The Dum Aloo trail... from Kashmir to Kolkata...
Potatoes, whether mashed, baked, fried or roasted, are often essential comfort food in most cuisines. Potatoes are believed to have been domesticated around 7,000 -10,000 years ago near modern day Peru, South America. Today, nearly a third of the world’s production is harvested in India.
So how did the Potato reach India? The Portuguese introduced potatoes to india (they called it 'Batata') in the early seventeenth century when they cultivated it along the western coast of India. The British traders introduced potatoes in Bengal as a root crop, 'Alu'. By the end of eighteenth century, it was cultivated across the northern hilly areas of India.And so this amazing ingredient was born in India and dishes made of potatoes spread to each and every corner of the country.
One such dish is the Dum Aloo…which has numerous variations in our country. This dish is prepared differently in each corner of India, according to taste, spices and cooking styles of the region.
I start my trail from Kashmir where the Kashmiri Dum Aloo originates and has become very popular all over India.
With more emphasis on meats in Kashmiri cuisine, there are a few vegetarian dishes that have got their due. Even the Kashmiri Pandits are meat eaters. They eat all meats other than beef. Mutton is the most popular of them all. Of course, some of them are vegetarians (to the extent they don’t even eat tomatoes or onions). The vegetarian Pandits are referred to as Dal (pulses) Battas.
But Kashmiri vegetarian dishes do deserve a bit of spotlight too. The Dum Aloo is one of the most popular of kashmiri vegetarian dishes. It is typically made from baby potatoes only since its preparation requires the small whole potatoes to be pierced well for the oil to seep in.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo is called because of the way it is prepared: under ‘Dum’ or pressure. I had never tasted Kashmiri Dum Aloo at my home except on rare occasions, I discovered its real taste only after my marriage. There are lots of restaurants that cook a version of Dum Aloo, but have got it all wrong.
If you see tomatoes, garlic and onions in the dish, that surely isn’t Kashmiri Dum Aloo! Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is less known than the Kashmiri Muslim cuisine – the latter is often referred to as Wazwan. Kashmiri Pandit cuisine has distinct spices and flavours based on traditions thousands of years old, dating back to the vedic period when no onion and garlic was the norm of Kashmiri cooking.
The most common spices used are asafetida, Kashmiri red chillies, ginger powder, turmeric, garam masala and aniseed. Yoghurt forms a very important part of this type of cooking.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo needs lots of patience and skill to cook. It needs to be fried taking care the potato has cooked very well, and then kept on dum for the right amount of time.
The recipe I share with you is from a collection of Pandit Shivram Rainas recipes:
1 kilo baby potatoes, even sized
2 cups of Ghee/ mustard oil
5-6 juliennes of ginger
1 tsp ginger powder , south
1 tsp whole cumin, jeera
2 tsp of red chilli powder
1 tsp asafoetida mixed in water
100 gms Yoghurt
2 tsp Garam masala powder
Salt to taste
1.Take small even sized potatoes.
2.Boil , peel and peirce them so that it is pierced from one end to another.Put ghee in a pan and fry.Keep on very low flame.Take out when golden brown .
3.Add oil in pan, add ginger powder ,ginger jullienes,whole cumin,red chilli powder,asafoetida water and salt to taste and cook.
4. Add water to potatoes.Let this cook.
5. Now add beaten yoghurt with tsp garam masala powder and bay leaves.
6. Let it boil for 2-3 times and then place on dum(cover and cook on slow flame). Keep till the potatoes fully cook.
7. Delicious Dum aloo is ready . Serve hot with rice .
From Kashmir we travel towards Uttar Pradesh..in Northen India, where it is known as U.P. Style Dum Aloo. This is a no-onion – no-garlic recipe adapted from Niru Gupta’s recipes. She is a well known author in India and believes that recipes must be tried out 4 times at least before they are printed!
U. P. style potatoes are very popular in North India and are also eaten for breakfast with Pooris(puffed fried breads). The tomato rich gravy with the freshly powdered spices make this version truly fingerlicking!
Ingredients: (measuring cup used, 1 cup = 250 ml)
450 to 500 gms baby potatoes - 28 to 32 baby potatoes
100 gms tomato - 1 medium to large tomato, minced, grated or finely chopped
1 inch ginger, minced or finely chopped
2 to 3 green chillies, slit
½ cup yogurt/dahi/curd
2 tbsp cream
2 to 2.5 cups water
1 large bay leaf,tej patta
2.5 tsp coriander powder,dhania powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder,haldi
½ tsp kashmiri red chilli powder or deghi mirch
3 tbsp ghee
salt to taste
few chopped coriander leaves for garnish
Spices to be powdered:
2 tsp cumin/jeera
1.5 tsp fennel seeds,saunf
3 to 4 green cardamoms,choti elaichi
½ tsp fenugreek seeds,methi dana
Powdering the spices:
Roast the whole spices mentioned under the list "spices to be powdered" in a small pan till fragrant.
When cooled, powder them coarsely in a mortar and pestle.
Rinse the baby potatoes very well in water.
