Autumn Me This!

November 9, 2008 at 4:00 AM (Inedible pleasures, ingredient processing and storage)


    Well folks, the killing frost that ends the growing season in the Green Bay area will come this night- near dawn (November 9th); last year, it was October 27th/28th- 12 days later this year… My hibiscus, lime sapling and bay laurel have been brought indoors and placed in a sunny window; they seem happy: red blossoms are appearing on the hibiscus now, and, two days later, falling. Last week the corms of my little taro family were gently pulled from the cooling soil and placed in the basement to hibernate. There is a chance of snow tonight, but such early snowfalls tend not to linger on the ground long, and the last trees to show their colours- like these maples lining the street- are in their transient glory…


    Such is autumn! Isn’t the mould of oak-leaves at the top pretty?! Though some become sad to see the greens of summer fade, I am, in fact, quite content. In a grand effort this past season, I attempted to “eat local” as much as possible, which meant that much of the summer’s bounty fetched from the farmers’ markets- or the few things that I’d grown myself- was in need of preserving for the coming winter and spring. And I totally avoided using the freezer! Instead, I turned to home-canning for some things (tomatoes and a few “immersed” pickles; I detest canned vegetables for those interested), drying, and spent the remainder of my efforts on what some may call “ambient” preserves: those that will keep at room temperature without a vacuum seal. Which translates into my tapping into the very knowledgeable database of Indian pickling. If I was astounded a year ago at the variety, I am now nothing short of flabbergasted- and that might be a gross understatement.

And I’m very very tired.

But I’m not done yet: I cannot count how many limes I’ve squeezed- and thus had many, many peels that I couldn’t bear to toss away (good antioxidants you know!)- and so… I froze them until the bags became a nuisance and made large batches of yet more pickles by combining the lime peels with a juicier citrus- like oranges. And one last slew of them remains to be dealt with! Plus a bag of frozen amla… but they can both wait until I catch up on a few more things. (Chana ka achaar? Leave me be- maybe later)

One of those things is a chain of riddling that our sweet friend Manisha started. I was lucky enough to guess the correct answer of her name-the-subject-of-this-photo riddle, and the prize is that I now pass another riddle to all of you! Aren’t you lucky?! 😀

Anita was lucky too! Aren’t we a brilliant bunch… 😉

The rules of supplying the correct answer to Riddle Me This (ie: winning) are simple and few: [coughs]

  1. find something stranger than strange and,
  2. post it on your blog within the next two weeks (or so…).
  3. The quiz should remain open for at least 1 day and at the most 2 days.
  4. The person who guesses it correctly gets the torch and is the next host for Riddle Me This.
  5. If the person who guesses correctly is the previous host of the present host, then that person will get to pick someone to pass the buck to from all those who made a guess.
  6. And so on.
  7. Please use this fabulous logo, designed by you-know-who:
  8. and link back to the host who passed the baton on to you (that’d be me!).
  9. Please do your best to keep this alive. Just think of how much fun it will be! (It’s possible.) 🙂

Can any of you correctly identify these?


This episode of Riddle Me This (RMT) has now concluded; Anita of A Mad Tea Party has taken the trophy home once again by correctly identifying these as hickory nuts. Hopefully someday Manisha herself will be able to conquer the monster she herself has created. Good luck! Peace and Happiness to all, and to all a good night.


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October 14, 2008 at 10:44 PM (Inedible pleasures, ingredient processing and storage, poetry, random musings, sights)

Rows, rows and rows-
Jars empty fill shelves:
Little ghosts in a classroom-
Not one spoils the silence.
With dust-lipped, open mouths-
Parched, they wait breathless;
Crumpled spiders to swallow whole.

The lucky ones munch dried leaves-
Toothlessly torn from a chill gust:
Tea and gossip-
With a wind that whispered, and then went away.

