The food at the top looks nothing like chicken tikka masala, lamb korma or any other of the northern Indian dishes you usually get at restaurants in this country.
That's because it's Bengali, from eastern India. And that extraordinary cuisine is little known here, except among Bengali expats like Rinku Bhattacharya.
Born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and transplanted to Westchester, New York, Bhattacharya teaches cooking and writes a delightful blog called Cooking in Westchester.
It's the only Bengali cookbook I have that wasn't published in India. And it's better than those I bought in India, because it discusses the Bengali lifestyle along with the food. Although the dishes may seem different, they're so clearly explained that anyone could make them.
The photo at the top shows Macher Patla Jhol, or Fish Stew with Vegetables in a Light Broth. This "is probably as good as everyday Bengali cooking gets," Bhattacharya says in the book.
The photo is my rendition of her recipe. Although nowhere near as accomplished as what she would prepare, it exemplifies the lightness of Bengali cuisine and the emphasis on fish that is typical of the region.
Signature Bengali seasonings include mustard oil and the five-spice blend called panch phoron, which gives the book its title.
The fish stew includes panch phoron, which you can find in Indian markets here. Or you can make it yourself by combining equal amounts of fennel, cumin, nigella, black mustard and fenugreek seeds.
Also in the stew are boris (above), tiny dried lentil cakes that I hadn't come across before. In the Indian market where I bought them, they were labeled vadi. They boost the protein in Bengali vegetarian dishes as well as the stew.
I'm slowly making my way through the book, flagging must-try recipes. One I really liked was rice finished off with an aromatic broth made by simmering bay leaves, cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon with water. The fragrance is heavenly. No wonder it's called "festive rice" and served at weddings and other celebrations.
FISH STEW WITH VEGETABLES IN A LIGHT SAUCE
Macher Patla Jhol
From "The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles"
2 pounds catfish or halibut, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil, plus more for frying boris
1 teaspoon panch phoron (Bengali five spice blend)
2 dried red chiles
2 tablespoons ginger-cumin-coriander paste (recipe below)
1 onion, ground into a paste
2 or 3 green chiles, slit lengthwise
2 long thin eggplants, quartered
1/4 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 potato, peeled and cut into 16 thin slices
15 to 20 boris (lentil nuggets)
1 cup water
Place the fish in a mixing bowl. Rub with 1 teaspoon turmeric and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Place the fish under the broiler and broil for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or skillet on medium heat. Add the panch phoron and red chiles. When this splutters, add the ginger-cumin-coriander paste, onion paste, green chiles and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.
Rub the remaining 1 teaspoon turmeric on the eggplants, cauliflower and potato and add to the pan. Cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and the vegetables are beginning to brown.
Heat oil for frying the boris in a separate pan. Add the boris and fry until pale golden. Add the boris and the water to the vegetable mixture. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, until very soft.
Lightly stir in the fish and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Check the seasonings and serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
1 (2-inch piece) ginger root, peeled
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 or 2 green chiles
1/4 cup warm water
Combine the ginger, cumin and coriander seeds, chiles and water in a blender and blend until smooth, pulsing and blending at intervals to form a paste. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
Makes 1/2 cup.