Tejal Rao’s 10 essential Indian recipes


My grandmother cooked in an embroidered cotton caftan and rubber flip-flops, getting all of her prep out of the way in the morning, sometimes enlisting my help with tedious potato-peeling or kneading.

Blasting Hindi movie soundtracks on the radio, she built the seasonal Gujarati dish undhiyu, a specialty of the city of Surat, with purple yams and plantains, flat hyacinth beans and teeny eggplants, all of it layered in a giant, lipped stainless-steel pot and left to cook slowly over the charcoal outside.

This didn’t happen in India, but in Kenya.

I’m a part of the diaspora. Born in London to East African and Indian parents with Gujarati and Konkani roots, I immigrated to the United States as a teenager. As I was growing up, my connections to these cultures were maintained in my family’s kitchens, if nowhere else.

On the day of a big party, my grandmother and grandfather would sit down side by side at the kitchen table and form an efficient factory line. Together, they would stuff hundreds of samosas with cinnamon-scented ground lamb and blanched peas I’d helped shuck, sealing the delicate triangles with a glue of flour and water.

Their work was fast but precise, and they shooed me away if I tried to distract them. (A hole in the pastry seal would result in a small explosion in the fryer, and a sad, oil-soaked samosa.)

For weekend breakfasts, my grandmother cooked trays of pale yellow dhokla — the airy chickpea batter fermented overnight as we slept, then seasoned lightly with crushed green chiles and garlic and steamed into tall, round cakes freckled with sesame seeds. My brother and I swiped the still-hot, diamond-shaped pieces through puddles of oil dusted with chile powder.

During the day, when everyone else was at work, I’d stand on the wobbly stool in my grandparents’ vast, well-organized pantry and open every container to sniff or taste its contents — thick, sludgy jaggery; crisp, fried chickpea noodles of every shape and size; bags of dark, sweet, home-fried onions; and heavy steel tins of homemade ghee.

More than any European or American restaurant kitchen I worked in as a line cook in my 20s, or dined in as a restaurant critic in my 30s, this is the one that has shaped me: my family’s Kenyan-Gujarati kitchen.

It 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.

India is currently struggling with a powerful wave of Hindu nationalism that threatens its Muslim population with deadly violence. The news is hard to ignore, even in a food story: Hindu supremacists, who push a narrow definition of Indianness, also push a narrow definition of India’s food culture.

When my editors asked me to choose 10 essential Indian recipes, I wasn’t sure if the task was possible. But I came to see it as a way of celebrating the breadth of Indian home cooking.

This is a cuisine defined by its multiplicity. It is many cuisines in one, each resisting generalization and abridgment. I’m grateful for that, but it does make the task difficult. Where to start?

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 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.

The 10 Essential Recipes

1. Toor Dal (Split Yellow Pigeon Peas)

Dal can be made with all kinds of lentils and cooking methods. These vary not just from region to region, but also from day to day, mood to mood. Some cooks like dal soupy, others chunky. There are dals for special occasions, seasoned with charcoal smoke and butter or padded out luxuriously with cream, as well as lighter, leaner dals that can restore you when you’re not feeling well.

The flavor of this everyday, Gujarati-style dal comes from the pure nuttiness of split pigeon peas, boiled until tender and bolstered with spices bloomed in hot ghee. This fat-tempering technique, called vaghar in Gujarati, has many names and many uses across the country. In this case, the tempering is a great introduction to the resourcefulness and finesse of Indian home cooks: Just a few tablespoons of carefully seasoned fat, tipped in at the very last moment, transform an entire pot.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings (about 3 cups)

Total time: 1 1/4 hours, plus soaking


For the Dal:

  • 1 cup toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup raw whole peanuts

For the Tempering:

  • 1/4 cup/55 grams ghee
  • 1 sprig fresh curry leaves
  • 3 small cinnamon sticks
  • 3 red dried chiles, such as chile de árbol
  • 3 cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • Pinch of asafoetida


1. Prepare the dal: Soak the pigeon peas in a large bowl of warm water for about 1 hour. (They will have swelled a little.) Thoroughly rinse the soaked pigeon peas with fresh water, then tip the drained pigeon peas into a pot.