-P. Qeluzsva

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Right On Schedule…

August 26, 2008 at 2:15 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, potatoes, tamarind, vegetables/ fruits)

Maybe some of you know already that the fondest cookbook in my small, humble collection is an old, now-coverless copy of Premila Lal’s Indian Recipes. Though it was reprinted in 1994 in paperback as The Complete Book of Indian Cooking (and yeah, I have one of these too) it just doesn’t compare to the textural quality of my old copy.  I found it at a public library book sale (the kind where they purge the library of low-traffic volumes and, once a year, set them out for sale). I guess I can understand why: there are lots of shiny new cookbooks vying to cover the subject with pretty paper dust-covers, pages laden with beautiful photos, oversized overall- all of them making promises to teach you all there is to know. Some of them almost succeed- others? Best relegated to purr and sit demurely at the coffee-table. This little, yellow-canvased unpretension never learned to flaunt and shout: a veritable wall-flower.

And a part of me is like that too. I recall many a fine, warm, sunny summer day spent indoors gliding through its yellowed pages, studying its carefully-composed, black-line drawings that illustrate the head of each chapter. Recipe after recipe, collected helter-skelter from all over vast India, some poorly edited: …then add the green chiles… I scan the ingredient list. What chiles? Where are they?! While I was scratching my head over such important matters I am sure there were many more young men my age busy enjoying the warm weather and sun and wind streaming into open car windows.

These little quirks just add to the fun, but, despite the slew of interesting recipes contained therein (some downright odd!), there is a noticable lack of contextual introductions that writers like the great Madame J. is well-known for- and that has created an inbuilt surreality to meals had over the years arranged from recipes plucked from one chapter or another by an ignorant midwestern American. For instance: I recall being obsessed with the dish known as karhi/kadhi several years ago: I had settled for the time on a recipe found in another book, but desperately wanted potato pakoras like those I tasted from cans of Jyoti… I found a recipe in Premila’s book entitled “potato bondas” under Snacks and Savories. These must be it!, thought I… I made the heavenly stuffing, rolled beautiful balls, dipped them in besan batter and fried them. My then-partner and I thought these were quite tasty on their own- pieces of onions and cashews, and equally-nutty, fried urad dhal, speckling the bright yellow potatoes- so fragrant and steaming within a crispy coat. “Must we put all of the rest into the karhi?” , my partner asked. “Yep!”… and in they went… where they all promptly disintegrated and made for a very thick batch of karhi, with a flavour covering both the north and south of great India.

Luckily, one of Anita‘s posts was able to sort out this sticky mess for me: none of you need fret any longer over Pel’s latest renditions of Punjabi kadhi pakode-wali! But things have an odd way of coming full circle sometimes don’t they? We never know quite what to expect of Anita’s next post, or how she will decide to celebrate something. Two years now in this food-blogging business? That is a feat worth celebrating!

My mother asked me two nights ago, ” What are you making with the potatoes?” I decided to be secretive about it: “Oh…you’ll see.” While the potatoes boiled I fried the masala. I took a cue from Anita and added some hing and took a cupful of frozen peas from the freezer. I drained the potatoes and added the peas and, the filling now finished, plunked it onto a steel thali and quietly placed it in the microwave to cool off. I had tasted it you see, and I knew that if I were to leave it in plain view and give her free reign…

And I also wanted to try making a sweet tamarind chatni, so this was next in line: I page through Premila’s book. Yep. OK, thaw a few cubes of home-made tamarind paste…no dates? I don’t feel like crushing gur tonight either…but I have a jar of date syrup. That’ll be fine. Roast a few spices and make a quick grind in the mortar and pestle, a little salt: sweet chatni done. Time to fry. But… I wonder if the potato-pea stuff still tastes good. Better make sure. Oh yeah. I check again. I sigh. Since I am not behaving, I snatch up a forkful and walk it in defeat to the next room where my mother is busy chatting on the phone to a friend. She looks up in question. “Here, try this…”, I whispered. That was all it took.

As I expected, a few minutes later, her call finished, “Where is that potato stuff you made?” Her small bowlful received a drizzle of the tamarind chatni. She ooohs, she aaahs, she wonders why she can’t have more.

“Yes mum, it gets coated in batter and deep-fried, and then I bought some rolls…”

“Deep-fried mashed potato sandwiches?!!!” You see, this combo-of-carbs-galore is almost unheard of here…

“Yes! With three… different… chatnis!” For health, you know, but the combo just can’t be beat! I know these aren’t authentic Marathi-style batata vadas, no…these hail from a bit furthur south I think. Premila keeps secrets, but I do think this recipe is divine, and when one of these and a smear of chatni are caught between two sides of a bun, there is no chance of it disintegrating anywhere! (except in the direction of my mother and now, too, [sigh] one of her friends!)


