If you follow this blog then you know that potatoes are my second love. It is amazing how easily it makes a home in the cuisines of the world. It is very accomodating and definitely a team player. There are few dishes where it would be a no-no; sambar being one for me. Never in sambar. But it can be paired very well with peas and carrots, eggplant or cauliflower, with bitter gourd, colocasia, or even okra! It holds its own with greens such as spinach or methi; and takes on a whole different avtaar when cooked with mutton (but then do most other vegetables!).
For all my love of potatoes or maybe, because of it, I feel I can always use a new recipe. In this search I came across Bihari Aloo ka Bharta some time back. There are a number of sites (on the Web) that have the exact same recipe. My guess is that the mother-source may be Monica Bhide’s recipe at e-Gullet though the dish may actually be as homely (in Bihary homes) as the jeera aloo in Indian dhabas. I haven’t made any changes to the recipe other than what happens naturally when an Indian cooks; we never note down the amount of the various ingredients, relying instead on our own experience and preferences.
This dish is indeed more than the sum of its simple ingredients so opt out of any of them at your own peril. You could always call it something else. The crunch of the onion, the lingering taste of the garlic, the smoky heat of flakes of toasted chili, together with the addition of uncooked mustard oil brings the dish together. Even if you have never cooked with mustard oil before, I would suggest you give it the same respect you afford olive oil in a non-Indian recipe. It is the final finish for this dish. Skip it and you have a different animal to deal with. Besides, it wouldn’t be Bihari anymore.
I like these ‘mashed’ potatoes by themselves but since you shouldn’t make a meal of these (you may well ask–why ever not?), my other favourite way to have them is rolled into a roti a la burrito. Put some potato bharta in the middle of the roti, drizzle it with a mint-yoghurt chutney, roll up. You could make your own variations: cilantro chutney, some salad crunchies like cucumber and tomatoes…yes, on the lines of taco shells or pita pockets.
Bihari Aloo ka Bharta
5 medium size potatoes
2 small onions, chopped
2 t grated ginger
7-8 cloves garlic, mashed
2-3 whole dry red chili peppers
1 t cumin
2 t peanut oil
1-2 t uncooked mustard oil
Pressure cook potatoes for 12-15 min. Peel and mash. Heat the peanut oil (or any other vegetable oil) and add the cumin. Let splutter and add the garlic and ginger. Stir for a few seconds and add the chopped onions. Lower the heat and saute the onions till lightly browned. If you are using the scant 2 t of oil as I did, this can take 10-15 min. Add this to the mashed potatoes. Toast the chili peppers in a pan or on a low fire. Crush and add to the potatoes. Add the salt and mix. Now add the mustard oil and the cilantro and give it a good mixing. The amount of mustard oil is too little to become overpowering. It gives an unmistakable fragrance and a spicy aftertaste.