The granny diaries… a recipe for paatla alur jhol (a light Bengali potato curry)

Paatla alur jhol

My Didu (as maternal grand moms are affectionately called in Bengali) makes this light potato curry which she serves with luchis or porothas.

The curry which can be described as a paatla alur jhol is a fixture in conventional Bengali households. Classmates of mine would get it with luchis or rutis (chappatis) in their tiffin boxes in school. Some Bengalis on twitter and facebook have told me that this curry forms a part of Sunday breakfasts at their homes.

It’s been a while since I have had Didu’s paatla alur jhol.

Yesterday I tried to get Banu, our cook of the shammi kebab fame, to recreate the dish Didu makes. The problem was that I didn’t have the recipe and my Hindi is often lost in translation when I talk to Banu. I just couldn’t figure out how to tell her that the sauce should have a bit of the potato starch in it. I don’t know what Banu figured out of ‘raas main alu ka thora safed hona chahiye” and yet we conjured a dish which brought back, through its flavours and aromas, a whiff of the magic of Didu’s cooking.

Here’s the recipe for my version of the paatla alur jhol:

Ingredients:

2 medium sized potatoes – skinned and cubed, 1 teaspoon of kalo jeere/ nigella seeds/ kalonji/ onion seeds (the key ingredient), 1 teaspoon finely chopped onions, 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger, 3 slit green chillies, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 2 coffee mugs water, salt

Cook:

  • Heat oil in a flat bottomed pan
  • Add onion, ginger, nigella seeds, green chillies to the oil and mildly saute.
  • Once the onions turn a bit pink add the potatoes
  • Add water. Add salt
  • Bring water to boil. Reduce gas to simmer. Cover pan with the lid and let the potatoes cook
  • Insert a toothpick or a knife into a potato to see if its cooked. If it goes in it has!
  • If the sauce dries up add a bit of water . You can garnish with coriander. Best had with luchis, flat Bengali Parathas, kochuri/ radha bollobi, ruti/ chapati

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Alur jhol with radha bollobi

The beauty of the dish lies in the way the sharp and distinctive tastes of nigella seeds, onion and ginger and the heat of chillies all stand out and are yet brought together on the soft canvas of the potatoes. Of course grand moms had thought of this well before Masterchef Australia taught us how to deconstruct food in these terms. But then what’s Bengali cooking is all about. Simplicity, finesse and subtlety.

I called up Didu this evening and asked her to vet the recipe. Turned out that it was all good but there was one fundamental difference. She parboiled the potatoes and broke them and then added them to the curry. She didn’t add the potatoes raw. This would require less water as you are not boiling the potatoes as you cook. So this is the secret to the the ‘maakha maakha’ effect, that of the starch of the potatoes combining with the sauce, which we couldn’t get that well in my version.

Didu said that the taste would be different if the potatoes were not parboiled. She was tickled to see the pictures that I put up on Facebook which mom showed her on her phone. And you thought social media and mobile internet were only for kids?

Incidentally quite a few Bengalis suggested not adding onions in the dish and adding some sugar to it.

Didu doesn’t do that.  Talking of Didu’s cooking this is a post with some of Didu’s recipe. I wrote this before Dadu, our grandpa, passed away.

I am giving all options here – boiled/ not boiled, with onions/ no onions/ with sugar/ no sugar. You take your pick.

You know how hyper we Bengalis can be. I don’t want to have to ‘roll-back’ the post.

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PS: Some comments from the Finely Chopped Facebook page. Join in for food discussions here


 Sohini Datta Biswas The one my Ma used to make came sans the onions and ginger...just had Nigella seeds, potatoes, green chillies, salt and a slight hint of sugar...I still make them to accompany Luchi as Sunday morning breakfasts. :) Golden days!!!

 

 Aritra Das with onions ???

 Shraboni Gupta somehow i feel..onions and nigella doesn't go well with each other..nigella has a very delicate flavour..which is overpowered by the smell of onion..

. Satyam Das I use a variation without ginger & onion and use mustard oil. It tastes awesome with Luchi !!

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