My mother keeps candles lit around the house. Walking through the front door, it’s reasonable to question whether the electricity is about to go out or if she’s planning on hosting a vigil. Additionally, the candles tend to create conflicting emotions. When I’m in the living room I feel the urge to eat vanilla cupcakes, but entering the kitchen reminds me of Christmas and pine cones, and then walking to my old room makes me feel as though I just did laundry with that clean linen fragrance lingering in the air (that one has to be strategically placed, right?).
However, the reason she does this is to mask the smell of the constant Bengali spices that permeate the house. My mother, though from the Philippines, is an excellent cook and learned countless traditional Bangladeshi dishes for my father. It is because of her cooking that I discovered that one of my love languages is serving. Her affection for her family and friends can be seen by the love and care that goes into each dish that she places in front of them. It is because of her cooking that as a child I would nibble on small red chillies and developed an eclectic palate for spices and dried fish and lentils. She has the ability to turn simple everyday ingredients, like boiled eggs or cabbage or potatoes, into delicious curries that are rich in flavor and spiced with perfect amounts of jeera and cardamom.
Watching my mother cook, it’s easy to see how it comes to her as second nature. When I was moving and asked her to teach me a few recipes, I received no quantitative measures, but watched as her skillful hands and eyes would pour salt directly into her palm and sprinkle it over her simmering sauces. I saw the years of perfecting each recipe with every movement.
When I cook Bengali food at home, I never light a candle. The fragrances that are left on my clothes and in my hair and throughout the kitchen remind me of those moments sitting on the kitchen stool watching my graceful mother and her skilled hands, not realizing that those were the moments I was falling in love with cooking.
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 large garlic cloved, grated
- 1 1/2 tsp ginger, grated
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 green cardamom, opened
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 8 boiled eggs
- 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup water, divided into half, plus 3 tbsp
- In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cayenne, turmeric, garam masala, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Mix with 3 tbsp water to make a paste and set aside.
- With a sharp knife, cut a slit into each boiled egg. Rub a dash of turmeric over eggs and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add cardamom seed for about 45 seconds, and then add the onions. Sautee in oil until tender, around 4-5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium and cook until brown, an addition 4-5 minutes. Add grated ginger and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Add spice paste and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the tomatoes and1/4 cup of water. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes on medium-low heat, then add the remaining 1/4 cup of water, cover, and continue simmering for 6-7 minutes.
- Add eggs and continue simmering for an additional 5-7 minutes. Top with cilantro. Turn off heat and let cool slightly before serving. Serve over white rice.
- The water is optional depending on the amount of "gravy" you want with your curry. The more water you add the thinner the gravy will be. Many people choose to only include a dash of water to prevent ingredients from sticking to the pan. Covering and simmering the tomatoes will release liquid which will help the create the the gravy, so add water slowly and in small increments.
- A lot of flavor comes from the browning of the onions, so make sure to be patient and wait until they've darkened before continuing on.