2. Add tomatoes, turmeric, salt and 5 cups water, and bring to a boil over high. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until very tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to purée some of the dal, leaving some intact and getting some very smooth, or whisk vigorously to break up some of the soft dal. Stir in the peanuts and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the dal is very tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust with salt. If the dal has become too thick for your liking, stir in a splash of water.

4. Prepare the tempering: In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the ghee. When hot, carefully add all of the tempering ingredients (the mustard seeds will sputter!) and swirl the pan until you can smell all the toasted spices, about 30 seconds. Pour everything over the hot dal.

2. Keema (Spiced Ground Meat)

Though elite, upper-caste Hindus tend to be vegetarian, most Indians eat meat, and many millions of Muslim Indians eat beef. This saucy keema, which can be made with chicken, lamb, beef or a combination of meat, is simple, comforting home cooking — the meat stretched out and made luxurious in a reduction of spiced tomato.

It can be dinner with a couple of soft, shiny bread rolls, or a chapati and a dollop of yogurt. A friend of mine even mixes it with spaghetti and a moderate squirt of ketchup. (Don’t judge!) The secret to this version is to take your time: Caramelize the onions properly for a strong foundation, and once you’ve added the beef, simmer it patiently until the sauce is dark and silky, and the fat has split away, risen to the top, and pooled in every nook.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour


  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 green finger chile (or serrano chile), stem removed
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably at least 15% fat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder, such as cayenne
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala


1. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Add the garlic, ginger and green chile to a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes, caramelized onions and any oil from the skillet, and process again until finely chopped. Return the mixture to the skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

3. Stir in the ground beef. Sprinkle with the chile powder and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps of meat, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the fat has floated up to the surface, about 30 minutes.

4. Taste and adjust the salt, then stir in half the fresh herbs. Sprinkle with garam masala and remaining herbs and serve.

3. Roti

Roti is a basic, everyday bread, but making it takes a lot of skill. The dough is kneaded with just enough water to bring it together and keep it soft and pliable. And though it’s not yeasted, a ball of well-mixed and -rested dough will be supple and almost spongy, as if it were. Cooks who are used to making roti at home can roll out thin, round disks that puff up as if by magic. But the real magic of roti is how a few of them can turn anything — a little keema, or a few spoonfuls of aloo masala — into a satisfying meal.

Yield: 12 roti

Total time: 30 minutes, plus resting


  • 2 cups/240 grams atta (Indian whole-wheat flour), plus more for dusting (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Ghee (optional)


1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, oil and salt with 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Knead directly in the bowl until smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough starts to feel dry, add more water as needed, 1/2 tablespoon at a time. Divide the dough into 12 even balls, placing each ball back in the bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. The dough should be soft and spongy.

2. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and pat a ball into a thick disk. Use a rolling pin to evenly roll it into a thin, 5-inch-wide disk, flipping and flouring as needed.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Put the disk in the hot pan. When bubbles start to form and the roti starts to turn white, about 30 seconds, flip it over to cook the other side. It should be puffy in places and freckled brown. Use the back of a spoon to lightly coat one side of the roti with ghee, if you like, or leave plain, then tuck into a clean dishcloth to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Tips: Atta, a finely ground whole-wheat flour you can easily find at any Indian grocery store, produces a smoother, softer and more fully flavored roti than American whole-wheat flour, which is more coarsely ground.

4. Gajjara Kosambari (Carrot Salad)

There are countless variations of this style of salad from Karnataka, but my favorite is a simple version made with crunchy raw carrots, dressed with a little tempered fat, coconut, citrus and chopped herbs. If fresh coconut isn’t available, keep a bag of frozen grated coconut in the freezer. It’s easy to find at most Indian grocery stores and, when you have it on hand, you can bring this salad together in less than five minutes.

Yield: 2 cups

Total time: 5 minutes, plus soaking (optional)


  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1 green finger chile (or serrano chile), halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon white sesame seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup moong dal (split green gram), soaked for 1 hour, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and roughly grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen grated coconut
  • Handful of cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar


1. In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the chile, cumin, sesame seeds, mustard seeds and moong dal, if using, and sauté for 1 minute.

2. Scrape out into a large bowl. Add the carrots, coconut, cilantro, salt and sugar. When ready to serve, squeeze lemon on top and mix to combine.

