Reader sweepstakes: The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles and Spicely giveaway

Curried cabbage with potatoes and green peas

Curried cabbage and broccoli with potatoes and green peas over black sticky rice

If you love Indian food as much as I do, this cookbook is for you! The dishes are rich, complex, and take you on a journey far, far, away. (Unless you live in India, West Bengal, or Bangladesh.) Every recipe I have tried has been absolutely delicious, and the author tells wonderful stories about the origin of each dish, her family traditions and memories, and ingredient tidbits. I learned so much reading this book; it’s a keeper! I’m also happy to include a lovely six-spice assortment from my favorite spice company Spicely Organic spices to get you cooking Bengali-style in no time. SWEEPSTAKES IS NOW CLOSED.

Bengali Five Spice Chronicles givewayWhat I liked about this book:
I loved the history about Bengal, the author’s family stories, and the very detailed information about ingredients, many of which are unfamiliar. I also appreciated that she substituted items for the U.S. audience that are more common, like green bell peppers for pointed gourds.

I appreciated the Bengali design elements throughout the book, and how each of the five spices in the title was given its own page sprinkled throughout the book. There is a section of color photographs showing a few of the recipes, which help bring the meals to life.

I have made five recipes from this book to date. I chose spiced pumpkin with chickpeas to start, which required ginger-cumin-coriander paste. The spiced pumpkin was absolutely delicious. I would prefer the green peppers chopped instead of leaving them in wedges, and some of the instructions could have been clearer on whether to include the whole spices on top, or to remove them and just pour the seasoned ghee over. For this recipe, I used soy yogurt and Earth Balance to make it vegan.

Next I made cremini mushrooms in tomato-coconut gravy, which was insanely delicious and unusual, and The Husband has already requested it again. I could have used more information in the instructions, like an explanation of dried fenugreek leaves (I have never seen them for sale, and wasn’t sure I could sub fenugreek seeds for them, but did anyway), how/why to grate tomatoes, and how long to cook one section of the recipe. I made winter squash in a spicy coconut and mustard sauce, which was hearty and delicious on a cold blustery day.

Finally I made the dish pictured above, curried cabbage with potatoes and green peas. So delicious I made it again in order to photograph it, this time serving it over black sticky rice and adding broccoli slaw as well as the cabbage. This one is still very, very spicy, so add less cayenne (or none) if you can’t eat spicy food.

I wasn’t so keen on:
I did have some trouble making the ginger-cumin-coriander paste in my (Vitamix) blender, as the spices just spun up and stuck to the sides and lid. The second time I tried making it, I crushed the spices in my mortar and pestle and then tried using the blender with the same unfortunate result. I tried the food processor and still had trouble. The problem is that the volume of the ingredients is not really enough to keep it down in the blender, so it didn’t properly crush all the spices. My suggestion is to finely mince the ginger and pepper, crush the spices in a mortar and pestle, then add the ginger and pepper and mash the whole thing up, adding the water last. Or, make a larger batch. The other downside is that the recipe makes 1/2 cup of paste, but you use only a couple of teaspoons at a time in any recipe. Next time I will dry grind the spices, make a double batch, freeze it in 1 T. amounts on waxed paper, then wrap each in waxed paper before labeling it and storing it in the freezer.

I would have appreciated it if each of the spice paste mixtures had included page numbers to find all the recipes that used them.

This has nothing to do with the content but is about the book’s usability. The brown text and sans serif font make the book more difficult for me to read, especially at night in my pools-of-light kitchen. I didn’t think the sepia-toned photographs enhanced the book, as food does not look appetizing in sepia tone.

I am really excited to try more recipes, as every one has been delicious, so I trust that the rest will be too. Here is the recipe for the dish pictured above.

