Puja memories…

ghugniGrowing up in Bombay, there were some dishes that only seemed to make their appearance during Puja. Almost as if those recipes would magically appear during those five days of October, and then retreat away into some misty mountain top – much like the myth of Maa Durga! That theory was clearly a product of my comics-addled brain, but not being in Calcutta, we would not be exposed to the moghlai porota, or the ghugni off-season. My mother would make the chops and fish fries at home from time to time, but I have no memory of eating ghugni outside of Puja time.

So, when we added ghugni to our BHDC menu, the main memory I was going for was the snacky variety we ate at the Puja Pandal. I’m not quite sure if there’s a homier version of that dish but when we brought it on to the menu, my aim was to get the moreish taste so much of the world’s street food gets right. The dish is really simple and satisfying at its heart. Cooked yellow peas spiced with the classic bhaja moshla (freshly roasted and powdered chili and cumin powder in the main, but I add coriander to this version too) topped with onions, chilli, and dried mango powder. Comfort food, tang and spice, rolled into one. And the beauty – as with so many lentil dishes goes – is that works wonderfully with meat as well. Apart from the spices and the toppings that make you keep going back for the next spoonful, the key to a good ghugni is that the peas have to ben somewhat al dente. Obviously not undercooked, but a mushy gloop of peas could be many things – a ghugni it is not.

For those who have a memory of taking trains in the days before railway catering, or just for a touch of whimsy, we serve it in tiffin carrier bowls. And the response so far – to the dish and the presentation – has been very good!



Recipe for vegetarian ghugni (Adapted from a great recipe I found on the bongcookbook.com):

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

For the first cook of the peas:

  • 2 cups yellow peas (also called white peas/ white vatana in Indian grocery stores)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 5 tsp bhaja moshla (for this one I dry roast equal parts cumin seeds, coriander seeds and kashmiri chilis till fragrant and then grind them to a fine powder)
  • 2 inch knob of ginger finely cut
  • 6-8 green chilis – whole, split
  • 2 medium potatoes diced

For the finishing cook

  • 1 tbsp mustard oil
  • 2 tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp of red chili powder
  • 2 tbsp of bhaja moshla
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Cooking method:

Soak the peas overnight in enough water to cover them – wash them out the next day once you are ready to cook them

First cook

  • Add the soaked peas (should have grown to 2 times the size), potatoes, and the ingredients of the first cook with twice as much water – enough to cover them properly – and pressure cook it (about 15-20 minutes from the time the cooker starts to whistle). The peas should be about 80% done here i.e. it should not squish easily between your fingers.
  • Drain the peas and potatoes from the water, reserve the stock.
  • Some of the pea shells soften and come off in the cooking – fish them out with a slotted spoon (they make for a great, healthy snack!)

You can cook it more gradually on an open flame, but I found a short pressure cook did not mush up the peas and was far more time efficient.

Second cook

  • Heat the mustard oil in a heavy bottomed pan, when the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds
  • Add the onions and cook them down till translucent
  • Add the tomatoes and dry spices and fry together till the oil separates.
  • Add the drained, par-cooked chickpeas and potatoes, and cook it at high heat for 5-6 minutes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes then on a low simmer with some of the stock reserved from the first cook, till the peas are fully cooked through, but hold their form and can be bitten through. The gravy should be loose but not watery – like a thick coating.

Final garnish

  • Finely chopped onion and green chili, marinated in lime juice
  • Pinch of amchur (dried mango powder)
  • A little sprinkle of the bhaja moshla – if you like a bit more heat in your ghugni (I always do!)

An ode to the Mughals – Chicken Rezala Tarts


The word ‘Moghlai’ that features prominently on so many restaurant boards back home conjures up images of a rich, heavy meal followed closely by Antacids, in many of us. While it’s understandable, that is a shame. While there is a tendency towards richness in that cuisine, it often gets short shrift for the oily, over-spiced onion and tomato concoctions so many restaurants serve up as an excuse for Moghlai food.

But a well-executed Moghlai dish is a thing of joy. From its Central Asian roots, it grew into a deep and complex cuisine with its kebabs, koftas, pulaos, a range of curries, and some unfairly delicious things done to breads. Don’t plan on eating a Moghlai meal before a run, but be prepared to taste some very subtle spices, a range of sauces and flavours in meats and vegetables.

