There comes a point during experimental cooking when you get tired of flipping back and forth between references. You get food on your phone. You can’t find the book with the legume cooking time. The flow is ruined. It is then that a dish has become your own, and time to record it. Thus, here is my house version of ghugni; a Bengali dish made with yellow peas (vatana or motor). Some sources call it an evening snack. Professor X and I like it for dinner with rotis; my favorite being the fenugreek (methi) rotis.

Like many S. Asian dishes, there are steps with sub-recipes. Hang tight. It’s totally worth it.

Step One – Beans, Beans

Through a series of accidental discoveries and less-than-appealing dinners, Professor X and I realized that yellow peas (motor) are not the same as yellow split peas (chana dal), navy beans, or cannelli beans. So far, we’ve been able to find the correct legume at Patel Brothers. You will need a pressure cooker for this, unless you want to stand around boiling peas all day.

To prepare yellow peas

  1. Soak 1 cup of peas in 3 cups of water overnight. You can also put them up in the morning, and they’ll be ready by dinner time. Ideally, you’re looking for them to have doubled in size.
  2. Drain water from peas.
  3. Place peas in pressure cooker along with 2 cups of fresh water, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 tsp of turmeric. Don’t get all sustainable and use the soaking water in the pressure cooker. You’ll be very unpopular during a.m. rush hour on the train.
  4. Cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Release pressure.
  5. Add 2 small yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size cubes. Put lid back on. Cook at high pressure for another 5 minutes.
  6. Peas should be almost cooked on the inside. Potatoes should be in a similar state. One way to test is to smash a pea between your fingers. If it gives after a bit of resistance, it is ready.
  7. Set aside. Reserve cooking liquid. You’ll need it for Step Three. If there isn’t much, that’s just fine.

Step Two – Garam Isn’t the Only Masala

“Masala” loosely refers to a mix of spices. This mix varies based on the dish, the household, or the region. One thing I’ve learned from Dr. Mother-In-Law is that a cook should avail oneself of the wide assortment of pre-made masalas. They’re vastly convenient for throwing together a quick dish. Everest is her brand of choice. Unfortunately, pre-made ghugni masala doesn’t seem to exist in the U.S. Double or triple the amounts to have extra on hand.

Adapted from Bong Mom’s CookBook

  • Cumin seeds – 2 tsp
  • Coriander seeds – 2 tsp
  • Fennel seeds – 2 tsp
  • Cardamom pods – 6
  • Whole cloves – 8
  • Black peppercorns – 1 tsp
  • Whole dried red chile – 1 small
  • Bay leaf – 1 small
  • Cinnamon stick – 1 inch

Dry roast all together in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until fragrant, but not burned. Cool, then grind to fine powder.

Step Three – Make Dinner (Finally!)

I return now to Bong Mom’s CookBook for general guidance on ghugni assembly with house variations.


  • Mustard oil – 2 Tbsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
  • One white or yellow onion, diced
  • pinch of salt
  • Garlic paste – 1 tsp
  • Two canned plum tomatoes, diced very fine or pureed
  • Red chili powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Bhaja masala from Step Two – 1 Tbsp
  • Maggi tamarind sauce – 2 Tbsp (You can find this at Patel Bros. or any other S. Asian grocery)
  • Cooked yellow peas and potatoes from Step One
  • Cooking liquid from Step One or water
  • Dried mango powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Chopped raw onion and/or green chilies for garnish


  1. Heat mustard oil on high heat in a large, non-stick skillet. When you see the oil start to shimmer, add one or two cumin seeds. If they crack and spit, add the rest. Stir and don’t let them burn.
  2. Add chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Saute on med-high heat until lightly browned.
  3. Add garlic paste and chopped/pureed tomato. At Prof. X’s request, I puree. He literally just can’t even with chunks of boiled tomato. Please don’t get frisky and substitute tomato paste or tomato sauce. They’re different beasts.
  4. Add red chili powder, that fancy fresh bhaja masala you ground up in Step Two, and tamarind sauce. If you pureed the tomatoes, stir and let this cook for ~five minutes, or until the oil starts to separate from the liquid a bit. If you’ve chopped the tomatoes, stir and cook until the pieces are falling apart (> five minutes) and the oil separates from the liquid a bit. See the theme?
  5. Add cooked peas and potatoes from Step One with another pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid or water. Cook for a few minutes.
  6. Add another ~ 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid or water, bring to a boil, and cover. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes or until peas and potatoes are soft on the inside, but retain their shape. Stir and taste every now and again, adding more water as necessary. This isn’t a saucy dish; it should be quite thick.
  7. Once peas and potatoes are done, add dried mango powder. Adjust seasoning with salt, bhaja masala, or tamarind sauce as necessary. I generally find that I need a touch more of each.
  8. Garnish with chopped raw onion and/or chopped green chilies if preferred. We like the former.
  9. Note: Ghugni is even better the next day.