Spicy Bengali Potatoes

all sorts of spuds:

D from Adelaide called me on the phone the other day asking me if it was ok if he wrote out one of his favourite recipes from my book ‘Cooking with Kurma’ to give to a friend. Not only did I say it was ok, I even sent him an electronic version of the recipe.

D. wrote back:

“I’m blown away by the fact I was able to talk to you on the phone. I’ve been a
friend of yours in spirit since I first saw your TV series on SBS years
ago and I couldn’t get a copy of your book fast enough. I fowarded your email
to my friend T. Thank you for imparting the fruits of your life’s
work. No doubt you have brought a bit of happiness into the lives of lots of people. That works out to a lot of happiness, over all.”

That made me me feel very happy. Here’s the recipe, by the way:

Spicy Bengali Potatoes

This is a delicious, dry-textured potato dish with multi-levels of subtle flavours. Avoid over boiling the potatoes.

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: about 20 minutes

YIELD: enough for 4 persons

500g washed small new potatoes

2 teaspoons chopped, fresh ginger

3 fresh green chilies, seeded and chopped

1⁄2 cup yogurt

2 teaspoons coriander powder

2 teaspoons salt

1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1⁄2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons ghee

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

10 fresh curry leaves

1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1⁄8 teaspoon clove powder

1⁄8 teaspoon cardamom powder

3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Place the whole potatoes in a large saucepan of water. Bring to the boil over full heat and cook the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain the potatoes, cool them a little, and peel them. Cut them into 2.5cm (1-inch) chunks, and set them aside in a bowl.

Drop the chilies and ginger into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the yogurt, ground coriander, salt, black pepper, turmeric and sugar, and process again. Pour and scrape this mixture into the bowl of cooked potatoes, and carefully mix well to combine. Set the mixture aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

Heat the ghee in a large pan or wok (preferably not a non-stick pan – hard to get a crust) over moderate heat. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds. When they darken a few shades, add the curry leaves, stir briefly, then add the potato mixture. Stir the potatoes carefully through the spices, and pan-fry for 5 minutes, or until they are dry and crusty.

Sprinkle in the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom powders. Mix well, sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve hot.

Calzone

Devadeva from Florida writes:

“Why do you fry your calzone? I bake mine. Does frying it help it from erupting? When I do a thinner crust, which is
preferred, there are often explosions. I don’t quite mind
‘re-stuffed calzones’ but if you can give me a clue how to keep this from
happening, I would be thankful.”

calzone:

Kurma replies:

“Whereas there is the danger of ‘life jackets’ (airpockets) developing when you fry them, they seem to have less chance of erupting when they are fried, in my experience. Especially when you do a tight twisty seal.

I like to have the oil fairly high, so the calzone are immediately sealed. And then I reduce the heat a little. This also helps to avoid leakage of the cheesy filling. And the taste, fried in olive oil, or ghee, is exceptional. My recipe hails from Puglia, where cooks like to fry them.

You can roll the dough much thicker when you fry them, and they still cook nicely through, and smell like fresh bread. Yummo! Then they rarely erupt. Thin crust is dangerous.

The beautiful big calzone pictured above were fried, had a fairly thick pastry case, and were huge (so the amount of filling was in proportion to the mouth-feel of the crust); and believe it or not, because I was careful with the temperature, they did not soak up much oil.”

The Stars, Baby, The Stars

star jasmine:

It’s just before sunrise at home base. I’ve caught up from the jetlag of my long flight back from Darwin, and my paucity of sleep.

Out on the patio there’s quite a breeze, and an intense floral aroma. Trachelospermum jasminoides , or Star Jasmine, is native to China. It’s an evergreen, woody vine that bursts into bloom all over Sydney this time of year.

The fragrance of this generous vine is heavenly and intoxicating, especially in the early mornings and evenings. It grows on a trellis against the garage wall here at my father’s house.

I’ve picked some and filled a small vase beside my small statuette of Baby Krishna.

patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati

tad aham bhakty-upahrtam ashnami prayatatmanah

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Bhagavad Gita (9.26)

Stormin' Kormin's Big Day

I’m chilling under the overhead fans here in Darwin (Howard Springs, to be precise – the ‘Toorak of the Territory’, according to mein host). Outside, the cicadas are rubbing whatever they rub and the heat is blistering, even at 9.00 Sunday morning. Still not a drop of monsoon rain. As my host wryly opined, “There’ll be a huge blankety-blanking storm the moment you fly out”. He could be right.

