Good morning. How are you doing? These are unsettling, anxiety-producing times, all over the world. We’re worried — about those we love and about ourselves, about the economy and politics and health of our nation and the ones at and beyond our borders. We’re freaked out about the person shuffling in line at the bank, by her dry cough and damp forehead, not to mention what we make of that character in vinyl gloves and a gas mask at the bagel store. (He’s not robbing the place, but calmly ordering a pound of blueberry cream cheese to take home to quarantine!) I myself bought four pounds of dried black beans at the market, 10 cans of tomato soup for $10, a sleeve of Irish Spring, a lot of bacon and butter and flour, frozen fruit, rice, two boxes of Red Zinger, shelf-stable milk. I don’t know what’s going on with me. You may feel similarly.
I’d like to think NYT Cooking can help. For those feeling nesty, antisocial or those self-isolating for reasons of caution or health, Melissa Clark stepped up the other day to write about stocking your pantry the smart way, an addendum to Julia Moskin’s artful guide to the subject. Then we assembled a pantry of our own: many, many recipes to cook from your stores. And here’s a collection of recipes that may come in handy if you’re working from home. That ought to keep you from getting bored.
Me, I want to spend the weekend cooking from the most exciting collection of new recipes I’ve seen in a while: Tejal Rao’s 10 Essential Indian Recipes. It’s a brilliant digital cookbook, essentially, a small portrait of a vast and diverse cuisine by a kitchen artist who is part of the Indian diaspora. Her Kenyan-Gujarati taste, Tejal writes, “can tell you who I am, but it cannot tell you, at least not with any accuracy, what the Indian kitchen is like — the uniformity of that place is a myth, because the uniformity of Indianness is a myth.”
It’s amazing, this collection of dishes. Tejal explains them best:
I picked these recipes, after reading dozens of Indian cookbooks, and interviewing a number of home cooks outside my family, because they represented, to me, the vast pleasures and ingenuities of Indian home cooking, each in a totally different way — from matar kachori, the deep-fried pea-stuffed dumplings, to kosambari, a quick raw salad of grated carrot, seasoned with coconut and lemon.
I didn’t want the project to be limited by my biography. Yes, there is a taste of my childhood here: a basic Gujarati-style toor dal (above) bobbing with boiled peanuts and toasted cumin seeds, and a tangy Mangalorean fish curry, shimmering with coconut oil. But you won’t find my family’s recipes for undhiyu, dhokla or samosas.
Instead, you’ll find a hodgepodge of ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, eggs) as well as techniques (fermenting batter, tempering fat, crushing curry paste). These are introductory recipes for the home cook, and though they don’t all belong to one region, caste or religious group, they do all welcome you into the kitchen.
And so here’s Tejal’s keema, or spiced ground meat; her roti and lamb biryani, her dosa, her aloo masala, or spiced potatoes, and her amazing egg curry. I hope you’ll make some of the recipes this weekend, and take from them some small measure of happiness, courage, respite or relief. It’s nice to eat delicious food. It makes things better, almost every time.