Today’s food story is from Rinku of Cooking in Westchester. Rinku is a financial strategist that loves numbers, spices, kids, flower and her camera. She cooks simply and sustainably from her kitchen in Westchester County, New York. Recently published is Rinku’s The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles …
My food story is about simple sustainability and finding childhood flavors in food around me. It has always been very important for me to cook the everyday meals for my family, in a world with mile long labels and a lifestyle that keeps me on the go, I feel that this ensures a connection with my children and keeps their meals wholesome and untouched. It is not surprising that food is such an important mode of connection for me, because I feel I have grown up in the kitchen. Because, like my children today shadow me, I used to shadow my grandmother as she cooked.
However, my grandmother lived in a slower paced world with inter-generational families. At the time I hung out with her in the kitchen she had been absolved from a lot of her responsibilities as my mother and aunts had grown up and she was able to indulge her passion of cooking in an unhurried manner. Although, later she told me there is a time for everything and she too had her days of chaotic confusion, raising four children sometimes alone as my grandfather was an army doctor and had to travel a lot. Early food memories when I started were daunting and often consisting of complex dishes. Today, I have learnt to celebrate simplicity, lentils, greens, a simple light styled curry, a comforting quiche… I think you get the picture. I am compulsive about planning, but leave my meals loose, I wish I could say unplanned but that does not quite work.
It has taken me time to find a style that is simple, whole and works with my relatively busy lifestyle. This has taken some time to achieve a level of practical ease especially with the recipes of my childhood. Today, however I realize that while we often glorify the elaborate everyday cooking is often made up of simple recipes that nourish and satisfy. I love being around food, not just eating it, I love to cook, teach others to cook and of course write about food. It has offered me a way to share culture with my children and others who have learnt cooking working with me.
The Indian cooking in my new table often is therefore a simple extension of childhood Bengali recipes from my grandmother’s kitchen (with a few degrees of separation), North Indian recipe from my mother-in-law’s kitchen and several other recipes that I have acquired from life’s travels. I often say, I am yet to meet a recipe that I could not add an Indian accent to, however by the same token a lot of local bounty makes its way into my table.
However, to celebrate spring I shall share a recipe that is comforting and soft and full of the flavors of childhood and nostalgia. It is something that I grew up eating, the toasting of the lentils is characteristic and lends these otherwise simple lentils a deep nutty taste and the cauliflower is something that I throw in just because, I love cauliflower. This recipe is from my cookbook, the Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.
Lentils have their champions in a household. I am a fan of the yellow split moong lentils especially when pairing them with vegetables. However, my brother and mother tend to prefer the orange/red lentils (masoor dal). This recipe can be prepared with either. If using the orange/red lentils you can skip the step of roasting them.
- ½ cup yellow split lentils (moong dal)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cauliflower florets, cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 teaspoon ghee (clarified butter)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 or 2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
- 2 dried red chilies
- Place the lentils in a cooking vessel and dry roast them for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the lentils smell toasty and fragrant and darken a few shades.
- Put the roasted lentils, 2 cups of water, turmeric, cayenne pepper powder, and
- salt in a pot and cook for 10 minutes. The lentils should be nice and soft but still retain their shape.
- Add the cauliflower and cook till it is soft, about another 5 to 7 minutes. (The lentils should now have a nice soft consistency and the cauliflower should be cooked through.)
- Heat the oil and ghee in a small skillet on medium heat until almost smoking and then add the cumin seeds and bay leaves and the red chilies.
- Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes until the cumin sizzles and darkens along with the bay leaves. The spices should turn fragrant but not be too hot. Pour over the lentils and mix in and enjoy with rice and any other dish of your choice.
Recipe courtesy of Rinku Bhattacharya from Cooking in Westchester
Rinku Bhattacharya blogs at Cooking in Westchester, where she writes about Indian inspired food with an emphasis on seasonality. A busy mother of two energetic children, Rinku shares her ideas on keeping things simple and wholesome. Rinku also writes the column Spices and Seasons for the Journal News and is the author of the cookbook, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles where she shares traditional recipes from her childhood adapted and simplified for the American kitchen. You can find more of Rinku’s recipes by following her facebook page.