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Aloo Masala, Potato Masala or Spiced Potatoes, whatever you call them, they are delicious!
How can you go wrong with the good ol’ humble potato!? Everyone’s favorite chameleon of the food world! She can be all fancy-schmancy in dishes like vichyssoise, spicy and festive like in this Portuguese Inspired Piri Piri Potatoes recipe, as simple and homey as mashed potatoes and butter, or as Mr. Samwise Gamgee puts it, just “boil ’em, mash ’em, cook ’em in a stew!” (I know, I know, I’m letting a little of my nerdy-ness show! 😉 )
Anyway, this particular potato recipe is a rustic and homey dish, often served in the famous Indian street food, masala dosa – a thin flatbread, similar to a crepe, made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils and stuffed with various yummies.
I got the notion to make aloo masala after researching recipes to go along with some prepared dosa mix that came in the most recent India box from Try The World. In case you don’t know, Try The World is a subscription food box service that features unique and tasty foodie finds from all over the world. I happen to be an affiliate for Try The World, and even have a handy dandy code you can use to get $10 off your first Signature Box – check them out and use code TAKE10 to get $10 off! Pretty cool!
A note about the spices
The aloo (which means potato) masala (which means spices or spiced) is appropriately named, as it is loaded with both hot and earthy spices. A few of the spices that I’ve called for may be tricky to come by – particularly asafetida and curry leaf. Actually, I didn’t have any curry leaves on hand when I made this recipe, couldn’t find even a hint of it in my small town, and had to substitute it with some tasty-but-not-quite-as-interesting lime zest.
By the way, asafetida is a very interesting spice that is often used in Indian cooking. It seems to elicit strong emotions and is sometimes called devil’s dung or stinking gum. Doesn’t sound so good, right? When it is uncooked, it has a somewhat unpleasant smell that I would describe as sulfury (hence the descriptive names), but when cooked gives a slightly oniony flavor. If you don’t have any on hand, or you can’t find it, simply omit it. (Or you could pick some up online at my favorite spice shop, Savory Spice Asafetida.)
Another tricky to come by ingredient may be the urad dal (the little white legumes to the right of the photo below, also called split black gram), which is a small lentil common in Indian recipes. It adds a lovely crunch to the dish, but again, if you can’t find it, just skip it – no big deal.
Aloo Masala, or Potato Masala, is an Indian dish made with yellow potatoes, sautéed onions, and a tasty blend of spices and fresh chilies. Make it as a stuffing for masala dosa, serve it as a flavorful side dish, or even heat some up for a savory breakfast. Or if you want to mix things up, serve it as a unique and healthy potato salad at your next picnic or bbq.
1 1/2pound yellow potatoes, boiled until fork-tender and peeled
2 tablespoons cooking oil (cold-pressed canola would be a neutral good choice, while ghee would add richness and a hint of buttery flavor)
5 or 6 sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish
Use your fingers to gently smash the potatoes, giving them a chunky texture. You can use a fork to do this if you like, but be sure to not smash them too much, or you’ll lose that lovely, chunky texture.
In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium until it begins to shimmer.
Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil. Once they begin to pop, add the cumin seeds, asafetida, and urad dal. Stir constantly to keep everything moving, and cook until fragrant and starting to brown – just a minute or two.
Stir in the curry leaves or lime zest and chopped chilies, and continue stirring for another 15 seconds.
Add in the chopped onion, turmeric, and 2 big pinches of salt, and stir well. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent.
Add the potatoes, along with 1/2 cup of water. Gently stir to coat the potatoes in the spices and onions, then cover with a lid and let it cook for a few minutes, or long enough to ensure the potatoes are heated through and the flavors have mingled.
Remove from the heat, and gently stir in the chopped cilantro. If the texture is a little dry for your liking, stir in another splash or two of water.
Give it a taste and add more salt or spices as desired. Transfer to a serving dish, or spoon into a dosa, and garnish with the reserved cilantro leaves.
Try to use smallish potatoes that are all about the same size, so they will finish boiling at about the same time.
Using your fingers to peel and smash the potatoes is kind of fun, but not if the potatoes are burning hot. If you want to speed the cooling time, run or submerge the boiled potatoes under cold water for a few minutes.
The finished texture of the dish is totally up to you. Go for a dryer texture if you will be stuffing into dosa or other flatbreads (so they don’t get soggy), or add more water for a creamier texture.
As with any spiced recipe, you may want to start by adding less than the recommended spices, then adding more later if you like. You can always add more at the end, but it’s hard as heck to take it out!