Recently, my mom and her sister, my masi, came to visit me for a few days from India. On the morning that they were about to arrive, I knew that I had to make lunch for them. What should I make, I wondered? My mom I’d seen nibbling on lettuce leaves and other bits for lunch since I was a child. I could talk her into abandoning her newly rediscovered grandchildren and her jetlag to go to an interesting restaurant. And then what if all she wanted was a really good cup of tea. Now that I could do. About my aunt, I was a little less certain. She might prefer a home-cooked meal after hours of weary travel. Here I had been telling my mom and masi for months what a good cook I’d become, how I cooked every day for the boys.
I settled on a meal of lobia, black eyed peas, and aloo dum made with potatoes in a tomato sauce. On this morning the black eyed peas turned into a sticky overcooked mess and the pressure cooker boiled over. The potatoes remained stubbornly hard. The clock ticked away. This is a bad omen, I thought, suddenly all thumbs, as I tried to conceal the mess. Better stop cooking now. When mom and masi arrived, they found boiled potatoes idling on the kitchen counter and not much else. I handed the potatoes off to my mildly surprised mother. We were soon sitting down to lunch.
In retrospect, this is what I should have made, my mom’s favorite dahi aloo sabzi. It’s a simple, soothing dish, perfect for hot summer days, that relies upon the flavor of potato, tart plain yogurt, and lots of freshly chopped coriander leaves. The dish doesn’t make much use of dried spice powder, although you could add some coriander and cumin powder if you like. It is similar to Gujarati kadhi, but here the potato acts as a binder for the yogurt, not besan, and the dish has chunks of hearty potato floating in it (not visible in the picture). It works very well with khichdi and hot parathas. Here is the recipe, in mom’s words.
Boil 1 lb (about 4 medium) potatoes. Keep one aside, and mash it up. To this mashed potato, add 1 cup full fat plain yogurt with 2 cups water, and crush with your hands until smooth. This adds as a binder to the yogurt and stops it from curdling. Roughly break the rest of the potatoes into 1” cubes by hand (can chop, but handbroken tastes better).
Heat 1 tbsp ghee. Add ½ tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafetida, 6-7 curry leaves, ½ tbsp finely chopped ginger, 1-2 green chillies, 1 dried red chilli (chillies are optional). Stir fry for 2 minutes and add potatoes. Mix well and add 1/4 tsp of turmeric, ¼ tsp red chilli or cayenne pepper powder. Fry for 2-3 minutes on medium flame, stirring all the time so that the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the curd mixture and allow to come to boil, stirring frequently. Take care that the curd doesn’t curdle (stirring helps). When it comes to boil, simmer for 5 minutes on low flame. At this point add salt (not earlier), pinch of sugar, and 1 tsp of lemon juice if needed.
Garnish well with chopped coriander leaves.