Mangoes And Curry Leaves – Cookbook Review With Recipe For Bangla-Flavored Fried Zucchini

Fried zucchini, Bangladeshi style
Bangladeshi-Style Fried Zucchini

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are one of the greatest cookbook writing teams alive today. Their ability to travel the world and fully engage with the people they meet allows them to bring back incredible stories, photos and recipes.

I’ve owned Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World and Seductions of Rice for awhile now, so when I received Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent as a gift, I fully expected another indispensable volume. This one is devoted to the foods of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

When I was younger and traveled a fair amount by myself, I was always a bit cautious. I tended to stay in big cities, and in the best hotel I could afford. Alford and Duguid are willing to risk a lot more discomfort, and put themselves in positions to connect.

For example, I was touched by Naomi’s story of sharing a hut with a Sherpa mother and newborn baby, 12,000 feet above sea-level, and learning how Grandma took care of the child while mom recovered. Or how about Jeffrey’s reminisces about his friend Sam, a local who he joined for nightly beers and hoppers at a hotel bar in Kandy, Sri Lanka. There are not the stories of some food celebrity who parachutes in for a photo-op with a gnarl-handed fishmonger and is back at Momofuku by nap time.

The thread that runs through all of their books is that the recipes are what people really eat. Simple and unfussy, but full of flavor and character. They don’t obsess about a false authenticity, realizing that even the simplest dish varies from family to family, but neither do they dumb down the food. Substitutions are offered when an ingredient might be hard to find away from its native lands.

This Bangladeshi fried zucchini recipe typifies their approach. The original is made with a gourd known as potol, which you probably can’t get your hands on. So they recommend zucchini instead, but keep the cooking technique the same. In this case it called for lots of oil, which ends up highly flavored. You can reuse it as the base of another stir-fry.

I chose to make it with much less oil, which no doubt led to a slightly less rich result, but it was better suited for a healthy weeknight supper. I’ll give you my variation below but feel free to bump it up to the full 2 tablespoons of mustard oil and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and reduce the mustard seeds to 1/4 teaspoon.

The result was a big hit. We ate it with some tamarind-flavored rice and jarred lime pickle, and demolished every bit. Add a dal, flatbread and some raita and/or chutneys and you’d have a real feast.

Here’s an Amazon link for all of Alford and Duguid’s books. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Bangla-Flavored Fried Zucchini
Adapted From Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
Serves 4
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free

  • 5 small zucchini (or 2-3 longer ones, cut into about 5 inch lengths)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into about 1/2″ thick slabs (see photo).
  2. Heat the oil in a large wok or cast iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the spices and sugar and fry for about 10 seconds until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  3. Quickly add the zucchini and toss to coat with the oil and spices. Lower heat a bit, and continue to turn occasionally until tender but not mushy, 3-5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the skillet, season with salt to taste and serve.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 in Books, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan or Modifiable.

8 Responses to “Mangoes And Curry Leaves – Cookbook Review With Recipe For Bangla-Flavored Fried Zucchini”

  1. Reply
    September 17, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    Mangoes and Curry Leaves is one of my favorite cookbooks ever. Try the Kashmiri Simmered Paneer while tomatoes are still in season! The authors have a new book out about Chinese cooking, Beyond the Great Wall, that I’m dying to try as well.

  2. Reply
    September 17, 2008 at 7:37 pm #

    I can’t find black mustard seeds here in bodunk Colorado. Can you use other mustard seeds? I have many zuccini and really want to make it. Thanks, Melissa

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    September 17, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    Hi Melissa – thanks for asking! Yellow mustard seeds would be ok, but they are kind of big. Maybe grind them up a little with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Or you can order them from Amazon.

    Let me know how it turns out!


  4. Reply
    September 17, 2008 at 9:32 pm #

    I ate this potol torkari often in Bangladesh! Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Reply
    September 18, 2008 at 5:53 am #

    i don’t think i’ve ever had anything bangladesh! i’m intrigued..this sounds so interesting and looks really yummy.

  6. Reply
    September 20, 2008 at 3:26 am #

    After my children get over the fact that it is zucchini (not their fave) I think they might enjoy this because of the seasoning. I know I will.

  7. Reply
    September 21, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    mmm! Dishes which appear so simple, but are so delicious and have a wonderful history, are my favourite. mmm!

  8. Reply
    August 4, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    I’m glad to see that other folks are as obsessed with their cookbooks as I am. Have you seen their newest Beyond the Great Wall? All the cultures within China that aren’t ethnically Chinese. Very interesting, and some kick but noodle recipes, too!

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