Tag Archives: indian food

Sambhar – South Indian Lentil Curry

sambhar south indian lentil curry with vegetables

Sambhar, a hearty lentil curry

Do you have food allergies or intolerances? When you first hear about them, you feel really sad to have to cut out something you love to eat. And you wonder how you can do without. Well, I think when you don’t have a choice, you find a way to continue to eat food that tastes great and is nourishing.

I’ve mentioned my food allergies before. I now have fructose intolerance to add to that list and can’t eat onions, tomatoes or coconut anymore. If you know anything about Indian food, you know how often these are used. I’m following a FODMAP diet and have also eliminated soy, dairy, gluten, lima beans, and kidney beans. So I’ve been wondering what to eat lately and very importantly, what to blog about!

Do you have food allergies? How have you adapted your cooking to your lifestyle? I know completely changing your diet can be a huge challenge. And to make sure that what you eat is tasty and varied. To help those of you with food allergies, I’ve been trying to remember to tag recipes with allergy information where applicable. You can do a search on the left.

That brings me to today’s post. Ever had dosa or idlis in a South Indian restaurant? The lentil curry that always comes on the side is called Sambhar. Now I think it’s a delicious dish in it’s own right and can be eaten as a main meal. The best part is that you can easily make 2 or 3 times the recipe and have a big pot to last you all week. It’s one of those rare curries that I don’t get tired of easily. I made this sambhar without onion but still included tomatoes and green beans (also on the FODMAP list). But they were easy enough to pick out.

The other thing I love about sambhar is that it is so flexible. You can eat it with rice or other grains like millet. We often cook pearl millet instead of rice at home. You can also eat it by itself as soup. It’s delicious with a spicy Indian pickle on the side or with papadum.


typical vegetables for sambhar

Typical vegetables used for sambhar

cooking the sambhar vegetables

Cooking the sambhar vegetables 

Serves 4

  • 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 dry red chilis
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon asafetida
  • 10 curry leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sambhar powder (buy in Indian store or see below)
  • 1 scant teaspoon tamarind extract, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup vegetables (3 of any of green beans, potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, tomato, etc), cut to 1 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Cilantro to garnish

Rinse the toor dal thrice. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes or till the lentils are soft and fully cooked.  Mash the lentils with a masher or large spoon.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a thick bottomed pot. When you see ripples on the surface of the oil, throw in a mustard seed. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Sizzle the whole spices just for 5-10 seconds before adding the turmeric, sambhar powder, and tamarind extract in water. Stir well.

Add the vegetables, salt and enough water to just cover them. Bring to a boil, and simmer covered on low for 10 minutes or till the vegetables are cooked. Add water to just cover the vegetables if needed.

Transfer the vegetables to the pot in which you cooked the toor dal. Mix well. Simmer on low for 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice.

Sambhar Powder 

  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons urud dal (dehusked, split black lentils)
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • ½ tablespoon black peppercorn
  • ½ tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon asafetida
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 20 curry leaves
  • 10 red chilis

Dry roast the whole spices and urud dal for 3 minutes on medium low heat. Grind to a fine powder in a spice blender along with the turmeric and asafetida.

a pot of sambhar

A pot of sambhar


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Baingan Ka Bharta

baingan ka bharta

Baingan ka bharta, smoky eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes and garam masala

As summer draws to a close and the days shorten, I’m sometimes at a loss as to what I want to eat. Something cooling or something warming? Something light or comfort food? In a few more weeks, this won’t be a problem. In a few more weeks, I’ll be wanting Daal or a hearty stew almost every day. Till then, I want to enjoy what’s left of the sun before it disappears from Seattle skies for another eight months. Till then, I want something light and comforting.

That’s where this brilliant dish comes in. Once you make it, it’s up to you to eat it piping hot, scooped up in warm naan or eat it cold mixed with a swirl of yogurt and a bit of rice. It can be made into a light meal or a substantial one. It’s also great for weekend brunches as you can spread some of that smoky eggplant goodness on crusty slices of baguette and top off with gruyere.

In this Punjabi dish, the eggplant is traditionally smoked by placing it whole in a fire or on hot coal. At home, I roast the eggplant in the oven. You could also use the broiler.

