Tuesday, 7 April 2020

baingan dal
I will not talk about isolation. I will not talk about isolation. I will not talk about isolation. I will not talk about isolation. I will not talk about isolation.

Dang it, I did. 

And it's all because of them lentils. Other people hoard toilet paper. Apparently, I hoard lentils. It's the Indian in me. If everything else fails, there is always rice and dal. So it is a good thing that the family likes dal, because lately it's been dal with everything. 

I never really had dal when I was growing up, per se. We tended to have the much lighter version of lentils, a soupy concoction called 'saar', which was a much tangier, watery version of the thick lentil dal that was usual in the North of India. It was either saar or rasam, which was a much spicier and brothier version that was traditional to Tamil Nadu and the South Eastern coast of India. 

My taste for thick, creamy masala dal developed from my university days in Delhi, where a version was served with every meal in the hostel mess, as well as from my dad, who preferred this version from his army days. He described those days with a hint of nostalgia - the terribly cold nights when they staggered into camps at the very end (dad was an electrician in the army), carrying their heavy packs, huddled under thin blankets that barely kept out the biting mountain cold, the hard, snowy ground  under which they made camp, the tents that did nothing to shield them from the cutting wind, the army days were not a good memory for my father - but he did describe the dal, straight from steaming cauldrons, eaten with rotis, a taste my dad has kept to this day.

baingan dal

I did venture out once in the last fortnight or so to stock up on groceries, and went to the farmers market. I like to shop at a few places there, and I needed to stock up on dried mushrooms from MoNa Mushrooms, and vegetables from Doef's Greenhouses. I grabbed my usual packs, a few large eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. 

Having gone through most of our vegetables, only an eggplant remained. So I made this delicious version of dal, with burnt eggplant, the smoky flavour really setting off the creamy, tomatoey dal. The recipes that I looked at in my books all cooked the eggplant with the day, but I love the charred flavour of bagara baingan, so I roasted my eggplant, then chopped the flesh before stirring it into the day, which made for deliciously silky chunks of eggplant and a hearty dish to celebrate (hopefully!) the last of winter. 

And we will not talk of isolation.


1 large eggplant
1½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
Water, as required
1 tablepsoon neutral oil (I use grapeseed)
1 onion, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 hot green chilies, or to taste, finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
Salt, to taste
Fresh, chopped cilantro, to garnish
Lemon juice, to taste 

For the tarka:

2 tablespoons neutral oil (I use grapeseed)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 whole garlic cloves, bruised
2 long, dried red chilies

Rice or rotis, to serve


Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet, poking a couple holes in the skin, and roast for roughly one hour, turning once, until soft and deflated, and with a slightly charred look.

While the eggplant is roasting, place the lentils and water in a large pot, and cook until the lentils are soft, topping up with hot water, as required. This could take up to 20 minutes.

Place the oil in a shallow pan, and add the onions. Fry them for about 7 minutes, until they are beginning to go golden at the edges. Add the tomato and ginger and green chilies, and fry for one minute. Add the turmeric and garam masala, and cook together until the masala comes together in a sticky mass. Season with a little salt.

Place the roasted eggplant on a chopping board, when still hot, and quickly tear off the skin. Chop the flesh roughly, and then transfer the chopped flesh into the onion-tomato mixture. Season again with a little salt.

Tip the eggplant mixture into the cooked lentils, and stir well. Reheat, taste and adjust the seasoning, stirring in a spoonful or so of lemon juice, to taste. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

When ready to serve, heat the oil for the tarka in a small pan, and add the cumin, garlic and chilies. Stir for a minute, then tip the seasoned oil, with all the seasonings, into the eggplant and lentil mixture. Stir and serve with rice or roti.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

I just realised that after almost twelve years, this blog took a mighty long break for a while. It has been the best of years, and the worst of years, but we have survived them, reasonably healthy, reasonably happy, and reasonably whole. I've been busy, raising a really active and full on three year old, and an absolutely wonderful tween. In the middle of these years, I've been rediscovering the joy of cooking again, cooking for my family, my friends, teaching people the intricacies of Indian and Thai cuisine, and reading and cooking from my massive cookbook collection. I've been baking, volunteering, cheering for my soccer team and trying this thing called living offline. This doesn't mean I've been completely abandoning my online life, as I have been an activist on Twitter, an artist on Instagram, a friend on Facebook, and a worker bee on LinkedIn.