Curried cabbage with potatoes and green peas
Badha Kopir Ghanto
Recipe from THE BENGALI FIVE SPICE CHRONICLES: Exploring the Cuisine of Eastern India
By Rinku Bhattacharya, Hippocrene Books; November 2012. Used with permission. My renovations in italics.
Serves 6
Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes

3 T. oil [(45 ml) organic coconut oil, I reduced this to 1 T. (15 ml)]
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium white potato, peeled and cubed
1 t. salt [(2 g) sea salt, omit for low-sodium diets]
1 t. (2 g) turmeric powder
1/2-1 ripe jalapeno
1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 t. (2 g) coriander seeds
1 t. (2 g) cumin seeds

2 bay leaves, broken in half [4 pieces total]
2 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised
1 t. (2 g) cayenne pepper powder, [can omit or use less]
1 t. (2 g) sugar [coconut sugar]
1 tomato, finely chopped [or 7 oz. (205 g) canned chopped organic tomatoes, no salt added]
3 C. (10 oz/285 g) finely shredded green cabbage [and/or 6 oz. (170 g) broccoli slaw]
1/2 C. fresh green peas (try to avoid frozen) [1 C. (140 g)]

Heat the oil in a medium wok or skillet on medium heat for about 1 minute until very hot. Add the onion slices and sauté, stirring well, until they wilt and turn a very pale gold. Add the potato, salt, and turmeric and lower the heat and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done and a nice golden yellow color.

Crush the coriander and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Finely mince the jalapeno and ginger. Add these spices and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cardamom pods, and cayenne pepper powder and mix well. Add the sugar and tomato and stir well.

Add the cabbage and peas and mix well. Cover and cook for about 7 (15) minutes, until the cabbage is fairly soft. Mix well and cook till dry. Check for seasonings, remove all four bay leaf halves, and serve.

Spicely giveaway on Recipe RenovatorThe giveaway includes a personally signed copy of the book and a 6-pack compact box gift set of these whole organic spices: Fennel, Cumin, Nigella, Black Mustard, Fenugreek, and Cloves from Spicely.

The reasons I love Spicely are:

  1. the spices come packaged in small amounts
  2. they are ORGANIC
  3. I can refill my glass jars at home
  4. minimal packaging waste
  5. I don’t have a huge jar of a spice getting stale

Here is this week’s question:
Which of these spices have you used before? What have you made with them? [fennel, cumin, nigella, black mustard, fenugreek, cloves]

Sweepstakes Official Rules:
By leaving a comment below you are agreeing to the Official Rules, outlined here.

  • Only U.S. residents over the age of 18 are eligible to enter.
  • Duration: Friday January 11 through Thursday January 17, 2013 at 5 PM Pacific Standard Time. SWEEPSTAKES IS NOW CLOSED.
  • Leave a comment answering the question to enter: Which of the fives spices have you used before? What have you made with them?. You can receive up to 4 additional entries by doing the following and leaving one comment for each additional item. (Five total entries per person.)

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Note: If you are already following me, earn your extra entries by sharing. Please don’t make me tell you via email that I had to delete your extra entries. That makes me sad.

  • Cookbook has many gluten-free and vegetarian recipes. Some recipes contain meat, fish, poultry, dairy, gluten and sugar. They trend towards spicy! Spices are organic and whole seeds.
  • The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.
  • Winner will be selected by random number generator within one day of the sweepstakes closing. Winners have 48 hours to respond to their notification email to claim their prize. If they do not respond, another winner will be chosen by random number generator. All prizes will be awarded.
  • We are not liable for technical failures or typographical errors, or resolving identity disputes related to the winner.
  • We will obtain winners’ name and mailing addresses in the notification email. Once prize(s) have been mailed we will maintain that information for up to one year but will not use it for any other purpose.
  • This sweepstakes is sponsored by Hippocrene Books, Spicely, and Recipe Renovator, P.O. Box 34054, San Diego, CA 92163-4054. (619) 365-5065.
  • Prize description: One personally signed softcover copy of The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles plus one compact six-pack of whole spices listed above, retail value of $54.95 + .

Today’s post is part of our mission to help you rebuild your health through food and lifestyle choices. Look for posts on Mondays featuring gluten-free, sugar-free recipes made with healthy plant-based ingredients, Wednesday essays, and Friday giveaways (when available).

I buy Spicely at Whole Foods. Here is the book if you want to check it out in more detail:


  1. Mark Smith says

    Wonderful post however , I was wondering if you could write a little more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it!

