Dum Aloo

(The Dum Aloo in this photograph was made on July 2, 2006.)

I tried something new and made what turned out to be an unsuccessful Dum Aloo recipe last week. This is not that recipe. This is the Dum Aloo recipe that I usually use, the one that is reliably successful. It’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, a book I first encountered on an Indian cookbook search in the Bobst Library at NYU. The Bobst Library is an overwhelming place – it goes straight up, basically, as many things have to in New York City. The floors of stacks all look down on the rather op-art marble tile of the ground floor lobby – it’s vertigo-inducing, both looking up from the ground floor and looking down from the stacks. This will give you the idea:Bobst Library

I didn’t spend much time there – I did some research there for a few papers, sure, but as an acting student, I didn’t have much need of it in the first couple years, which was as far as I got. I can remember walking around there when I was there working on an educational theatre paper, watching the students studying and thinking that not spending much time in the library made me feel out of place in the library, something I had never felt before. I spent a lot of time in the Fairfax City library in high school, among others, and I sat in the media center (nee: library) pretty much my whole junior year at lunchtime.

So anyhow, on the day I checked this book out, I got it and another Indian cookbook, the title of which I no longer know. I photocopied a bunch of pages out of this book and the other, and I tucked them into a binder that I had just started using for recipes on loose pieces of paper. It had some from other cookbooks, some I had had my mom tell me that I had transcribed. Later it acquired some I cut off of packages and wrote out on cards. I haven’t added much to the binder in the last few years – that I have more money for books and a greater proclivity to store things electronically have contributed to that. At the time, though, neither of those things were an option, so I made a bunch of copies, mostly of chickpea dishes and potato dishes. This was one of them, and one of the first ones I tried. I can remember, in 1993, measuring out the water and salt to soak the potatoes at the beginning of the recipe, and setting them on our dining/living room table, thinking to myself, “Is this soaking really going to make a difference?” I then remember being amazed at the difference the soaking had made. I was thrilled with the recipe. I still like it.

When we got married, the Madhur Jaffrey book, which I still didn’t own a copy of, was one of the things on our Amazon wishlist. Matt Rassette, a good friend of Michael’s, was kind enough to give it to us. I still have the photocopied pages – and I should really transfer the notes I made on the gravy-spotted pages into the book and just shred and compost them. Another thing to do When I Get Time.

I just recently picked up Madhur Jaffrey’s new World Vegetarian– I haven’t even had a chance to read it yet, really – but it looks just as overwhelming and delightful as the World of the East book did to me as an 18-year-old, living somewhere unfamiliar away from my family and friends, staking out my young adult identity through my love of food.

Dum Aloo gets its name from the main ingredient (Aloo means potatoes) and the cooking method employed (Dum, which basically means covered baking – traditionally done with a tightly sealed pan set in smoldering ashes, with additional live coals placed on the lid. This you can do with a tightly sealed pan on a stovetop. It’s a little involved, but the result is a nice gravy-laden potato dish. It could probably be pressure-cooked, but I haven’t tried that yet. Next time.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredients list – most of it is spices.

12 smallish potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1 1/2 T. plus 1 t. salt
8-10 blanched almonds (1/2 oz.)
2 T. white poppy seeds (Indian markets sell them, often labeled as “khus khus.” If you don’t feel like hunting them down, an equivalent amount of ground almonds will be fine.)
1-2 large black cardamom pods (use 1 or 2 depending on how brave you’re feeling. They have a strong smoky-camphor flavor.)
2 t. ground coriander seeds
1 1/2 t. whole cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
a 1-in cube fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
8 T. vegetable oil (ghee will taste even better, if you have it.)
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and minced
5 whole green cardamom pods, very lightly crushed
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
1 c. plain yogurt
1 t. garam masala

Peel the potatoes and prick them well with a fork. Soak them for 1 hour in a bowl with 4 c. water and 1 1/2 T. salt.

Meanwhile, put the almonds, white poppy seeds, black cardamom pods, ground coriander, and 1 t. of the whole cumin seeds in a small cast-iron skillet and dry-roast them, stirring frequently, until the almonds turn golden in spots. Remove the black cardamom pod(s), crush it open, and remove the seeds. Discard the outer husk. Put it and all the other roasted ingredients into the container of a clean coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Set aside. (I use a food processor for both that step and the next step.)

Put the garlic and ginger, along with 1/3 c. water, into the container of an electric blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth paste. Leave in blender or processor container.

When the potatoes have soaked for an hour, drain and wipe them well. Heat oil in heavy, 10 in.-wide pot, sauté pan, or deep skillet over a medium flame. Put in the potatoes and fry them, stirring, until they turn a golden brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Add the remaining 1/2 t. whole cumin seeds to the oil in the pot and stir once. Now put in the minced onion. Fry, stirring, until the onion turns a light brown. Add the crushed green cardamom pods, the turmeric, and the cayenne. Fry and stir for a few seconds. Next put in the garlic and ginger paste, the nut and spice mixture, and 1 t. salt. Stir and fry the mixture. Whenever it seems to dry up and begins to get ready to catch at the bottom, add a tablespoon of yogurt. Keep stirring and frying, adding yogurt whenever necessary, until all of the yogurt is used up. It is important that the yogurt fry and assimilate slowly with the sauce. This can only happen if a little yogurt is added at a time.

Add the garam masala and 1/2 c. water. Mix well. Put in the browned potatoes and mix gently. Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil, making sure you crimp and seal the edges, and then with its own lid. Turn heat to very low and cook gently for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir gently a few times while the potatoes are cooking, always replacing the foil and the lid. The potatoes should have a very thick sauce clinging to them when they are done.

Serve with flatbread.

2 thoughts on “Dum Aloo

  1. Your dum aloo looks absolutely delicious. First time here on your blog. Very neatly organized and well presented. Loved browsing through your blog… 🙂
    I have posted my version of Dum Aloo in my blog My Scrawls. Do have a look at it when you get time. Would be happy to receive your comments… 🙂

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