Friday was spent shopping, and we came home to a whopping brown tree snake to greet us at the back door. This one, to be precise, though our snake did not allow himself the luxury of a photograph, but rather hid for hours behind a bucket.

Brown Tree Snake:

Later that night I encountered another local inhabitant, also perched at the back door. Meet Jabba.

jabba the frog:

The class on Saturday was ‘a ripper’. Here’s our jolly crew, relaxing in their calm-before-Kurma Storm.

at home in Darwin:

Our laugh-a-minute host Andrew poses atop his prize – a (rarely seen in The Territories) Wild Humpback Panir (Lacteous lumpus, subsp. caseinii), 15 litres worth.

Mighty Cheese:

Our team sat down to one of my groaniest (I know there is no such word) dinner tables ever. What a spread!

groaning tables, Darwin:

This is what we cooked:

To Market, To Market

The monsoon rain didn’t fall last night. Australia’s weather is totally messed up at the moment. Maybe we can blame that universal whipping-boy, Global Warming. Whatever. All I know is that it’s very hot here in Darwin. In fact, as yesterday’s Northern Territory News reflected:

“It’s officially ‘bloody hot’

Darwin sweltered through its fourth-hottest recorded (October) day yesterday. The mercury hit 37.5C in the city (that’s 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, US readers)
– the highest temperature recorded since a 1982 October day reached 39.9C

Meanwhile Sydney shivers through its coldest October days on record. The day I left it even snowed in some New South Wales locations. What on earth is going on?

My host Andrew suggested we visit the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Market last night. This famous Northern Territory icon has over 260 Craft and Food stalls. It must be one of the biggest, if not the biggest market of it’s kind in Australia. Ten thousand visitors frequent the place each time it’s open. I must say, vegetarian food was conspicuous here by it’s absence. Any Hare Krishna Food Booth here would certainly do well.

Surabhi's Shop:

I bumped into my old friend Surabhi (above, left) at her exotic clothing, books and incence stall. She’s been here for 15 years and has never missed a single market day. Surabhi single-handedly runs a small Hare Krishna temple near the city centre.

Fresh Mango:

This lady from East Timor (just a hop and a skip over the sea from here) was selling peak-of-season Bowen mangoes for $4.95 a kilo, all sliced and pitted and ready to go. I noticed she was using one of my favourite Furi knives.

Thai Sweet Stand:

I did find one food stall of interest: Nok’s Thai Desserts. Many traditional Thai sweets, all vegetarian, were on offer, and I did try a few. Very authentic, and all prepared by Nok’s elderly mother. This is Sticky Rice with Taro, steamed in banana leaves.

Sticky Rice with Taro:

I didn’t try the Toddy Palm Cakes. I noticed on Devadeva’s blog that she’s making jams out of palm fruits. I think these are made from the same thing, though Toddy Palms may be a different variety.

Toddy Palm Cake:

I did try these pale-green Pandan-scented Coconut Balls, stuffed with palm sugar syrup. Wonderful! They are popular all over Southeast Asia. I have a recipe for them in my Quick Vegetarian Dishes. I pointed out to Andrew that the same Pandan bush growing in his garden is the source of the green colour and wonderful “Asian Vanilla” aroma of these delicacies.

Pandan Scented Coconut Balls:

There were so many desserts to try. I decided not to taste the ubiquitous Sticky Rice with Mango (its recipe is also in my QVD book), but rather taste the Black Sticky Rice, with palm sugar caramelised fresh coconut on top. Wonderful.

Black Sticky Rice:

Sunset over the Arafura Sea attracts many locals and tourists. I was there as the sun dipped low over the horizon. Beaches with west-facing aspects are not common in many places in Australia other than the west coast, by the way (duh).

Sunset over Arafura:

It’s sunrise in Darwin, and already over 30 degrees. Time for another mango breakfast. Life is tough in the tropics.

Granola with Mangoes

Things are great here in Darwin (see yesterday’s blog). The overnight flight from Sydney via Brisbane was delayed due to heavy storms, so I wasn’t able to land in Darwin until 1.25am, which was 3.00am Sydney time; I didn’t get to bed until the time I normally get up. I slept until after sunrise this morning, but I’m still a bit sleep-deprived, so I’ll need an early night to catch up.

