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Thursday, 20 August 2015

Spicy Herby Potatoes, Indian Style


The other day, I was flipping through recent recipes on this blog, and realized that the pattern looked something like this: cake, cake, cake, pudding, cake, and cake. Anyone who reads this blog (and I believe there are no more than 5 such individuals, counting myself - my parents, and a couple of dear friends and family who in a moment of misplaced enthusiasm, decided to hit the subscribe button) may justifiably conclude that in our home, dessert makes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While that would be a dream come true, I can assure you that this is not the case. 

I also realized that while I have waxed eloquent on cakes with some regularity, there is nary a post on the humble spud.

This is a disgrace.

I'll admit that potatoes are full of starch, and cannot a weightwatcher's diet dominate (just like, ahem, cakes). And that with zillions of potato recipes lurking on the world wide web, we hardly need another one. I'll also concede that I cannot claim to be an expert on potatoes, given that we rarely ate them, growing up. Back in Kerala, which is where my family is from, other forms of starch - rice, whole mountains of it, and tapioca - are preferred. Even so, given their versatility, potatoes cooked in a few different ways wound their way into our meals every now and then.

And therein lies the universal appeal of the knobbly tuber, captured better than I ever can in this charming song.

My mother's repertoire of potato recipes is narrow. There is of course, the South Indian potato curry, smothered in mustard seeds and curry leaves, that is an accompaniment to fried puris in South Indian restaurants and homes, including ours. Even though I much prefer chhole, a spicy chickpea curry with my puris, over time, I have come to accept the potato curry as an acceptable substitute. There is also a potato bell pepper side, which was one of a handful of dishes my finicky teenage self would tolerate in my lunch tiffin box.

My favorite potato recipes, however, are those in which it plays a supporting role, true to its humble origins below the depths of the earth - my father's mutton curry in which cubed potatoes melt into the rich onion and tomato gravy, absorbing the flavor and richness of the meat; samosas, in which the flaky crust is at least as much of a star as the potato; and Kerala meat puffs, the mere mention of which is releasing endorphins in my brain.

Today, however, in the potato's debut on this blog, I think it deserves to be cast in more than a supporting role, given how long I have overlooked it. Here's a recipe that uses fingerling potatoes, a blend of herbs, and panch phoron - a Bengali mixture of whole spices. The list of ingredients is modest, there is no technique involved, but as with all things potato, we were not disappointed.



Spicy Herby Potatoes, Indian Style (serves 4)

1.5 pounds potatoes
3 tbsp oil (divided)
salt to taste
2 tbsp panch phoron
2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp chat masala
1 cup mint leaves and 1 cup coriander leaves, ground into a coarse paste
1 heaped tbsp canned tomato paste

Preheat oven to 350 degree C. Scrub potatoes if cooking unpeeled (which is what I did). 
In a large bowl, combine quartered potatoes with salt and 2 tbsp oil. Mix well, and spread in a single layer on a greased baking tray. Bake till cooked through, and the edges are brown, around 20-30 minutes. Set aside. 

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wide pan. When oil heats, add panch phoron. Stir for a minute or so, till the spices release their aroma. Next add ginger garlic paste and stir for a couple of minutes till the garlic and ginger turn a light golden. Next add tomato paste, coriander powder, chat masala, turmeric powder, red chili flakes, and chopped onion. Stir for 2-3 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the ground herbs. Taste to check seasoning. Finally add cooked potatoes and stir for an additional 3-5 minutes, until the herbs and spices have coated the potatoes well, and any moisture has dried. Serve with rice or chapatis. 

Note: If you want to avoid baking, you may add the uncooked quartered potatoes at the final stage of cooking to the cooked spice mix. In that case, you may want to cover the lid and cook the raw potatoes in the spice mix for 10-15 minutes, adding water as necessary, until the potatoes are fork tender. 

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