October 2022 COTM: THALI by Maunika Gowardhan + the author's website


Winter squash has started coming in the CSA box, so this recipe was a good fit. The five spice referred to hear is panch phoran, a mix of fennel, cumin, mustard, nigella, and fenugreek. It’s easy to mix this up from its components, but this is one I actually buy, because I use it enough to justify it, and since the spices are all whole, it keeps well, unlike ground mixes. The headnote says you have the option to use mustard oil instead of vegetable oil for the dish, which is what I did. To the hot oil, you add a couple dried chiles and the panch phoran. Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then add ginger, and then cubed squash (I used butternut). Turmeric, Kashmiri chile powder, and ground coriander go in next, along with some jaggery or sugar (I used jaggery). You are then supposed to season to taste (annoying, because the squash is hard at this point, so why doesn’t she just say to add salt?), then add some water. This is cooked covered at a low simmer, then she has you add a bit more water and continue to cook. Fresh coriander is added as a garnish before serving.

We really liked this. I resisted the temptation to add a squeeze of lime, but I might not resist next time. I do love flavors in panch phoran, and combined with the jaggery and other spices it made a tasty glaze for the tender squash. We had this with a mustardy eggplant curry from the author’s Web site and plain rice.



I chose this recipe to go with the winter squash reported above because I wanted another Bengali recipe, and because I had Japanese eggplant in the garden begging to be picked. This is another one where you have the option of mustard oil, which is what I used. You start this recipe by making a paste of yellow mustard seeds, white poppy seeds, a green chile, and Greek yogurt. I don’t keep yellow mustard seeds around in large quantities, and this used almost all I had. The eggplant is tossed with some turmeric, then pan-fried and set aside. You then fry some green chile and nigella seeds, add the mustard paste, then some ginger paste, and finally cumin and sugar (I used jaggery). You then add water and briefly simmer before adding the already cooked eggplant and simmer for a few minutes more.

I liked this recipe, but probably not enough to want to repeat it (the bar for repeating is high). Mr. MM was less enthusiastic and refused the leftovers, which is extremely rare. So let’s just say that this is not a dish that will be universally loved. Picture is above with the squash. You can find the recipe here:


I get Mr. MM’s stance — I disliked Bengali mustard curries for many years.

But then a switch flipped a year or two ago, and now I enjoy them.

I did have a slow transition, though — I eased in with much-simplified, prepared-mustard versions, which are much gentler than the punch of fresh-ground mustard.

I guess I’m on a roll this month :joy: (maybe because we are smack dab in the middle of Indian/Hindu festival season and I’m feeling homesick).


I was going to make the Kerala egg curry @Amandarama made from the book, but I thought the onion/tomato gravy might be similar to the fish I still have leftovers of, so it was between this and the Andhra egg curry on the website. I went with this because she says this is the egg curry she grew up eating, and it does have the simplicity of that kind of home dish.

Very quick, very flavorful, and different because of the gram flour thickening (vs onion).

A spice paste of garlic (more), ginger, tamarind, turmeric, chilli powder is made (I didn’t do this because I already had ginger-garlic paste).

Curry leaves and green chilli are tempered in hot oil (I also added a pinch of black mustard seeds), the paste is added and fried for a minute, then water added and the mixture simmered. Finally a besan / gram flour slurry is added slowly to thicken the gravy, garam masala is added (I forgot this), and boiled eggs are added and steeped for a few minutes before serving. I made 7-minute eggs, so I added them whole because I didn’t want to lose the runny yolk.

This was very nice, and a totally different flavor profile than my usual egg curry, which is onion-tomato based (with coconut added sometimes).

I ate it with toasted homemade bread, but it would have been good with rice too, or soft dinner rolls (like pao).



This is a quick and delicious vegetable dish flavored mainly with curry leaves and freshly grated coconut.

You temper curry leaves, urad dal (split matpe beans), black mustard seeds, and red chilli. Then onions are added and softened, chilli powder, and the spinach. When everything is well-mixed, the dish is finished with fresh coconut and cilantro.

I had sauteed a whole bag of frozen spinach for the Palak Dal the other day, so I just used some of that here. I also added some grated ginger because it goes well with this kind of prep. And I skipped the red chilli powder and used a sliced green chilli (that I fished out later so I didn’t confuse it with the spinach, lol).

Don’t skip either the urad dal or the karipatta here – they are central to the flavor profile. (If you don’t normally stock urad, you can sub yellow moong dal instead.)


Spicy sweet corn with ginger and green chilli (p. 42)

This was great! About twenty minutes start to finish, and all of the flavors shine nicely. Hot yellow mustard seeds instead of black ones because I couldn’t find any. I used frozen corn, but I think that the called-for tinned corn work be a bit less chewy (and more enjoyable). Definitely a keeper.


This is a breakfast dish for us, and I agree, absolutely delicious. I pressure cook frozen corn first to tenderize it.


