Getting back into the ring: Doi panch phoron alu, Bengali 5 spiced potato, recipe

Doi panch phoron alu

I have a confession to make.

I hardly cook these days!

Wait, what did you expect me to say? And can I still call myself a 'food blogger' if I don't cook regularly?

I had begun cooking in life before I left Kolkata. The odd French toast breakfast for my mom and my brother. Chicken curry cooked from a recipe in a pressure cooker ad in a book in my MBA course.

Then I moved into a PG in Mumbai and would make my coffee in the landlady's kitchen. I stopped cooking.

I began cooking in earnest again when K and I rented our first apartment in Khar and got married. The kitchen was a tiny balcony. We could not even stand beside each other it was so small. We were broke after a year of eating out while dating so had to cook at home.

Those were the days before blogs so we would print recipes from the web from the office comp. Ask my mother and granny for recipes. Buy basic cooking books and cook from them. Often I would cook from intuition. K would cook too. But I would cook more as I really took to cooking.

We moved into our own house for a while and paying the EMIs meant moneys were still tight.

So I continued to cook. The reason was simple. I love to eat. I took matters in my own hands to ensure I ate well.

Slowly our finances improved and we could afford eating out a bit. 

I still cooked and loved experimenting. I found cooking after work therapeutic. I continued cooking.

I felt that I enjoyed cooking a lot more than both our mothers did. My mom said that cooking every day after work, while having to raise my brother and me, wore her out and that cooking was more a chore than something to celebrate for her.

Then, I am not sure how it happened, but my mom in law and my mother plotted and got Banu, who was then just our house help then, to start cooking for us. Starting with rotis.

I had for long held out against suggestions of employing a cook as I felt a cook wouldn't be able to make what I wanted to eat.

I began teaching Banu my recipes and we slowly worked out an acceptable equation. She then introduced some of her home recipes too. She picked up Bengali cooking but anything non Indian foxed her.

I would cook that. And cook for parties at home

Then slowly my urge to cook reduced over the last couple of years after we shifted houses. This was after more than a decade of my cooking diligently and regularly. I don't know if it is because of lethargy which came with age or a burn out but I stopped getting into the kitchen that much. Or maybe because I don't need to now with Banu cooking. And we eat out often. Or people send home food.

My cooking reduced and I stick to a few easy dishes like pasta, noodles and grills if at all these days. I never bothered to look at recipe books sent to me as I rarely cooked anything new. Plus I had taught a lot of my Bengali recipes to Banu and she does an acceptable job of them.

K feels bad at times that I don't cook that much. Or don't think up of new dishes and make them for her.

Maybe it's a phase. Maybe I will return to the kitchen again. Maybe circumstances will force me to do so. Maybe I will enjoy cooking again.

I did make a new dish after ages a couple of days back. 

Like most of my recipes it doesn't involve much effort. I respect and admire slow and laborious cooking and the love that goes into it. But I do believe that there is a place for quick and easy cooking, which demystifies the process of cooking and makes it less daunting and leads to good food.

K wanted a light dish with potatoes and I made a dish inspired by the panch phoron (Bengali five spice) potatoes from Bong Bong in Bandra which K loves. Except I used curd instead of cream and used a bit of chopped onions and ginger.

This link will tell you what goes into Panch Phoran. To quote the link, 'typically, panch phoron consists of fenugreek seed (methi मेथी दाना), nigella seed(मंग्रैल / कलौंजी), cumin seed (जीरा), black mustard seed (राई) and fennel seed (सौंफ़) in equal parts.[2] Some cooks prefer to use a smaller proportion of fenugreek seeds, which have a mildly bitter taste.[3]<"

 We buy panch phoron from Vijay Stores, A Gujarati run grocery in Bandra. You get posto and kashundi here too.

Here's the recipe for my dish:


  • 1 teaspoon neutral vegetable oil. We use olive oil these days
  • 1 teaspoon of panch phoron
  • 1/2 kilo baby potatoes, or cubed potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small bowl, 100 g, curd, whipped with 1/2 teaspoon of cumin or jeera powder & salt

Step 1: saute onion, ginger and pp
Step 2: Saute potatoes
Step 3: Turn off the flame and add the curd

  • Boil and peel potatoes
  • Heat pan and put oil into it
  • Add panch phoron to the heated oil. Stir till they give a nice, sweet, aroma
  • Add onions and saute till translucent
  • Add ginger and stir
  • Add potatoes and a pinch of salt and stir till they brown just a wee bit on the skin
  • Turn off the flame 
  • Add the curd mix and lightly toss. The curd curdles if you add it when the flame is on. It still curdles a bit so you if you add it straight so you could even add it 30 seconds after you turn off the gas
Now I am going to give you ideas to use this as a base and add variety to it. You could roast some dry red chillies in the beginning like Radhika suggested on Facebook. Or add some crushed and soaked posto (poppy seeds) before adding the curd. You could add some chopped green chillies or black pepper powder for heat. Possibly some toasted sesame powder or cashews. Or skip the panch phoron and do a tadka with mustard seeds and curry leaves and make it more South than East Indian.

The point that I am making is that you can use the same recipe as a base and make many variations.

Cooking shouldn't be daunting. And in a Bengali Parsi household, potatoes solve everything.


Anindya Basu said…
Nice read as always .. But does a food blogger need to be a cook or also a cook ? What if he is an excellent storyteller of food ?
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Anindya. Ironically food blogger on social media has become synonymous with restaurant event promoters