Sit-down dinner, absolutely!
Favourite dinner guests?
People who like to eat well, laugh a lot, who are indulgent of silliness.
A typical Christmas dinner would have?
Khurdi (or Kolhapuri Pandhra Rassa), Mutton biryani, beetroot pachadi, carrot koshimbir, palong saag (spinach) bhaja (stir-fried) with almonds and raisins, Bûches de Noël, Christmas fruit cake
Finicky solitary cook or cook-along partner?
Favourite meal of the day?
Baked or fried?
Sweet or spicy?
Shorshe ilish or kosha mangsho?
Patishapta or Madeleine?
Champagne or tea before the Nobel dinner?
The ingredient that you are least comfortable with?
Favourite kitchen gadget?
Mortar and pestle
Bengali food or French food?
A hand-me-down advice that’s stood you in good stead in the kitchen?
Fry peyaj bata (onion paste) well at medium low heat — till the oil leaks out from the edges — before adding water. Our cook Keshto, who lived with us for ever, taught me that.
Favourite food writer?
I love Marcella Hazan’s voice as a cookbook writer — both passionate and laconic.
My chhoto pishi (my father’s youngest sister), who passed on this year.
Favourite street food?
Puchhka, the Kolkata-style golgappa, with not a hint of sweet.
A dish that you love and the rest of the family detests?
Various forms of mukwaas and churan. The intensity of the flavours seems to bother them.
A recipe that you never get right?
Ambat waran Marathi style — I never quite manage get the balance of the flavours quite as perfect as my maushis and mamis used to.
If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be for and what would you make?
I can’t answer that question — a meal is a narrative, and the guest is the central character. For me, I would make a roasted mung dal khichri with cauliflower and peas with some fried baigan and onion fritters on the side, and eat it with a panoply of achars, from sweet chhundo to green chillies in mustard.
This is my favourite kind of Christmas cake, a bunch of rum-soaked dried fruits barely held together by a few grains of almond flour. The downside is that it is a bit extravagant, but it is Christmas only once a year (though then there is Durga Puja and Diwali, and birthdays, and any number of other excuses to go wild).
l 200 gm raisins
l 200 gm orange and lemon peel
l 200 gm dried figs
l 200 gm dried dates
l 100 gm glâce cherries
l 100 gm pitted prunes
l 250 gm walnuts
l 1 cup of rum (or brandy)
l 1 ½ cups (roughly 175 gm) almond flour
l 3 tbsp regular flour (maida)
l 1 tsp baking powder
l ¼ tsp ground nutmeg (be very careful, nutmeg can completely dominate the dish, so err on the side of less rather than more)
l ¼ tsp ground mace (javitri)
l ¼ tsp ground cloves
l 1 tsp ground dried ginger
l 1 tsp ground cinnamon (my wife doesn’t love cinnamon in desserts, so I skip this one. In general, you should feel free to skip any or all of the spices. The rum and the fruits are enough by themselves)
l Pinch of salt
l 150 gm (three-quarters of 200 gm package) unsalted butter, softened by leaving outside the fridge
l ¾ cup (150 gm) dark-brown sugar (or the same amount of white or light-brown sugar)
l 5 eggs
l More rum (brandy) to “feed” the cake
* Start this about a week before you plan to eat it. The day before you plan to bake, chop the dried fruits and nuts into raisin-sized pieces (or close enough). Don’t bother cutting the raisins, of course. Pour the rum over it, cover and leave for 12-24 hours.
* Next morning, preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius and set the butter out to soften. Mix together the flours, the baking powder and the spices (including salt). Drain the fruits and mix into the flour mixture. Cream the butter with the sugar till it’s light enough to easily fall off a spoon that is facing down (use a beater or give your arm a workout). Mix in the flour mixture, making sure that everything is smoothly integrated (but no further). Pour in to 8×8 inch baking tin (or a 9×5 inch loaf pan) that you have buttered and lined with parchment paper (or substitute). Bake for two hours (or until a toothpick stuck into it comes out clean.
* Let cool and invert pan to get it out. Peel off the parchment, and invert on to a sheet of foil. Make holes on the surface of the cake with a toothpick and pour 2-3 tbsp of rum over it, making sure it gets everywhere. Cover tightly with foil and leave in a cool place (but unless it is very hot, not the fridge). Repeat the “feeding” with rum, every day until the day before you will serve it.