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Recreating Memories: Green Mango Chutney

The smell of shredded green mangoes and grated ginger enveloped my 7 ft x 10 ft kitchen, as it cooked down to a crystalized concoction stimulated by the addition of heaping tablespoons of cane sugar. My right eye was burning, the fingers that touched the dry red chillies had also touched my eye, but the little spark of heat was indispensable to the chutney.

I added a handful of golden raisins to the mix and as I watched them slowly plump up, I thought about the time that this chutney traversed the Atlantic with me. Of all the memories weaved during my last visit to Kolkata, a plastic PearlPet jar filled with this sunset yellow chutney, cooked by ma, is closest to my heart.

Green Mango Chutney

Green Mango Chutney


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Summer Vibes: Watermelon Popsicles

What’s summer without admiring the hue of your tongue after sucking on a fluorescent popsicle, or licking the juice, dribbling down your forearm, after biting into a succulent slice of watermelon?

Watermelon popsicles with a hint of lime and mint.

Watermelon popsicles with a hint of lime and mint.

Add a splash of white rum to the mix, before freezing, for watermelon mojitos on a stick!


Chop the Top: Beet Greens

I am still working with the beets that I bought from the farmers’ market last Saturday. My focus this time was on the beet greens, which I have always thrown away until yesterday. I read online that beet greens are packed with vitamins A, B6, C and K along with antioxidants and fibre.

So I chopped the greens, stem and all, and sautéed it in olive oil that was flavored with a grated garlic clove and hot green chili. I added salt along with two teaspoons of ground poppy seeds and a teaspoon of ground mustard seeds. My husband’s discarded Krups coffee grinder always comes in handy when I need to grind spices. 

I cooked this for a while and added about half a cup of water during the process. Once the water evaporated I turned the stove off and let it cool. Then I blended the concoction in my mini food chopper. I served this with basmati rice; this experimental recipe is a keeper.

The use of shorshe (mustard)-posto (poppy) combo in a recipe is unique to Bengali cooking, I think .The addition of mustard introduced a distinctive pungent taste –– highly desirable to a Bengali palate –– to the greens. The use of poppy seeds gave the dish a creamy texture and of course it had that gorgeous ruby color from the stems.

Beet greens with ground poppy and mustard seeds

Beet greens with ground poppy and mustard seeds


Pretty Pumpkin Blossoms: Flowers to Fritters

Look what I found at the Davis Square farmers’ market, in Somerville, yesterday!

Pretty pumpkin blossoms

Pumpkin blossom bouquet

I was super excited to chance upon this pretty bunch. They were fresh, had a sweet smell, and were selling for 4$ a bunch. Back home, in Kolkata, we coat the blossoms in a batter made of a mixture of chickpea flour and rice flour before deep frying them. Tastes great with some dal and rice.

A Japanese lady was buying some fresh green beans from the same stall and she wanted to know what I would do with the blossoms. After I told her the recipe that we usually abide by, she said she prepares tempura batter for the blossoms and deep fries them. She suggested I could stuff the blossoms first, with stuffing of my choice, and then fry them.

“The vegetables you get here are good and fresh,” she said.

Then she whispered into my ears, “And cheap too, you know.”

See, this is one of the reasons I love visiting a farmers’ market. You not only get to interact with the farmers and know where your produce comes from but also get a chance to interact with your fellow buyers.

Before I left, I got a big glass of freshly squeezed lemonade with raspberry and mint at another stall and a maple bacon donut from the Union Square Donuts’ stall.

I got back home feeling happy.

I knew what we would be having for dinner: moong dal with vegetables, basmati rice and pumpkin blossom fritters. I decided on making fritters because that would give me the option to shallow fry them, instead of deep frying. I picked ten flowers from the bunch and washed them and let them dry. I followed this recipe, but used only two tablespoons of chickpea flour, half an onion and added one tablespoon of rice flour. Didn’t add the baking powder as well. They came out crisp on the outside and soft but perfectly cooked on the inside.

Pumpkin blossom fritters

Pumpkin blossom fritters

Another reason I love visiting  farmers’ markets is that they remind me so much of the sabzi (vegetable) bazaars back home.

A stall at a vegetable bazaar in Kolkata.

A stall at a vegetable bazaar in Kolkata. Spotted the pumpkin?


Invincible Cabbage: Potato, Peas and Cabbage Fry

A cabbage will continue to survive, even after being in the refrigerator for a week, while its peers have begun to show explicit signs of decay. I had half a head of cabbage, the other half was used in a noodle preparation, for almost two weeks now. I let it be, hoping that it will eventually lose its battle against time. I would then silently lay it to rest in the trash can.

