When traveling through India, you are bound to stumble upon numerous street-side eateries selling inexpensive, fresh, and filling cuisine. You sit outside in the open air and the food arrives at your table quickly, still-steaming hot in little steel bowls known as katoris. These joints are especially popular with the truckers, but people of all types and backgrounds eat here. These establishments are known as dhabas and they are the original Indian fast-food restaurants. The only difference, is that the food here is of high quality, healthy, and most of all, full of flavor.
Venture into any dhaba or kitchen in North India, you are bound to come across a pot of aloo mutter. A simple, yet powerfully addicting blend of potatoes and peas simmered in a curry full of earthy spices, aloo mutter is often a weekly staple because it’s quite cheap to make and most of the ingredients are usually sitting in your pantry. People enjoy it all day, and its sometimes even served for breakfast with steaming hot and puffy puris (fried flatbreads), fresh out of the oil.
I would definitely have to say that garam masala is probably one of the best spice blends to come out of the Indian subcontinent. As I have mentioned before, it really adds warmth to a dish without making it spicy. I use it extensively in North Indian cooking, and the best part is that you only need a tiny amount to make the entire dish come to life. With my aloo mutter, I used elements of garam masala in both their whole and ground forms. That way the aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns bloom and are present in all layers of the dish. Give this recipe a try, and I guarantee you that it will become a weekly staple in your house as well.
Recipe: Aloo Mutter
- 2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
- pinch asafoetida
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 cloves
- 4-5 peppercorns
- 2 dried red chilies
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 2-inch piece cinnamon bark OR 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 cups peas, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- cilantro for garnish
- salt to taste
Heat some oil in a wok over high heat. When it is hot, you will do the vaggar, or tempering of the whole spices. Add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns, dried red chilies, and cinnamon. Quickly stir around the mixture for a minute or two, till the spices begin to release their aromas. Then add the bay leaves and onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, till the onions have softened. Then add the ginger and garlic and stir around for a minute, till they are aromatic. Add the ground coriander and turmeric and stir it around the wok quickly. Then add some water to deglaze the pan, making sure that you release any of the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Cook out this wet masala for about 10 minutes over medium heat, till most of the water has evaporated, and the oil has begun to separate along the sides. Now add the potatoes and enough water to submerge them completely. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, till the potatoes are tender. Add the peas and cook for 5 more minutes. Season to taste with salt. Then add the garam masala and stir around for minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve warm with some type of Indian flatbread or some crusty French bread.
- I have used quite a bit of whole spices here because I really wanted to work on developing the complex flavors and emphasize the presence of garam masala. You can definitely simplify the dish to meet your needs. I would say that you should include the cinnamon, cloves, and green cardamom in the vaggar, but you can replace the dried red chilies and peppercorns with a dash of cayenne pepper.
- Asafoetida, also known as hing in Hindi, is a pungent, yellowish powder which is used a lot with lentils in India to aid in their digestion. I added a pinch here for that purpose and to also lend its slightly nutty flavor. However, it’s a completely optional ingredient in this recipe. Use it if you can get your hands on some.