  2. jacquie says

    cloves in a wonderful cranberry sauce, in applesauce and in baking spice cookies. cumin for a lentil stew type of dish

  3. ml says

    Which of these spices have you used before? What have you made with them? [fennel, cumin, nigella, black mustard, fenugreek, cloves]
    I have never used nigella, black mustard, or fenugreek. I love spices and have been meaning to pick these up! I love cooking with spices!

  4. Aneesa says

    I have used Cumin, Fennel and Cloves, mostly when I make curry chicken or lamb. Also in a number of Moroccan tagines I make. I occasionally make Kabsah which calls for them as well. So many wonderful uses!

  5. shannon says

    I have only used cumin and cloves but love experimenting with new spices and herbs! I make soups with them mostly.

  6. Audrey says

    I have cooked with fennel (in lots of dishes–stir fries, soups, marinara, etc.), cumin (one of my favorite spices. I use it mostly in Mexican cuisine), and cloves (I mostly use this in sweet items–smoothies, baked treats, etc. I have had it in savory applications, though–such as Dreena Burton’s Jerk Chickpeas). The other spices are new to me, but I would love to experiment with them.

  7. Kathy says

    I use Fennel seeds and groundCumin in a green and red cabbage/onion stir fry that I make, Coconut oil in the pan first, then I add fennel seeds then wilt the cabbage and green and white onoins then I add Cumin and sea salt. It’s not great but it is something I can eat with out getting ill and it has some flavor, I am not familuar with the other spices. Thank you.

  8. says

    I have used all of the fives spices except the nigella.
    I have used cloves in ham and pumpkin dishes, I’ve used cumin in chili dishes and I’ve used fenugreek in some middle eastern dishes and I’ve used fennel in some of my soup dishes and with chicken and mustard seeds mostly in canning recipes.

  9. Laura says

    Cumin is a staple in my kitchen. I use it in soups, entrees, just about everything. I love it!

  10. Sheri B. says

    I use cumin a lot, to flavor buffalo and chicken in Mexican dishes. Cloves are wonderful in fresh brewed chai! The other herbs I look forward to experimenting with!

  11. Stacy says

    I have used fennel, cumin, fenugreek, and cloves in various recipes. I mostly use cumin in Mexican (chili) and Indian (curry) dishes, followed by cloves in some Indian dishes as well as American desserts such as pumpkin pie.

  12. says

    Being an Indian, I have never used any Indian cookbooks. Bengali cooking is quite different from the cuisine of my region. This recipe sounds great.

    Btw – you can get dried fenugreek leaves in any Indian grocery store (there are a few on Black Mountain Road and Mira Mar). It’ll come in a small box that spices come in. Look for ‘Kasoori Methi’ (methi=fenugreek).

    All Indians have a special spice-grinder attachment on the food processors. If you have a hard time making the paste, I would suggest making a large batch of coriander paste. You can freeze it for a couple of months. Grind ginger-garlic in mortal pestle when you need it and just mix it with the coriander paste. You can add coriander paste to any curries, soups, or even sandwiches. Alternatively, the Indian grocery stores have ready to use paste available.

  13. says

    1) fennel seeds: used in lasagna and Italian dishes
    2) cumin – we make our own taco seasoning
    3) black mustard – never tried it, intrigued!
    4) fenugreek seeds –never tried these either….
    5) cloves – various baking forays

  14. GK says

    Indian spices are staple in my cooking- the first step in most of the vegetable curries is to fry the spice in little oil before sauteing the onions- tomatoes to make the sauce. Here is how I use the spices in question –

    1) fennel seeds: – serves as a great after meal digestive.
    – roast fennel seeds along with cinnamon, cloves, corrainder seeds to make fresh garam masala for curries
    – dry roast the fennel seeds, powder then and use it in parathas (a type of indian stuffed bread)
    2) cumin seeds – – tempering for vegetable dry curries
    – dry roast with coriander seeds and make a powder to be used in any spicy Indian dish , you can also mix this powder with some whipped yogurt.
    3) black mustard – tempering for vegetable dry curries
    4) fenugreek seeds – tempering for vegetable dry curries
    – dry roast and powder and mix it in small amounts in curries, salads.
    – post delivery, consume in small amounts to increase milk production
    5) cloves – dry roast with other spices to make garam masala
    – for a toothache, hold a clove on the tooth
    – add some clove powder to sooji halwa, rice pudding (indian desserts)