Happy 2nd Anniversary to you and your wonderful blog Anita!

And also I thank you: for your constant help, for sharing delicious food and views of the land, and for teaching me words in Hindi, Kashmiri, Marathi, and English.

Alu Bondas

from Premila Lal’s Indian Recipes, Premila Lal 1968

1 lb. potatoes- about 5 sm-med size

1 C green peas (my addition)

3 T ghee or oil

1/2 t mustard seeds

1/2 t weak hing (my addition)

1 T urad dhal

2 T chopped cashews

1/4 t turmeric powder

2 medium onions, chopped 1/4″ (I used 1+1/2 C)

6 green chiles, seeded if you wish, chopped 1/4″

1″ piece of ginger, minced

1 sprig (about 20 leaves) karipatta


juice of 1/2 small lime, 1/6 of a large one

1) Boil the potatoes until tender. I like to retain the skins of potatoes so I cut them into 3/4″ cubes and boiled them- about 12 minutes. Drain and mash.

2)Heat the ghee in a pan and add the mustard seeds; when they pop add the hing, urad, and nuts; fry until just golden; add the turmeric, onions, chiles, ginger and karipatta; fry until the onions are translucent.

3) Add the potatoes and peas and stir and mash until well-combined; season with salt and lime juice; remove to a plate or bowl and allow to cool a bit.

4) Heat enough oil for deep-frying and make a batter of besan like this: maybe a cup and a half of besan, a spoon of ground red chiles, a big smidge of turmeric, some salt; add water slowly to form a thick batter that clings; add a spoon or two of hot oil and mix well.

5)Make balls of the potato mixture, or if you’d like and as I have done, small, thick patties (vadas); coat all sides well with the batter and carefully drop into the hot oil (a drop of batter should rise to the surface immediately and fry) and fry until golden-brown. Remove and drain on a cloth.

Note—> I used pistachios instead of cashews and left out the karipatta because I had neither handy. Cilantro/coriander leaves seem to be a popular addition and/or the karipatta.

These can be served on their own with various chatnis, or placed inside a bun for vada pav (pav- square dinner-roll-ish bread). I used some whole wheat buns (I toasted them, but pav isn’t usually toasted I’m told), and served them with hari chatni (cilantro-mint chatni…but this might be more authentic), dry garlic chatni (I used Laxmi brand- yeah, storebought. It was hanging about you know?), and lots of this stuff that I also procured from Premila Lal but downsized the quantity and used date syrup instead of gur (pureed dates are often used for this chatni as well):

Meetha Chatni

4 T tamarind paste

2 T date syrup, or to taste (or grated gur or any sugar, or ground dates)

Some of the following masala: lightly roast 1 t cumin seeds, 1 t fennel seeds, 1 t coriander seeds…grind and add 1 t ground red chiles

salt to taste

coriander/cilantro leaves for garnishing

1)Mix the tamarind paste and date syrup (or grated gur, or puree the tam ex with dates and and some water); season with the roasted masala (I used about 1/2 t) and some salt; garnish with coriander leaves. (I didn’t bother with the frou-frou of garnishing and got down to business!)

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Holy Colours: a Recipe for Garam Masala…

March 31, 2008 at 2:42 PM (aromatic mixtures, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India)


Of all the wonderful gifts I’ve received over the past year from fellow food-bloggers, none are more precious to me than the garam masalas that I keep carefully tucked-away and labeled in a drawer of my fridge.  Some of you might wonder why I feel this way…after all, a simple search through cookbooks or an internet search-engine will land you hundreds of recipes- each of them unique in some way (I seriously believe that a determined person could find enough to grind and sample a new one for each of his/her remaining days! Astounding to think about, no?), but it is far more exciting to hold in your hands a delicious aroma that is connected to a person you have come to know- like how we tend to associate the scent of a flower, or that of a designer fragrance with people who wear it often.

