Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bengali and Punjabi-inspired Dinner

(imported post from "A Chef in Med School" 10/29/2011)

Intern year has kept me busy and on my first weekend free in a long time, I decided it was time to finally show my significant other that the chef he is dating actually does know how to cook (yes, this is a running joke).  However, the unseasonally early snow storm on the East Coast, and a grocery delivery not scheduled until tomorrow, definitely gave me the opportunity to prove that I'm a cook worth my salt.  The hunt began to see what could be put together from the pantry and freezer along with a lingering head of cauliflower in the fridge.  The following if what I came up with (apologies for the lack of pictures...remembering to take photos is now added to my promises of renewed blogging frequency!).

Bengali “five spice” aka. Panchphoran (featured in two of the following recipes) is made by mixing equal parts of the following whole spices: nigella, fenugreek, brown or black mustard seed, cumin seed and fennel seed.  I first tried this while living with a Bengali roommate.  She wasn’t much of a cook, but her mother was and would send boxes of delicious smelling sauces, seasoning and meals (can I have a Bengali mother?).  After asking my roomie to let me investigate her mystery spices, I came up with the following concoction.  I’ve since realized (through the miracle of Google) that this is, indeed, what Bengali “five spice” is and that it’s proper name is panchphoran.  It is so delightfully different that the flavors that I generally get going out for Boston Indian food that I like to keep a container of it around when I want to cook something from that region of the world.

Lentils with Bengali “five spice”
9 servings


1-1/2 cups dried brown lentils
1 Tablespoon peanut or canola oil
1-1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Bengali “five spice” (equal parts nigella, fenugreek, brown/black mustard seed, cumin seed, fennel seed)
1 large onion, diced or grated
1 large very ripe tomato, diced or grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
½-3/4 teaspoon ground medium-hot Indian chilies
1-1/2 teaspoons salt


  1. Rinse lentils well in a strainer.
  2. Heat oil in medium-large saucepan.
  3. Toast cumin and Bengali “five spice” until fragrant but not dark.
  4. Add diced onion, tomato, paprika and chilies and cook on medium for a 2-4 minutes stirring occasionally so that cooking begins but no browning of the vegetables occurs.
  5. Add lentils and 4-1/2 cups of water to the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
  6. Cook for 30 minutes.
  7. Add salt, stir well, cook another 30 minutes.  During this final portion of the cooking, stir well to break up some of the lentils every 5-10 minutes.

Punjabi-style Potatoes with Cauliflower and Chickpeas (Aloo gobi with Chana) 
4-6 servings


¼ cup peanut or canola oil
2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes and boiled in salted water until fork tender
1 head of cauliflower (about 1-3/4 pounds) cut into florets and steamed or cooked with a bit of water in the microwave until just fork tender
2 teaspoons brown or black mustard seed
1-1/2 cups (1 14.5-oz can) cooked chickpeas
1-1/2 Tablespoons peeled finely chopped fresh ginger or ½ teaspoon ground dried ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coriander seed, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
½-3/4 teaspoon ground medium-hot Indian chilies (or ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in large sauté pan.  Add potatoes and brown sides. Remove potatoes from pan and set aside.
  2. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to the pan and brown cauliflower; remove from pan.
  3. Add final Tablespoon of oil to the pan along with fresh ginger if using and mustard seed and stir to toast until seeds begin to pop.
  4. Add chickpeas, cauliflower, potatoes, dried ginger if using, cumin and coriander, turmeric, salt and chilies.
  5. Add ½ cup water, stir well and cover to steam.
  6. Allow to steam 5 minutes before serving.
  7. Stir in cilantro just before serving.
Mango Chutney
Makes 1 cup


1-1/2 teaspoons peanut or canola oil
½ teaspoon Bengali “five spice” aka. Panchphoran (equal parts nigella, fenugreek, brown/black mustard seed, cumin seed, fennel seed)
6-7 ounces frozen or fresh chopped ripe mango
2/3 teaspoon salt
2-1/3” ginger peeled, sliced and cut into slivers or ½ teaspoon ground dried ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed well with the side of a knife
½ cup cider or white distilled vinegar
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1/3-1/2 teaspoon cayenne


  1. Heat oil and Bengali “five spice” in a small saucepan until fragrant but not dark.
  2. Add mango, salt, ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar, turmeric and cayenne.
  3. Stir all ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Allow to cook uncovered for 5 minutes to thicken a bit, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reduce heat to low and cook barely simmering for 30 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Put into a clean glass or ceramic jar to cool and cover with a non-corrosive lid.  Keep refrigerated.  It can be eaten right away, but keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.
Vegan Yogurt Substitute
½ cup firm silken tofu
1-½ teaspoons lemon juice

Blend ingredients together until completely smooth.  Store in the refrigerator.

Toasting Papads
1 package of papads of choice (I like cumin seed ones)

Turn a large burner on an electric stove or heat a cast iron pan well over a gas flame.  Use tongs to flip the papad as it puffs, crinkles and develops little tiny bubbles on each side and dulls in color throughout while getting tiny charred spots in a few places.  It works best to flip a few times quickly so that both sides get done without it curling up on you.  On an electric stove, you can put it right on the burner.  For the cast iron pan, there is no need to oil the pan.

--The Meal --
On each plate, I placed a serving of the Lentils and Aloo Gobi with Chana each with a dollop of of Vegan Yogurt Substitute on top.  Mango chutney was on the side, but quickly got mixed into the Aloo Gobi and the yogurt throughly mixed into both dishes.  We used toasted cumin seed papads to scoop up chutney and lentils as well.  

This definitely got two thumbs' up - and an S.O. that believes I can cook!

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