The potato, though sometimes maligned, is easily the world’s most popular vegetable. I totally know the meaning of this Irish proverb: “Be eating one potato, peeling a second, have a third in your fist, and your eye on a fourth.” We Indians consume a reasonably impressive 24 kilos per capita. My favorite are the starchy floury kind, which love to absorb all the moisture you will provide. Read more about the history and cultivation of potatoes in India.
All you skeptics believe me when I tell you that it is also one of the most nutritious vegetables: a 250gm serving of potatoes is under 200 calories, a rich source of protein, starch and fibre, as also vitamin C. It becomes less healthy only when served as deep fried chips, or cooked in oodles of fat. Cooking with the skin, or boiling and peeling are the best ways to preserve most of the nutrients.
Sookhe Aloo was the opening post on this blog followed by other favourite ways to dish up potatoes. I have stated my love for the spud with every recipe featuring it. Busy though I have been this month, I am not going to let go an opportunity to showcase it. People, welcome The Potato, to the JFI Hall of Fame. No vegetable deserves it more.
As I look back at the pictures of what I have been cooking this month (and never getting around to writing), I was impressed. I cooked it for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. As the main dish, for the one dish meal, and as the helper dish. Preparations from Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central India, and a few ways I learned on the other side of the world, half-way across. And it found its way into many combinations as well: gobhi-aloo, baingan-aloo, sabudana khichadi, mixed veggies…
a lunch of batatyachi bhaaji, from Maharashtra
hash browns for a well deserved breakfast after working into the wee hours of the morning, from the US of A
mixed veggie subzi (cauliflower, carrots, spinach, peas, pumpkin, eggplant, bell pepper, and of course, the potato) from West Bengal, for dinner
Awesome Potato Soup, again from Umreeka
veggie burgers for another dinner (based on my Sis’ original recipe)
So, which do I write about today while I hoard the rest for later? Vaishali is going to be totally inundated with the entries for JFI (and she has to handle the new Blogger and the new Boss!), so I’m going to present two of the simplest of them all.
It is hard to mess up a potato dish. Yet I have been served potatoes that are just bland mush. Now, a serving of mashed potatoes need not necessarily set your tongue on fire, but it can touch the soul. Though the addition of some smashed chipotle or other hot chilies never hurts even here. It does not take too much time, too much effort, or great expertise to put together a happy meal. It takes a little love for food and appreciation of family (one appreciating one’s family 🙂 ). With just a couple of ingredients you can transform the ‘ordinary’ potato into a dish fit for a king. Or Queen. Or Princess. My everyday cooking is quick, low fat, but full of taste. These two dishes exemplify that.
Jaini aloo can grace a party dinner table with ease and flamboyance. It can be the main subzi that you are assured most guests, irrespective of age and picky-ness, will relish. And its simplicity is absolutely disarming. The guests will pull you aside and ask for the recipe before they leave, and will look at you, unbelieving, that there is not more to it than you are willing to part with.
The Jain community of India are strict vegetarians with many taboos around food including avoiding root vegetables, garlic and onions, and also modern dairy. Most continue to adhere to these even today, building their diet around foods that avoids cruelty (to animals as well as to plants). This preparation made an entry onto our table after my sister tasted it at her Jain college-mate’s house, many years ago, when they were students of Education. She re-created it for us and we had questions. Surely there was some amchoor in it? No? But then how come…? Go ahead, find out for yourself. In fact, I just may have added one ingredient too many!
This is how I make my version of my Sister’s Jaini Aloo:
6 medium-large potatoes
1 heaped t cumin
2 t coriander powder
2 t kuti mirch (coarsely pounded red chillies or chili flakes)
3-4 t oil
Pressure cook (or boil) and peel potatoes. Cut into rough unequal chunks (if you are going for artisanal appeal). Heat the oil in a kadahi or heavy bottomed pan. Add the cumin to the hot oil, followed by the chillies, and the coriander powder. No turmeric, please. Dump in the chunky potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and mix with a light hand till the potatoes are evenly coated with the spices. Lower the heat and let cook for 10-15 minutes. Brown to desired shade, stirring a couple of times. Using less oil requires that you not stir them till they are a bit toasted, or they will crumble too much. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
Serving suggestions: It can be the main dish for an everyday meal accompanied by a dal or raita or plain yoghurt, and served with roti. You may also use it as stuffing in grilled sandwiches, or roll it in roti/paranthas for tiffin.
Can it get simpler? Well, here’s another to beguile you and tantalize your taste buds. This uses the left over boiled potatoes that you thought were too much for the previous day’s meal. Or comes in handy when wanting to perk up a meal that may be the left-overs themselves. The tadka (tempering) of cumin and heeng is something I tried for the first time this month. It was a tip from my maid Shakuntala who hails from Agra. She is also the source of a Simple Potato Curry from the Fields of Western Uttar Pradesh.
You may serve this raita as an accompaniment to any traditional Indian meal, or even as a low fat dip with crackers and chips or pita wedges.
Aloo ka Raita
2 potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 1/2 C yoghurt (mine is always made with 3% milk)
½ t roasted and ground cumin seeds
kuti mirch (coarse pounded red chillies or flakes)
Coriander leaves for garnish
½ t cumin
a pinch of heeng
1 t oil (use mustard oil, if feeling bold)
Crumble the potatoes into the serving dish. Beat the yoghurt with a fork and add to the potatoes. Mix in salt. Pan roast the cumin and crush in a pestle and mortar or roll under the rolling pin, pressing down as you roll back and forth. Add to the raita and mix.
Heat the oil in a heavy kadhchhi (not the ones made out of stainless steel) or a tiny pan, add the cumin and the pinch of heeng. Pour over the raita and serve garnished with chopped coriander and sprinkled with the kuti mirch. Heaven.
You could add another layer of mystery flavour and take this raita into the other realm altogether (beyond heaven?). Subliminal. Place a ‘cup’ of onion skin in the centre of the raita. Pour a half teaspoon of hot ghee into this. Place a red-hot piece of coal into the ghee and cover the dish immediately. Remove the cover after five minutes and write me about it. This trick is performed with uplas (cow-dung chips) (pronounced oo-plaa) in the Northern Plains of India for many raitas and other dishes. I picked up the ‘urban’ adaptation from Madhur Jaffery’s A Taste of India, and do it with my baingan (eggplant) raita all the time! Holy smoke!
Other recipes featuring the potato:
Psycho-Analysis and A Potato Curry
Carrots, Peas and Potatoes with Dill
Giving Thanks: with Carrots, Corn and Potatoes (Mashed Potatoes)
Bihari Mashed Potatoes
Fat-Free Potato Chips
F(e)asting on Janmashtami
A Simple Potato Curry from the Fields of Western Uttar Pradesh