So it is enough to be given such a gift, for, in India’s northerly cuisines, a sprinkling of garam masala seems to function as a final “signature” of a great cook who has gone to great lengths to present a charming, if not splendidly sensual, meal. I ponder whether some of these cooks prefer to limit its use to a single dish at a table (less is more?), or… could it be used to unify divergent dishes on a thali? Such questions! Still, a final, unique signature. And often an unspoken way of saying: this is the flavour of my family, for this recipe has been passed down through many generations of cooks, each one changing it just slightly from its former avatar. (or, I made this one up myself! What do you think?) With you I share its spirit; let it entice your nose and tongue as it passes your way…

It has even greater significance when a food-blogger sends a smidge (or much more than a smidge!), for now all dishes containing it in their ongoing, online collection can be reconstructed very near to what the writer intended: any other garam masala will work, but what a delight to taste it just as it was meant. And this is why I treasure these dry potions so.

But, sadly, I must admit that I am yet to construct my own. True, I came across a lovely recipe a few years back and have stuck with it; I’ve even sent out a smidge or two. I liked it better than any I had tried to that date. But now, I’m not so sure…this past year has exposed me to new things, new people, new food, new spices. It’s hard to remain so faithful to that old standby now. And maybe this is how it should be: the best garam masalas make you turn your head to look again. They tantalize and seduce you as if a most-beautiful person- judiciously-dabbed with a most-alluring fragrance- has passed you on the street and you have no choice but to surrender and silently watch while you can- nevermind who sees you doing it! That is its potential power. Use it sparingly; grind it in small amounts at a time. And why buy ready-made in a packet with all of this at your feet?!

While contemplating these things, an idea struck me. Why not make a very special garam masala that means nothing more or less than right now, your friends, your self. Why not take just a bit of every garam masala that you carefully keep, including your own, and mix them together? Imagine the complexity… And so I did. A half-teaspoon of each. Exquisite, of course…and I reserve it for the most special of dishes. I’ve dubbed it Sri Garam Masala…Thank you.

I would aslo like to extend a very warm thank you to all of my readers- the regulars, the once-in-awhilers, the silent readers, the new readers, and especially to those who can’t stay on the topic in the comment section. You’ve all made this a fine and fabulous first year for Elaichi et Cetera (yes, March 20th was the blog’s anniversary; better late than never!), and I hope to continue posting for awhile yet. I also send wishes to all of you for a very happy spring: may you be as enraptured by its spell as I am… and here is hope that the coming year brings many blessings (and fine vegetables) to you all. Until next time, I’ll be grinding away at something new…


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Ma Po Doufu: a Truly-Divine, Vegan Version

March 17, 2008 at 5:00 PM (Arusuvai Friendship Chain, China, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fungi, legumes/pulses- whole or split, seeds, soy, Szechuan, various nuts like me, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts)


This is a lovely dish from the province of Szechuan, China, with an equally loverly story attached to its origin which may be read here. Only a handful of Chinese restaurants abroad ever offer this dish, for it isn’t a quick stir-fry: it is a simmered, stew-like dish with a bit of preliminary prep-work involved. Traditionally, a small quantity of ground pork (or beef) is included, and hitherto I have followed suit.

When I received an Arusuvai Friendship Chain gift of extremely-fresh, Szechuan peppercorns sent by the ever-talented Musical, I set to work almost immediately to prepare this long-time favorite which prominently features this tongue-numbing spice. I sat there, nibbling daintily away at a plateful with freshly-steamed rice, resisting an urge to shovel it in greedily (it is so delicious…) when a few thoughts struck me: truly, it is the finely-balanced sauce which dominates the flavour….the ground pork lends a gentle sweetness, but mostly the pieces serve as a textural counterpoint to the soft bean-curd…


And then, within a span of a few days, two jolting pieces of information crossed my path: first, I discovered the PETA videos posted on (I won’t go into detail here, but it would be sufficient to say that I saw things which I will not soon forget); second, the family chiropractor sent us his usual monthly newsletter. Most often this contains useful tidbits that he gleans from his personal wanderings in Ayurveda-land, but this time he included a brief summary of the findings of recent research that linked the consumption of animal protein to inflammation, and specifically a link to various forms of arthritis. And then…Jai of Jugalbandi wrote this post– furthur cementing my new convictions. So, I decided to make my consumption of animal protein an even rarer occasion than it already is. And I began to think of a new way to make ma po tofu