The Chicken Rezala is an offspring of this cuisine and very popular in Calcutta with its rich tradition of Moghlai food that travelled there with the Nawabs from Avadh. It is a white gravy cooked in yoghurt and cashew paste (sans poppy seeds in Singapore, which is a part of the recipe back home), and we love it because it looks and tastes different to the many of the more onion and tomato centric dishes. It is a white creamy sauce and has sweet and floral notes with the saffron, kewra (screw pine) essence that plays against the garam masala spices. It is normally had with roomali rotis or as an accompaniment to a biryani, but we decided to give it a modern twist by serving it as a filling in an open tart.

The recipe for the Rezala and the tarts:

Chicken Rezala


  • 400 gms Chicken – ideally thigh and leg pieces cut into 2 inch pieces (for the tart, else use bone-in pieces and keep it intact if using just for a rezala curry)


  • ½ cup boiled onion paste (boiling the onion before making a paste makes it sweeter)
  • ¾ cup Yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  • ½ cup whole unroasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds (if you can use poppy seeds where you live!)
  • Whole garam masala
  • 1 inch cassia bark / cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cardamom pods
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 small strip of mace
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 teaspoons coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon kewra water
  • 4-5 strands of saffron soaked in a table spoon of warm milk, and ground to release the colour
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt and sugar to taste


  • Soak the cashews and poppy seeds in 2 tablespoons of water and after about half an hour, grind them in a smooth paste in the food processor
  • Combine the boiled onion paste, ginger garlic paste, and yoghurt with salt and the white pepper powder and marinate the chicken pieces for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
  • Heat the ghee and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan add the whole garam masala pieces and fry them gently till aromatic
  • Add the marinated chicken pieces to the pan, fry to seal the chicken – about 10 minutes
  • Add the coriander powder, cashew (and poppy seed) paste, salt and sugar to the pan, coat the chicken pieces evenly, and cook on medium heat for another 15-20 minutes with a closed lid, stirring occasionally
  •  Open the lid, add the kewra water and saffron, and reduce the sauce to a creamy consistency for the tart filling (if you’re making just a rezala curry with rotis, you may want to keep it a little runny)


The tart shells


  • 200gms plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 120gm salted butter, chilled and diced
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ½ tbsp ice water


  • Put flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Add butter and process till the mixture reaches a crumbly texture. Add the egg yolk and add a little ice water at a time to bring the dough together (you may not need the full tablespoon of ice water). Make a disc with the dough, wrap in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes
  • Cut out the dough in portions and roll it out to about 2mm thick between 2 sheets of parchment paper
  • Carefully ease the dough into 3 inch diameter tart pans, ease it into the flutes and the base evenly with some overhang
  • Prick the base of the tarts with a fork. Run the roller over the tart edge to remove the extra dough. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 3
  • Put the tarts in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, and then check for a golden crust. If it’s not quite done, give it another 2 minutes at a time till they are done
  • You can save the tarts in an airtight container for up to a day – we assemble them pretty much fresh, with the chicken rezala pieces and gravy, and top it with some chopped spring onions.


An old favourite – reimagined….

I had earlier posted about a Kosha Mangsho pie – a dish we had served at one of our supper club evenings that had gone down very well. There were Aussies at that meal of course, and apparently if an Aussie doesn’t like a meat pie, he or she may have their passport revoked! Jokes aside though, some of our other guests were looking for a lower-carb option, and hence we decided to take the chops route, like we do with our Kolhapuri mutton, for a modern, Western style of the plating.

The Kosha Mangsho (roughly translated, mutton with a thick gravy), done well is a thing of beauty, and while we didn’t grow up having this much at home – my grandmother and mother preferring to cook the healthier, paatla jhol (or the more ‘soupy’ mutton curry). This was clearly a treat when we would eat out. It is dark, almost black, and the proof of its richness for me is that when I overdo it – especially in my recent advancing years – is that I need a Gelusil soon after.