Baingan ka bharta is easily one of my favorite eggplant dishes. I love eggplant. I have an unabashed and unapologetic desire for it’s taste and texture. If you’re not sure about this glorious vegetable, be warned, this recipe might not be for you!

And finally, here’s the recipe after the pictures.

Oven roasted eggplant

Oven roasted eggplant, shriveled up but oh so tasty

peeling the oven roasted eggplant

Peeling the oven roasted eggplant


Roasted eggplant curry served with pita bread

Roasted eggplant curry served with pita bread

pita bread with baingan ka bharta

Baingan ka bharta in pita! Served with a side of roasted cauliflower for a delicious vegan meal.


Baingan Ka Bharta

(Printer friendly recipe for baingan ka bharta)


  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 teaspoons + 4 tablespoons high heat oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch ginger, grated
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • Roughly 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 a lime or to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Tomato slices for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Rinse and dry the whole eggplants. Smear them all over with high heat oil. Place the eggplants on a tray lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake for 40 minutes or till the eggplants are wrinkly and shrivelled up. Don’t worry, they’ll taste all smoky and rich! Broiling them should speed it up but unfortunately we have an old gas oven and the broiler is inconsistent. You can roast the eggplants ahead of time and refrigerate them if you like.
  2. Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and cut the ends. You can remove the seeds if you dislike the bitterness of eggplants. Chop roughly.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat. The oil is hot enough if a cumin seed thrown in sizzles.
  4. Sizzle the cumin seeds for just 10 seconds before adding the onions, garlic and ginger.
  5. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently or till the onion is slightly brown.
  6. Add all the spices, tomatoes and 1/2 glass of water. Cook for another 10 minutes or till the tomatoes are mushy and the oil has separated.
  7. Add the eggplant, cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.
  8. Salt to taste and squeeze half of a fresh lime. Garnish with chopped cilantro and slices of tomato.
  9. Serve with naan, pita bread, spread on baguette or with rice.

Have a glorious weekend!


Filed under India, Recipe

My Trip to India

So many travel to India to discover themselves through meditation. I was born in India and didn’t leave till I was 17. As some of you may remember, I went to India last December and discovery or rather re-discovery, especially of my culinary roots was top of my mind. I thought a six week trip would be long enough. When it was time to leave though, I was very tempted to extend my stay for another month. There were so many things I still wanted to do and learn. For example, there was a week long coffee tasting and marketing course that was starting the day after my flight. I had to skip a trip to Chennai for cooking lessons in order to accommodate a few days relaxing in Goa. And with all the hustle and bustle of getting around in a big city like Bangalore, I didn’t have as much time to go shopping for kitchen tools as I would have liked (nor luggage space really, but that’s a different point). I’d also really wanted to spend some time on rural farms. Instead, I stuck to my plans and headed back to Seattle.

Perhaps it was the snow storm that hit the day after we got back, but the hectic pace of India that I’d been complaining to everyone about when I was there, suddenly seemed vibrant and exciting rather than annoying and hassle filled.  Rather than family offering me food all the time, I had to go shopping and cook. There was a void. It took about a week to get over the jetlag but about a month to get over the mindlag.

I regret not having had a longer time to spend in India, but I know what things I’ll be focusing on for my next trip. In the meantime, I realized that I hadn’t pulled together as many blog posts of my trip as I had wanted to! Here’s a start. These are all the posts related to my trip. I do have more video material that I haven’t processed due to technical issues. Here’s hoping I can afford to buy a new laptop soon and get more cooking videos completed soon!