5. Lamb Biryani

In India, you’re just as likely to have biryani as a lunchtime delivery at the office as you are to see it as a stunning centerpiece at a wedding feast. The dish is pervasive, with many modern interpretations and regional permutations rooted in Muslim communities of the subcontinent. Hyderabad is famous for its style of biryani, which traditionally involves a layer of raw meat and gravy that cooks the rice as it steams in a tightly sealed pot. This Sindhi-style biryani is the one I make for special Sunday lunches and parties. With multiple layers of parcooked rice, fresh herbs, caramelized onion, saffron-infused milk and braised lamb, it’s a project, but a rewarding one.

Yield: 8 servings

Total time: 4 1/2 hours, plus overnight marinating


For the Lamb:

  • 4 green finger chiles (or serrano chiles), stems removed
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 (4-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup full-fat yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chile powder, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds lamb chops (or boneless or bone-in lamb shoulder pieces)
  • 3 (1/2-inch) Indian cinnamon sticks, or 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala

For the Fried Onions:

  • 1 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Rice:

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups basmati rice

For Assembly:

  • 6 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 cups mixed fresh cilantro and mint leaves
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced


1. Prepare the lamb marinade: Add the finger chiles, garlic and ginger to a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the onions and tomatoes, process until smooth, and scrape into a bowl that will hold all the lamb and fit in your fridge. Add the yogurt, mint, cilantro, coriander, cumin, chile powder, turmeric and salt, and stir to combine. Add the lamb to the bowl and toss to coat in the marinade, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Prepare the fried onions: In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the onions, season with salt, and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fried onions to a paper towel-lined plate. Using your hands, pull apart the fried onions to separate to prevent them from sticking together, and set aside.

3. Add the cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom to the remaining hot oil, and fry over medium until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the meat, its marinade and 1 cup water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick and dark, about 2 1/2 hours, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a low simmer. Stir in the garam masala and taste, adjusting with salt and chile powder as needed. Set aside.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the rice: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the rice. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes, transfer to a colander in the sink to drain. Run some cool water on top to cool the rice; set aside.

5. Prepare the saffron milk for assembly: Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it steams. Remove from heat and add the saffron, crumbling it with your fingertips as you drop it into the milk. Set aside.

6. In a large, heavy, lidded pot, add about a third of the meat mixture in an even layer covering the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle the meat with a third of the herbs and a third of the rice, assembling lightly without packing the layers. Drizzle 2 tablespoons saffron milk over the rice and add about a third of the fried onions. Build two more layers of meat, herbs, rice, saffron milk and onions. Top with pats of butter and cover the pot with foil.

7. Put the lid on the pot of rice, transfer to the oven and bake until piping hot, about 1 hour. Let rest for about 10 minutes, then serve hot, digging all the way to the bottom of the pot with the serving spoon. To reheat, warm the biryani covered in the oven, or microwave.

6. Dosa

Many diners in the United States know dosas as the crisp, oversize folds served at South Indian restaurants. But those dosas have a large extended family: dosas from Karnataka made with grated cucumber; dosas from Tamil Nadu made with pearl millet flour; and dosas from Kerala made with jaggery. There are lacy-edged dosas and cakelike dosas, delicate dosas that crumple like hankies, and fat, deeply pocked dosas that break where they’re creased. If you’ve never made dosas at home, a good place to start is a simple rice and urad dal batter. Traditionally, the batter relies on a wild fermentation that flourishes in warm kitchens, but many cooks hack this, reaching for packets of dosa mix or adding yeast to ensure that the fermentation kicks off properly. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s very foamy and smells a little sour.

Yield: 20 to 25 dosa

Total time: 2 hours, plus soaking and fermenting


  • 2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
  • 1 cup urad dal (split black gram)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Ghee, as needed


1. In a large bowl, mix the rice, dal and fenugreek. Rinse a few times with water, then fill the bowl with water and leave to soak for 4 to 8 hours. Drain the mixture and mix at high speed in a blender, gradually adding 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, until very smooth and pale. Add the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix again.

2. Scrape batter into a large bowl and cover. Let ferment at room temperature until the batter has mushroomed and nearly doubled in size, and is foamy all the way through, 8 to 12 hours.

