The weather’s changed recently. Late summer has slowly given way to a complaining and stuttering monsoon. The newspapers are full of reports of the monsoon failing this year, and drought has been predicted in several parts of the country. Having said that, it doesn’t feel different from last year. I’m comfortable enough to work quietly in my study with just the ceiling fan whirring noiselessly above me, and the light is different. It is no longer the glaring unrelenting brightness of the summer. The light is a little darker, a little more delicious.
This last weekend was quiet; I spent it offline in the company of good food, good wine, good books, people I love, and the London Olympics. It also rained a fair bit over the weekend. I know the monsoon isn’t quite here yet, but over the weekend you wouldn’t have known it. It was time for comfort food, and one of the most comforting things in the world is this: my grandmother’s hot potato masala bites.
You can either scoop it up with pieces of deliciously light buttery Indian nan bread or parathas, or eat them on top of a cracker, along with a tall cold glass of beer. Your call. They are spicy, delicious, and comforting, and they taste best when served hot.
Recipe: My grandmother’s family recipe.
Photographs: Awanthi Vardaraj
500 grams potatoes, cut into 1″ cubes
2 onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste (Make your own by pulverising cloves of garlic with roughly cut ginger and a little water, or buy it from an Asian or Indian supermarket.)
2 tablespoons oil (I used sunflower oil.)
Salt to taste
For the masala:
2 sticks of cinnamon
3 cardamoms (Open them so the seeds are spilling out.)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 dry red chillies
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon oil (I used sunflower oil.)
For the masala:
1) Heat the 1/4 teaspoon oil in a wok or a heavy-bottomed pan.
2) Sauté the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper, and chillies in the oil and add the cumin seeds and fennel seeds towards the end. Remove from the heat as soon as the spices release their fragrances. Do not overly sauté the spices.
3) Put the spices into a processor or blender (use the dry attachment) and blend so they become powdery.
For the potatoes:
1) Heat the oil until it is hot in a wok or a heavy-bottomed pan.
2) Add the onions and sauté until they are limp, soft, and transparent.
3) Add the ginger garlic paste and sauté for two minutes or until fragrant.
4) Add the potatoes and combine gently without breaking the potato pieces.
5) Sprinkle this with a little water (less than a handful) and cook covered over low heat, stirring occasionally.
6) When the potatoes are cooked (test a couple of pieces by lifting it out with a spoon and crushing it between your forefinger and thumb; if it is soft, it is cooked), add salt to taste and the powdered spice mixture to the potatoes. Combine gently until the potatoes are coated with the spices. Cook for a further two to three minutes.
1) Take care of your spices. All too often I find that people buy their spices and leave them in the packs or containers they came in. My advice to you is to transfer your spices to airtight jars. Store them away from the stove. They should not be stored too close to the heat. This decreases their shelf life. Ideally, spices should be thrown away after six to eight weeks. However, I realise that this is not the most feasible solution for everyone. So, as the best alternative, take care of your spices and they will last longer.
2) This is also a great way to serve potatoes as part of your ‘meat and three veg’ dinners! If you’re tired of mash, this is a fantastic alternative.
Enjoy this! Let me know if you make it and how much you loved it!