I find the key to a good Kosha Mangsho is to rely on the main stars of the dish – the mutton, the browned onions that form the base (called beresta), the basic masalas, and patient, step-by-step cooking. That’s it. No messing around with too many other spices, tomatoes or any other additions. And when it comes out right, it is a lovely, thick brown-black gravy with all the flavours of the mutton, the heat from the spices and the sweetness from the caramelised onions locked in. It normally gets served with a nice dose of luchis (deep fried bread)/ rice / chapattis to deal with the richness, but we decided to combine it with a fresh beetroot raita (mixed with yoghurt) panna cotta to cut the richness, along with a coriander and mint sauce and a beetroot puree. The flavors and the colors seemed to come together nicely for me and from the reactions from our guests.



The recipe :

Kosha mangsho chops


  • 1 kg mutton (kid) chops – typically 2 racks of ribs with 16 ribs in total for 8 double rib portions in all, cleaned and frenched.

For the marinade:

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 inch ginger
  • 2 green chillies
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp mustard oil

Whole spices for garam masala:

  • 4-5 green cardamoms
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon (1 inch each)
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8-10 peppercorns


  • 6-7 medium sized onions – sliced and caramelised with a little sugar to a deep brown colour (onions should deep brown – almost black, but soft and not burnt)

Other Spices

  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2 green chilies – sliced lengthwise
  • 3 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp of cumin powder
  • Salt and sugar to taste
  • Mustard oil as per requirement



Make a smooth paste of the onions, turmeric, garlic, ginger and green chillies, salt and a little sugar. Marinate the mutton chops with yoghurt, the spice paste, salt and the 2 teaspoons of mustard oil for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator

The cook:

Heat mustard oil in a pressure cooker or thick cast iron vessel, add the bay leaves and the whole garam masala spies till they sputter and release their aroma. Add the 2 additional sliced green chillies. Add the marinated mutton (just the chops, not the marinade) and seal the chops quickly on a high heat (in batches if it crowds the vessel). Add the fried onions, turmeric, cumin and coriander powder, and mix well. Season some more with salt and sugar and taste.

Add about a cup of water to the bowl with the remaining marinade in the bowl, mix it and pour it over the mutton and onions. In a pressure cooker, make sure they cover the mutton (if required, place them flesh side down in the liquid – or they’ll dry up). Pressure cook for 20 minutes / slow cook in a covered heavy vessel for 3-4 hours, adding little liquid from time to time to make sure it doesn’t dry up.

Get ready for plating:

Leave the chops refrigerated in the curry overnight (like a post-cook brine!) and the flavours develop nicely. On the day of the dinner, heat it gently in the microwave to loosen the gravy, take out the chops and then remove the bay leaves and the larger pieces of garam masala. Whizz the gravy in the blender to create a smooth sauce. I have tried to strain it, but I find I loose too much of that wonderful onion and prefer the thicker sauce.

Heat the chops (gently, else they will fall off the rib bones) and plate it with a spoonful of the sauce.

Beetroot raita panna cotta:


  • 2 large beetroots / 3 medium beetroots
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 3 gelatin sheets
  • Salt and sugar to taste


Peel and cook through the beetroots (in the microwave or I prefer to pressure-cook them), whizz in the blender to create a thick pulp. Season with salt and sugar and save some of this in a squeeze tube for plating as a puree (about 2-3 tablespoons)

In a saucepan, add the remaining seasoned beetroot pulp, the yogurt and cumin powder – taste and adjust the seasoning (go easy on the sugar as the beetroot will bring a fair bit of sweetness). Measure out the mix – should be about 500 ml (add a little more yoghurt to bring it up to the measure if required). Start heating up the beetroot-yogurt mix at a low heat. The ratio is 250 ml of liquid to 1.5 gelatin sheets if you want to divide or multiply.

Cut up the 3 gelatin sheets into strips and add to the cold water to soften them. Once they are soft, squeeze them out and add it to the heated beetroot-yogurt mix. Stir till the gelatin dissolves.

Brush the cups of a silicon mould sheet / aluminum cups (use relatively small moulds – about 2-3 tablespoons of liquid) very lightly with vegetable oil. Pour the mix in the moulds, and refrigerate for about 8 hours for the panna cotta to set.

Mint sauce:


  • ½ cup mint leaves (just the leaves – no stalks)
  • ¼ cup coriander leaves (just the leaves – no stalks)
  • 1-2 green chilies
  • ½ inch piece of ginger
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and Sugar to taste


Combine all the ingredients in the small blender vessel and blend into a smooth sauce. Decant into a squeeze tube for plating later.

