talk, I did enough of that over Phone, texts, Whatsapp, Zoom, Facebook and what not. There was nothing more that I really needed to say to anyone face to face. But once the quarantine orders were lifted what happens ? We started planning on meeting people.

As Covid cases are decreasing in our state and seems to be under control, we have become more braver with meeting people. The fact that it is summer and we can mingle outside in the backyard has helped too. No knowing what the future holds though, who wins, the virus or humans need to socialize.

As Sandip Roy says in this article where he draws a metaphor between the pandemic and the Bengali's favorite "paashbaalish",  will the Bengalis side pillow outlast the pandemic, or will the virus be a steady factor in the life of humans as they go about socializing at less than 6 ft distance.

Now back to food, I have to sheepishly admit that I had no idea what Korean #Gochujang sauce was in the pre-Covid era.🙈
I heard a lot more about it during the lockdown as folks were creating dishes at home, that reminded them of their favorite restaurant joints. Or maybe they were always creating those but I had not paid attention.

Anyway I got a bottle of the Gochujang sauce last week at the grocery store. Since then I have been hooked and finished a bottle of it almost. I made this delicious Chili Garlic Shrimp using some of this sauce and our favorite Sichuan hot sauce. It was super easy and quick to make. Everyone agreed that it was delicious. It is the kind of dish that will help you ease into the "new normal" after blissful months pf "lyaad normal".

I have used Sichuan hot sauce and Gochujang sauce here. However if you don't have them, don't fret. You can use the Indian Chinese Red Chilli Sauce instead. You can also play around with the sauces to get the right note that hits your taste buds. Enjoy!

Chili Garlic Shrimp


Shrimp/Prawns -- about 30 raw shrimp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Paprika - 1/2 tsp
AP Flour - 1 Tbsp
Cornstarch -- 1 Tbsp

Onion - 1 small chopped in thin slices
Garlic - 5-6 cloves minced
Ginger - 1 Tbsp grated
Vegetable Oil/Peanut Oil/Sesame Oil - 4-5 Tbsp

Scallion/Green onion - to garnish

Make the Sauce

Sichuan Hot sauce Or Chilli-Garlic Sauce - 4-5 Tbsp (If you don't have this, use the Indian Chinese Red Chilli Sauce)
Gochujang Sauce - 4 Tbsp (If you don't have this, use a mix of Maggi Hot and sweet + Green chilli sauce + little Vinegar)
Soy Sauce - 1 Tbsp
In a bowl add all of the above and make the sauce. Taste and adjust as per your taste

Start Cooking

Clean the shrimp. If you are using frozen shrimp then defrost by running in water at room temperature. Don't ever use hot water or defrost in microwave. Another option is to put shrimp in a ziploc bag and dunk it in a bowl of water at room temp.

Dry the shrimp. Sprinkle salt and paprika and mix. Dust with flour and cornstarch and coat the shrimp

Heat Oil in a skillet. We will just shallow fry the shrimp so maybe 3-4 Tbsp Oil.

Once the oil is hot, add the shrimp, in a single layer and saute until they turn reddish and cooked. Flip and cook the other side. Shrimp cooks fast, specially the frozen ones.
Remove the shrimp on a plate and keep aside.

If there is oil remaining in the pan, use that. Or else add a little oil.

Once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes.
When you get the aroma of garlic, add the grated ginger. Saute for a couple of minutes until onion is soft

Next goes in the sauce. Stir in everything in the pan together and cook the sauce for a minute or so. Sprinkle little water if necessary.

Now reduce heat and add the shrimp to the pan. Tossing it so that the shrimp is well coated with the sauce.

Switch off gas. Garnish with green onion and serve as main dish or even as appetizers.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Lau Ghonto with Bori and Lau Chingri

BottleGourd with Bori and BottleGourd with Shrimp...

Lau Ghonto Bori diye, Lau Ghonto, Bottlegourd Sabzi with Vadi

Lau Ghonto Bori diye | Bottlegourd Sabzi with Vadi

Lau Ghonto is a popular Bengali vegetarian dish for the summer months made with Bottlegourd that has been chopped fine and garnished with fried Bori. There is also a non-veg version of this dish, Lau Chingri, where fried shrimp is mixed with the dish.

