A Simple Potato Curry: The Pleasures of Desi Home Cooking

September 08, 2006
Mayank Austen Soofi

First you will have to buy the vegetables.

Make sure that you are familiar with the native language so that the sellers do not charge you extra money, and also remember to keep coins in your wallet. It helps in small purchases. Keep checking your wallet though; there are few places as tempting to a pickpocketer than a crowded vegetable market.

Do not shop in a hurry. Walk around in the mandi (market), ask the prices, check the quality of the vegetables in different stalls, draw in a deep breath, sniff the smells, look around, and observe what the rest of the people are buying. Though for this dish you just need to buy four vegetables - tomatoes, potatoes, coriander leaves and ginger - there must be no hesitation in going for something which excites your gastronomical juices or which make you feel experimental.

T for Tomatoes

Since this recipe is ideally suited for two adult diners, you must not buy more than six tomatoes and must not settle with less than five.

Fortunately you do not need to be a diploma holder in hotel management to realize that a tomato should desirably be red in color, besides being fat and round in shape, like grandmammas. Discreetly apply pressure with your finger tips on the surface. Does the tomato squeeze too much? If so, gently keep it back. Softness does mean squishiness.

If the tomato appears just too red, leave that stall and its dishonest owner immediately. When the spinach is picture-perfect green, or the mango has a speckless smooth-yellow appearance, it is most probably injected with chemicals to increase its seductive appeal.

Remember - a paper flower, however striking in appearance, is still scentless!

P for Potatoes

Potatoes have their own complications. It is not suggested that one need to be a scholar in molecular biology to learn the art of choosing potatoes. Buying a potato is rather simple - look for medium sized ones which fit uncomfortably in the fist. Check for any undesirable bulbous growth. Although you would need only three potatoes, it is suggested that you buy in bulk. Potatoes can be stored un-refrigerated for many days. It will spare you from constant shopping.

The biggest complication about potatoes is their infamous contribution to increasing the size of one's pot-belly. The potato, in spite of being an essential ingredient in most of the cuisines, is considered a primary source of fat. With the present regrettable trend towards a lean, mean and hungry look, potatoes suggest unhealthiness and obesity. But then are all the Irish people obese?

To not eat potato will be an extreme act of stupidity. Instead, exercise in moderation. And anyway, 2.2 percent of a freshly dug potato consists of protein. So it is all right to feast on them every now and then. Besides, potatoes are delicious, and in a country like India, they are the meat of vegetarians.

C for Coriander

A single sprig of fresh coriander leaves will be fine. Make sure it is not wet. It has become a trade secret among the sellers to periodically sprinkle water over green vegetables in order to give them a tantalizing fresh appearance. Do not fall for the trap. The water only squeezes out the flavor and fragrance. Buy a dry sprig instead. Please do run your fingers through it. The leaves must not crinkle which happens to those plucked many days ago. There must not be any faint yellow or pale brown discoloring at the top of the leaves either.

If it is getting complicated, just smell the leaves. Trust your nose and if it sends the right signal to the brain, go for the buy. Mostly green chilies are given complimentary with coriander leaves. Unless these are not times of stock market depression, ask for the chilies without any shame, as if it is your right.

G for Ginger

Nowadays people have grown so busy, with both men and women working in 9-6 offices, that it understandably becomes difficult, at the end of a week-day, to go through an extensive cooking routine. At worst, people eat out. At best, they cook up something edible using frozen vegetables and readymade pastes.

Such practices must be avoided. If you wish to have your affection, sincerity and innermost sentiments reflected in your food, what you need is a piece of fresh garlic root. A good ginger is light brown in color. Make sure it is not very dry or hard. You must feel a slight wetness, or at least a hint of it, on its surface.

Now after done with the shopping it will do you good to walk back home.

Scene of Action

Ideally you should be alone at home during cooking. There is no greater pleasure this world could offer than a solitary reading of Shakespeare under a tree or chopping a juicy tomato in the silence of your home. But of course first you should wash the vegetables more than three times. Keep washing till you are reasonably content about having eliminated the threat perception posed by germs, dust and other foreign agents.

The First Stage

Chopping a tomato is no art. It does not demand any delicacy of intense performance. But even then you must be certain to get rid of the two ugly black heads, present at the top and bottom. It does not reflect a good impression if your diner would come across those pieces while eating.

Do not despair if the juice squeezes out into your hands during chopping. A little loss won't result in the blandness of our dish. But do not wash your hands immediately. Lick it up instead. The raw juice, even without salt, is quite delectable and full of Vitamin A and C.

