Potato curry with tomatoes, aloo bhaji

We spent last week in the Hudson Valley north of Red Hook.  The house that we stayed in dated from 1773, and it had an orchard that was brimming with apples that were beginning to turn red.  I loved the warm brick house with its generously sized rooms, well worn wide plank floors and white latticed windows that framed the expansive green lawn with towering trees.

The trip was full of pleasures – a robust family reunion, plenty of good home cooking, the discovery of Tivoli village along with the quaint, handkerchief sized Tivoli Bread and Baking company, the vegan burger at Madalin’s Table, raw honey and pumpkin blossoms at Mead’s Orchard, a succulent pie made with freshly picked golden peaches at Me Oh My Pie Shop, another visit to Mercato for their exquisite handmade pasta, my first taste of Adirondack cheddar and Berkshire Blue cheese at the Clermont farmers market, tiny farmstands that had sprouted everywhere, sheep and cows dotting the rolling meadows, and acres of cultivated farmland wherever I turned.

Back home now, I’m missing the feel of different surfaces beneath my feet – the soft grass studded with tiny pink and purple wildflowers, the prickly gravel of the driveway, the heaviness of the smooth floor planks, the roughness of the unpolished wooden steps that led up to the house.  I’m also remembering the air that was heavy with the heady smell of sweet grass, moisture, fruit.  Outside my window now, my view stops at a lone tree and a parking lot.  Not exactly stretches of never-ending luscious green.

I brought back some dusty newly dug potatoes, ripe red tomatoes and a fragrant bunch of cilantro from Migliorelli’s pretty farm stand in Red Hook.  This morning my mother-in-law made her famous “Bihari” potato bhaji with my produce.  What I loved about the spicy mouth-watering North Indian style curry was that it used only tomatoes as the flavor base with not a hint of the ubiquitous onions, ginger and garlic found so often in Indian cooking.  The curry obtained its great flavor from the use of the Bengali five spice mixture called panch phoran, and from cumin used in three ways: first whole cumin seeds in the tempering, next ground cumin powder in the curry and finally the addition at the end of some dry roasted cumin seeds ground into powder.  We enjoyed big hot ladlefuls of the curry served with rotis at lunch.

Potato bhaji

1 1/2 lbs of potatoes, boiled, skinned and coarsely mashed

4-6 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

2 whole green chillies, optional

1 large handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2-3 tbsps of oil

Tarka spices:

1 tsp of panch phoran

1/8 tsp of asafoetida

Other powdered spices, to be added later:

1 tsp of cumin powder

2 tsps of coriander powder

1/2 tsp of turmeric

1 tsp of red chilli powder, or to taste

1/2 tsp of garam masala

To add at the end:

1 tsp of dry roasted cumin seeds, ground to powder

Salt to taste

Pinch of sugar, to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot.  When the oil is hot, add the asafoetida and the panch phoran.  Wait till the panch phoran sputters.  Now add the chopped tomatoes and the whole green chillies.  As the tomato cooks, add the dry spices: cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric and red chilli powder.  Add a sprinkle of salt to help the tomatoes to cook faster.  When the tomatoes are done, the oil will glisten separately.

2.  At this time, add about 2-3 cups of water and bring the mixture to boil.  When the water boils, add the coarsely mashed boiled potatoes to the mixture.  Stir and cook for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat.  Taste for spices and salt, and adjust accordingly.  Add more water if needed.

3.  Meanwhile, prepare the roasted cumin by dry roasting cumin seeds in a hot pan until the smell of cumin is released.  Take care that the cumin seeds don’t burn.  Grind to a fine powder and add about 1 tsp of this to the curry.  Cook the potato currry for a minute or two longer and remove from flame.  Garnish with cilantro, and serve hot with Indian bread.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Amith says:

    I love your style of writing.
    Secondly, today, when I read this:
    “it used only tomatoes as the flavor base with not a hint of the ubiquitous onions, ginger and garlic …”
    what made me really wonder is “is there so much Science and reasoning in cooking” 😀
    I wanted to give cooking a shot in my free time, but now I’m scared 🙂

    1. devikakumar says:

      Thank you for this sweet comment, Amith. This is a perfect dish for you to try out :). I was shocked that it required such little chopping! I thought I would miss the taste of onions, ginger and garlic but the dish was really simple and tasty. All thanks to your masi.

  2. Antara says:

    Loved reading this as always 🙂 Super like the fly pic

    1. devikakumar says:

      Thanks dear!! So sorry i was sleeping the other day when you came over…felt really sad to have missed you. hoping we can see you again soon.

  3. Eftychia says:

    This recipe looks and sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dalia says:

    Ah memories! This potato curry used to be served by the Indian railway caterers somewhere along the Mughal Sarai-Kolkata route. As a kid, I could only take a taste of this fiery soup, but I would devour the gigantic poori that came with it. I’ve been trying to recreate it with ginger, onions and sometimes store bought garlic chutney. That curry tastes great, but it is not my dream potato curry. This is it. So as promised, I made it the same night, substituting curry leaves instead of the dhania which I detest. It was close to perfect. Thank you Devika and mum-in-law.

    1. devikakumar says:

      So thrilled that you made it!!

  5. almostveg says:

    I was chatting with Pramita’s mom and she mentioned that I must read your blog since you write well and she was right.
    Your family vacation with all the details gives me a great place to visit for the fall colors. Thanks.

    1. devikakumar says:

      Thank you for the kind words — I very much enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve done plenty of fall trips in the past few years, and will write about some favorite spots.

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