3. Gently stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, which will cause the batter to deflate slightly. The batter should make ribbons when ladled back onto itself; add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, if needed, to thin it out.

4. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium. When hot, lower the heat to medium-low, then lightly grease the inside of the skillet with ghee. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into the center of the pan. Using the bottom of the ladle, gently smooth the batter in an outward spiral to form a 6-inch disk. Drizzle the top of the dosa with 1 teaspoon ghee.

5. When the top turns white and spongy, and the edges of the dosa turn golden and start to release from the pan, in 3 to 4 minutes, loosen the dosa from the pan using an offset spatula. Peek to check the bottom of the dosa: If the bottom is brown, flip the dosa. Otherwise, let it cook a little longer, then loosen it all the way and flip. Let cook on the second side for about 30 seconds, then transfer it to a plate.

6. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more ghee as needed.

7. Aloo Masala (Spiced Potatoes)

A little bowl of simply spiced half-mashed potatoes and onion, glistening with fat, is a standard side dish at bustling restaurants that serve dosas. It’s also one of the best vegetable dishes — inexpensive, quick and delicious — to add to your repertoire as a home cook. The key to these potatoes is water, not fat. Overcooking them just slightly ensures that they’re tender, and that they hold enough moisture so when you drop them into the hot pan, they break up and meld into the sautéed onion mix, becoming almost indistinguishable from it. Though aloo masala is great with a hot dosa, it’s a versatile dish that can also work as a side with other meals.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes


  • 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1 tablespoon urad dal (split black gram)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped roasted cashews
  • 1 green finger chile (or serrano chile), finely chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2 lemon, for squeezing


1. Bring a pot of water to boil over high. Once the water boils, add the potatoes. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes, then drain in a colander.

2. In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the urad dal, cumin and mustard seeds, and fry until cumin seeds are browned and dal is crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cashews, chile and ginger, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the onion, salt and turmeric, and lower the heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Tip the cooked potatoes, half the cilantro and 1/4 cup water into the pot, and stir well to coat. As you stir, let some of the potato get mashed. If the mixture seems dry, add a splash more of water. Cook over low, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are heated through, about 5 minutes, then season to taste with salt. Scrape into a serving dish; top with a generous squeeze of lemon and the remaining cilantro.

8. Egg Curry

Food has always been politicized in India, a person’s diet often revealing the specifics of her cultural identity. And under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the surge of pro-vegetarian Hindu nationalism, even the simple practice of serving eggs at school lunch has become fraught.

But eggs have long been an important source of nutrition across the country, and form the base of many classic regional dishes. In Andhra Pradesh, this spicy, tomato-rich egg curry would have firmer, more crumbly yolks (boiled for about 11 or 12 minutes), but I like to cook them a little softer (8 minutes, max).

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour


  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 6 to 8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • Handful of small, tender fresh cilantro stems


1. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly caramelized and light brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger, and fry, stirring occasionally, another 4 minutes. Add the cinnamon and cardamom. When the spices start to toast, after about 2 minutes, stir in the coriander, turmeric and peppercorns.

2. Add the tomatoes, salt and 1 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and the fat rises to the top, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and lower the heat. If the sauce isn’t runny, stir in 1/2 cup water.

3. Add all but 2 of the eggs and stir gently. Halve the remaining eggs lengthwise and arrange on top, yolk-side up. Heat until the eggs are warmed through, then top with cilantro.

9. Matar Kachori (Fried Pea-Filled Pastries)

Kachori started as street food in Rajasthan, where Marwari cooks sealed food in pastry and deep-fried it, making it ideal for the hungry traders doing business at outdoor markets. Kachori can be filled with potatoes, dal and vegetables, but when peas are in season, they make what I consider the pinnacle of the genre.

The filling is fresh, green, bright, juicy and lightly seasoned with herbs and lemon, all tucked inside a thin, flaky crust. The dough behaves nothing like pie dough, but somehow achieves the same effect after it’s deep-fried. Though the snack was originally made to be portable and to keep for a long time, these kachori are best the day they’re made.

