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.
1 1/2 lbs of potatoes, boiled, skinned and coarsely mashed
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped, to yield about 2 cups
2 whole green chillies, optional
1 large handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsps of oil
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.