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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Achari Aloo - Potatoes tempered with Indian pickle spices

I am updating my blog after several months. As it happens, things have become very hectic and I haven't had the energy to update the blog. I have received some really nice feedback on my site in the past few months and I have been motivated and looking for some spare time in which I could compose a recipe. I am hoping I an interrupted hour as I type this.

For those that are regular readers of my blog, you know that I recently started cooking and experimenting with chicken dishes. Also, that some members of my family are vegetarian while others relish chicken and other meat. So, when I make chicken, I need to make sure that I have a good vegetarian meal by its side as well. I decided to make "achari chicken" earlier this week. I thought what I could make as a vegetarian entree and I thought why not make "achari potatoes" using the same gravy base. It turned out to be a great idea and both turned out lip smacking delicious.

So what is "achari"? "Achar or Aachaar" in Hindi means pickle. The concept behind Indian pickles is the same as everywhere else, it is used to preserve some kind of a vegetable in brine. However, this brine is also tempered with different spices. The spices used vary from region to region and every household has their own special recipe. So, this dish uses the same spices that are used for pickles that are usually made in Northern part of India and have components like onion and fennel seeds. If you have a mixed Punjabi pickle which uses a similar spice profile, addition of a little of this pickle to finish the dish gives it a restaurant quality taste.


Ingredients

For the gravy
1 tbsp oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
3 tomatoes (canned or fresh), finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
1/ 2 cup yogurt, well beaten
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder - to taste
1-2 green chillies - to taste
4-5 potatoes - peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
salt to taste
1/2 cup water (more if gravy becomes to thick)
1 tbsp Punjabi mixed pickle (same spice profile) - optional

For the tempering
1 tbsp oil (mustard if available)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
10-12 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp kalonji/onion seeds
1-3 red chillies (dried), to taste
1/4 tsp crushed coriander seeds
6-8 methi/fenugreek seeds


Method
Heat oil in a pan and add the onions. Saute them till they start to brown and add the ginger garlic paste. Cook till well browned and then add the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are cooked down add turmeric, chilli powder and the green chillies. Mix well and let this cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the yogurt and let this cook till the mixture thickens a bit and the yogurt starts to look cooked.

While the gravy is being cooked, heat oil for tempering in a separate pan. Add the mustard and cumin and once it starts to crackle, add the rest of the spices and then turn the heat off. Let the spices bloom in the hot oil.

Add the potatoes to the gravy and salt to taste. Add some water and stir. Then add the tempering, cover the pan and let the potatoes cook. Keep stirring and cook till the potatoes are cooked through but stop before they over cook or get mushy.

If you have Punjabi mixed pickle, add a tbsp of this to the curry just as the potatoes are done cooking and mix well. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot with white rice or naan or chapati.


Tips
To shorten the time needed to brown the onion, add some salt after you add the chopped onions. This helps pull out the moisture from the onion and helps in browning the onions faster.  Canned tomatoes are precooked and will cook faster. A good ingredient to have on hand when you need to cook something elaborate in a short amount of time. To crush coriander seeds, use whole seeds and lightly pound them in a mortar and pestle to open them up. Do not grind them into a powder form. Fenugreek is bitter, so use a little. Avoid the temptation to increase the amount a lot even if you scale up the quantity of the dish. Beat the yogurt well and make sure it is smooth before you add it to the gravy to reduce the curdled look. As the yogurt gets cooked down, it will get an even look. Use mustard oil for the seasoning if possible to get an authentic flavor. 

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