Digging up new potatoes and old memories…Stir fried new potatoes with fried onion

DSC_0402I have no clue why this dish is called Bihari bhujia not Pakistani bhujia as it’s eaten mostly in Pakistan. I am not even sure if it’s eaten in Bihar or not. I have been eyeing this recipe for a while but was not comfortable with the deep-fried onion part of it. I am very bad with deep-frying. Not everything comes out crispy, especially batter-fried stuff. They wilt in no time and so does my enthusiasm. A few weeks ago I made a kabab (recipe coming soon) which needed deep-fried onions (aka beresta in Persian). In the process, I finally figured out how to make the onions stay crisp. As a bonus, I also gathered enough courage to make this potato stir-fry (I used the new potatoes I harvested few weeks ago).

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In the neighborhood where I spent my childhood, potato picking was a yearly ritual. Our neighbor had a small plot of land in front of our house where he planted vegetables a few times a year. After school, I couldn’t wait to cross the tiny alleyway from our house to his field and start helping Joya jethu/Uncle Joya. As I was a tiny kid, I couldn’t help much physically but I think he appreciated my enthusiasm and energy. I used to get really excited when it was notun alu/new potato season. Of all the vegetables he grew, I found the potatoes especially exciting, although I don’t know exactly why. The moment Joya jethu dug up the potatoes, I would start taking them back to the basket, saving him a bit of effort I guess. The golden tubers hanging from the roots always made me happy in the anticipation that I might get a few of them to take home. After a hard day’s work, I would fold my frock to make a makeshift sack and Joya jethu would put a few potatoes in there. I would rush to Maa and she would make something simple with them, maybe aloor dum (potato curry with a dry gravy). The fresh-picked potatoes always tasted delicious.

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Anyway, more than two decades later, I harvested potatoes for the first time in the US a few days ago. It brought back so many memories. I am using my new potatoes sparingly. I want to eat them but keep them at the same time. I wanted to make something special with them. The stir-fried potato dish I am sharing with you today is very unique in taste. The beresta (fried onions) adds a smoky flavor to the dish. If you keep a box of beresta in the freezer, it will take just a few minutes to make it. I had them both with roti/paratha/flat bread and rice and daal, but with it tasted best with paratha. If you have to eat it with rice, try it with a slightly sour daal like aam daal.

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Recipe: (courtesy Madhur Jaffrey)

Ingredients:

Potatoes: around 2 pounds (best done with new potatoes)

Vegetable oil: ½ cup

Onion: one medium cut into very thin half rings

Dried round chilies: 15 nos. (any other variety of dried chilies will do as well)

Cumin seeds: 2 tsp.

Red chili powder/cayenne pepper: 1 tsp (or more if you like it hot)

Turmeric: 2 tsp.

Salt to taste

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  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves lengthwise (if you are using new potatoes, you can skip the peeling part. I didn’t peel them)
  • Put them in a bowl full of water.
  • Heat up the oil in a deep bottomed wok/kadai.
  • Bring the flame to medium high and then put the sliced onions. Do not overcrowd the wok as it will bring down the oil temp. down and the onions will not turn out to be crispy.
  • Drain the potatoes in a colander.
  • Keep frying the onions until dark reddish brown in color. Do not burn them. You might have to put the flame down a little bit if you see the onions are going dark very quickly.
  • Spread them on a paper towel for few seconds and then put them in a bowl. Do not keep the onions on the paper towel for a long time as they will soak the oil back from the towel and end up soggy (lesson learnt from experience).
  • Fry all the onions like this and reserve them to be used later.
  • Add the chilies in the same oil and fry them until they are one or two shades darker in color. Take them out from the oil and save them too.
  • Take out almost all the oil and keep a couple table spoons in the wok.
  • Add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle a little bit.
  • Add the sliced potatoes, turmeric, chili powder/cayenne pepper and saute them well on high heat for five minutes. Add salt.
  • Bring the heat to very low and then cover the pot. Let the potatoes cook for another 10-15 minutes. Stir once or twice in  between.
  • Once the potatoes are done, crumble the onions and the chilies and add them to the potatoes. Stir for another minute or two and serve hot. You can use the chilies whole as garnish as well for a milder taste.
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Neechey Chacha ki dukan…..Upar Madhu ki pakwaan/slow cooked curried potatoes

DSC_6800My 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.

DSC_6810The 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.

DSC_6809Like 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

Recipe:

Ingredients:

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

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  • 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.