“Chops” are stuffed potato cutlets popular in Bengal (but likely originated In Iraq and came to Bengal with the Baghdadi Jews who migrated to Calcutta - see aloo/potato chaap). I’ve never eaten a vegetarian version, and I love beets, so why not.

A mixture of grated carrots and grated (cooked) beets is seasoned with ginger, green chillies, cilantro, chaat masala, cumin, and amchur. This mixture would typically used as stuffing for a potato croquette, but she simplifies the process by mixing the boiled, mashed potato in. The cutlets are dipped in a cornflour slurry and then breadcrumbs and deep fried.

I found the mixture very underseasoned, so I increased all the flavorings. (Wasn’t surprised because the seasoning was good before the potato went in, and would have been ok if the potato were on the outside rather than mixed in.)

I’m usually lazy about a double coating, but in this case the slurry was necessary for the breadcrumbs to stick and for the croquette to be properly sealed. I didn’t deep fry, but used my paniyaram pan instead.

The carrots seemed unnecessary, unless they are there to provide texture, but I couldn’t really tell so I’d probably skip them next time. I chopped everything fine in the mini FP instead of grating. Also, raisins are just a no for me.

This is a nice bite if you like beets. And if you don’t, it would work with different vegetables too, though it wouldn’t look as dramatic.





These were actually better the next day (even cold), so another time I might make the mixture earlier and let it rest for the flavors to meld.

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Mel, did your mustard seeds completely dissolve? I thought I soaked long enough, then I used a mini food processor, but they remained intact. They were perhaps old. But no matter, the entire pan went into the trash. There is a mustardy dish from my local Indian takeout joint that I love, and I thought this was going to be similar. Unfortunately it was inedible… Oh well, it happens!

The mini processor probably didn’t have quite enough oomph to grind them up well. In the comment thread for the recipe, she notes that the wet blending is an alternative to dry grinding. If you have a spice grinder, you could skip soaking and grind the spices and add to the yogurt and chiles before blending.

I had the mortar and pestle out but thought better when I saw how much seed it was. No matter, it just was not palatable–though I typically like mustard and strongly flavored things. Bummer, as my eggplant had come out perfectly!

Sorry, wasn’t ignoring, just thinking about how to answer.

Protein is not eaten in the same proportion or with the singular focus of the western diet – vegetables have protein, dairy has protein, grains have protein, and so on. Even for non-vegetarian meals, meat and fish portions might seem like condiments relative to western serving sizes. Nutrient balance may be achieved across the day and the week, not necessarily in a single meal.

Back to the kadhi – it would serve as the only wet dish, and part of the overall protein content of the meal. (For Gujarati yogurt-based kadhi, there might be dry-cooked sprouted beans or lentils on the side as a combination, but not always.)

(I had a much longer reply typed up about home eating cycles / habits / planning, but it was overkill.)


I’d be interested in the longer post, though likely in another topic?


They did get completely ground. I used a stick blender, which was not the best choice, because the paste was quite thick, and it took forever to blend. I have a Sumeet Multi-Grind, which is a wet/dry grinder, and that is what I would use if I were to do it over. It’s what I use when making Thai curry pastes. I don’t think any food processor is going to grind fine enough to get mustard seeds to break down. If I didn’t have the Sumeet, my next choice would be the Vitamix.

if you have access to an indian store they typically will sell ground yellow mustard seeds for these bengali dishes. I have a big bag of it in the pantry. Maybe this discussion will inspire to try.

Funny, I make punch phoron myself - with big jars of the component spices, its a great opportunity to leverage!

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The yogurt itself has protein, in addition to the chickpea flour.

In South Indian meal plates, the kadhi equivalent (morkozhambu in Tamil, other names in other S.I. languages) is one element, with dal, sabzis, etc. all around.

Punjabi kadhi often has chickpea dumplings in it. One morkozhambu option has dal dumplings.

Thus, as @saregama says, the proportions and portions are different from most Euro style food plates, growing similar to other Asian food plates. But full nutrition happens with the overall variety of dishes and serving size.

And desi food plates are generally assembled with consideration for balancing varied elements - something proteiny, a couple of veggies, yogurt, the staple (rice, roti, etc.) so it all adds uo.


I have a very good Indian market, but I generally do not like to buy ground spices. Whole spices hold their flavor a lot better and I can grind as needed. With the Sumeet, I can grind pretty good quantities at a time, so I will grind more than I need and store in small jars, but not so much that it loses potency before I use it up. Also buying whole spices only means I only have to buy one form of the spice. I have the whole seeds when I need them, and can easily have the ground version, and don’t have to worry about finding space to store two versions.

The longer version of my response had a disclaimer about lots of regional variation…

Would this be the case for an everyday meal? What you describe would be true for a gujarati festival or wedding thali, but not for a random Tuesday :joy: