Big Girls, Global Kitchens: A Bombay Birthday Treat

EVENT: Joe’s Birthday Dinner
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Formal, Special Occasion Dinner
MENU: Manchurian Cauliflower, Pork Tenderloin with Spinach, Spiced Carrot-Potato Puree, and Cilantro-Mint Chutney
Spices from the Indian market. Ground cardamom, $3.50 for 1/4 lb.
One of the main troubles of cooking in Manhattan actually comes from beyond our small kitchens. The relative ease of getting ready-made food from the outside world can diminish the appeal of cooking inside our apartments. Over the years, Thai takeout has become my ultimate comfort food. And while I’ve tried my hand at recreating my favorite green curry, there’s still no apt replacement for the delicious $10 version delivered to my doorstep in twenty minutes or less.

The same goes for many ethnic cravings, especially Indian, where the ingredients alone can take up the entire page of a cook book and, if purchased at the regular supermarket, the budget of three weeknight meals.

But for my friend Joe’s birthday, I decided to investigate cheaper means of stocking my pantry with these items, and the resulting meal, more of a take on Tabla (an upscale Gramercy Indian restaurant) than your local Tikka Masala joint, turned out to be elegant, easy, adventure-filled, and the perfect play on my friend’s favorite cuisine.

To get all the spices I needed, I went straight to the source: a little Bengali grocery store in the East Village, just blocks from the abundant take-out joints on Curry Row’s E. 6th Street. The loot: 6 large bags of spices and flavors ranging from common to truly obscure, all for only $15. To make the meal special, I chose a more pricey cut of meat and used layers of fresh herbs for the marinade and chutney. (The market is called Spice Bazaar and is at 69 First Ave.)

The three course meal cost less than two entrees at Tamarind (another upscale Indian), and provided far more plentiful leftovers than usually afforded by my aluminum takeout containers.

From my small kitchen, where Bollywood tunes are a-blaring, to yours,



Manchurian Cauliflower*
Makes 4 servings, appetizer-sized

There is no way to properly explain the addictive quality of this dish. Beware before making: Manchurian cauliflower will rapidly become your most highly requested—even signature—dish. That said, the few florets you are able to snatch up before your guests have polished off the plate are worth the time, blood, sweat, and tears it took to fry them over a hot stove. Oh, and the calories too.


Canola oil for deep frying, about 12 ounces
2 large eggs
½ cup cornstarch
1 medium cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
2 – 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup ketchup
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 tsp salt
2 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced (garnish)

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, eggs, and salt, adding ¼ – ½ cup of warm water if the consistency is too thick to properly combine the dry and wet ingredients. Add the cauliflower and toss to coat.

In the meantime, warm the oil in a medium casserole pot or deep pan over a high flame. The oil will take about ten minutes to get to the proper heat level.

Using a fork, transfer the florets to the hot oil in batches, making sure not to crowd the pot. Cook for a minute or two, rotating the pieces so they brown on all sides.

TIP: It’s best to do a trial batch with just one or two pieces to make sure the oil is at your desired temperature. The florets should bob to the surface and sizzle right when they make contact with the hot oil, and they should only take a minute or so to begin to brown.

Remove the golden brown florets with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel. Once all batches are finished frying and properly drained, lightly sprinkle them with salt.

In a medium non-stick saucepan, lightly sauté the garlic until golden brown. Add the ketchup and cayenne. Simmer over medium-low heat for five minutes until the ketchup has reduced by a third.

Test a floret in the sauce to make sure it has the desired amount of spiciness. Add more cayenne or salt to taste.

Add the remaining florets to the pan and toss to coat.

Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with scallions, and serve family style with toothpicks.

*adapted from the book Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness, original recipe available at

Pork Tenderloin with Spinach, Spiced Carrot-Potato Puree, and Cilantro-Mint Chutney
Makes 4 servings
Or, in this case, dinner for two, and leftovers for you

This recipe can seem daunting, due to the impresive number of ingredients it takes to create this elaborate, layered plate. However, if you have proper time to prepare, you’ll find that each element is surprisingly uncomplicated to execute—and execute well at that. Make the puree and the chutney early in the afternoon, and right before guests arrive, pop the pork in the oven and quickly sauté the spinach. You’ll have plenty of time to regale your friends with tales from your fascinating adventure to the Indian grocer while you plate.


