Recipe: potato masala
It’s been sunny, hot (in the 60s), and windy on the Front Range these past few days. People rejoice when the weather warms up around here, but in February it makes me cringe. I just imagine what all that warm wind and sun is doing to our snowpack. Then we head out for a trail run and it’s a slushfest of sorts. Yeeesh. But the good news is that more snow is on the way. In fact, it’s snowing outside our front door right now. Even if you are a winter hater, you must admit it can be quite beautiful. I finally took the time to do some shooting while ski touring in Crested Butte a couple of weeks ago. It was just too pretty not to…
beautiful mature aspens and growing conifers
hillslopes as a squall approaches
I invest a good bit of time reading weather forecasts throughout the year as it informs my decisions on outdoor activities including my photography and foraging. In summer, it’s mainly about heat waves, thunderstorms, and cold fronts. In winter it’s ALL about the powder. (Actually, we follow the weather closely to track avalanche risk too.) When I know a big dump snow day is coming, I load up on work ahead of time so I can catch some fresh tracks when possible. I also plan our menu accordingly. We had a rather snowy first half of February in Colorado, so we filled up on stews, curries, soups, and other things that warm your belly after dropping into powder stashes up to your hips. One dish that is utterly satisfying after a day in the snow is potato masala (aloo masala).
vegetable oil, tomato, onion, potatoes, serrano pepper, ginger, curry leaves, cilantro, turmeric, salt, asafoetida, mustard seeds, cayenne, urad dal
slice the potatoes in half (or quarters)
cook the potatoes in water, turmeric, and salt
My friend, Nichole, had brought this dish to a stitch-n-bitch dosa party years ago. I went back for seconds and then thirds… the potatoes were amazing all on their own. Months later when Nichole was teaching me stretches for some persistent neck and shoulder pains, she gave me her potato masala recipe. I couldn’t believe how simple it was and yet I tucked the recipe away for years until this past fall. I had a hankering for those potatoes.
dice the tomato, prep the other ingredients
peel the cooked potatoes
chop the potatoes
I remembered the recipe was simple, so I began pulling out the ingredients. Then I discovered I didn’t have black mustard seeds, only yellow mustard seeds. And I didn’t have any fresh curry leaves on hand either. Both are things I didn’t typically stock in my kitchen. Luckily, I was headed to Nichole’s place for her stitch-n-bitch lahmacun party and she hooked me up with both ingredients as she had just been to the Indian grocer the day before.
prepped and ready to cook
add urad dal, black mustard seed, curry leaves, and asafoetida to hot oil
after the seeds pop and the dal browns, add tomatoes, onion, chili, and ginger
Most of the items called for in this dish are easy enough to acquire in your typical grocery store, but there are a handful that you’ll likely have the best luck locating in an Indian grocery store. Urad dal is dehusked black lentil, and so it’s actually white. My local Asian grocer carries this. I’ve been unable to source fresh curry leaves around here except from the Indian grocer (my Asian grocer just scowls at me when I ask her if she carries them). And the asafoetida is another item that you’ll find at the Indian grocery store, although I think the larger Asian markets might carry it on their Indian-specific shelves (for the locals, I’m thinking the HMart in Westminster and the Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield). Asafoetida has a bit of a sharp rotten sock smell. It smells awful, but it’s wonderful when added to food. Consider of all those foods with horrible odors that taste so good (kimchi, durian, fish sauce, dried cuttlefish).
add the spices
gently stir in the potatoes
mix the chopped cilantro into the potatoes
In the end, what you have is a hot bowl of aromatic, heady, warm, spicy, earthy potatoes. I say spicy as in “full of spices” but you can make your dish spicier by adding more chilis or more potent chilis. Thai birds come to mind. The potatoes made a lovely filling for dosas at the dosa party, but I’m just as happy sitting down with a bowl of potato masala all on its own or accompanied by a bowl of dal. I’m ready for more snow.
healthy and satisfying
also utterly delicious
from Healthy South Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan and Patricia Marquardt
2 medium russet potatoes, cut in half (I cut them in quarters)
1/2 tsp turmeric, divided
1 tsp salt, divided
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1/4 tsp asafoetida (optional, but good if you have it)
3-4 curry leaves (optional, but also good if you can get it)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp urad dal
1 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup tomato, chopped
1 green chili, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
Place the potatoes, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and enough water to cover the potatoes in a pot over medium heat. Cook for about 20 minutes until the potatoes yield to a fork. Drain the water off, peel the skins off the potatoes, and chop the potatoes coarsely. Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet or a sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add asafoetida, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and urad dal. Cover and fry until the seeds burst (you will hear them pop) and the urad dal has turned golden. Add the onions, tomatoes, chili, and ginger. Fry for a minute. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cayenne. Stir well. Add the potatoes to the pan and stir (or fold) gently to blend everything together. Cover and cook on medium heat for an additional 2-3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Mix in the cilantro and serve. Serves 4.
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