This post was first done in 2008 when I was pregnant with LilSis. Given that my pregnancies were never an easy affair, I don't know how I made a Lau Ghonto and posted a recipe then. The Recipe and photos updated on June 22, 2020.
I have been eating real simple these days, simple food not laced with too many rich spices or garlic and onion seems to have become my favorite. It is still spring here but my food cravings are like those served in my home during the hot summer months.
Summer veggies like Lau(Bengali)/Lauki(Hindi)/Bottle gourd, Parwal, Green mangoes have caught my fancy. These veggies prepared with simple spices and no onion or garlic and a light fish curry is what is staple food, in most Bengali homes in the Gangetic Plains where summer is hot and humid.

Green View from my Kitchen

Is it the green all around that makes me long for these veggies ? Before the days of air conditioned grocery stores and easy availability of exotic veggies, vegetables in the local markets were seasonal in India. So while winter was colored with deep red beet-root, orange carrots and rich red tomatoes, summer was green with deep green striped parwal, mellowed green bottle gourd, vivid rich green of cucumber and smooth green of raw mangoes.

Lau Ghonto Bori diye, Lau Ghonto, Bottlegourd Sabzi with Vadi
Chopped Lau/Bottlegourd

The tender lau or bottle gourd with its soothing green skin soothes the eyes in harsh summer and because of its high water content has a cooling effect and so is one of the preferred veggies in the summer months.
According to ayurveda, the cooked bottlegourd is cooling, diuretic, sedative and anti­bilious(corrects secretion of bile). It gives a feeling of relaxation after eating it. It is rich in essential minerals and fibre.

Lau Ghonto Bori diye, Lau Ghonto, Bottlegourd Sabzi with Vadi

Lau Ghonto

I am sharing this veggie and the dish with Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska who is hosting WHB, originated by Kalyn, this week

The bottle gourd was used in several different kinds of dishes in my home ranging from the dal, the lau-ghonto which I think was made with milk and usually white in color, another lau-ghonto with fish head, the lau ghonto with bori where the dish was garnished with fried moong dal vadis, the lau-chingri where the shrimp was mixed with the dish to dress up the simple homely dish.

The recipe of Lau Bori and Lau Chingri here is as my Ma made it.

Recipe and photos updated on June 22, 2020.

Lau Ghonto with Bori


Lauki/Bottlegourd ~ 3 cups. Peeled and chopped in small pieces. You need to cut the bottlegourd in really small & thin pieces, large chunks are a NO NO.
Tomato ~1 medium finely chopped in small pieces
Green Chilli ~ 3-4 slit through the middle. I use hot Indian Geen Chillies
Ginger - 1" piece

For Tempering

Bay Leaves ~ 2 small
Cinnamon Stick ~ 1” stick
Whole Jeera/Cumin seeds ~ ½ tsp

Wet Masala Paste

Cumin seeds - 1.5 tsp Cumin seeds
Ginger - 1" ginger chopped ~ 1 Tbsp

With a sprinkle of water make a paste of cumin and ginger in a mortar-pestle.

Note: If you cannot make a fresh paste like as I said, then grate the ginger and mix with 1 tsp of Cumin powder to make a paste

Dry Spice powders

Red Chilli Powder ~ 1/2 tsp or according to your spice level. I go with the green hot chillies and do not use any chilli powder.
Turmeric Powder ~ about 1 tsp

Sugar ~ 1/2 tsp or none if you don’t like it sweet
Salt ~ to taste

For garnish

Bori ~ 1/4th Cup of Moong Dal Bori fried and crumbled. If you do not have any Bori, you might skip it. The Bengali Vadis are known as Boris and are small sun dried cones of lentil paste, the shapes are like Hershey's Kisses. Here is a recipe of boris made of Urad Dal. These boris are fried and then added to the dish.
Coriander Leaves ~ a fistful finely chopped

How I Did It

Heat Oil in a Kadhai/Frying Pan.

Fry the Bori/Vadi till it is a nice warm rich brown. Remove and keep aside

Temper the oil with Bay leaf, Cinnamon Stick and Whole Cumin seeds
When the cumin starts sputtering add the finely chopped tomato and green chillies.
Sauté till the tomatoes are soft and mushy with no raw smell.