Yield: About 20 kachori

Total time: 1 1/4 hours


For the Dough:

  • 4 cups/510 grams all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons ghee, plus more for shaping the dough
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • About 10 cups neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed, for frying

For the Filling:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound fresh or frozen peas (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 green finger chile (or serrano chile), finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, for squeezing


1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.

2. Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, 2/3 cup ghee and salt. Use your hand to mix them together until the flour is sandy and the mixture clumps when squashed together. Gradually add 1/2 cup cold water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, working it in with your hand. Gently knead the mixture directly in the bowl just until it comes together and forms a soft dough. (You might need to add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of water to bring the dough together.)

3. Form the dough into a ball, grease it with the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee and wrap the ball tightly in plastic wrap. Set aside to rest for about 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.

4. Prepare the filling: Season the boiling water with salt, add the peas and blanch for 1 minute. Strain the peas, then rinse under cold water. When the peas are cool, strain them again and tip them into a medium bowl. Transfer half the peas into a food processor; pulse until roughly chopped, then return to the bowl.

5. In a small skillet, heat the 2 teaspoons oil over medium. Add the mustard seeds, coriander and cumin, and toast for 1 minute. Stir in the ginger, chile and garlic, and sauté over medium until the smell of the raw garlic is mellow, about 2 minutes, then scrape into the bowl with the peas. Add scallions, cilantro, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a squeeze of lemon, and mix well. Season to taste with salt and lemon.

6. In a deep cast-iron skillet, add enough neutral oil to reach about 3 inches high. Heat over medium to about 325 degrees. (Gentle heat helps keep the delicate kachori intact.) Adjust the heat as needed to keep the kachori frying gently.

7. Pinch the dough into about 20 even balls and cover tightly with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Working with one ball at a time on a clean work surface, use a rolling pin or ghee-greased palms to flatten each ball into a 4-inch disk. Put 1 tablespoon of the pea mixture in the center and pull all the edges of the dough up and around it into a ball, being careful not to let the outermost edges get wet with filling. Twist and pull the edges together to close them, pinching off all the excess dough at the same time. (Try not to rip the dough, or oil will get inside the kachori when you fry it. If you do make a tear, repair it and move on!) Press the seam down gently to smooth it and set aside.

8. When you have 5 kachori formed and the oil is up to temperature, fry the kachori, seam-side down, flipping them once halfway through, until the pastry is evenly golden brown and cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer the kachori to a paper towel-lined plate or a metal rack, so that any excess oil can drip out. Repeat with remaining dough, shaping the next batch of kachori as the first is frying and leaving the remaining dough covered in plastic wrap until you’re ready to form it. (If you’ve been pinching excess dough, you can squeeze an extra kachori or two out of the scraps.) Serve warm.

10. Meen Gassi (Fish Curry)

Sour with tamarind, full-bodied with coconut and smoldering with dry red chiles, this dish has roots in the coastal city of Mangalore. In India, a cook might reach for Byadagi chiles from Karnataka to stain the sauce a bright red color. In the United States, chiles de árbol are easier to find. A stone mortar and pestle is the best tool for grinding the curry paste; the finer you can get the coconut and chile, the smoother and richer the texture of the final sauce. From there, the recipe is very adaptable — replace the fillets with any fish you like, including nice oily ones like mackerel or sardines.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 skin-on fish fillets (about 1 1/2 pounds total), such as striped bass or snapper
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 6 dry red chiles, such as chile de árbol
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 green finger chile (or serrano chile), finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)


1. Mix together the salt and turmeric, then rub the mixture all over the fish and set aside.

2. In a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon ghee over medium. Add the coriander seeds and toast until lightly brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Tip into a large mortar and pestle with red chiles and grind to small pieces. Add the coconut a little at a time and smash until no large pieces of chile or coconut are visible and a smooth paste forms. (This texture is worth the effort, as it gives the tangy, hot sauce its richness.) Add the tamarind last and mash to integrate it into the paste.

3. Choose a large, heavy skillet that will fit all the fish in a single layer. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee and melt over medium-low heat. Add the onion, ginger and green finger chile, and sauté gently until the onion is cooked through and just starting to color, about 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the prepared coconut paste and 2 cups water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the fish to the skillet skin-side up, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes depending on thickness, flipping fish halfway through. Spoon the coconut oil on top, and sprinkle with cilantro, if using.

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