Right On Schedule…

August 26, 2008 at 2:15 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, potatoes, tamarind, vegetables/ fruits)

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.

Alu Bondas

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):

Meetha Chatni

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!)



  1. Manisha said,

    So that’s where the lightning came from!! Sheesh. I was wondering what was up with that.

    And peas, did you have to add peas? Even Premila Lal knew not to add peas.

    Avoid the Laxmi dry garlic chutney. If you can find the dry garlic chutney that is called thecha, that’s the one that is used with vada pav. It’s so good, you could be eating out on the streets, swatting flies as you stand near buckets of dirty water used to wash your plate.

    You make it all sound so inviting…I was looking at a recipe for thecha somewhere; it looks very dry- doesn’t it fall off?

    As for the peas: I have decided to join an ongoing demonstration to convince the street-vendors of Bombai-Mumbay to add peas. And onions. Possibly a few beets.

  2. indosungod said,

    I like this most Mumbai of foods come together with the wonderful chatni in an American sandwich bread. An ode to the American – Indian friendship 🙂

    I’ll drink (and eat) to that!

  3. Anita said,

    There you are at last!
    Onions…and peas! 😀
    Your mother looks quite pleased! You had a party – mission accomplished!
    Thanks for coming, Pel [and all them nice things you said…].

    Are those illustrations by Mario, by any chance? I love his work! I hope the new print includes them.

    Yes! Such a different style from his later work, eh? I love these though…all contained within a rectangle. I had to go check out what you were referring to…looks like it’d be a great compilation either way!

  4. Athisaya Divya said,

    nice post..bondas look perfect.


  5. Jayashree said,

    Beautiful pics….and I like the way you write.

    That’s very kind of you to say- thank you.

  6. bee said,

    your mom is a beautiful lady. i’ll teach you a new word: “swadisht”. means ‘tasty’ in hindi and maybe sanskrit? ‘swad’ = taste.

    Swadisht…thanks Bee! Karela ka swadisht achaar? I informed my mother of your compliment; she immediately went shopping.

  7. bee said,

    how do you make homemade tamarind paste?

    Take either the compressed blocks or dried pods…if the pods you need to crack off the brittle pod (which pieces of cling irritatingly to the sticky pulp), then strip away the woody fibers which lace the outside of the pulp…in either case, pull away bits of it and place in a bowl. Cover it with boiling water and let it sit until cool…then pass it through a wire sieve with a spoon, pressing and flipping it. Remove the seeds as you find them and it becomes easier. When you cannot pass any more through, take the spoon and scoop out the fiber-y pulp and add to the composting bowl 🙂 Bang off the spoon well….now take the spoon and scrape the thick paste from the underside of the sieve into the thinner paste in the bowl under your sieve; mix together well. I do a bunch at once and freeze it in ice-cube trays. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t….and it has a waaaaay better flavour than ready-made pastes.

  8. Priya said,

    The meetha chutney sounds yummm Pel, I always end up eating it even before the appetizers are served in restaurants :)) May be some kala-namak would be good in it too, what say ?

    Oooooh! That sounds so good! It sounds like you have a fondness for tamarind too? I sometimes take tam paste and sugar with a little water over ice too…a little kala namak would be nice there too!

  9. musy said,

    My comment didn’t make it through 😦

    Bondas look totally yummy! I wish i could grab some right now. Your Mom really looks happy, looks like she enjoyed them a lot.

    I fried some on Sunday, dunno’ when will i get around posting them!!

    I’d like to say: “yeah, I know you’re busy Musy; whenever you get around to it I know it’ll be an enjoyable post either way…” But dearie, I am so ill of looking at that piece of star anise!!!! 😀

    My mom always looks like that. She buys good drugs. 😀

  10. Anjali said,

    Aha! I love that look on your mother’s face. A pat on the back for you!!!

    swadishT : T like tuh is Marathi :).

    Oh lord…not another one of the “h” consonants… do you know how many repetitions and martinis I needed while practicing “chhole” before I started to think it might be right? 😉

    My mom liked the peas…and now… that mean Manisha is trying to take them away from that dear, sweet-faced mother of mine!

  11. Zlamushka said,

    Welcome back, jesus christ. I thought you buggered off somewhere internet-unfriendly… Glad to have you back AND to hear you are making your mamma happy. Good boy 🙂 Now post some more….