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different recipes, but I really liked the one found in Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. It’s so delicious. And I knew it would be delicious still without a half-pound of pork. But what to add in its place? TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an obvious choice; it closely replicates the chewy texture of meat, but… I don’t like to rely on a factory-made product too much, nor does it add a whole lot in flavour…

Mushrooms. I’ve sometimes added various types of mushrooms to this dish anyway… they’re somewhat chewy…they would add a subtle flavour… but how will I convert them into little pieces like that? The ways are endless… Walnuts. Coarsely-ground. Delicately-sweet, and they are also used frequently in China. Use both.


But first, who will I pass on the Arusuvai “torch” to? Hmmm…good question. Truly, no-one answered my riddle correctly. However… two people were quite close:

Linda of Out of the Garden answered “tofu” correctly (but seasoned differently)…and

Zlamushka of her own Spicy Kitchen answered “Ma…” correctly (but named another Szechuanese dish).

Since these two were the closest, I invited them to be my recipients of a little suprise…and they have both accepted the offer. Congratulations to both of you!


And now, Mushroom Meal!!!:

I took 1/2 pound (8 oz.) of plain old “button” mushrooms (they’re popular for a reason) and shredded them into a moist heap. But, not wanting shreddy-strands in my dish, I dehydrated this (I used an electric food-dehydrator, but an oven on a low-heat setting will work as well). Then, I took these dried shreds and smashed them into a coarse, granular powder in a mortar…the restrained use of an electric mixer/grinder or food processor will do the job just as nicely. We all end up with about 2-3 tablespoons. I suppose the same could be done to already-dried (stems removed) shiitake/Chinese black mushrooms- though I think their flavour would be too dominant here- but perhaps another milder-flavoured ‘shroom?…

Ma Po Doufu/Tofu

(Pel’s vegan version based on Mrs. Kuo’s)

3 blocks of firm tofu (original recipe calls for 4- 3″X3″ blocks…generally, American blocks are a bit larger)

hot water

2 T peanut (or other) oil 

4 slices of peeled, fresh ginger; minced

1/2 C coarsely-ground raw walnuts

2-3 T mushroom meal (dried, coarsely-ground mushrooms– see above)


1 T Chinese cooking-wine, or dry sherry

1 T hot bean paste (AKA Szechuan bean paste)

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

1 t or more, to taste, red chile oil* (optional)


1 C lightly-salted chana broth (liquid from cooking chickpeas/garbanzo beans) or other vegetable-stock

Binding sauce: 

2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

2 t roasted sesame-seed oil


2 whole spring onions (I used more cuz I like ’em: 6), thinly sliced

1/2 t (or more if you like) lightly dry-roasted and crushed Szechuan peppercorns


1)Cut the bean-curd into 1/2″ cubes; cover with hot water and drain just before adding.

2)Heat the peanut oil in a wok over med-low flame; add the ginger and fry until fragrant; add the walnuts and fry just until they begin to smell roasted.

3)Add 1 C of hot water and the mushroom meal; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently, until the mixture is fairly dry and the mushrooms have reconstituted- about 20 minutes.

4)Add the seasonings and stir well; add the chana or vegetable broth.

5)Drain the bean-curd and scatter these into the pan; stir very gently to even these out; bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes over med-low heat, stirring once during this time.

6)Stir the binding sauce well, then pour in a spiral over the contents of the pan; stir gently until the sauce thickens; turn off heat.

7)Gently fold in the spring onions;

8)Turn onto a serving-platter and sprinkle the ground peppercorns over the top; serve with hot steamed rice. You will assuredly enjoy! (Did I mention this is delicious?)


*Red chile oil can be bought, or simply made this way: heat 1 C oil until quite hot; remove from heat and add 6 T (3/8 C) ground red chiles (stand back, the fumes will irritate your breathing apparatus), stir gently for about a minute, then add 1 C more of oil to halt the frying. Allow to cool completely, strain through a musin cloth or several layers of cheesecloth and pour into a bottle. Besides being a useful cooking-sauce, it can also be used as an ingredient in dipping-sauces and salad-dressings… hotness yum!

