Maybe some of you know already that the fondest cookbook in my small, humble collection is an old, now-coverless copy of Premila Lal’s Indian Recipes. Though it was reprinted in 1994 in paperback as The Complete Book of Indian Cooking (and yeah, I have one of these too) it just doesn’t compare to the textural quality of my old copy. I found it at a public library book sale (the kind where they purge the library of low-traffic volumes and, once a year, set them out for sale). I guess I can understand why: there are lots of shiny new cookbooks vying to cover the subject with pretty paper dust-covers, pages laden with beautiful photos, oversized overall- all of them making promises to teach you all there is to know. Some of them almost succeed- others? Best relegated to purr and sit demurely at the coffee-table. This little, yellow-canvased unpretension never learned to flaunt and shout: a veritable wall-flower.
And a part of me is like that too. I recall many a fine, warm, sunny summer day spent indoors gliding through its yellowed pages, studying its carefully-composed, black-line drawings that illustrate the head of each chapter. Recipe after recipe, collected helter-skelter from all over vast India, some poorly edited: …then add the green chiles… I scan the ingredient list. What chiles? Where are they?! While I was scratching my head over such important matters I am sure there were many more young men my age busy enjoying the warm weather and sun and wind streaming into open car windows.
These little quirks just add to the fun, but, despite the slew of interesting recipes contained therein (some downright odd!), there is a noticable lack of contextual introductions that writers like the great Madame J. is well-known for- and that has created an inbuilt surreality to meals had over the years arranged from recipes plucked from one chapter or another by an ignorant midwestern American. For instance: I recall being obsessed with the dish known as karhi/kadhi several years ago: I had settled for the time on a recipe found in another book, but desperately wanted potato pakoras like those I tasted from cans of Jyoti… I found a recipe in Premila’s book entitled “potato bondas” under Snacks and Savories. These must be it!, thought I… I made the heavenly stuffing, rolled beautiful balls, dipped them in besan batter and fried them. My then-partner and I thought these were quite tasty on their own- pieces of onions and cashews, and equally-nutty, fried urad dhal, speckling the bright yellow potatoes- so fragrant and steaming within a crispy coat. “Must we put all of the rest into the karhi?” , my partner asked. “Yep!”… and in they went… where they all promptly disintegrated and made for a very thick batch of karhi, with a flavour covering both the north and south of great India.
Luckily, one of Anita‘s posts was able to sort out this sticky mess for me: none of you need fret any longer over Pel’s latest renditions of Punjabi kadhi pakode-wali! But things have an odd way of coming full circle sometimes don’t they? We never know quite what to expect of Anita’s next post, or how she will decide to celebrate something. Two years now in this food-blogging business? That is a feat worth celebrating!
My mother asked me two nights ago, ” What are you making with the potatoes?” I decided to be secretive about it: “Oh…you’ll see.” While the potatoes boiled I fried the masala. I took a cue from Anita and added some hing and took a cupful of frozen peas from the freezer. I drained the potatoes and added the peas and, the filling now finished, plunked it onto a steel thali and quietly placed it in the microwave to cool off. I had tasted it you see, and I knew that if I were to leave it in plain view and give her free reign…
And I also wanted to try making a sweet tamarind chatni, so this was next in line: I page through Premila’s book. Yep. OK, thaw a few cubes of home-made tamarind paste…no dates? I don’t feel like crushing gur tonight either…but I have a jar of date syrup. That’ll be fine. Roast a few spices and make a quick grind in the mortar and pestle, a little salt: sweet chatni done. Time to fry. But… I wonder if the potato-pea stuff still tastes good. Better make sure. Oh yeah. I check again. I sigh. Since I am not behaving, I snatch up a forkful and walk it in defeat to the next room where my mother is busy chatting on the phone to a friend. She looks up in question. “Here, try this…”, I whispered. That was all it took.
As I expected, a few minutes later, her call finished, “Where is that potato stuff you made?” Her small bowlful received a drizzle of the tamarind chatni. She ooohs, she aaahs, she wonders why she can’t have more.
“Yes mum, it gets coated in batter and deep-fried, and then I bought some rolls…”
“Deep-fried mashed potato sandwiches?!!!” You see, this combo-of-carbs-galore is almost unheard of here…
“Yes! With three… different… chatnis!” For health, you know, but the combo just can’t be beat! I know these aren’t authentic Marathi-style batata vadas, no…these hail from a bit furthur south I think. Premila keeps secrets, but I do think this recipe is divine, and when one of these and a smear of chatni are caught between two sides of a bun, there is no chance of it disintegrating anywhere! (except in the direction of my mother and now, too, [sigh] one of her friends!)
Happy 2nd Anniversary to you and your wonderful blog Anita!
And also I thank you: for your constant help, for sharing delicious food and views of the land, and for teaching me words in Hindi, Kashmiri, Marathi, and English.
from Premila Lal’s Indian Recipes, Premila Lal 1968
1 lb. potatoes- about 5 sm-med size
1 C green peas (my addition)
3 T ghee or oil
1/2 t mustard seeds
1/2 t weak hing (my addition)
1 T urad dhal
2 T chopped cashews
1/4 t turmeric powder
2 medium onions, chopped 1/4″ (I used 1+1/2 C)
6 green chiles, seeded if you wish, chopped 1/4″
1″ piece of ginger, minced
1 sprig (about 20 leaves) karipatta
juice of 1/2 small lime, 1/6 of a large one
1) Boil the potatoes until tender. I like to retain the skins of potatoes so I cut them into 3/4″ cubes and boiled them- about 12 minutes. Drain and mash.
2)Heat the ghee in a pan and add the mustard seeds; when they pop add the hing, urad, and nuts; fry until just golden; add the turmeric, onions, chiles, ginger and karipatta; fry until the onions are translucent.
3) Add the potatoes and peas and stir and mash until well-combined; season with salt and lime juice; remove to a plate or bowl and allow to cool a bit.
4) Heat enough oil for deep-frying and make a batter of besan like this: maybe a cup and a half of besan, a spoon of ground red chiles, a big smidge of turmeric, some salt; add water slowly to form a thick batter that clings; add a spoon or two of hot oil and mix well.
5)Make balls of the potato mixture, or if you’d like and as I have done, small, thick patties (vadas); coat all sides well with the batter and carefully drop into the hot oil (a drop of batter should rise to the surface immediately and fry) and fry until golden-brown. Remove and drain on a cloth.
Note—> I used pistachios instead of cashews and left out the karipatta because I had neither handy. Cilantro/coriander leaves seem to be a popular addition and/or the karipatta.
These can be served on their own with various chatnis, or placed inside a bun for vada pav (pav- square dinner-roll-ish bread). I used some whole wheat buns (I toasted them, but pav isn’t usually toasted I’m told), and served them with hari chatni (cilantro-mint chatni…but this might be more authentic), dry garlic chatni (I used Laxmi brand- yeah, storebought. It was hanging about you know?), and lots of this stuff that I also procured from Premila Lal but downsized the quantity and used date syrup instead of gur (pureed dates are often used for this chatni as well):
4 T tamarind paste
2 T date syrup, or to taste (or grated gur or any sugar, or ground dates)
Some of the following masala: lightly roast 1 t cumin seeds, 1 t fennel seeds, 1 t coriander seeds…grind and add 1 t ground red chiles
salt to taste
coriander/cilantro leaves for garnishing
1)Mix the tamarind paste and date syrup (or grated gur, or puree the tam ex with dates and and some water); season with the roasted masala (I used about 1/2 t) and some salt; garnish with coriander leaves. (I didn’t bother with the frou-frou of garnishing and got down to business!)