Add the wet masala paste of ginger-cumin. Saute the masala for 2 minutes. Sprinkle some water if necessary

Add the chopped bottle gourd and mix with the spices. Sauté for 3-4 minutes.
Add Turmeric powder, salt and mix well

Once you have mixed it nicely, cover and cook. Intermittently remove the cover and give it a good stir. You don’t need to add water as bottle gourd releases water on cooking. If the bottlegourd is dried up or not that fresh you may need to add little water while cooking.

When the bottlegourd/lau is fully cooked, add sugar and cook for a minute. The water should have dried up by now and the result would be a dish with no gravy but moist.

Now crumble the fried bori on top
Garnish with fresh coriander leaves

Lau Chingri aka Bottle Gourd with Shrimp

Lau Chingri, Lau Ghonto, Bottlegourd Sabzi with Vadi

Everything is same as the Lau-Bori recipe. Except for the Bori you need about ½ cup of shrimp. Wash the shrimp and mix with a little turmeric and salt and let it marinade for 30 minutes. Fry them to a light yellow and remove and keep aside. Cook Bottlegourd exactly as above. Instead of the bori, mix the shrimp with the bottlegourd at the second last step. Sauté for a minute and you are done.

Other recipes of similar Bengali Lau er Tarkari:

Tetor Dal with BitterGourd and BottleGourd

Trivia: Ektara the most ancient form of string instrument found in the Eastern parts of India, is constructed out of a half of a dried gourd shell serving as the sound-box, with a metal string running right through the middle of the shell. The Ektara was used by the Bauls of Bengal for their folk singing

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Chanar Dalna | Chhanar Dalna - Bengali Style Paneer Curry

Chanar Dalna, Chhanar Dalna, Bengali Paneer Curry, Bengali cottage cheese
Chanar Dalna - Bengali Style homemade paneer curry

Chanar Dalna | Chhanar Dalna 

Chanar Dalna is a typical niramish (vegetarian) Bengali dish where homemade paneer balls or koftas are fried and cooked in a lightly spiced, subtly sweet gravy with potatoes. I have shared my Mother's recipe of Chanar Dalna in this post which is cooked with a fresh ground paste of cumin and ginger.

Every Friday, as far along as I can remember, my Mother kept a fast and therefore did not cook any meat or fish on that day. She herself ate a single one-pot meal of rice and vegetables cooked together with some ghee and salt. But for some reason unknown to me, she felt that one day of not having any protein would render us weak and feeble. Trust me, there was not a sign in my health to make her believe such. But she steadfastly did. And according to Bengalis that protein can never ever come from a "dal" or lentils. It has to be meat, eggs or if those failed then dairy!

Chanar Dalna, Chhanar Dalna, Bengali Paneer Curry, Bengali cottage cheese
Fresh chana simmering in gravy

So, my Mother made Chana or as we say Chhana aka cottage cheese. Diligently. Week after week. She boiled whole milk and squeezed lime juice in it until the milk had a rent and tore apart to form blobs of white cotton like milk solids suspended in a greenish whey. She then drained the whey out on a piece of starched white cloth, usually cut from one of one of her old saris and washed and dried to act as a cheesecloth. That paneer or chhana then rested under the weight of our black stone nora until all the water was squeezed out. She sometimes tried to feed me that raw chana with sugar sprinkled on it, saying it was good for me, but I hated it so very much that she soon gave up that idea.

Instead, she made flat disc shapes from that chhana, shallow fried them golden brown in oil and dunked them in a lightly spices sweetish gravy with potatoes and spice blend.The gravy would always be a thin one, spiced with freshly made paste of cumin and ginger. That niramish chanar dalna with those pillowy soft balls of cottage cheese was a much loved dish from my childhood. If that was how I was supposed to get my protein fix, I was all for it!

Chanar Dalna | Chhanar Dalna - Bengali Style Paneer Curry

Niramish Chanar Dalna - Bengali Style homemade paneer curry

And so Chanar Dalna stayed on as a staple in our home on most Fridays. It would also pop up twice or sometimes thrice in the course of the week but if it was Friday then it was almost sure that Chanar Dalna was on the menu.

I usually make a chanar dalna with store bought paneer as that is easier and quicker. Also, my kids like that paneer a lot, we get really a very good Nanak paneer which is soft and delicious. However I have to agree that they are not the same thing. The Chanar Dalna that my Mother made, with homemade chana or homemade cottage cheese is definitely a dish that Bengalis will find more superiors.