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Something Wicked This Way Comes…

March 10, 2008 at 11:47 AM (Arusuvai Friendship Chain, Bihar, dishes by main ingredient, India, various greens, vegetables/ fruits)


…wickedly-wonderfully-fragrant more like! My nose- yet three feet from the mailbox, already in bliss- and curiosity claimed hold of my hands, recasting them into grasping crab-claws to quickly, quietly clasp and crimp the box’s contents that the mail-carrier had bid “adieu”- undoubtedly with a fair measure of grief. Poor thing… but, ah! Lucky me! The Arusuvai Friendship Chain has now crossed over this humble threshold!

I had to inhale once again- before opening the package, before taking another step inwards, before even reading the sender’s name. I must have died within a fond dream, thought I, and day after day, from now until never’s noon, will I be gathering such delights from my mailbox… but, alas, the phone rings and, while I stand stunned, I hesitate and hear while a thoughtful message is left to remind me of a dreaded, upcoming appointment. I heave a sigh, turn the package over and read the sender’s address: “From the lovely and talented Mistress of Music, Deliverer of Dreams, Stocker of Secrets, Sender of Salubrious and Delicious Delicacies…

…or something like that. [grins] Someone really needs to tone down their intros- wouldn’t you agree? So now come a few photos:


I do wish it were possible to attach a “fragrance-file” to these (it is unfortunate in this case, but then I can imagine others wherein this olfactory handicap in technology might be considered fortunate), but Musical, I thank you thank you thank you for these wonderful things: a nourishing rice of rare origin, two extraordinary masalas, that mysterious spice that begins with a…with an…

These things have inspired me to think of or find new dishes in which to try them, but most of all I am impressed by the freshness of the mystery ingredient– I have never beheld it so! Such a powerful effect it has on the tongue….reminds me of a dish I dearly love and that I haven’t made in several years. It has something to do with an aged woman, I believe… but all in due time! And I’ll announce my forward-moving Arusuvai recipients then. (this is serious business- considering what to send and to whom!)


Clockwise from the bottom: Bhutanese red rice, Punju-style garam masala, Kerala-style garam masala, and a lil’ something that I sampled three of and afterward thought one would have sufficed for sampling- whoa- strong! (but I am not complaining!)

Can anyone guess- not what the mystery ingredient is– but something more difficult: what is the name of the dish which will be my next post? The winner(s) will become my recipients of the outward-moving chain, which will be posted on March 17th.

But what’s a post without a recipe, you might ask? That’d be like a grin without a cat…or something like that! So……here is a recipe from Bihar*, that you may just like- wherever you are! Mustard oil is truly a must- without it the dish might fail; I trust you will find some before you begin this simple venture. Not from a tin, but fresh buy some greens(found near the aubergines)- a pleasant mix is best. The dressing is blessed with raw garlic and ginger (whose taste tends to linger), so be sure to savour it with those who favour such flavours… alas, it would otherwise be like leading the blind to butterflies!

Mixed Greens ka Chokha

1 1/2 lbs. mixed greens

2 T mustard oil

2 T coriander leaves, finely chopped

1/2 t garlic paste (I just took one clove/flake…)

1/2 t ginger paste

1/2 t green chile paste- or to taste (er…does one, maybe two green chiles make that amount?)

1/2 t salt

1) Wash and pick over the greens; bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add the greens and cook until just tender; remove, let cool; squeeze out excess water- but not excessively, then either puree the greens in a food processor- adding a little cooking-water- or chop very finely by hand.

2)Mix the remaining ingredients together well to form a very pungent, raw-flavoured sauce; pour this over the greens and mix thoroughly (no folks…none of this is applied to a heat-source!). Serve with flat-bread of your choice, but puris are best! (and recommended by Madhur)

*This recipe is taken from (and modified only slightly) from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cookbook. It is titled Spinach Cooked in a Bihari Style, but there is mention in the foreward that it is traditionally composed of a mixture of chana greens, mustard greens, and spinach… For an exquisitely-written and well-researched post on the subject of chokha, check out Jugalbandi’s post.

P.S. I’ve been reading. About Holi. And thandai… and the secret ingredient that seems to be left out in recipes I’ve read. Is it totally legal in India I ask?!

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