For the Love of the Potato

Jaini Aloo

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…

aloo bhaji
a lunch of batatyachi bhaaji, from Maharashtra

hash browns
hash browns for a well deserved breakfast after working into the wee hours of the morning, from the US of A

mixed veggie
mixed veggie subzi (cauliflower, carrots, spinach, peas, pumpkin, eggplant, bell pepper, and of course, the potato) from West Bengal, for dinner

potato soup
Awesome Potato Soup, again from Umreeka

vege burger
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:

Jaini Aloo 2
Jaini Aloo
(serves 4-6)
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 Raita
Aloo ka Raita
(serves 4)
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.

Aloo Raita

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

JFI (Jihva for Ingredients) originated at Indira’s Mahanandi. This month it features the Potato, and is being hosted by Vaishali at Happy Burp.

19 thoughts on “For the Love of the Potato

  1. Great looking dishes and a great write up too Anita.Good job,enjoyed reading the post,thanks!:))

    And, I’m just back from drooling over your spread!

  2. I love aalu raita. I have a Jain friend whose family does not eat aalu. Any vegetable growing underground is a NO. No potatoes, carrots, radishes and ofcourse onions and garlic…not to forget ginger. But her mom’s preparations were fabulous. It never felt that there was something missing. Wonderful entry to JFI!

    I’m glad my sister’s friend’s family had accepted the potato into their kitchen (though, you are right, it is one of the non-permissible foods since to get the potato one has to destroy the entire plant) and we got this family-favourite of a recipe! It comes to the rescue every time I am having one of those indecisive days!

  3. I was wondering what this potato-mania was about! Now I get it. And strangely enough, I was ready to post my recipe for roasted potatoes! But Blogger has decided that I need my beauty rest. My blog was marked as a spam blog – someone found out about all my sins. 😀

    It’s tax season here and I am totally beat from all the forms that each agency wants a ka-zillion copies of. And if you want to enroll in submitting your data by magnetic media or email, you have to download/read/print through a 94 page document. I’m not sure which the trees prefer…

    I love your potato recipes. I’ll have a potato any which way. Just boiled is great, too! And I’ll pick potato over ice-cream, too!

    And how come the Jains eat the great tuber? It’s from beneath the soil. We had Jain friends who I never invited to a meal at our house because she once told me that she has a tough time eating food that she knows is stored in the same refrigerator as meat but “sharam ke mare”, she eats it anyway. Not only did she not eat all the stuff Hema listed above, she was picky picky picky about the rest of the stuff that she would eat! No baingan, no cauliflower. Pasand nahin hain, na! At parties, someone would be delegated the task of cooking for her. If I was her, I would have eaten at home before going to the party or carried my own meal. Apart from all this, she was a real warm and caring person, so we just accommodated her. And yes, she lives here in the US. She cooks every single meal. They hardly ever eat out and her kids, in their 20s, are also very strict Jains and very conscious about what they eat.

    I too can have potatoes any which way – salt,pepper, butter, milk – all these are great foils for the potato. If someone serves a bad potato dish, then you’ve met the worst cook there is. Come to think of it, I’ve met two of them. There can’t be too many, surely?

    This particular Jain family must have made their peace with the potato! 🙂 Imagine, never tasting Potatoes!!

    So it was the tax-man keeping you up!

  4. Hi Anita,
    Both the recipes for potatoes are simple n tasty.I make the aloo raita but without the tadka. Must try your version 🙂
    Even the Jaini aloo looks yum!!
    Can you speak marathi Anita ? You have written batatyachi bhaaji correctly, without changing the pronunciation 🙂

  5. Wow! Those are some mind blowing pictures. You made the potatoes look so beautiful! I made hash browns too, but made it into patties with chutney stuffed in.

  6. Wow, I have not heard/eaten even half the potato dishes you mention! Great pics, am drooling so much that I have a hard time typing this:-)))Thanks for sharing, Nalini

  7. Anita, forgot to say this earlier – the coal trick is something I learnt of from Shan masala packets for tandoori recipes – see where fount of my knowledge stems from 😀 I never dared cos I didn’t want the smoke alarms to go off. I figured I’d try it in summer. Summer came and there were better things to do!

    But cow-dung chips? Cow dung for the floor, cow dung for gobar, …ya! But as a flavor for food?

  8. Hi Anita,

    Being a potato lover…..i welcome all recipes using it…yummyyyyyyyyy!! Simple & delicious!! Thanks for sharing.

  9. I told Asha too I’m not buying potatoes anymore! Who all’s recipes am I going to try. Ladies no potatoes now only posts on potatoes. Smack, smack, smack, and a happy burp~~~.

    Manisha have you heard of Panchagavya? It is made in shravan when brahmins changes their holy threads and certain other auspicious days. It consists of cowdung, tup, dudh, dahi, gowmutra and its considered very holy! It is naivedhya as well as thirtha! I puked when I had it even though I was not informed about its contents just from the smell.

  10. Let’s try this again. I couldn’t post a comment on my blog this morning:
    Archana: Try with the tadka. I liked the change.
    I can ‘almost’ speak Marathi. And I asked my son for help!
    Bee: It’s worth the extra effort!
    RP: Mine was also a patty of sorts made with grated potatoes. Just pan-sized! 🙂 I was very hungry!
    Nalini: Hi. Hope you’ll find a new family pleaser here.
    Manisha: Never under-estimate the packaging!
    And the upla is only for smoking, yaar; it’s not added to the food! The English language can do funny things in translation – so uplas can be called cow-dung chips/pies/or cakes – all things you don’t want to do with any dung! Fuel – chips?
    Suma: Welcome, fellow potato-lover!
    Swapna: Do. It’s easy and you can do it even when not in the mood for any serious cooking!
    C’mon, Anjali. It’s healthy!! And presently, also the cheapest veggie in the market – the others are twice as much! But not for long. These rains (in the North) could not have been good for the potato crop.
    And that Panch-whatever sounds horrible. Only the men have to eat it!?? Right? Ohhh, but it’s naivedyam!! KPs have no such tradition, thank you! 🙂

  11. Panchagavya? Gowmutra also? Forget it. The vision of Morarji Desai was bad enough. Now gowmutra? My family (nuclear, only) never followed the rites of shravan. Our home was always filled with cousins feasting on chicken, mutton and even fish. I know, we will rot in hell! 😀

    And, yes, let the men have panchagavya.

  12. Wow Anita, Everyday I discover another awesome blog, and yours is today’s great discovery. I love the way you write, very witty and informative. Great potato dishes too… I’m adding your blog to my RSS feeds. Thanks for stopping by mine.

    I know how it is! There is so much good stuff to read – my RSS feed gets longer each day!

  13. Anita at first I thought you meant panchagavya was healthy! yuck! Then I read oh potatoes ;).

    Yeah men need a little more cleansing don’t they? we all agree on that one.

  14. Hey Anita,
    I absolutely loved reading your blog. but m stuck at the aloo raita recipe.. I m wondering why is coal used in it. I once saw my fiend doing the same while making a dish out of chicken too- I guess chicken roast. plz let me know about it..I’d be grateful.and would certainly try it out and let you know how it turned out.. 🙂

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