Aaloo Mattar Made Easy

by Ramesh Mahadervan

Folks, in this post I will give you an alogrithm to make your very own pot of Aaloo Mattar, with a slight variation on the main recipe. For those of you who reckon Indian dishes in western terminologies, this is the same as Curried Potatoes and Peas in a creamy sauce with tomatoes and fresh coriander. It may sound a little odd for a South Indian to give the recipe for a typically North Indian dish - sort of like males trying to sing Meera Bhajans. But let the finger-licking results speak for themselves.

Let us start with chopping about five medium sized onions. My grandmother always told me that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she chopped onions. I mean there are those machisimos who shed no tears while chopping them by the dozens, the impressionists-cubists who refine it to an artform and the messy ones. Hold the onion by their non-bushy end, chop the hairy cap off. Oops, you should have kept your finger slightly away from the knife. It is always easy to peel off the skin once the onion is cut into two halves. Make those longitudinal incisions first and then while holding the onion firmly and gently, make perpendicular cuts. Make sure the pieces are finely chopped. Then chop about two tablespoons of fresh ginger and about five cloves of garlic. Chop fresh coriander and set aside a third of it for later garnishing. Don't forget the tomatoes. Take about three of them and chop them finely.

It is potato time now. Nothing seems so commonplace and lowly like the potatoes. (Well, actually there are tinda, louky and parwal - I apologize to people who don't know hindi, but the names of these vegetables defy any english translation) In our lifetimes we would have consumed about two tons of this bore. But, folks, remember to treat them with some respect. It may come as a surprise to you, but in the ancient times, potatoes were considered to be aphrodisiacs in India and were cultivated everywhere. This can be evidenced from an ancient sanskrit couplet:

       Aalookam svetam, maha subjikam
       Kaamam agnim, sampoorna nirvanam

(Translation: "White potato, great vegetable
               [results in] firy passion, joy unimcompletable")
You don't believe me, right ? Have you ever stopped and wondered why there are so many Indians in this world ?

Well, chop about five potatoes to bite size pieces. Saute them in medium heat in oil or margarine or a little butter, turning them every once in a while. Set aside when they are browned. Indian cooking is always done at low to medium heat and you take all the time in the world about it. One wrong move, you would have already made a gravy error of gastronomical proportions. Self, for example, is a slow cooker, not a 'pressure' cooker.

Now heat some oil in a pot and when slightly heated, add a teaspoon of jeera. (and don't pronounce it as 'kyoomin', it is 'cummin') When the seeds crackle, add the onions and fry in medium heat till they almost become brown (about five minutes) add the tomatoes and fry for a while (about ten to twenty minutes) till the whole thing becomes one solid glob with oil separating out on the sides. When it is almost on the verge of getting burnt, add ginger-garlic, coriander. Don't forget to keep stirring. Add also ten cloves, about six cardamoms (or one black elaichi) two teaspoons of coriander powder and about three (broken) two-inch sticks of cinnamon and cook for additional two minutes. Cinnamon always has a special place in a tamilian's life. Ajay Palvayanteeswaran, for example, uses the cinnamon sticks to pick his teeth. Cinnamon stick was also an election symbol for one of the kazhagams. Anyways, once all this is fried, set aside and let it cool a while.

Then blend this mix in a blender, in two installments if necessary, to a coarse, but homogeneous pulp, with an 8 Oz of whipping cream. (you can find this in the dairy section) For a change, you can add ten almonds while blending. Then return the blent glob to the pot. Heat it to medium low, add water, 6 Oz of tomato paste, about a teaspoon and a half of chili powder, salt to taste and stir it to homogenize. Add water to make your gravy watery or thick. Add the potatoes and also a cup of thawed frozen peas. Cover the top and let it cook and stir every once in a while, with tender loving care. Don't stand too close to the pot, my dear, or you will get those little red spots splattered all over your white shirt. You will see that the gravy changes color from a dull rose to an appetizing brown. When you think it has cooked enough, take it off and let it cool. Check for spicyness. Since this has a lot of cream and tomato paste, it may taste a little weak for some bold people. In that case, add some more spices and let it cook some more. Garnish with chopped coriander.

This is also a generic gravy to which you can add other things and make other dishes. Instead of potatoes, you can add bite-sized chicken pieces shallow-fried in butter. Or, you can bake riccotta cheese in a cookie tray at 250 degrees for a half an hour and cut it into small paneer cubes and fry them in butter and make mattar paneer. See, it is simple.

It would be splendid if someone chronicled the greatest moments in the history of Indian cooking. Like the time the prototype of an Aaloo paratha was made in that unassuming dhabha in Ambala district, or when a gentleman of unknown origin thought of adding a layer of silver foil to badaam barfi.

There was also this story associated with the great Mughal emperor, Shahanshah Akbar. One autumn day, the emperor was getting bored. There were no more wars to be fought, his subjects were more or less happy and he was growing tired of discussions on religion. So he convened his royal court and told Tansen to compose an utterly new Raag, his court jester Birbal to come up with a new joke and his royal Chef, Munna Lal to create the most exotic dish - all within twenty four hours. The next day, Tansen enthralled the great emperor with his new creation, which has later come to be called Raag Miya Ki Todi. Munna crafted a fine pot of Rajma. And, that by the way, was also Birbal's joke. Of course, it is only a minor historical footnote that Munna was summarily executed the next day for his affront. His recipes are lost forever, except for some in the hands of his descendants, who form the famed Kanpur Gharana, some of whom work as cooks in IIT Kanpur.

And friends, like most Indian dishes, Aaloo Mattar too tastes better the next day, after a little fermentation. Reheat it slowly, since the dish would have become quite solid after sitting in the fridge overnight. And as always, remember to share it with your friends. Enjoy !

Copyright(R) Mahadevan Ramesh