Saturday, May 8, 2010
Aloo Posto, a Popular Bengali Dish
Krishna took it easy on me and started our lessons with Aloo Posto, a very addictive, tangy potato dish. In Krishna's opinion, Aloo Posto is the Bengali version of Aloo Dum, a popular vegetarian meal across India that has different spice mixtures depending on the region where it is cooked.
What makes this a Bengali dish is the liberal use of posto, or white poppy seeds. White poppy seeds have a different taste than the black poppy seeds that are more popular in the U.S. If you can not find them in the local grocery store, check with an Indian grocery store or find them online. After a quick search I found them at amazon.com and Penzeys Spices.
The other spices needed in this version that may not already be in your kitchen are:
fenugreek (menthi in India)
Again, all available at Penzeys Spices, which has a Falls Church location.
Krishna cooks by intuition instead of fixed measurements, and the beauty of this dish is that you can add or subtract the quantity of spices to find the right balance you prefer. So all of the below is approximate(!) and optional items are listed in the directions.
Bengali Aloo Posto
2 tbs white poppy seeds
1tbs cumin seeds
1 pound small potatoes (or large ones can be used since will cut into pieces)
4 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (or powder if cannot find seeds)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 chili powder
1 tbs lime juice
1. Begin by grinding the 2 tbs white poppy seeds and 1tbs cumin seeds into a paste. Set aside until step 10.
2. Cook and peel potatoes using your preferred method. We boiled them in water first, stopping while they were still firm, and then peeled them.
3. Cut the peeled potatoes into 1/2" or so cubes. If possible, try to get them all to be similar in size.
4. Heat 4 tbs of vegetable oil on medium heat, in a pan or pot with high sides since you will be stirring the dish. A karai is perfect for this, but mine wasn't ready when we had the lesson. We used our dutch oven.
5. If you are using fenugreek powder, I would wait to add it after the potatoes and not in this step. Put the 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds and 1/4 tsp fennel seeds into the hot oil and stir until they take on a golden color.
This mixture of seeds is also called panch phoran, a much-used Bengali spice blend. It typically has five different seeds, including nigella seeds, but Krishna makes hers without it. If you do want to use nigella, add an equal amount at this step.
6. Turn the heat to very low or a low simmer. If your stove is unable to maintain a very low heat, remove from heat and continue with the rest of the steps. Heat should be low enough to keep the mixture warm but not cause the potatoes to stick to the bottom.
7. Add the potatoes and stir until lightly coated with mixture. If you are using fenugreek powder instead of the seeds, add it in this step. You can also add chopped, roasted green chilies at this step, if desired.
8. Add the 1/8 tsp ground turmeric and stir to distribute and coat. This will give the potatoes a beautiful yellow color. At this point and with the ingredients added afterwards, the potatoes will start to break-up a little bit. That is fine, just make sure to not let the potatoes stick too much to the bottom.
A side note on turmeric which is very popular in Indian cooking, it is becoming increasingly known as a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent cancer. It is also used in India as an Ayurvedic cosmetic as well.
9. Add 1/4 tsp salt, and stir to distribute and coat.
10. Add the poppy seed/cumin paste made earlier in step 1. Stir to distribute and coat.
11. Add 1/4 tsp chili pepper, and stir to distribute and coat.
12. Add 1 tbs lime juice, and stir to distribute and coat.
13. Cover, remove from heat, and let the potatoes sit to absorb the spices. Krishna makes Aloo Posto before she cooks the chapatis or parathas that is traditionally served with the dish.
14. Add an optional 1 tbs fresh, chopped cilantro (coriander leaves in India), as a garnish if desired.
This dish is typical of Bengali, and Indian, home cooking, in that a lot of different spices and spice combinations as used to make simple ingredients like potatoes, cauliflower, fish and meat delicious. We have two kitchen shelves full of single spices and spices mixtures. These cabinets look like a ancient apothecary, which is the best visual confirmation that Bengali food can be very healthy, if you stay away from the fried food and sweets!