Combine all the three ingredients – the chops, the beetroot raita panna cotta and plate  – with the beetroot and mint sauces – dots / splashes, go crazy!


When life hands you coconuts….

Priya has been convalescing these past few weeks, and apparently the path to her wellness is flooded with coconut water, and ergo, the sidewalks littered with coconut shells. I hence decided to use a couple of said shells to satisfy a hankering for some seafood and to cook something that used to be a specialty of my grandmother – Daab Chingri (Prawns cooked in tender coconut).

In this recipe, the prawns are mixed with the spices and condiments – paanch phoron (a Bengali five spice mix) and shorshe baata (ground mustard) – and slow cooked with the prawns inside the sealed coconut shell, for a wonderful coastal version of dum biryani or tagine cooking. My grandmother used to tell me stories of how they would seal up the coconut, tuck it inside the embers of the charcoal fire in the kitchen and get on with the rest of their chores – and by the time they were done – voila! Delicious Daab Chingri. I cannot begin to imagine what that would have tasted like, with her knack for cooking, the fresh produce in her village and the charcoal flavours seeping into the coconut, but my version slow cooked in the daab , in our oven wasn’t half bad either….



My recipe for Daab Chingri:

For the shorshe baata (mustard paste):

Soak 1 tablespoon mustard seeds in 2-3 tablespoons warm water for 30 minutes to an hour (longer is also ok but at least for 30 minutes). Add 1 raw green chili to the now-softened mustard seeds, and grind into a paste in the food processor (you’ll need an Indian processor that does wet grinding here to do the job) or the traditional Indian grinding stone and pestle (shil noda for the Bengalis)


  • 1 large tender coconut (daab) – get the vendor to cut open a clean opening at the top and give you the lid; take the water out (for a refreshing drink!), and the flesh scooped out and finely chopped to be used in the dish
  • 500 grams medium-sized prawns, cleaned and de-shelled
  • Salt and Sugar to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons mustard paste (see step above)
  • 2 green chilies
  • 1 medium onion paste
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp paanch phoron (ready mix you will get in most Indian provision stores, with a Bengali / Bangladeshi clientele)
  • 1.5 tbsps mustard oil
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil


  • Pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees, gas mark 3. Cut the prawns into 2-3 small pieces each (depending on the size), mix with the chopped tender coconut flesh, salt, turmeric powder, 2 teaspoons of mustard oil and set aside for 15-20 minutes as you finish the other steps.
  • Cook down the onion, ginger and garlic paste with the vegetable oil (to avoid too much mustard flavor – if you don’t mind, knock yourself out and use mustard oil for this too) till they are soft, mixed together, and have lost the raw smell.
  • Heat the remaining mustard oil and add the paanch phoron once the oil is hot – remove from the flame right away as it will start sputtering immediately. (be careful not to overheat it as the fenugreek seeds in the paanch phoron tends to burn quickly and turn bitter).
  • Slit the fresh green chilies lengthwise, and combine the marinated prawns, shorshe baata (mustard paste), onion, garlic and ginger paste, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and the mustard oil with the tempered paanch phoron in a bowl and stuff this mix into the empty daab (tender coconut) shell.
  • Seal the coconut with the lid and aluminum foil around it and place it in a roasting tray filled with a couple of inches of water (to create steam in the oven and not let the coconut shell burn) and place it in the centre of the oven.
  • Let it cook in the oven for 45 minutes. Take it out and check – depending on the size of the tender coconut and therefore, its thickness, the prawns should either be close to being done or be still par cooked with a strong raw mustard taste. If it needs more time, put it in for another 30 minutes till done. Then switch off the oven and keep the coconut in the still-hot oven for another 30 minutes to an hour – the prawns will keep combining with the flavours in the shell and soak up all the coconutiness of the shell over this time. Serve with steamed rice.

At the last supper club, we added the Bengali tomato chutney to the plating which complemented the pungency of the mustard very well, as was evidenced by the enthusiastic feedback and speed at which the contents of the coconut was emptied! 🙂



Three generations in the railways….

