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.

Andhra-style potatoes

Bangala Dumpa Ulli Karam

My husband introduced me to the food from his native state of Andhra Pradesh when we were dating.  The cuisine and its cooking style was a revelation for me.  For instance, a simple sookha aloo-pyaaz or dry potato-onion dish tasted completely different because of the cooking process, the treatment of ingredients and a slightly different spice mix.  In my North Indian home, we would have sputtered whole cumin in hot oil, added the onions, then the boiled potatoes along with some turmeric, a pinch of cumin-coriander powder and some dried mango powder called amchur.  All of this happened in one pan and in sequential steps.  My husband on the other hand cooked his aloo-pyaaz in three almost-parallel parts: onions fried first and made into a wet paste, whole spices roasted separately and ground into a dry spice mix, boiled potatoes stir-fried on their own until golden.  The spices he roasted also included lentils like chana dal and urad dal, that were a completely new and surprise addition to my spice palate.  Finally all three parts were combined into the dish called Bangala Dumpa Ulli Karam or Potatoes in Onion Masala.  The resulting dish, earthy and hearty, had a strong taste of onion paste and freshly ground spices, and could be very spicy from ground dried red chillies.  We now make it without any chillies so that two year-old Agastya, who loves onions and aloo, can eat it too.

Bangala Dumpa Ulli Karam or Potatoes in Onion Masala

Serves 4

2-3 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and cubed into 1/2” chunks.
A little oil

For the wet masala:
2 medium sized onions, diced
1 tbsp of oil

For the dry masala:
1 tbsp chana dal
1 tbsp urad dal
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
3-4 dried red chillies (optional)
A spot of ghee

1. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions until light brown. Grind to a paste with a little salt.

2. In a little bit of ghee, dry roast the chana dal, urad dal, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and red chillies (in this order) until a fragrant smell is released, taking care to not over-darken or burn the lentils and spices.  In a dry grinder or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the spices.  Add this dry spice mixture to the ground onion paste and mix well.

3. Heat a little oil in a pan.  Add the cubed potatoes and fry for a few minutes until golden.  Stir in the onion masala and salt to taste.  Cook on the flame for a couple of minutes.  Serve hot with basmati rice or rotis.