Thursday 10 March 2011

picnic yellow potatoes with mustard seeds

When I was little, whenever my family was driving a long way, we packed a picnic to eat in the car, en route. Our picnics were not like the picnics in the picture books I loved from the library; we had no checked cloth, no wicker basket, no jam sandwiches 0r fizzy pop.
We had boiled eggs and boiled potatoes with little sachets of salt and pepper. We had "loli", a Sindhi flatbread made with dried pomegranate seeds, chillies, chopped onions and coriander leaves. We also had puris (deep fried wholewheat flat breads) with cooled yellow potatoes fried with turmeric and mustard seeds. We would lay a puri on one hand, and spoon a few potatoes onto the centre, then roll it up, and devour. This has always been one of my favourite foods, I would ask for "puri and potato with the little black things" but obviously, I needed to be able to feed this to my kids, and to be able to make this for myself too. So a few months ago I perfected the puris, but I still had to get the potatoes right.
I sat down with an Aunty, and asked her to tell me how she made it, because hers are the closest to the way my grandmother made them. My mother makes them, but they're not quite right.
As my aunty described her method, I scribbled down what she was saying, and I've tried it out a few times since then. Her instructions are not like recipes in books, with precise amounts, or exact timings, so they are harder to follow to get the taste just right...
A few days ago, I was making dry chickpea curry and naan bread anyway, so decided to experiment with this potato dish again, and by Jove, I got it right!
So, here is the process, hopefully slightly less imprecise, because obviously most of you have no idea what flavour you are aiming for, but I urge you to try it, it's SO simple, and SO delicious, and you are bound to find a version you like.
A quick tip: I used limes, not lemons, because Indian lemons are much more like our limes, but if you can actually get Indian lemons, smaller than limes but yellow, and with quite thin skins, then use those. Or just squirt the juice out of a bottle or a plastic lemon shaped receptacle, obviously!

Picnic aloo.

Peel, wash and dry 2 or 3 medium potatoes. Chop them into 1cm dice.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small lidded pan.
Add a teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they start popping, (this releases their fragrance and flavour) add the potato and fry on a medium flame for 2-3 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt, and half to 1 teaspoon of turmeric.
Cover and lower the flame and cook for about 10 minutes. If they are not fully cooked, add a teaspoon of water, stir, and cook for another few minutes.
When cooked through, add 1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice , and stir.

Serve with puris ideally.

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