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in the kitchen with: jill donenfeld’s pondicherry toasts

by Kristina Gill

Each week, we try to bring you a recipe that would fit nicely in your arsenal as a stand-alone dish or a building block. When discussing recipes with Jill Donenfeld, founder of the weekly home-chef service , it was revealed that Jill had spent significant time in India working on a cookbook. We thought it would be a great idea for her to share a recipe for an Indian spice mix. Enter vadouvan, a popular Indian spice used in France but originally from Pondicherry. Jill has proposed making your own spice mix and using it to flavor yogurt to create the base for crab-and-avocado-topped toasts, which she named Pondicherry Toasts for the vadouvan spice in the mix. I love the idea of learning to make a spice blend and think this will be fantastic to have on hand! — 

About Jill: Jill Donenfeld is the founder of , a weekly home-chef service in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But books, new business ventures and killer parties make her repertoire a touch more eclectic. Since writing restaurant reviews for Time Out New York and living in Madagascar, where she was inspired to write a cookbook (Mankafy Sakafo: Delicious Meals from Madagascar), Jill has been interested in how mealtime rituals influence societies. Her most recent cookbook, , was released this autumn. This year, she started writing for The Huffington Post (in a column called “Band Bites”) and worked on location to write a cookbook for an Indian hotel in Tamil Nadu. Her style, food and travel have been chronicled in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, the LA TimesDaily Candy, Goop and Entrepreneur. She splits her time between Malibu and Manhattan.

Read the full recipe after the jump!


Pondicherry Toasts

Vadouvan Spice Mix
(Makes 1/3 cup)

  • 2 TB vegetable oil
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon bark
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 lb shallots (about 3 large ones), sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsps cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsps fenugreek
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder


1. Heat oil in a small/medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cinnamon and the cardamom. Let fry for 30 seconds and then add the mustard seeds. When they start to crackle and pop (1–2 minutes), add the shallots and garlic.

2. Fry until brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes, but be careful not to burn.

3. Add the curry leaves, fenugreek and cumin seeds. Sauté for 30 seconds and then add the powders: turmeric, onion and curry. Let cool and remove cinnamon and cardamom.

4. Grind masala in spice grinder until it makes a coarse blend. It will be a little “wet.” Store in fridge and use on everything.

Pondicherry Toasts
(Serves 4 as an appetizer or snack)

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 1/2 tsps vadouvan
  • 2 TB cilantro, chopped
  • 8 slices French baguette
  • 3 oz. lump crab meat
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 fresh cayenne pepper, sliced in thin rings
  • salt


1. Mix yogurt with vadouvan and cilantro. Spread onto each piece of bread.

2. Slice avocado in half and then in slivers. Top spiced yogurt with 2 to 3 slivers.

3. Divide the crab among the eight portions and mound on top of the avocado. Season with a little salt.

4. Garnish with slivers of red chile and a few leaves of cilantro.

Note: Despite the very dark spice mix, your yogurt mixture will be a very light yellow. You can just see it peeking out from the bottom of one of the toasts.

Photography by

Why Jill Chose This Recipe

I love toasts. They are versatile and can be as easy or as complex as you’re in the mood for making. They can be filling or light. They can be fancy or simple. Vegetarian or beefed up. They fall perfectly into my kind of food: “Choose Your Own Adventure” food. These toasts were inspired by the time I spent in Tamil Nadu writing a cookbook, and a meal I had in LA not too long ago with the amazing vadouvan spice that I had never tasted the entire time I was in India! Familiar with Indian cuisine, I decided to make my own vadouvan — a big batch of the wet masala mix like the “atchi’s” in India do. Make a batch of this, store it in the fridge and use it in anything to spice things up.

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