Cumin-Ginger-Green Chilli paste
Today, I re-created the same dish with chana or paneer made at home. I wanted to get the exact flavor of my childhood dish and so instead of using cumin powder, I made a fresh ground paste of cumin and ginger  in my mortar, the quintessential jeere-ada baata, and used that paste as the masala for this dish. I must say that the fresh ground paste played an important role to enhance the flavor of this light curry. I thoroughly enjoyed the subtly sweet Chanar Dalna with rice for dinner today.

The kids thought that there was no need to go the extra mile of making chhana at home!! But sometimes you do things, for your own happiness, and that's fine.

It wasn't a difficult dish to cook, maybe takes bit more time to make. If you are running short of time, you can make the chhana a day ahead and then do the gravy the next, that might make the process easier. Also for an easier version of the dish with store bough Paneer follow my other Chhanar Dalna Recipe.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Kerala Style Egg Roast | Kerala Egg Curry

Kerala Egg Roast, Kerala Egg Curry

Kerala Style Egg Roast | Kerala Egg Curry

This Nadan egg Roast or Kerala homestyle egg curry is a very simple egg curry bursting with flavors. It is a lot like the Bengali Dim Kosha with different spices. I will not say this is the traditional recipe but this is close to what I have tasted.

Many years ago when I lived in Bangalore, was when I first got introduced to the full plethora of South Indian cuisines.

Those were the pre, pre social media days. There were no smart phones and so no photos of food were ever shared with anyone and hence we knew little beyond local food. You ate mostly local and occasionally indulged in the two popular non-local cuisine -Chinese and South Indian. Growing up in small town Bengal, the only South Indian food we knew was Dosa and Idli which the tan-tan-dosawala would make expertly on his black griddle as he went around the shady lanes of our neighborhood at dusk. That along with Sambhar and coconut chutney which my Mother stored in steel tiffin carrier boxes from the dosawala would be an unexpected weekday treat.

Later my experimental Mother would make dosa batter in her Sumeet Mixer and make dosas, which were never as thin and crisp as the dosa walas. However with the fermented batter she would then make Utthapam studded with onion and green chillies and those were excellent. She also made Upma in her own way and called it Nonta Suji. That is where my culinary knowledge ended and that was what we thought everyone living in the south of vindhyas ate -- Dosa, Idli, Sambhar, Uttapam and Upma.

Once I moved to Bangalore, I was introduced to a variety of South Indian cuisines courtesy of the office cafeteria and the various PG aunties I boarded with. What surprise that they never really served dosa at lunch and the vegetarian fare at the office cafeteria in ISRO was mostly boring consisting of rice or a veg pualo, rasam, sambhar, some vegetable (which I never enjoyed) and then yogurt.

The PG aunties had more interesting food. One of them was a Kannada Muslim and she often made Hyderabadi Biryani in a big dekchi which she served in ample amounts with raita. Of all the PG homes I stayed in, the one I loved most was a beautiful home in Indiranagar owned by an elderly Coorgi lady. She was then in her 60's, much older than my mother then, and lived in that house with a little granddaughter and couple of helps. Her family owned a coffee plantation in Coorg and the sons stayed at the plantation. The little girl went to one of Bangalore's popular convent schools and lived with her grandmother.

Oh, how I was in awe of that PG aunty. I admired her energy, her independence and her cozy home. And she had the most delicious dinners to offer, a lot of which was non-vegetarian. I was not at all interested in cooking those days and so I gladly ate what she cooked, praising them, the taste lingering in my memory now for 20 years.

Kerala Egg Roast, Kerala Egg Curry

Spices for Kerala Egg Curry 

She often made appams which she served with a Kerala stew or a Kerala egg curry. She never cooked them in coconut oil and probably added her own Coorgi style to the Kerala dishes, who is to tell, but they were delicious.

I often think of her and her dishes and yesterday searched for a Kerala Egg Curry or what they call a Kerala Egg Roast or Nadan Egg Roast. The problem with recipes these days is, you search for one thing and the ones that come on top are not the ones who are really authentic but ones with good SEO. I sieved through them and wasn't convinced with all the garam masala they were asking to add, I mean it was like our Bengali dim kosha, where was that distinct flavor that Aunty added coming from. If I closed my eyes and thought I could inhale some black peppercorns and maybe fennel.