For the Pork:

1 ¾ lb pork tenderloin (two small loins)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 large clove garlic
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp lemon
2 tsp honey
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp olive oil

Combine all ingredients except the pork in a food processor. Transfer the mixture into a large, reclosable plastic bag with the two tenderloins. Using your fingers, massage the marinade into all crevices of the pork. When properly covered, lay the bag of pork flat in the refrigerator and let marinate overnight.

20 minutes before your guests arrive, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, transfer the loins to a sheet pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cover the pan with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.

For the Carrot-Potato Puree:

2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Spice mixture (recipe follows)
2 tbsp honey
1 quart chicken stock (or veggie)

In a medium casserole pot over medium-low heat, sauté the garlic, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaf until the garlic begins to brown. Add the “Vadouvan” spice mixture and continue to cook for another few minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes, cover with stock, adding any additional liquid (water, or more stock) necessary to submerge the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and cover with lid. Cook over medium heat until the carrots and potato are tender throughout.

Remove the vegetable with a slotted spoon, and in batches puree them a food processor with the honey, adding the cooking liquids as necessary to obtain the thickness of smooth mashed potatoes.

Keep warm on the stove until serving.

TIP: Reserve 4-5 chunks of carrots and remaining cooking liquid. Add a knob of fresh ginger, and puree in the food processor. This makes two servings of really nice Indian-scented carrot ginger soup which you can keep in the fridge as light lunches.

For the “Vadouvan” Spice Mixture:

The ingredients used for this mixture are similar to those in the classic Indian blend Vadouvan, recently brought into the limelight when featured in a winning recipe on Top Chef (I’m not that obsessed, I swear). If you have some time on your hands and plan on making more Indian inspired dishes in the coming weeks, spread the mixture into a thin layer on a non-stick sheet pan. Bake at 300-350 degrees for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the moisture has evaporated and the mixture takes on the texture of potpourri. Dried like this, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.

1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp turmeric
1 shallot, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced

In a small saucepan, toast the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds until aromatic. Add the remaining spices and cook for one minute longer, until just heated through. Remove from heat. In the same pan, cook onion and shallot until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another few minutes until lightly golden. Place reserved spices in a small food processor and blend until the mixture becomes a fine powder. Add onion mixture and pulse until all elements are combined. The resulting texture should resemble a thick paste.

For the chutney:

½ cup mint leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic
1 small shallot
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 tsp honey
1 tsp green chili (optional depending on if you want to add heat to the dish)
olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. If the mixture requires more liquid, drizzle in olive oil until all ingredients are fully incorporated and the texture is silky.

For the spinach:

1/2 bag pre-washed spinach, or ½ box frozen
1 tsp olive oil

Heat olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the spinach and sauté, stirring, until wilted. Season with a sprinkle of salt.

To serve: Slice the pork and arrange it over a bed of spinach and carrot-potato puree. Finish with a drizzle of chutney.

The carrot-potato puree and a small fork-full of the spinach, topped with three slices of pork and a spoonful of chutney

The Birthday Boy: after two bottles of wine, still intimidated by dessert

A note on dessert: due to time constraints, I decided to pick up this piece of many-layered chocolate cake from Strip House, which Joe’s always raving about. Incredibly delicious, and maybe the most money I’ve ever spent on a treat. Next time, I’m calling Cara

Posted in: Very Old Posts
  • SOS

    really lovely blog.

  • Andrea

    Your food looks so nice. I am tempted to make the Manchurian Cauliflower, but the idea of ketchup sauce freaks me out.The link you say is to the original recipe only gets you to a piece about Devi; any chance you have a viable link to the original?
    It's nice that your menus are veg-friendly. I am going to try a couple of them, and veganize that cauliflower too! Thanks!

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