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warming up for more snow

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…


aspen trunks

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



Potato Masala
[print recipe]
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.


more goodness from the use real butter archives

chicken tikka masala chana masala indian dal indian garlic naan

13 nibbles at “warming up for more snow”

  1. Alanna says:

    There are few things I enjoy more on a cold day than a bowl of warming Indian spices! I love how light and bright, but still cozy (potatoes ftw!) this one looks. Thank you for sharing the recipe! Your landscape pictures are as beautiful as ever. :)

  2. Kristin says:

    Mmmm. My daughter’s apartmentmate is from India. When they discussed sharing the apartment, the roommate said that she liked to cook, and asked if the smells would be a problem. Erin assured her they would not…of course if she doesn’t get to EAT any of the food, it could be problematic!

  3. angelitakarmalita says:

    I am one of those people that is not a huge winter lover, but your winter pictures always make me rethink that… so serene, so beautiful. Love these. And what a great dish for the cold weather, and I’m a huge fan of Alamelu! I caught her on a public TV program about 2 years ago and was hooked, she’s so easy to watch and she makes her recipes so approachable, like being in the kitchen with your favorite auntie. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and this recipe.

  4. Jessica says:

    It looks lovely but I would argue that eating a bowl of rice and potatoes and the bread in the background is not healthy.
    It is a bowl full of carbs that raises insulin and blood sugar and is directly linked to excess weight and a host of other heath issues. I’m not completely paleo but would never eat this all together.

  5. Meg says:

    Yum! I’ve been making lots of soups and curries lately, too. This one sounds like a terrific addition to the rotation. Last time I was in our local Savory Spice Shop I noticed that they were selling asafoetida (although it’s spelled asafetida in their catalog), so that’s another option hat some people may have for sourcing it.

  6. HolliDe says:

    Your snow landscape photos are stunning! I love how you see the beauty in something that a lot of people are complaining about. And the Potato Masala? I can smell it through the screen! Will definitely try this soon! Thank you!

  7. Megan says:

    Your pictures are beautiful! I am going to try this meal. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Sophie says:

    This is awesome! You photographed the process and the final dish so beautifully. I’m suddenly wishing for powdery snow and big bowl of this. Sounds so good!!

  9. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    These potatoes sound soooo good. The great thing about Indian food is once you buy all the new spices, you’re set for months and months. I have all these spices and can’t wait to try these potatoes!

  10. Kate says:

    Those photographs of the snow and trees are stunning. The black and white of the birches against the furrier black and white of the pines, and the boundary between the edge of the woods and the mountain… And a beautiful recipe as well.

  11. Rocky Mountain Woman says:

    I love this! It’s one of my all time favorites, but I’ve never made it at home.

    We’ve had frozen ground with warmer temperatures and rain = flooding! One of my neighbors has a real mess in their basement…

  12. Allie says:

    Hey Jen, I’m just wondering what setup you use for photographing when it is dark outside. Do you have softboxes? I live in a tiny apartment and often am cooking after a long day of work, when it is long since dark outside. All I have currently is a homemade lightbox, but I would love to improve anything I can.

  13. jenyu says:

    Alanna – thank you!

    Kristin – what a lucky girl :)

    angelitakarmalita – dang. If I had a TV that would be something I’d want to watch!

    Jessica – I’m sorry that it doesn’t appeal to you. You might have better luck reading paleo food blogs.

    Meg – oh yes! Savory is a great shop to find all manner of spices. Thanks for reminding me!

    HolliDe – thanks :)

    Megan – thank you!

    Sophie – ha ha :)

    Katrina – exactly! It’s that way with a lot of Asian cooking in general.

    Kate – thank you. They are quaking aspens (which look a lot like birches).

    Rocky Mountain Woman – it was the same for me. It’s so easy to make at home though, and a lot more economical! Ugh, flooding :(

    Allie – I have 2 large softboxes that I use with my SB-800 and SB-600. I don’t shoot at night very often because nighttime is when I get computer work done. When I do, it’s usually two large softboxes – one from the side and the other bouncing off a standard white ceiling. Hope that helps!

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