Leftover Queen


All of you hail the Leftover Queen a.k.a me. I claim the title, the crown and the throne. I claim all of it.

I wrote about my nonstop cooking on the Diwali weekend. If you have not read it yet, you can read it here.

Since I go overboard when I cook, I ended up with a lot of leftovers. Generally, Sean eats leftovers for weeks and he is very happy to do so. As we pack away the food in the fridge on the day I cook, I can see his mind planning his meals for the week ahead. He threatens us not to finish the dal or the paneer because he plans to eat them for another meal. The threat is not serious, only semi serious. But this time, I must have poisoned him somehow because his stomach did not feel great for a couple of days after Diwali and he did not want to exacerbate the situation by eating spicy dal makhni and creamy malai kofta. So I, who is not fond of dal makhni or malai kofta too much, had to eat the leftovers. The children, in general, rarely eat left over Indian food. They are high maintenance but thankfully I am done maintaining them. They maintain themselves quite well when it comes to meals.

After 3 days of eating leftovers to empty the fridge, I had a plan. A beautiful, bold, exquisite, earth shattering, tradition breaking plan. I thought outside the box.

This is what I did. I took out the container of malai kofta from the fridge. I follow Sanjeev Kapoor’s fool proof recipe of malai kofta. It is easy and delicious. You can look at the recipe here.

I poured the malai koftas with the gravy in my food processor and made a puree of the whole thing. Then I added 2 and a 1/2 cups of whole wheat to the puree and hit the dough button of the food processor. The liquid in the puree was not enough for a sticky dough so I added 1/3 cup of plain yogurt to the mix. I took the dough out of the food processor and kneaded by hand for about 5 to 7 minutes. When the dough formed a smooth ball, I covered it with damp cloth and went for my walk.

After the walk, I kneaded for another 3 to 4 minutes and made little balls to roll out.

The next part was easy. I rolled the dough out into rotis and cooked them on the skillet with oil spray.

The malai kofta parathas were ready.

I told myself I just transformed a leftover into a healthy meal. Whole wheat, paneer, potatoes, ok fine, a little cream in the gravy made it a tad unhealthy but it tasted good. Everything tastes good with cream and butter, sigh! As I finished cooking the last paratha, my family casually gathered around, “Whatcha making?”

Ryan was stressed about a math test so he walked around to calm his nerves and ate at least 3 parathas in the process if not more, Sahana and Sean ate a few with left over dal makhni. I ate 3 of them. They were soft and oh-so-flavorful. I decided right then that I will claim the title of Leftover Queen in my blog post. And I just did!

The thick and thin of dal.


After about a month of sneaking around with my boyfriend, I finally disclosed to my parents that I was seeing someone. The ‘someone’ happens to be from America, his skin color is white and the only Bengali he knows is “Ami tomake bhalobashi” (I love you) that was taught to him by some mischievous coworkers to get him into trouble. The first reaction was of utter surprise. The rule following me was breaking all kinds of rules of romance. I was never told not to fall in love, so “seeing” someone was not the problem. In fact I was told it is best to choose my own partner if I could. Well, I took their advice to heart and then some. I chose someone from outside my state, my country, my religion, my culture. Anyway, I digress.

After the initial shock, I was asked to invite this man to our house. I have already written a blog on that so I will not elaborate. Today I want to write about dal (red lentils). Sean soon became a regular at our dinner table. I remember he was given a knife and a fork with rice, dal, alur dom and some other vegetable. He moved those aside and used his hand to eat like the rest of us. That earned him a lot of brownie points. “Look, he is just like us!” my family often exclaimed.

They spoiled him though. After several experiments, it was established that he loves a very thick dal, tempered with a spicy masala. That kind of dal or masala masoor is more of a North Indian dish. We, Bengalis, like our masoor dal very thin, tempered with dried red chili, kalo jeere (nigella seeds), turmeric powder and slit green chilis. Sean ate at our house at least 4 nights a week and masala masoor was made for him ALL THE TIME!!! When I complained I was told he is the guest and one should make food that the guest likes. All I did was grumble.

Fast forward to our first year of marriage. After eating boring food cooked by Sean for about six months, I took matters into my own hands. I learnt to cook Indian food. Sean praised my initial attempts at making dal and sabji to high heavens so I would take up the mantle of cooking for the family. Since I am a foodie and I realized I enjoyed the task of cooking, I did become the primary cook. Sean is a vegetarian and I am concerned about his protein intake, I make a pot of dal for the family often. It is always thick masala masoor. Unfortunately, my 2 kids love the true Bengali dal which they eat when they go back to Kolkata and they LOVE that. They always complain I make the dal of their dad’s choice and not what the others in the family like. They are not wrong. If you look at the 2 recipes below, you will see that the masala masoor does seem more flavorful, and folks may turn up their nose at the Bengali patla ‘mushur’ dal but trust me, patla ‘mushur’ dal, jhirijhiri alubhaja (finely cut potato sticks), gondhoraj lebu (lime juice) and perhaps a piece of fried hilsa fish or at least a boiled egg is one of the most delicious food to a Bengali. Soul food!