Bangalore City Market

Heaps of kumkum and turmeric at the Bangalore City Market

Romantic Red Hills in the Nilgiris

Red Hills Guest House, Ooty

How Seven Beans Changed the World: Indian Coffee Part 1

The Story of Indian Coffee

The Story of Indian Coffee

From Bush to Bean: Indian Coffee Part 2

Coffee Harvesting

Coffee Harvesting

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry

Mangalore pineapple curry

A Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry from the West Coast of India

An Afternoon with Sabudana

Sabudana Khichdi

Learning How to Make Sabudana Khichdi

The Third Most Expensive Spice in the World

Cardamom: The third most expensive spice in the world

Cardamom: The third most expensive spice in the world

Swiss Chard and Yogurt Curry Sauce

swiss chard and yogurt curry sauce

Swiss chard in a Mangalore style “Thambli” or Yogurt Curry Sauce

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(Not So) Pretty Pakoras

buckwheat pakoras batter

Batter for the buckwheat pakoras

buckwheat pakodas

Indian fritters made with buckwheat flour

If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant, chances are that you’ve had onion pakoras made with chickpea batter.  Perhaps you’ve even made these or had them at a dinner party. These delightful fritters are perfect as an appetizer or snack. Pakoras are kinda ugly to begin with, aren’t they? They’re funny shaped, have a monotonous color and it’s hard to arrange them nicely for an eye-catching presentation. BUT they taste so good!

After my last trip to the farmer’s market, I had a few vegetables remaining that really needed to get used soon. So instead of using only onions, I thought it would be fun to experiment with other vegetables.

As you know, it’s been a few months since I’ve given up gluten and many other foods due to allergies. With that I’ve been experimenting with many different flours. Since lots of people don’t feel very good after eating chickpeas, I thought of trying a different flour as well. In this recipe, I made pakoras with buckwheat flour and used onions, radishes and broccoli. If you’ve never had buckwheat before, it has a more rustic flavor and is dark. It reminds me a lot of ragi or finger millet which is often used in South Indian cooking.

Now these pakoras actually looked uglier than regular ones! The dark color of the buckwheat batter is hard to photograph well. But I’ll tell you what, these little fritters were so good that just two of us ate up an entire batch. Yikes! We did pay for this with a long hike the next day.

And oh yeah, if you were wondering, the broccoli pakoras were hands down the best. So, enjoy these “ugly” pakoras for a special treat and Happy Friday the 13th!

Buckwheat Pakoras – Serves 8 as an appetizer


  • ½ cup chickpea or buckwheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons water


  • 1 onion (white, red or yellow), sliced
  • 1 bunch radish, quartered
  • 1 bunch broccoli, diced

To fry

  • High heat oil


Mix all the batter ingredients together to make a thick batter with consistency thicker than that of pancake batter.

Add a ½ inch layer of oil to a small saucepan. I use a small round bottomed pan to reduce the quantity of oil required. Heat over medium heat till the oil just starts smoking and a bit of batter sizzles.

While waiting on the oil, prepare a plate with a couple of layers of kitchen paper. Have a slotted spoon ready to remove the fritters.

Using a large spoon, gently place spoonfuls of the batter in the hot oil in a single layer. Do not overcrowd. The batter should sizzle immediately. Fry till the buckwheat on the fritters have turned dark. If you are using chickpea flour, fry till golden brown.

Place the fritters on the plate you prepared earlier to soak up the excess oil. Repeat the frying process till the batter is over.

Allow the fritters to cool down for a couple of minutes. Serve immediately while still warm and crisp.


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Naanstop Yum

gluten free dairy free yeast free stove top naan recipe


I made this naan three days in a row. I couldn’t stop. It was so good. Perhaps it was because I haven’t had any regular naan in three months due to food allergies. Or perhaps it was the thin slices of spring shallots from the farmers market that made them so flavorful. Whatever it was, they were naanresistable. What was that? Too many naansensical puns? OK OK I’ll stop. But only if you promise to give this recipe a try!

If you hadn’t made it yourself, you might not even have realized that they are not made with wheat. Oh by the way, there is also no dairy or yeast. Best of all, this is an instant dough. You don’t need to wait for it to raise.

This is starting to sound like an infomercial, isn’t it? But wait, make this naan in the next 24 hours, and you will lose weight.

He he. What can I say, I’m just happy to be eating naan again!

Printer friendly recipe

Naan ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free flour
  • 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill finely ground Tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (you can substitute lime juice)

Topping (optional but recommended)

  • Thinly sliced shallots or garlic
  • Cumin seeds


Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir all the wet ingredients. Now make a well in your flour and pour in the wet ingredients. Knead till you achieve a smooth and soft dough that doesn’t stick to the bowl. A lot depends on the size of the eggs. If you cannot bring the dough together at all, add a couple of tablespoons of warm water and try again. If the dough is too wet, add another tablespoon or two of the gluten free flour. Smear some oil all around the ball of dough also helps to work with it. I also recommend slightly oiling the cutting board, rolling pin and your hands as the dough is quite sticky. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. These naans are about half the size of the regular ones.