Yesterday I realized that I was the one who was fighting a losing battle. The cabbage hardly showed any signs of withering, apart from a few black specks. So I chopped an oversized potato, which was on the verge of sprouting, defrosted some supposedly sweet green peas and stir fried them with the now shredded cabbage — an often cooked dish in Bengali households.

I added green chilies and cumin seeds to the smoky mustard oil, along with freshly grated ginger. When they began to crackle and splatter, I added the cubed potato pieces and fried them till they took on a faded brown shade. I introduced the crunchy cabbage shreds at this point along with the emerald stud-like green peas. The addition of cumin powder imparts a surprisingly mellow flavor to the dish and turmeric bestows it with the yellow hue. And as a final touch — a generous sprinkling of aromatic ghee and garam masala.

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Tunisian stew to beat the winter blues

I needed some color to brighten up this cold, snowy day. Red, green, purple, yellow and crimson — I was craving Spring!

But for now I had to make do with yellow onions, red and green peppers, purple cabbage and crimson tomatoes. They worked their magical hues to transition into this warm concoction called Chakchouka or Shakshouka, a North African dish. I came across the recipe on the NYT website and had to give it a try.


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In memory of my grandparents’ house

The afternoon rooftop sojourns in my grandparents’ palatial house remain to be one of my fondest memories. The feel of the uneven cemented floor against my bare feet evoked the sensation of freedom from the mundane routine life in the city.

When my ma and grandma would retire for an afternoon nap, preceded by a scrumptious lunch, I would tiptoe to the second floor — the space that I reigned for the rest of the afternoon. I would climb the cold rust-colored flight of cement stairs to cross the narrow hallway leading to the bedroom.

A king-size bed on one corner of the room housed pillows enough to rest half a dozen heads. The batik printed bedcover had a dusty smell to it — evidence that the maid had ignored my grandmother’s orders to spread out a new one.

Four large windows flooded the room with sunlight, forming a blind-like pattern of light and shade on the bed. I would rest my head on the warm pillows and fight hard not to fall asleep. The droning ceiling fan, sounding like a distant lullaby, would add to the lull. I would gaze at the neighbor’s sprawling unkempt garden where a troop of monkeys in the mango tree would entertain me briefly.

When thirsty, I would reach out for the black earthen pitcher on the bedside table. A steel glass sat upside down on the mouth of the pitcher. The gulps of ice-cold water down my throat would finally break the spell of indolence.

My attention would then be diverted to the concrete shelf, lining the wall on one side of the room. Rusty aluminum trunks and wicker boxes of varying sizes lined the shelf. They housed my mother’s childhood memories — her dolls, books and dresses. Dolls that I often played with; books that I would eventually read and dresses that were redundant. I would ferret through ma’s belongings to get a feel of what she used to be like as a child.

But it was not the room, but the roof adjacent to it that enticed me the most. The brown door, which led to the roof, would thrust me to build a sea of memories that would last me a lifetime.

I would spread a mat on the floor and lie down studying the sky above. I would engage in a staring contest with the sun. I had clouds for allies. They would float by and obstruct the potent sun now and then, bringing relief to my eyes.

Tired, defeated and hungry from the contest, I would run to the room to get the orange resting at the bedside table. I enjoyed the occasional squirts of juice that irritated my eye while peeling the fruit. Slowly chewing on the orange slices I would extend my feet off the mat to touch the scorching floor. The floor which had been basking in the afternoon sun. I would begin counting to see how long I could bear the burn. I had to almost always stop at 20.

Bored, I would move on to a new game — I would be a schoolteacher just like my grandmother. Ma’s dolls from the wicker boxes played the role of my unruly students.

Next, I would don the role of a runner, like my mother used to be during her high-school years. The roof transformed into my running track. I would run from one end to the other, as fast as I could.

It has been 14 years since I last visited what was once my grandparents’ home. Last week when ma called to inform me that the new owners have razed it to the ground, the feel of my apartment’s cold wooden floor against my bare feet seemed unbearable.


My grandmother, like yours, was a treasure trove of recipes. Her simple alu borir jhal — potatoes and lentil dumplings coated with a spicy mustard paste  — is something that holds a special place in my heart. For the past few days, I have been reminiscing about the good times I had at my grandparents’ place and cooking one of her recipes just seemed the right thing to do.

alu-borir jhal

Heat mustard oil in a pot and add some kalonji seeds and a few green chillies slit into halves. Once you hear them crackle, add cubed potatoes and saute them for a while. Now add the lentil dumplings along with some water and salt and let it cook till they are soft. For the final touch add a teaspoon of mustard paste and a generous drizzle of mustard oil. Enjoy!