We (my gracious host Andrew and myself) have been driving around picking up bits and pieces for Saturday’s class, though the real shopping starts and ends tomorrow. It’s very hot, but very pleasant. It’s also rainy season, so things are looking green. I’ll be waiting for some afternoon monsoon.

mangoes galore:

We drove past vast mango orchards as we commuted down the highway from Andrew’s place in Howard Springs. There are tens of thousands of mango trees here, with mangoes falling to the ground for the picking. Though mangoes are for sale in the shops, only tourists buy them. Every Darwin local either has one or more mango trees, or knows someone with one.

I had some local mangoes for breakfast, still warm from the tree. That reminds me: I made a great batch of toasted muesli (Granola) back in Sydney the other day. Those fresh mangoes would go well with it.

granola:

This batch contains organic rolled oats, organic rolled barley, organic rolled spelt, oat bran, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, a little macadamia oil, raw sugar,
dried organic peaches, dried organic pears, dried currants, dried organic pineapple, and ribbon coconut.

The recipe is in my cookbook ‘Cooking with Kurma’. Buy the book.

Gone Troppo

Darwin from the air:

I’m flying way up North this evening to Darwin, Capital City of the Northern Territory, for a cookery class on Saturday. Won’t arrive until past midnight.

darwin_map:

Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin has a population of only 120,900, making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely peopled Northern Territory, but the smallest, least populous and most northerly of the Australian capital cities.

And it’s very hot and humid up there right now.

In the Mailbag

In-the-Mailbag:

Olaf Hendriksen from Leiden, The Netherlands, asks: “I bought in an Indian shop Chickpeas and there they say that it is the same as Channa dahl, is this true?”

My Reply: Yes and no. The large common everyday chickpea (kabli chana) is a cousin of a smaller ‘chickpea’ with the dark brown skin, which is, in fact whole chana dal. When the skin is removed from these small so-called ‘chickpeas’ (the basis of the famous ‘chole‘ dish from Northern India) and they are split, they are known as chana dal. The picture below is of a salad made from whole chana dal.

whole chana dal:

Sue Kelley from USA writes: “Hello! I was wondering if you would be celebrating your years of menu and recipe creating with a special of sorts? It was about 20 years ago when I tuned into you on PBS, here, in America.”

My Reply: “Wow! How time flies. No TV special planned. Perhaps you could party by getting my entire DVD collection for a private celebration. Ask me how…”

Sue replies: “Touche’! Already have it. Been using the DVD’s for a while and I also have a copy of your ‘Great Vegetarian Dishes’. Made the potato and pea croquettes for dinner last night. Great, as always! Any chance of a visit to America in the near future? Americans REALLY need some good news right now. 🙂 P.S. As a matter of fact I’m having friends over in November to cook different dishes from your series. Should be interesting. Meat eaters and vegetarians.”

20th birthday:

Maria from Australia asks: “What are the health benefits of Sago?”

My Reply: Practically zero. 100 grams of sago would contain 351 kcal, 87 grams carbohydrate, along with 0.2 gm of fat and protein each. Its nutrient value is actually poor, and it provides just a large quantity of starch, with little or no minerals and vitamins. But when combined with other things it can taste nice, and will have a better nutrient profile; everything we eat doesn’t have to be brimming over with good stuff. You can’t subsist on it, but it will save your life if you are stranded on a desert island.”

sago pearls:

Sculpture by the Sea

Ever since daylight savings kicked-in here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been seriously behind in my daily morning walks; the tinkering with time really threw my body clock off kilter.

So today, even though it looked like rain, I took off shortly after sunrise for what would normally be my favourite 1.5 hour Sydney Eastern Suburbs coastal walk – down Military Road from my house in Dover Heights to Bondi Beach, then up around the spectacular cliffside walking paths, past a few beaches, then back.

By the time I reached the coast I remembered that I was right in the middle of Sydney’s 12th annual Sculpture by the Sea festival. The 2 kilometres from Bondi to Tamarama is dotted with over 100 sculptures from around the world, set against the beautiful backdrop of the Tasman Sea.

sculpture #1:

My walk stretched on for close to 4 hours, and I met a few interesting people on the way. This little boy is made entirely from blocks of carved glass.

sculpture #2:

Andy Warhol is woven from wire.

sculpture #3:

Our giant soldier was cast from metal, then artfully coated with a green plastic skin. He resembled one of the little plastic soldiers I used to collect when I was young, only bigger.