Cooking ‘fresh and local’ is what Barbara would like…from me in Delhi? While there is lots that grows in and around Delhi, I can never tell if what I am eating was grown locally or if it is from the giant portion that a burgeoning city like Delhi needs to import from neighbouring states? Delhi is no different from other large cities that are ‘parasitic’ in nature, eating and drawing blood from further and further into the suburbs and never giving back.
The ecological footprint of Delhi keeps growing with our ever increasing demands for water, power and every other resource. We should soon be getting water from the Tehri dam…should I include the environmental impacts of the dam into the calculations? All we do is take the life out of the river Yamuna, along the flood plains of which there is still agriculture in the city! Maybe not for long…if Sheila Dixit gives in to the land mafia eyeing this last ‘open space’/ ‘vacant land’, for more buildings…
All I have in my yard is the kadi patta, some potted mint, and tulsi (holy basil). The Thai Basil succumbed this monsoon – too wet for it? Poor drainage, more likely. And I am (always) in the mood for (more) aloo.
And Agra, famous for the Taj, is also where my potatoes came from – just a couple of hours drive from Delhi – close enough to be classified as Delhi’s ‘backyard’, under these circumstances. The recipe is from there as well. A simple peasant dish, if you will, of gravied potatoes that relies on the more affordable onions and garlic (homegrown in most cases – in the villages, I mean) for spicing than on any of the other ‘fancy’ spices. These are ground, with a little turmeric, coriander and cayenne, on the sill-batta (sill=flat stone, batta= another word for stone – for pounding and grinding – a different north Indian take on the usual pestle and mortar) to prepare the wet masala. Coriander is amongst the cheapest of spices in India – cheaper garam masalas always have a higher proportion of this.
You cannot beat the sill-batta for its wet grinding prowess. The batta is used for smashing and pounding, and then for grinding with a flick of the wrist. A grinder can never approximate the cutneys off a sill.
If you ever pass by the jhuggi-jhompris (shanties) in our area in the evening, the smell of this masala is everywhere. An everyday tested and trusted recipe of the poor for a delicious dish with all the flavours of their fields back home.
Aloo ki Ras Bhaji (Curried Potatoes)
1 medium onion, fine chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled (mine was grown in Shakuntala’s home-garden in her village near Agra)
1/2 t turmeric
1 t coriander powder
1-2 t cayenne pepper
2 whole hot red chillies (optional)
1/2 t garam masala (optional)
1 T oil (preferably mustard oil)
1 t cumin
1/4 t asafoetida
7 medium sized Agra (floury) potatoes
salt and water
Using little water grind the first 6 ingredients on the sill-batta. Okay, use your electric grinder, if you must. Include the whole chillies, if using, towards the end of the grinding process so that there are bigger specks to colour the curry.Heat oil in a pressure cooker (if you want to save time and energy, and contain the ‘footprint’!). Add cumin to the hot oil, let splutter. Add asafoetida. Now add the wet masala paste. Fry the masala till oil separates. Add the potatoes and the salt, and the garam masala, if using. Give it all a good stir. Two cups of water and another stir. Close the cooker lid and pressure cook for 5 min (or cover and cook till the potatoes are done and beginning to crumble). Once the pressure has subsided, stir a few times till the gravy incorporates the crumbling potatoes. If you like soupy gravy, leave as is. Sprinkle with loads of chopped cilantro and serve with your choice of bread, roti, parantha, whatever.
Lip-smacking comfort food. I am known to polish off a catori or two before it reaches the dining table. And this is my entry for The Spice is Right V: Fresh and Local, over at the thought-provoking Tigers and Strawberries by Barbara.