So I followed Sailu's Kitchen recipe, one of the blogs I trust for South Indian recipes and then skipped the Garam masala powder. Instead I added freshly ground Coriander powder, Fennel powder and Black Pepper powder. No coconut. Absolutely no coconut necessary.

As the egg curry cooked, I could smell the flavor that lingered around the cool dining room in Coorgi Aunty's house, or so I imagined.
A lot of memory rushed in, Aunty's little granddaughter singing "Amazing Grace" on some evenings; the "Chicken Curry For Soul" books I would love to read in my bedroom after dinner; her always tidy and clean kitchen which she wiped down every night and a lesson I took to heart; and a sadness at my younger software techie self who never took the time to learn how dishes were created and who got so busy to never get time to meet Aunty after moving out.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Pomfret Vindaloo | Pomfret Curry

I rarely buy bone-in fish pieces as the kids don't like them. But I do miss them. Recently one of my neighbors got some pomfret for me from the fish store and I was overjoyed

I wasn't sure what to make with them as the fish was already cut in steak pieces. I like to do a whole baked pomfret but this time I was swaying between a curry and bake. Then I asked the neighbor who got me the fish what she was planning to make. She is a Mangalorean and said she will just fry them with a red masala paste, which basically has red chilli powder, turmeric powder, cumin powder,  little garam masala and some vinegar.

That set the ball rolling.

Recently the husband-man had made a pork vindaloo which was fiery and delicious and I decided to use the same spice base. Following the same masala and recipe I made a pomfret curry which I will call a pomfret vindaloo. It was spicy and good. Even the fried pieces of pomfret with this masala paste was delicious.

Pomfret Vindaloo | Pomfret Curry

Pomfret Fish -- cut in steak size pieces. I had 6 pieces

For the Masala paste

Dried Kashmiri chile peppers -- 8
Cinnamon stick - 1"
Cumin seeds -- 1 tsp
Cloves - 4 whole
Whole black peppercorns - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder
White vinegar - 2 Tbsp
salt to taste

For Gravy

Onion - 1 whole chopped
Garlic -- 6 cloves minced, or more to taste
Fresh ginger root - 1"

Green Chilli peppers - 4 cut into strips
Vegetable oil -- 2 Tbsp
White Vinegar - about 1 Tbsp
Salt - to taste

Prep the masala

Make a dry powder with all spices under Masala Paste. Make a thick paste with the white vinegar and little water.

Marinate and Fry the fish

Now smear the fish pieces with this masala paste and keep aside for 30 mins.

Heat enough oil for shallow frying the fish.
Shallow fry the fish, approx. 3 mins on each side.

Note: I realized later that you can make this curry without frying the fish and adding the marinated fish to the curry and cooking it there too. You decide your choice.

Make the Gravy

Now we don't need this much oil for cooking the gravy. So we will remove most of it keeping only 1-2 Tbsp for cooking.

To the hot oil add the garlic and 2 green chilies. When you get the flavor of garlic then add the onion and ginger. Saute until onion is browned. Add the fish pieces and any remaining masala paste from marinade. Add a little water for gravy and bring gravy to simmer. Reduce heat and cook. Add salt to season.

Now stir in the remaining 2 Green Chilli and 1 Tbsp of vinegar. Cook uncovered until the gravy has thickened and oil rises to the surface. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola -- spicy prawn pate

Chingri Bhorta, Chingri Mola

Chingri Mola | Chingri Bhorta

Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola is a spicy prawn paste, made with tiny, small shrimps cooked in mustard oil and then mashed with green chillies and raw onion. This recipe is my adapted version of the original.

This Chingri Mola or Chingri Bhorta is a huge favorite with me and my older daughter. It is shrimp so what is not to love honestly.

As simple as this dish is, it was not something that my Mother made. Bhortas or baatas, which means anything that is mashed or made into a paste, was not very popular in our urban home, except for the few vegetables that were steamed and then mashed. So say like, aloo seddho/aloomakha or mashed potatoes, kumro bhaate aka mashed pumpkin.

Most of the baata or bhortas in Bengali cuisine is attributed to the Bengalis from East Bengal or Bangals. And that is why whatever baatas I have had is at my in-law's home, be it Kaanchakolar khosha baaata or Phulkopi or Mulo r paata bata

The Bangals, or the Bengalis who immigrated from Bangladesh during or just before partition, are known for their distinctive cooking strategies. They are also known for their enterprising habit of using every bit of vegetables and fish in a dish and not wasting even the peels. I am not sure why people from this region of Bengal are more prone to making baatas etc while the folks from West Bengal are not.