If you plan to keep the peels, then scrub the mud off with a brush and rinse the potatoes very well.
Boil or steam the potatoes till they are almost cooked. peel and then prick with a fork on all sides.
Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a frying pan. saute the baby potatoes till lightly browned. remove and keep aside. you can also saute the baby potatoes in batches. add more ghee if required.
In the same pan, add 1 tbsp ghee. add the bay leaves and saute for a few seconds till fragrant.
Then add the ginger and saute till the raw aroma goes away.
Add the tomatoes and the spice powder that we made in step 1.
Stir and saute till the fat starts to release from the tomato mixture.
Whisk yogurt in a small bowl till smooth. add the yogurt to the pan and stir briskly. saute till the fat releases from the mixture.
If the yogurt curdles, then just continue to saute till all the liquids are evaporated and the whole mixture comes together and you see the fat clearly from the sides.
Add the coriander powder, red chilli powder and turmeric powder and saute for a minute.
Add the potatoes and green chillies and saute for 2 to 3 mins till the masala has coated the potatoes well.
Add water and salt. stir and let the curry come to a boil.
Lower the flame and simmer the dum aloo till all the flavors of the curry has well blended for about 8 to 10 mins. if you want a slightly thick curry, then simmer for some more minutes. for a thin curry, you can add some more water.
Lastly add cream and stir again.
Switch off the flame and serve dum aloo hot garnished with coriander leave
The Bengali version of Alur Dom has another interesting history., In 1784 Oudh was struck by a famine . In an attempt to feed the poor, philanthropist Nawab Asaf -ud -Daulah created employment with masonry work at the "Barra Immambara". There, to cook and serve warm food to the workers, he employed the "Nanbais" (Bazaar cooks). They went about this difficult task by resorting to an ancient recipe found in "Ain-i-Akbari" (the memoirs of Emperor Akbar) which recorded a recipe for beef being stewed overnight in a "deg", basically the technique of "Dum Pukht". The cooks replaced the beef in this recipe with turnip (which were, incidentally, introduced by the Kashmiris in Oudh). This way, the hungry workers could be fed at a moment's notice with warm food. After the British captured Oudh in 1856, Waji Ali Shah moved to Calcutta along with the culinary treasure of his "Nanbais". (Source: —wikipedia)
Potato was not on the high priority list of vegetables for the "Kulin Bangalis" in ancient times. The Dutch take credit for introducing potatoes in Bengal. In 1790, Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India, received a basket of potatoes as a novelty gift from the Dutch. The story goes that Lord Amherst had potatoes planted in the "Park of Barrackpore". Bengalis took to the root vegetable with much enthusiasm. The starchy softness of the potatoes worked well as a perfect contrast to sharp taste of mustard seeds and cumin used in Bengali cooking. The Bengali aristocracy adopted "potato" as symbol of superiority and westernized cuisine. By 1860, it was the main ingredient in the region's cooking. Potato slowly started traveling inland from Bengal. The "Nanbais" recreated their "Dum Pukht" on the western fringes of the "Hugli" using simpler methods . Instead of cooking over night, they incorporated the Bengali technique of dry steaming. Cumin was added, potato replaced turnips and "Aloor Dom" was born. Source : Wikipedia
This recipe I share with you is so lovingly and promptly sent by my dear aunt, Shukla Roy who resides in Kolkatta..and loves cooking and tasting food!
Ingredients: 1/2 kilo baby Potatoes 125 gms onion paste 30 gms ginger paste 50 gms curd 1 tsp red chilli powder 6 pcs cloves ,laung 2 sticks cinnamon ,daalchini 5 nos. small cardamom 1 tsp cumin seed ,jeera 1 1/2 tsp turmeric powder,haldi Bengali garam masala powder - 1/2 tsp, grounded green cardamom, cloves and cinnamon 1/2 tsp sugar Juice of one lemon Few green chillies Coriander leaves to garnish Oil
Salt to taste Pinch of asafoetida, hing (optional) To Prepare: 1. Peel the potatoes, keep in salty water for 1/2 hour. Then fry in oil till golden brown. Keep aside. 2. In a handi, crackle the cloves , cinnamon and cardamom , then add onion paste and stir till oil separates. 3. Add ginger paste and stir for 2 mins, then add chilli powder and turmeric powder and bhuno. 4. Broil cumin seeds in a tawa & powder them - add sugar & powdered cumin. Add the asafoetida (optional)Beat the curd and add. Lower temperature put in fried potatoes & simmer. Cover. 5. Cook till potatoes are tender. 6. Add garam masala powder and close lid. Garnish with slit green chillies & chopped coriander leaves
There are two versions of Bengali Dum Aloo - ..one with tomatoes, and the other as shown here. The creamy gravy of the Dum Aloo giving a fragrance of the cardamom, cinnamon, clove spices is a must try!
And so as this trail ends here ...Whichever version you wish to choose - Dum Aloo, any style,each having its own unique mix of spices,much like the diverse cultures we have in India, it will always remain comfort food for all Indians, each savouring his/her own tradition, reminding us that we are all connected in some way or the other.