If you love Indian food as much as I do, this cookbook is for you! The dishes are rich, complex, and take you on a journey far, far, away. (Unless you live in India, West Bengal, or Bangladesh.) Every recipe I have tried has been absolutely delicious, and the author tells wonderful stories about the origin of each dish, her family traditions and memories, and ingredient tidbits. I learned so much reading this book; it’s a keeper!
What I liked about this book:
I loved the history about Bengal, the author’s family stories, and the very detailed information about ingredients, many of which are unfamiliar. I also appreciated that she substituted items for the U.S. audience that are more common, like green bell peppers for pointed gourds.
I appreciated the Bengali design elements throughout the book, and how each of the five spices in the title was given its own page sprinkled throughout the book. There is a section of color photographs showing a few of the recipes, which help bring the meals to life.
I have made five recipes from this book to date. I chose spiced pumpkin with chickpeas to start, which required ginger-cumin-coriander paste. The spiced pumpkin was absolutely delicious. I would prefer the green peppers chopped instead of leaving them in wedges, and some of the instructions could have been clearer on whether to include the whole spices on top, or to remove them and just pour the seasoned ghee over. For this recipe, I used soy yogurt and Earth Balance to make it vegan.
Next I made cremini mushrooms in tomato-coconut gravy, which was insanely delicious and unusual, and The Husband has already requested it again. I could have used more information in the instructions, like an explanation of dried fenugreek leaves (I have never seen them for sale, and wasn’t sure I could sub fenugreek seeds for them, but did anyway), how/why to grate tomatoes, and how long to cook one section of the recipe. I made winter squash in a spicy coconut and mustard sauce, which was hearty and delicious on a cold blustery day.
Finally I made the dish pictured above, curried cabbage with potatoes and green peas. So delicious I made it again in order to photograph it, this time serving it over black sticky rice and adding broccoli slaw as well as the cabbage. This one is still very, very spicy, so add less cayenne (or none) if you can’t eat spicy food.
I wasn’t so keen on:
I did have some trouble making the ginger-cumin-coriander paste in my (Vitamix) blender, as the spices just spun up and stuck to the sides and lid. The second time I tried making it, I crushed the spices in my mortar and pestle and then tried using the blender with the same unfortunate result. I tried the food processor and still had trouble. The problem is that the volume of the ingredients is not really enough to keep it down in the blender, so it didn’t properly crush all the spices. My suggestion is to finely mince the ginger and pepper, crush the spices in a mortar and pestle, then add the ginger and pepper and mash the whole thing up, adding the water last. Or, make a larger batch. The other downside is that the recipe makes 1/2 cup of paste, but you use only a couple of teaspoons at a time in any recipe. Next time I will dry grind the spices, make a double batch, freeze it in 1 T. amounts on waxed paper, then wrap each in waxed paper before labeling it and storing it in the freezer.
I would have appreciated it if each of the spice paste mixtures had included page numbers to find all the recipes that used them.
This has nothing to do with the content but is about the book’s usability. The brown text and sans serif font make the book more difficult for me to read, especially at night in my pools-of-light kitchen. I didn’t think the sepia-toned photographs enhanced the book, as food does not look appetizing in sepia tone.
I am really excited to try more recipes, as every one has been delicious, so I trust that the rest will be too. Here is the recipe for the dish pictured above.
Curried cabbage with potatoes and green peas
Badha Kopir Ghanto
Recipe from THE BENGALI FIVE SPICE CHRONICLES: Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India
By Rinku Bhattacharya, Hippocrene Books; November 2012. Used with permission. My renovations in italics.
Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes
3 T. oil [(45 ml) organic coconut oil, I reduced this to 1 T. (15 ml)]
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium white potato, peeled and cubed
1 t. salt [(2 g) sea salt, omit for low-sodium diets]
1 t. (2 g) turmeric powder
1/2-1 ripe jalapeno
1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 t. (2 g) coriander seeds
1 t. (2 g) cumin seeds
2 bay leaves, broken in half [4 pieces total]
2 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised
1 t. (2 g) cayenne pepper powder, [can omit or use less]
1 t. (2 g) sugar [coconut sugar]
1 tomato, finely chopped [or 7 oz. (205 g) canned chopped organic tomatoes, no salt added]
3 C. (10 oz/285 g) finely shredded green cabbage [and/or 6 oz. (170 g) broccoli slaw]
1/2 C. fresh green peas (try to avoid frozen) [1 C. (140 g)]
Heat the oil in a medium wok or skillet on medium heat for about 1 minute until very hot. Add the onion slices and sauté, stirring well, until they wilt and turn a very pale gold. Add the potato, salt, and turmeric and lower the heat and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done and a nice golden yellow color.
Crush the coriander and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Finely mince the jalapeno and ginger. Add these spices and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cardamom pods, and cayenne pepper powder and mix well. Add the sugar and tomato and stir well.
Add the cabbage and peas and mix well. Cover and cook for about 7 (15) minutes, until the cabbage is fairly soft. Mix well and cook till dry. Check for seasonings, remove all four bay leaf halves, and serve.