I played soccer with the metal band Iron Maiden, and turned forty. I went to Montreal on a whim to watch my all time favourite band Dream Theater. I watched Slayer and Disturbed wedging myself into the front row at a metal concert. I don't do these things, normally, but I lived.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Who would you consider your food hero? This is a question I've been asked many times, particularly when it comes to the food world. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is your inspiration?

Most of the time, I never really have an answer to this question, because, simply put, I like to follow my own path. But if I had to pick a food hero? My usual answer would be, I don't know – because I like different people at different points in my life. My grandfather, the wedding chef, for example, is one of my enduring food heroes. My mom... well, sometimes, when she's not wildly experimenting, as is her new hobby, with recipes off the internet! Yotam Ottolenghi, and Richard Bertinet, at other times.

But for the past few years, if anyone has asked me who my food heroes (and inspirations for life, in general) are, I would, without hesitation, say Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman. Several of you have probably heard of them. Robyn writes the popular blog, Eating Asia and has featured publications in some of the best newspapers and magazines in the world, as has her photographer husband, David Hagerman. David's photos of India were the inspiration behind my own pictures when I went home. I look forward to Robyn's articles and pieces, and devour them when they are published.

If you ask me to put my feelings towards these two remarkable people in a sentence, I'd say that Robyn and Dave are who I want to be when I grow up.

Monday, 22 January 2018

This week actually marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. However, somewhere along the way, in the past year and a half, I seem to have lost my way a little. My pregnancy with Baby Sky wasn't the greatest, and all I wanted to do was sleep, as opposed to cook or eat, or feed anyone else, for that matter. I think I might have survived on ginger biscuits and mangoes.

Ennui comes in many forms. As someone who has struggled with being motivated, it can be a death knell for the creative side. It doesn't help that I work a job in real life that fulfills me professionally and financially. It has just made it easier to not nurture the creative side of me. I was also so disappointed with internet algorithms. All these beautiful niche recipes that I had carefully worked on were now disappearing from search results, in favour of generic recipes from sites like Genius Kitchen or Allrecipes. I mean, what's the point in continuing to compete in such a lopsided market with zero motivation for smaller bloggers? All that work, developing recipes, cooking, styling the food, taking photographs, writing, coming up with a cool SEO friendly title, marketing non-stop, social media, submitting to food porn sites... and it all disappears down a deep, dark black hole because large sites with unlimited marketing budgets know how to fuck you over with their fancy SEO shite and manipulation of search algorithms.

Friday, 13 October 2017

My birthday is at the end of September. Growing up, I hated the timing, as it pretty much always fell bang in the middle of mid-term exams in the school year. Mid-terms were really important exams, and the whole middle school would be crammed into the gigantic assembly room to write them. I did get to hand out chocolates to the kids, but my poor folks had to spend way more, as I usually had to give them to the whole of the middle school (some five hundred kids) as opposed to just my class.

Thankfully, October was round the corner, and we had the entire month off, to celebrate Navarathri, Dusshera and Diwali. We take our festivals seriously in India, and different states have differing festival schedules, although, Diwali tends to be universally celebrated. Calcutta, and West Bengal (in the East of India), for example, celebrated Durga Puja, Maharashtra in the West had Ganesh Chathurthi, Assam has Bihu, and Kerala has Onam. Karnataka, my state, celebrated Dusshera all October.

Being kids, however, the story of the festivals mattered a lot less to us, and the whole joie de vivre of the month was more our jam. We spent the month eagerly planning decorations, little diyas (clay oil lamps), stringing lights, enviously checking out our neighbours' fancy clothes and sampling sweets, finding the best fireworks in the 'hood and waiting for the huli vesha to come to our yards. It was a magical time of the year and we loved every second of it.

After I moved to England, though, Diwali was one of the few festivals I celebrated at university (mostly, because we lived so close to Wembley and Southall). The expat Indian community in London is huge, and always had a bright, light and colour filled celebration, with so much food that we'd roll back to residences so full that we could barely move.