16 September 2011

It's not a drag

After a long and thorough think I came to a conclusion that it’s time for me again to say something about potatoes. Frankly, the frequency with which blurbs about potatoes pop up here just goes to show that it wouldn’t be irrelevant at all if this site bore a different name, say, Potatoes&Company, or P&C for short. But Reader, hold on if you think are in for a drag. You are not. Today the potato is going Indian way, and, may I suggest, we all should tag along.

A question: does it happen to you, too, that some cookbook title brushes past your memory and your antenna goes up and you think, I would really like to have this book. But that fleeting moment arcs and goes off, and years already start flocking in a sizeable group, and suddenly something random reminds you about your old intentions, making you think, Holy spice, why don’t I yet own that book? In short, that is me and 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, a book of uncomplicated Indian recipes using only, as the name suggests, five accessible spices (in varying combination), a book I’ve been intending to acquire for four years, an absurd and unnecessary long wait that was over this past summer when exasperated with my own inaction I finally went to a book store to get the publication.
A sign of a promising cookbook, as we all would peacefully agree, is that its many pages get dog-eared or bookmarked by the selective hand of a reader. The book in question is one such thing, and it’s exciting. Besides, and I’m ready to admit that it is my thing, if at least one page of a book sports a potato recipe that doesn’t call for drowning them in cream or butter which this book has, I get excited some more. And when such recipe, after just one bite, makes me worried that it’s going to be particularly difficult to stop eating it, and when quite a few -- alright, three -- people, irrespectively of each other, say that “these potatoes are good”, I feel I’ve been given the green light to start talking.
There are dozens of ways to make a potato tasty. But of all the ways, I personally like best what Indian cuisine does to it, those exhilarating spices and the overall respect to the potato’s form – I have yet to find an Indian recipe that would mash the life out of a potato -- being the reasons. On a related note: it is rather remarkable what a restorative effect Indian cooking has on a cook (and those near one). In times of uncertainty and self-doubt, a wobbly soul should fire up the stove, pull out a cooking vessel, and get going: a whiff of turmeric, a trace of toasted black mustard seeds, a swatch of incendiary chili tickling the senses, the raucous sizzling of onions and potatoes. I feel good already.
Reader, commit to memory these simple steps. Toast black mustard seeds in well-heated oil. Add ground turmeric. Toss in sliced potatoes and onion. Round off with salt and cayenne. In ten minutes you will have got yourself squidgy, fragrant, oniony, spicy potatoes that will challenge your people skills, because, may I just say, lest you are stuck in company of another soul for dinner, these are not easy to share. Although originally titled Railway Potatoes, so named on account of the author’s, Ruta Kahate’s, childhood memories of her mother’s “travel food” prepared for the family train journeys hither and thither, the dish, in my opinion, should go into the world’s annals under the name Spicy Feel-Good Potatoes. It’s not a drag. It’s not a hoax. Believe me.

Railway Potatoes (Spicy Feel-Good Potatoes)

Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, by Ruta Kahate
Yield: 2 servings as a main course or 4 as a side dish

700 gr (about 1 ½ pounds) medium red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
60 ml (1/4 cup) non-fragrant vegetable oil
½ tsp black mustard seeds
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
½ to 1 tsp sea salt
¼ to ½ tsp cayenne
a generous handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Quarter and cut the potatoes lengthwise into thin slices.
Over high heat, warm the oil in a wide skillet. When the oil starts to smoke, add the mustard seeds, and cover the pan. After the seeds stop sputtering, add the turmeric, and stir for a few seconds. Immediately dump in the onion, potatoes, cayenne, and salt. Stir well; cover. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook until the spuds are tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 mins. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Mix in the fresh herb. Serve warm.