Masala Masoor Dal.

Boil 1 cup of masoor dal (red lentils with about 3 cups of water. Add water if needed to reach desired consistency. It generally takes about 20 to 25 minutes.

In a different pan, heat oil, add a cup of chopped onions and fry them till golden brown.

Add 1 tbsp of ginger garlic paste to the fried onion. Cook till the raw smell is gone, about 20 seconds.

Add one and a half cup of chopped tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes in medium heat till oil separates.

Add a tsp of turmeric, one and a half tsp of coriander cumin powder, half a tsp of red chili powder and 1 tsp of garam masala to the tomato mixture.

Mix well and stir the mixture for about 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the mixture to boiled dal.

Add salt to taste.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, if so desired.

Serve with roti or rice (or eat this as a soup).

Masala masoor

Patla Mushur dal

Boil 1 cup of masoor dal in about 4 or 5 cups of water. There should be adequate water even when the lentils are boiled.

In a separate pan, heat a tbsp of oil.

When the oil is nice and hot, add a tsp of nigella seeds (kalonji or kaalo jeere).

Once they splutter, which they will start immediately in hot oil, add 2 dried chili.

Stir once and add the oil infused with nigella seeds and chili into boiled dal.

Add turmeric, slit green chilis (optional) and salt to taste.

Simmer for 10 minutes and your patla (thin) mushur dal is ready.

This is how we eat patla dal. We take a mound of rice on our plate. Then we make a hole in the middle of the rice and serve the dal in that hole. Then we mix the rice and dal, squeeze some lemon juice on to it and eat it with thinly sliced potato sticks.

Patla mushur dal

Just writing this down transports me back home. Make both types and then tell me if you are Team thick daal or Team thin daal.

Arranged marriage and daal bora (red lentil fritters).


I was about 8 or 9 years old when I was allowed to tag along with some neighborhood girls. They were teenagers then, and very interested in boys and marriage. This was late 70’s India, where girls stole glances at young men and vice versa but very few openly had a relationship. Arranged marriages were prevalent, love marriages were rare. One of the girls in that group was from a big family. She was the youngest of 10 siblings. Her older sisters were regularly sitting in front of families of prospective grooms to be ‘shown’ for marriage. She had a lot of ‘insiders’ information on how the process went and we were her adoring audience. She told us one of prospective groom’s father asked a sister in one such ‘viewing’ that if the family had only rice and masoor dal (red lentil) in the house what food can the girl make out of those ingredients. She was being judged for her resourcefulness in a mid to low income level Bengali family. The girl responded she would make rice, daal, dal bora (lentil fritters), daal bora r jhol (fritters in a curry), daal borar chutney……. and I forget what else.

Although I have eaten daal er bora occasionally in Indian restaurant near me, I have never ventured to make any from scratch. Just a few days ago, in a conversation with my college buddies on wsapp the topic of daal er bora came up. I eagerly asked for the recipe and when my friend gave it to me, I thought “This is easy. Even I can do it.” And I did.

The fritters are simple, delicious and yes, a tad unhealthy. I thought of frying them in my airfryer but instead I went old school and fried them in oil.

  1. You need to soak 1 cup of red lentils overnight or at least for couple of hours. This is what masoor dal or red lentil looks like:

2. Drain the water in a sieve and put the wet lentils in a food processor to pulse it to a paste with a few tsps of water.

3. Add 1 tsp of kalounji seeds (nigella seeds) with the paste – optional

4. Add 2 tbsp of finely chopped onion – optional

3. Add 2 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves. I love coriander leaves but if you don’t like them, you can leave them out.

4. Add 1 tsp of turmeric powder and if you like spicy, 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder

5. Add 2 tbsp of corn starch to make the fritters crispy

6. I like to dice one of two green chilies in the mix. If you like them, throw them in. Who is going to stop ya?

7. Add salt to taste and yes, a tiny bit of sugar. We Bengalis like a little sugar in our food.

8. Mix all the ingredients together. Heat oil in a pan or wok, put tbsp full of the lentil mixture in the hot oil and fry till they turn golden brown.

These crispy fritters taste delicious as a snack with your evening tea or as an accompaniment to rice and daal.

So I ate them for dinner with my rice and dal. Sean ate a few with his sandwich. Ryan bit into one and gave the rest to me. Sahana ate a few dipped in her daal.

Since I made many in my excitement, we still had quite a few leftover. I remembered the resourcefulness of the ‘would be’ bride of my childhood and made red lentil fritters curry the next day when the crispiness of the fritters was gone.