One more advice: Avoid temptations to waste precious time in carving tomatoes into artfully dainty pieces. Spare struggles to chop them into extremely small pieces. The tomatoes will anyway be squeezed to pulp while cooking. And please refrain from using your food mixer. We are not making a soup and we do not need tomato puree.

Now to potatoes - not many minutes must be spent in slicing them. Cut into long wedges and immerse them in a bowl filled with water. Otherwise they will turn yellow due to the presence of an enzyme called Polyphenol Oxidase.

Wash the ginger, carefully remove the skin with a peeler and then grate it. Keep the grated ginger aside in a small bowl. Cover it with a lid else its flavor will escape.

S for Spices

Now the question that arises is what spices to use and how to use them?

Do not panic. Ours is a simple recipe which needs only Lal Mirchi powder, Jeera seeds, and Haldi powder. However it is to be considered that the flavor of a freshly grounded spice is vastly superior to that of an one-month old spice powder preserved in an air-sealed box. But these are modern times and one must learn to come to terms with its 2-minute culture.

The quantity of the spices must be applied, of course, to taste. But Haldi powder must be used with extraordinary restraint. A little extra results in a superimposition, annulling the flavor of other spices and ingredients.

Now your mis-en-place appears to be complete.

The Real Thing

Place a saucepan on the fire. Be patient; give it some time to be uniformly heated; and only then pour a bit of vegetable oil. After thirty seconds, throw in a Jeera seed and if it starts crackling and sizzling and dancing, add a tea spoon more. Follow up by adding the rest of the spices, including the salt. Do not be distracted. Don't while away the time. Quickly add the tomatoes. A careless or a lazy hand is prone to burning the sizzling spices. Add ginger too, and cover the saucepan with a lid. Pull up the lid to have a peek from time to time. Add water if necessary. Keep stirring in between.

Remember to finely chop the coriander leaves. Keep them in a covered bowl and place the bowl in a freezer for a quick chill. You may relax now. Use the interval to drool on good memories. Play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. If you are not into the Bach-Brahms-Beethoven nexus, take out a Jane Austen instead.

Once you feel that all the life and essence has been squeezed out of the tomatoes, add the potatoes. Pour some water again if it is too dry. Cover the lid and get back to your Sonata or Sense & Sensibility or whatever.

Turn off the burner after ten minutes. Beware, do not attempt to open the lid. Do not be nervous if you suspect potatoes to be under boiled. They almost always reach a pulpy consistency with the help of the vaporous heat trapped inside.

The Best Part

When your dear ones are home and it is time to serve them, lovingly ladle the curry into small bowls. Sprinkle the ice-cold coriander leaves on the top. Serve with rotis or boiled rice and sliced onions.

Lastly, do not fail to observe the expression on the faces of your loved ones.

Mayank Austen Soofi owns a private library and four blogs: The Delhi Walla, Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos. Contact: mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com
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Supriya Anand
September 8, 2006
08:34 AM

i'd like to express my views on 'A SIMPLE POTATO CURRY:THE PLEASURES OF DESI HOME COOKING' on the basis of these three follwing words, simple, humourous and romantic..............it's simlpe and nice since it is easily comprehensible and is not loaded with jargons, therefore the author is not being pretentious or a pseudo intellect.which i like! its humorous and romantic because never before have i heard anyone talk of aloo curry so passionately! i quite liked it.....and i'm sure you will..........happy reading.

September 8, 2006
08:44 AM

Mayank, you've probably found the president of your fan club:)

September 8, 2006
01:30 PM


You tried making (simple potato curry) or not.

IF Yes

"Lastly, do not fail to observe the expression on the faces of your loved ones."

what was the feedback of the loved ones.


tell me later once you are done with it.

Guess it would be a :-) both the times.

September 8, 2006
03:23 PM


with loved ones there are times when you want to first tear away ........and make......and then think about eating

(i think above is too convoluted)


any experts who know what goes with aalloo salan - white or red?

September 8, 2006
03:29 PM

I would say, red, a port probably, but I'd also like some chicken with the aloo...

Mayank Austen Soofi
September 9, 2006
12:13 AM

I'm afraid I can not answer your query. There are some questions in life whose answer you will have to find on your own.

September 9, 2006
02:27 AM

The potato, in spite of being an essential ingredient in most of the cuisines, is considered a primary source of fat.

or carbs?

Mayank Austen Soofi
September 9, 2006
02:42 AM

Desigirl, I used the term 'fat' to imply the pulpiness of the body; of hints of obesity in people. But strictly speaking 'Carbs', and not 'Fat', takes the cake: A freshly dug potatoes contain 78 per cent water, 18 per cent starch, 2.2 per cent protein, 1 per cent ash (inorganic constituents), and 0.1 per cent fat. About 75 per cent of the dry weight is carbohydrate.

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