Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bengali Inspired Greens

Have you seen this book? While I have no shortage of Indian cookbooks in my collection, this is the one I dream about owning. I haven't bought it because it's huge and expensive and unwieldy and frankly so gorgeous that I'd be hesitant to bring it into my kitchen and slop it up with turmeric and coconut oil. Instead, I check it out from the library in fairly regular rotation, then lie around and the couch, lazily leafing through the pages, gazing at the stunning photographs, and idly wondering what it would be like to tramp around The Great Subcontinent for months on end.

Until today, my ritual with this book hasn't actually included cooking anything. How's that for irony? Despite the clarity of the recipes and the informative descriptions I think I felt somehow intimidated. But after working in the garden yesterday and noticing that we quite suddenly have mountains of rainbow chard about to bolt, the recipe for Bengali Spiced Greens caught my eye today.

I made up a small batch of panch phoron, a Bengali five-spice powder made up of cumin, nigella, mustard, fenugreek, and fennel seeds. Keeping a wide array of spices on hand makes it easy enough for me to make up fresh blends but I keep almost everything tightly sealed in zip-top bags in the freezer where the spices remain fragrant for a good long time, or at least until I can schlep across town to an Indian market and restock. The recipe said to use whole spices, but I gave everything a good bash with the mortar and pestle for good measure.

I cooked the panch phoron in some oil, added onion and garlic and cooked everything gently until good and soft. At the same time, I'd thrown some potatoes in the microwave to bake for a quickie version of the masala potatoes I use to fill dosas. When the potatoes were just about done, I added the greens to the onion and garlic spice paste and and cooked until everything was wilted but not cooked to death. With a bit of basmati rice and mango pickle, this was a delicious 20-minute lunch. The bright green chard and the brilliant turmeric-yellow potatoes looked gorgeous on the plate, making me almost feel OK about the rain starting up. Again.
The farmers markets around here have lots of locally grown greens right now. I think you'll find this a tasty way to prepare them. The recipe is here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Is there anything in this world that's been more abused and mistreated than the cheesecake? I have come across so many cheesecakes that are overly sugary and flavored with far too heavy a hand. Mocha, grasshopper, raspberry, oreo....I'm sorry, but yuck.

I was raised on my grandmother's cheesecake, a simple thing of understated beauty which no one could top. She would happily make it for us whenever requested and it added something special to many of our family celebrations. But I'm not giving you her recipe. She wrote it out for me once but my results never resembled hers. I always kind of thought she left something major out of either the ingredient list or the directions, but she insists she gave me the very recipe she used. I long ago gave up on that one and have realized that there are some of her dishes whose flavor I'll never be able to duplicate.

But a number of years ago, craving the heavenly flavor of a simple cheesecake, I came across a recipe somewhere on the internet and have been using it ever since. The problem is I have no idea where the recipe came from and who should be praised. I feel terrible about this because this cheesecake is a marvel: simple to make and absolutely heavenly.

For those looking for a heavy crusted chocolate turtle mudslide experience, you'll need to look elsewhere. No crust here--just the simple flavor of sweet dairy with a hint of lemon and vanilla. Fresh strawberries served alongside are all the adornment needed but even they aren't truy necessary.If you've never tried making a cheesecake, this is where you want to start. There's no crust to muddle around with and as long as you can separate eggs you are good to go. Do plan ahead in that you want this cake chilled before unmolding and serving. The recipe is here. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.