Smooth out each ball of dough and flatten in your palms before placing on the board. Roll out gently and stop when you have a 3 inch circle that is about a centimeter thick. This is a good time to sprinkle your toppings on. Continue rolling out gently until you have a 5 inch circle. Instead of rolling it out all the way, I personally found it easier to simply pick up the naan half way and stretch it out like pizza dough by rotating it in the air like a disc. Try it both ways a couple of times and I think you’ll get the hang of it. If your dough is not too stretchy, your flour to egg ratio was slightly too high.

Roll out all the naans at least mid way and cover with a slightly damp towel. Spread high heat oil on a cast iron skillet. Heat over medium heat till it just starts smoking. Have some oil on hand as you will need to smear a teaspoon of oil in between batches.

Once the skillet is ready, gently lift the naans and place 2-3 or how many ever will fit on the skillet. I like to put the side of the naan down that does not have the toppings. In a few seconds, you should see the bubbles forming. This is a good sign. Turn over the naan and let the other side cook when you see a few dark spots. After a few minutes, you might need to lower the heat slightly if your skillet starts smoking too much. Make all the naan and place in a single layer on a plate and cover. Once all of them are done, smear them with some olive oil, butter or ghee. I like to use ghee (clarified butter), since it has great flavor and with the dairy solids removed, I can eat it.

For best consistency, use a cast iron skillet and make sure that it is slightly smoky at all times.

I served the naan with just mint chutney once and they were delicious and all gone in 10 minutes.

Let me know how this recipe works out for you. And if you took a picture, post it on the facebook page please!

soft naan gluten free dairy free yeast free


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Curry Leaves and Curries

Curry leaves

Fresh curry leaves

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe and I hope to make amends with this guest post. This is a post for Chitra Agrawal of The ABCD’s of Cooking, a kindred spirit in NYC. I met Chitra on Twitter a couple of months ago and love what she’s doing with her blog, videos and events to educate people about authentic Indian cooking techniques and share homestyle food . If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll check out her cooking events and supper club. About that same time I met Chitra, I had also ordered a curry leaf plant start online. So when Chitra asked if I would contribute a post on her Spice Route segment, I knew what I’d have to write about. Alas, the curry leaf plant never made it to me. The farm had more orders than plant starts and they canceled my order. But, the blog post did happen.

So, I’m excited to introduce Chitra here and send you over to her cool site for more on curry leaves and a Cauliflower Curry that marries the earthy flavors of curry leaves beautifully with the sweetness and richness of coconut milk.


mise en place with spices and herbs, finished cauliflower curry

The ingredients are simple and few to make this yummy cauliflower curry

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The proper browning of onions

While spending time in a lonely country home in upstate New York to escape a hurricane in New Jersey, Devika Kumar discovers something crucial to North Indian cooking. It is a well known secret, and even mentioned in many Indian recipes and cookbooks.It is something though, that impatient people, like me, are apt to do too quickly or stop too soon.

But sometimes, you can’t hurry things up. And if you do, the end dish, the channa masala (chickpea curry) or palak paneer for example, will reveal the truth.

Read the post on the blog, Calcutta Chow

Calcutta Chow

I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a profound truth.  That the secret to good, north Indian, punjabi-style cooking is the proper browning of onions.  There I’ve said it.

This summer I was leafing through of a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking that I had found in our rental home.  We were escaping a hurricane in New Jersey, and had found ourselves in an isolated country home on the outskirts of Chatham in upstate New York.  Our nearest source of food, much to my delight, was the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, that sold cheese and yogurt made from sheep’s milk.

It was late in the evening, and although I have the same book at home, something about the deep silence around the house improved my concentration.  Ordinarily, I would have quickly flipped over the introductory pages and the ‘techniques’ of Indian cooking.  But here I was, sitting at a…

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