And I remember so well, standing in his small home kitchen with five other Westerns, all eager to learn the secrets and successes of a good Indian curry. This was my the first time in India and nothing made sense in that chaos at that point. But, standing there with just a few simple ingredients, India started to make sense to me. The ingredient list was short: a few potatoes, an onion, plenty of ginger and garlic, some mustard seeds, dried chili flakes, a small piece if cinnamon bark, turmeric, soaked and cooked chickpeas (he was so kind to soak and cook it the night before for us), a huge bowl full of ghee, salt, 2 sprigs of curry leave, a pot and a knife. And I was perplexed! Standing there I want to ask my money back, because how on earth is this going to be a delicious curry?
And, his secret ingredient – Amchoor Powder (dried mango powder) which he lightly sprinkled over the curry right before serving it to us.
Most curries and and masalas are a very complex mixture and marriage of herbs, spices, butters, oils, vegetables and meat and to put it skillfully together can be a challenge. During my various travels to India a few years ago I soon realised that cooking a decent curry the Indian way isn’t something you learn overnight, but a skill that comes with practice and more practice. However I also remember the very first cooking class I attended the kind chef who ran the class explained that one should start by first mastering a simple curry, it’s like lego, he said, on block fits into another and you must first learn the basics of the first block to understand how the rest will fit into each other.
it’s like lego, he said, on block fits into another and you must first learn the basics of the first block to understand how the rest will fit into each other.
Let the Lesson Begin
And so the lesson started, peel and chop the onions into a fine dice, then mince the garlic and ginger into a smooth paste, and just when you thought you had enough, he would throw an Indian head wobble with his hand twisting from left to right and I wasn’t sure if he meant it is enough, too little or too much, but decided to add more.
I looked at him again and this time the same head wobble, but no hand was absent and I knew, I was getting good at reading the Indian non-verbal communication. Next step was to measure out your spices, and with a little Indian head wobble and a finger waiving in the air, he explained to follow your heart, no spoons to be used. Feel your spices, know yourself – echoed through the small kitchen. But, I learned an important lesson that day, spices are a personal choice, there is no right or wrong and recipes are merely guidelines, not absolutes.
Follow the Steps
And so the next part of our lesson started, add the ghee, 2-3 heaped tablespoons, not oil, to a pot, let it gently warm up and once warm add your onions and let it sweat till soft and looking like glass, edges just starting to brown, add the garlic and ginger paste, stir around for 30 seconds.
Nest step, add your mustard seeds, your cinnamon bark and chili flakes and stir it around in the pan to allow the heat to penetrate it so that the natural oils in it can start to release. Once the mustard seeds start to pop like popcorn, add your turmeric and potatoes and stir around until the potatoes are yellow and not white any longer and lastly add the chickpeas.
Now cover everything with water (the water should just cover all the ingredients in the pot, it mustn’t swim) and allow to cook uncovered over a slow heat until the potatoes are breaking-apart soft, most of the water has cooked away and it all starts to look a bit mushy.
Adding the salt at the end allows the taste to pop more, so add your salt now, stir it through and cook for another minute or so, taste if it is enough and add more if you need more. At this point remove from the heat and lightly crush some of the potatoes and chickpeas with a masher, just break it apart, don’t mash it, you still want dices of potatoes and some whole chickpeas in there.
Lastly just before service, heat some more ghee, add to it one whole chili and the curry leaves, it will splatter violently, then after a few second, pour this over your Pani Puri Aloo, dust it with a little amchoor powder and serve with rotis, atchar and raita. You will revel in how such a simple diish can be so tasty and full of flavour!
3-4 Potatoes, peeled and diced,
1 Large Onion, finely diced
3-4 cloves or garlic and 3cm piece of ginger, peeled and mashed together
240g or 1 tin of Chickpeas (depending what you use)
2 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
3cm Cinnamon Bark
1 tsp Chili Flakes
1 Fresh Chili
2 tsp Turmeric
2 Sprigs Curry Leaves
4-5 tbsp Ghee plus extra
Salt to taste
Amchoor Powder to sprinkle over
Enjoy with Rotis, a good mango atcher and raita.