For the curry:

  1. Cut a potato into small cubes.
  2. Make a tsp of fresh ginger paste or finely grated.
  3. Heat a little oil in a wok.
  4. When the oil is hot, add a tsp of cumin seed. It splutters, be careful.
  5. When cumin splutters, add the grated/paste of ginger and let is cook for 20 seconds till the raw smell of ginger is gone.
  6. Now add a small can of tomato paste. Lower the heat and let the tomato mixture cook till the oil separates. Add 1 tsp of turmeric and 1/2 tsp of red chili powder. Add a little water from time to time so masala does not burn.
  7. When the tomato mixture thickens, looks rich red and oil separates, add a tbsp of tomato ketchup. Mix together. Add a cup of water to the mixture and add the potato cubes.
  8. Let the potatoes cook in the gravy. Add more water if needed.
  9. When the potatoes become tender, add the fritters. Add more water since the fritters soak in water and the gravy dries.
  10. Add salt and let the gravy simmer for 10 minutes or so.
  11. Before turning the stove off, add a tsp of garam masala and 1 tsp of ghee (clarified butter). The ghee is completely optional.

The widows in Bengal were expected to live a life of austerity after their husband died. The measure of austerity involved giving up not only meat, fish and eggs but also onions and garlic. The ladies became creative and derived delicious meals with the ingredients that they were allowed to consume. Daal er bora is supposedly one such dish that the widows of Bengal invented. Tasty and versatile that can enrich your taste buds even without the use of garlic and onions.

Resourcefulness has been the means of survival for women for centuries in every aspect of life including food.

An ode to the queen.


This story begins when Sahana was about 12 years old. She had taken up the challenge of making chocolate chip cookies for the first time, that too for a friend’s birthday. Her pesky little 7 year old brother was flitting around the kitchen, attempting to help. The recipe was carefully followed, the cookies looked perfect when I walked into the kitchen. Little brother was already chomping on one as a taster.

“How is it?” the baker asked, hopeful.

“Mmmmm….it is soooo good Sahana! I love it.” the taster commented, smacking his lips.

“Mom, do you want to taste one?” I was offered.

How could I not try a chocolate chip cookie, baked for the first time by my daughter? I picked up one from the cooling rack and bit into it.

It was SALTY!

I looked at the expectant face, expecting positive reinforcement and I hesitantly commented, “Ummm….. the cookies seem a little salty to me. Try one and see for yourself.”

She did. And her face changed. She had done what many of us have done at some point or another in our cooking career. She used salt instead of sugar.

“SAHANA!!! YOU POISONED ME!!!!!!” screamed 7 year old Ryan, all of a sudden, after finishing one and a half SALTY cookies without batting an eyelid and pronouncing them to be ‘so good’ when asked how they were.

“But why did you say the cookies were good when you tasted salt instead of sugar and why did you eat one and a half cookies? You must have realized the cookies are salty when you took the first bite?” I asked him while Sahana tried not to shed tears.

After a moment’s pause, Ryan replied, “I was trying not to hurt her feelings.”

I think he tasted chocolate and that is all he cared about.

From making salty cookies in her first attempt at baking, Ms. Sahana has grown to be a self taught gourmet chef. I use the word ‘gourmet’ in jest, of course, but the girl has really taken a flair to cooking and we, her family, have benefited from it.

Cooking relaxes her so she does not think twice about making cheese filled tortellini at home from scratch, or finicky chocolate croissants which take hours of folding and rising before going in the oven, or she whips up a spaghetti carbonara: the spaghetti, of course, made from scratch. Store bought spaghetti?? We now frown upon those. (Not really, but she does!) As an Indian mother, I felt she had arrived when she carefully filled a perfect samosa, fried it and made it stand. You need to understand the importance of a samosa standing. That, my friends, is ultimate success. If the dough is not kneaded to the right texture, they fall. They do not stay up. Also, I have never made samosas from scratch. I have only watched and wondered when others did it. Now my daughter does it.

Since Covid brought her back home from Spain, cutting her junior year abroad short, Sahana has calmed her anxiety by kneading dough, grating cheese, stirring sauce or rolling sushi.

Below are some photos of food made by her during the time of Corona. While Corona virus brought a lot of unhappiness and anxiety in our lives, our daughter transformed our mood by providing us with gastronomical delights.

Chocolate croissants
Spicy salmon rolls, sashimi AND homemade dumplings
Focaccia bread with olives
Baked gnocchi (Homemade gnocchi, of course)
Homemade samosas

And finally, from salty chocolate chip cookies she has transitioned to delectable chocolate chip, walnut cookie cake that she makes every year for my birthday. All these years, after the first time, she has used sugar instead of salt 🙂 !

The reigning kitchen queen is stepping down, folks. A new queen is picking up the crown and spatula….err, I meant scepter. Bow to her, heap praise upon her. Who knows? You may receive an invitation to her kitchen. Live in hope.