It could be that the immigrant Bengalis were more careful about not wasting food and making the most of what they had. It could also be because Bangladesh was a river state with frequent flooding, so people tried to make most of the vegetables they got during those periods of rain and flood. In both situations, the idea was to stretch to the limits of what little you had.

This particular Chingri Bhorta or Chingri Mola however is not something that my MIL made either. I first heard of it from a friend who described the "Chingri r Mola" that he had at his friend's house in Midnapore, West Bengal. It was made with tiny, small shrimps in their shells, too tiny to remove the shells or tails. These were cooked in mustard oil and then mashed with fingers. Slivers of chopped raw onion and green chillies were then added to them and mashed in together. The friend reminisced how delicious the Chingri Mola tasted and how his friend's mother who pressed the tiny shrimps with her fingers into a coarse paste had magic in those fingers.

This sounded so exciting that I started cooking this chingri mola at home. However the one major thing that we lacked here was the tiny shrimp. We only had the bigger prawns here. So I  adapted the recipe a little. I use medium sized shrimp and make a coarse paste in the mixie. Of course the flavor of those tiny shrimps caught from the local river is missing but we make do with what we get don't we ?
I have also added a second step where I  saute the shrimp paste in mustard oil with nigella seeds, green chillies and onion to make it drier. I think this definitely boosts the flavor and also makes it a dish which you could serve at parties.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Tomato Kasundi -- adapted from Leela Majumdar

Tomato Kasundi

Tomato kasundi | Tomato Kashundi

This Kasundi is great as a dip for anything or a dressing for your cucumber-carrot salad. It has more of a tangy tomatoe-y taste than a mustard-y taste. Be generous with the mustard oil and you won't be disappointed.

Aam Kashundi

This Tomato Kasundi recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbook of all times. It's in Bengali by my favorite author Leela Majumdar. For those who don't know about her, she is a very famous author of Bengali literature and most loved for her writings for the young adults. Her books like "Podipishi'r Bormi Bakso" or "Monimala" are legends in their own times. Her memoir "Paakdondi" still remains in the list of my favorite books. She also happens to be Satyajit Ray's aunt.

I am not a big time cookbook reader. Never was. My recipes are mostly from friends, families and now blogs. My mother too never had a cookbook as far as I can remember. Cookbooks were not the "in thing" in those days. However she used to often copy recipes from magazines like Jugantor or Sananda and write them down in a diary. We both loved reading the recipes in colorful pages of Sananda or Femina those days. And of course the Personal columns :-p

The first cookbook I ever bought was just before I moved to US. It was a bengali cookbook by Bela De, very popular in those times. It had lots of recipes and was very cut and dry but useful. The recipes were written just like my Mother would say if you asked her how she made a particular dish -- a little of ginger and some cumin seeds. It gave you a basic framework and you took it from there.

Along with Bela De, I had bought another book, not because I wanted to learn the recipes (though they are excellent) but because I was a(still am) huge fan of the author Lila Majumdar. By then I had read all of her writings and when I landed one afternoon at the Dasgupta book stores in College Street asking if I had skipped reading any of Lila Majumdar's books, they gave me her "Ranna r Boi".

To be honest, I wasn't too enthusiastic. I had hoped for an unpublished manuscript maybe. But then I started reading it without the intention of cooking and started loving it. Her words in the introduction of that book became my mantra.  She wrote recipes in a conversational tone, again missing out on the measurements, but they were honest. They told you about substituting ingredients and things like "You can use this instead of this but it won't taste as good :-D". I read through that book often when I felt homesick in those early days in a foreign country. I cooked from it too but mostly I just read those recipes for pleasure.

"If you have to eat to survive then why not try to eat well. And eating well  means eating food that looks good, tastes good, is nutritious, inexpensive, easy and takes little time to cook "

I was craving for some Aam Kasundi or Mango kashundi  but did not have any mangoes. So I settled on Tomato Kasundi. I have adapted this Tomato Kasundi recipe from the book. The ingredients are as she suggested. It made for a very delicious dip. This Kasundi has more of a tangy tomatoe-y taste than a mustard-y taste. Be generous with the Mustard Oil and you will not be disappointed.