    You there! Those chiles I sent you are really TASTY if you throw a handful into a very hot, dry pan… gorgeous aroma if you put your nose down close… 😀

  12. Zlamushka said,

    I ll try… hey, you got a surprise at my blog, funny-pants 🙂

    Awwww. G-thanks!

  13. Manisha said,

    I need to go fry some real batata vadas to destress. Beets? Red batata vadas? We saw purple. Now red? Sheesh. Whatever is this world coming to…

    Red? I see no red. that’s a great idea though… 😀

  14. bee said,

    thanks. that’s how we do it too. was wondering if there’s cooking involved. the ice cube idea is tres brillante. i have those mini trays which will make perfect portions.

    Plus…you can always stick a few sticks in if you know kids are coming by! 😀

  15. bee said,

    yes, yes. post the recipe for karela ka swadisht achaar.

    I’m trying to cut back…

  16. AVV said,

    OMG…..my mom had that book and I think I have her copy somewhere in my garage, it has a brown/rust/ochre cover… very seventies!!!!

    The recipes were….different, but good, now I must dig up that copy.

    Yes! Mustard-yellowish. Different is right! Many odd, rarely-seen recipes. Plus the precious Mario illustrations.

  17. Jyothsna said,

    Pel, those are glorious batata wadas! And the chatni is so perfect too. Yum!

    Thanks! I tell ya: I’m hooked!

  18. shilpa said,

    Your mom is cute :). I am so happy to see a post here (sorry for being so late). Now, I want some of that vada pav 🙂

    I’ll try to fit one in an envelope. It’s the sauce that might cause us problems though! 😉

  19. Cynthia said,

    Oh goodness, you make me want to go make potato balls again. Ummm, like your tamarand chatni.

    My first time making it; hitherto I’ve nevr been one to grab the sweeter sauces. I’m a green chatni man.

  20. …in the time of Mad Parties « A Mad Tea Party said,

    […] authentic-Bombay Batata Vada) and a lecture Priya (used her appam pan to make Party Pavs) Pel (Aloo Bonda sandwiches) Indosungod (Potato Bonda) Musical’s Batata […]

  21. Sheetal said,

    Yum, Yum … those look ever so delicious and lovely!

    I have lurked around your blog without commenting before. In my defense, I didn’t have a blog then! But, now that I do, I plan to leave as many comments as there will be posts 😀

    I have added you to my blogroll … er, a bit late in asking for permission, hope it’s okay?

    But of course! I love your style of writing; at first I thought: oh-oh, she writes as many paragraphs as me…but you have quite a gift for holding the reader’s attention that I found myself glued to the screen to the very end- especially I like your detailed recipes. Recipes often have stories attached, and these recipes become legend. I wish you a fruitful blogging adventure!

  22. Sheetal said,

    Thank you so much for those very kind and encouraging words!

    Yours are always a good read!

  23. bee said,

    belated birthday wishes, pel.

    Belated? I celebrate the whole month… 😉
    Many thanks!

  24. Ramki said,

    If you like South Indian vadas and North Indian pakoras, you might want to peek into the One Page Cookbook listing 1001 Vadas and 1001 Pakoras

    Great photos and a lovely writing style – keep up the good work !

    Thank you- and you as well!

  25. Sandhya said,

    Hey! Nice blog, and very very nice recipes, u have a unique style of writing……..another small variation in this same receipe which is typical south indian(andhra style to be precise)
    Once u have made the aloo-peas pattis, instead of besan(gramflour) coating try urad dal’s coating it has a good fried taste.
    For the coating, soak 1-2 cups of urad dal after washing ,overnight or for 8 hours, then grind into a smooth batter( not too thin like dosa, a little thicker batter) by adding a little hing, garlic, green chillies or red chillies, then dip these pattis(try them as round balls wud look gud) in the batter and fry them.
    I bet u would like this version of mine, pls let me know.

    • elaichietcetera said,

      That sounds wonderful! And I bet it’s very crispy too; I know how unique urad is from making wadi/bari, so I will indeed give this version a try next time! Thank you-

  26. GB said,

    Okay, that settles it, I’m going to have to read every last one of your posts now! You have yourself a very faithful new follower!

    LOVED this post. Mario Miranda’s illustration might have played a wee part………. 🙂

    • Elaichi et Cetera said,

      😀 Wouldn’t some of them be great enlarged to poster-size? He has such a wry sense of humour…

      I’m glad you don’t mind digging through the past because the basket of new posts has been sorely-neglected! And do be careful when treading through the comment-sections- lord only knows what’s in there!

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