My life has been crazy for the last few
daysmonths. But sometimes (read most of the time), when I am very tired and sleepy, my mind drifts away to different worlds, which are often clear and blurry at the same time…the fancy way to say this would be that I enter a trancelike halfway state between the worlds. The other world I am thinking about today is my college hostel, the one place in my life which I am yet to figure out if I loved, hated or both. Both the feelings are pretty strong when I think about those days. But anyway, I will talk about my hostel in another post.
The memory which suddenly came to my half-awake brain is of the tiny little store stuck in the wall right next to our hostel. We used to call it Chacha-r dokan (Uncle’s store). It was really a tiny store…I mean teeny-tiny. Chacha was a devout Muslim with a white beard, pretty bulky, with a big tummy and a very soft, polite nature. He was like a messiah to us girls who were almost in a prison, so disgustingly strict was our hostel. He used to sell anything a girl could need in her college-hostel life. From sanitary napkins to science notebooks, you name it, he had it. It was like a tiny and more efficient version of Walmart. My college days, to put it delicately, were NOT associated with an excess of money. Chacha was the person who was my go to person if I needed some cash to see me through particularly barren stretches of that already harsh desert. He didn’t even know my name. It was all trust. All I would say was “Chacha, paanch sao rupiya udhar milega? Kaal-parsu waapas de denge” (Uncle, can I borrow Rs.500/- from you? I’ll return it in a day or two). I didn’t do that every day though…only when I really needed it. He gave me the money and I returned it on time. Every time. I think when we were in our third year, Chacha stopped coming to the store and his son took over the business. He was the nicest person I have ever seen as a shopkeeper but we all missed Chacha. I used to keep asking his son if Chacha will come to the store anytime or not. He never did and sometime later he passed away. Chacha‘s son moved on in his life, as we did with ours, and the store was closed for good after couple of years. I don’t know exactly why, when or how but that tiny store and Chacha became part of an everlasting and fuzzily pleasant memory.
Like my other posts, this story will not follow a recipe or a food which is related to the above story. It’s not related to any food; it’s a part of my life and a cherished memory. But don’t worry; I have something to share which is ‘food’…for real. A potato curry known by us Bengalis as “alur dawm” and by similar-sounding names (like dum alu which literally means slow cooked potatoes) in other Indian languages. There are a million varieties but this one is my friend Madhu’s. She got the recipe from somewhere and then tweaked it to suit her taste (as she does for most things :P). I follow her recipe to the T and I love it every time I dig into this “alur dawm”
Baby potatoes: 10-12 nos. or regular potatoes (4-5) cut into four
Tomato: One big, fat and ripe
Green chili: As per your taste
Red chili powder: 2 tsp. or more/less
Ginger paste: 2 tbsp.
Bay leaves: 2 nos.
Pnachphoron/Bengali five spice: 1 tsp. +1/2 tsp.
Whole jeera/cumin: ½ tsp.
Whole dhania/coriander: ½ tsp.
Dried red chilies: 2-3 nos.
Turmeric: 1 tsp.
Cilantro: a handful
Salt to taste
Oil: few table spoons
- Poke the baby potatoes with a fork and boil them in salted water. Do not overcook them, they will fall apart. Once cooked, peel the skin.
- While the potatoes are cooking, dry roast ½ tsp. each of pnachphoron, jeera, coriander and two dry red chilies. Once cooled, grind them to a fine powder.
- Heat up the oil and add the cooked potatoes, shallow fry them until they are golden brown in color. You can add turmeric at this point but entirely optional.
- Drain them on an absorbent paper.
- In the same oil add pnachphoron, two dry red chilies and the bay leaves. Let them sizzle a little bit and then add the tomatoes. You can finely chop the tomato or mash them with your hand.
- Add the ginger paste, red chili powder and turmeric and few chopped green chilies as well.
- Cook them until oil separates.
- Add the potatoes back to the spice paste and coat them very well. Cook for few minutes.
- Add just enough water to cover the potatoes, add salt, mix and then cover the pot.
- Let the potatoes cook on low-medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Uncover and check for seasoning. If the water is completely absorbed, add more luke warm water. Remember, the potatoes will quickly absorb all the water and the curry will end up with no gravy. If you like it that way, it should be fine, or else leave a little bit more gravy than you want.
- Add the chopped cilantro and few more chopped green chilies if you want, give it a good stir and then turn off the flame.
- Add the roasted spice powder, mix again and then cover the pot. As my friend Madhu said “let the aromas soak in”.
- Goes best with luchi/puri. I have eaten it with methi paratha and it tasted very good. But methi parathas have a very strong taste, so it was sort of masking the flavor of the alur dawm. Next time I’ll eat it with luchi/puri for sure.