My mum sometimes jokes that my generation – my sister and me – sadly broke the three generation run my family has had serving the Indian railways. First, my great grandfather who served in the then, British-run railway as a station master in present-day Bangladesh, my grandfather who worked across both the British India and Indian railways, and my mother who also worked her entire career in the Indian railway medical services.

My dad spent pretty much sixty years living in Railway houses (or quarters as they were called), moving across various parts of West Bengal and Bihar with my grand father and then we all lived in one of the famous Railway ‘colonies’.

Think my Dadu (grandpa) would have been amused if I told him we can’t seem to string two sentences together in a business meeting without using the word ‘platform’…because when he said ‘building a platform’, he meant it in simpler and more literal terms! (He was a key member of the team that built the Kharagpur train station platform – still one of the longest in the world).


Model of the first locomotive that ran in India – nicknamed a ‘Bloomer’

Our holidays were always punctuated with a train journey at either end. I can still feel the excitement over ordering the egg curry on the 1-up and 2-down train we would take to and from Calcutta, and the excitement as the train pulled into Howrah station, as I was about to be spoilt rotten by my grandma, grandpa and Mama (uncle) over the holidays. But it was always the train journey and the pulling into Howrah that marked the start of that yearly gastronomic adventure. The tiffin carriers with mutton curry, puris, and snacks we carried onto the train (in case, heaven forbid we ran out of food!), and then all the snacks and meals on the train and even more importantly, all the wonderful food from the platforms! The puri bhajis, the omlette sandwiches, the cutlets, the bhajiyyas….

Maybe three generations of being in and around trains and railway platforms will do that to you, but even now, I get these Pavlovian hunger pangs every time I  get on a train for a halfway long journey. Maybe I should see someone about that!

Kathi rolls


For a recent get together with friends I made my version of the kathi rolls from Kolkata. I have spoken earlier about Kolkata kathi rolls vs. the Mumbai frankie and still maintain that both are quite different and tasty in their own right.

The filling in my rolls is made of chicken, methi (fenugreek leaves) and spinach and spiced with kashmiri chillies, the 3C’s – clove, cardamom and cinnamon, and coriander seeds. For the wrap, I made it using a combination of plain flour, whole wheat flour and an egg. And while cooking, I smeared beaten egg on the roll on one side and then flipped it over and cooked it,  giving softness and added flavour to the rolls. Finally, the beautiful looking rolls were done by Aniruddha!

My best memory of kathi rolls in Kolkata is at a shop that Ani’s friend Indro had taken us to in Gariahat and what I remember most of those rolls is the heat from the filling inside – mouth-wateringly good! I kept mine more mild given the audience but my original recipe has at least 3 more chillies than I had used. Yowzer!


Chelo kebab and Iranian rice


One of the things I enjoy most about cooking is the wonderful diversions you go down when figuring out a recipe and the surprises that await you at the end of those rabbit holes. I had one such experience when I wanted to recreate the Chelo Kebab recipe that made Peter Cat the institution it is (and a dish Priya and I had enjoyed at Copper Chimney too). But all Google searches for Chelo kebab recipes seem to lead to Iranian recipes (which made me believe that this may well have originated in Persia and not Park Street – I know fellow Bongs, it took me some time to come to terms with this too).

All parochial jokes aside, the dish comes from Persia and the recipes I found were for a great, mildly spiced kebab that I decided to charcoal grill to infuse the spiced meat with all the smoke I could muster. And the kebabs turned out great. Without the zing and heat of the galawat and shami kebabs I have made at home before, but a much more delicate set of flavours.

But what’s that got to do with a pleasant diversion you ask? It was the rice. Every Chelo Kebab recipe I found, waxed eloquent about a perfectly cooked rice dish to go with the kebab. And the rice and the tadig (the crispy, crusty goodness at the bottom of the rice that families in Iran seem to fight over at meal times) seemed to be the star of the dish which surprised the meat lover in me.


The basmati rice, plump, fluffy, every grain separate and finally – infused with generous helpings of butter in the cooking – was outstanding (with a top layer of saffron-infused rice for good measure).

I have heard a lot about the jhojhore (grains separate in the rice and not a gloopy mass) from picky Bong eaters and didn’t appreciate what the big deal was. Till we tasted this rice….I now know what the big deal is all about!