Food Talk
Veg extravaganza

Of all the vegetables, aloo reigns supreme. Besides providing nutrients required for a balanced diet, it is a gourmet’s delight with the variations it offers, writes Pushpesh Pant

Recently our irrepressible Minister for Railways, Laloo Prasad Yadav, declared in his inimitable style, "Laloo will stay in politics as long as aloo reigns supreme among the vegetables." This remark has set us thinking about the indispensability of potatoes — so self-evident that it is often overlooked.

Aloo is called the shamil baja — the musical instrument that is part of every band. Potatoes paired with onions (aloo-pyaz) are synonymous with bare necessities. A rise in their price is, for the common man, an accurate indicator of inflation.

Ironically, the starchie is recognised not as a vegetable but a staple in many parts of the word. Failed potato crops triggered the Irish rebellions of the 19th century and the Englishman cannot do without potatoes either — "Fish n Chips" were the national dish of the British Isles before murgh masala tikka dethroned it!

All festive roasts are accompanied by potatoes that had soaked in all tasty juices. The Swiss take as much pride in their rosti (potato pancake) as their cheeses and chocolates. And, can you imagine the ‘conquest of the world’ by American Mc Donald burgers without the accompaniment of French fries? The Mexicans have introduced us to the joys of potatoes in their skins and it is not only the drenched in fat version that makes us drool.

Haute cuisine has its own subtle temptations — herb potatoes tossed gently in butter are guaranteed to enhance the dinning pleasure of the most fastidious gourmet.

The aloo is not only fast cooking and easy to store, it also stretches a dish balancing the cost of a more expensive, out of season ingredient. The inclusion of potatoes also effortlessly balances the nutrients in our dietary intake.

On the Indian subcontinent for centuries, it has provided succour to the strictly vegetarian. There are a dozen and more dry versions zeera aloo, aloo katali, aloo ke gutke tempered with jamboo the aromatic Himalayan chives.

Even in its simplest form, quickly prepared bharta/chokha anointed with pungent mustard oil and carrying the refreshing sting of green chillies, it can be quite stunning. It is coupled with palak, methi, bhindi, gobhi, baigan, matar, simla mirch, parwal and gajar to delight the palate as well as the eyes even while onions and garlic are totally eschewed. In the tarkaris aloo tamater and aloo mater remain the most popular offerings.

This list barely scratches the surface — what about the dosai filled with masala, aloo parantha, kachori, pav bahji, batata vada and bondas, tikkis and samosa, chaat and papad and many more — the realm of snacks too is dominated by potato.

Top of our list is aloo dum with intriguing variations in different deshi culinary streams. There is the rich khoya laced, paneer stuffing packed spicy aloo dum Banarasi that is brought floating in a yoghurt gravy — at times, draped in silver leaf and the much lighter and milder Bengali aloo dom that with a well made loochi is bliss itself.

For the denizens of the Vale, none can match the resplendence of the Kashmiri dum aloo the crowning glory of a meal. Interestingly, there is little agreement about the authentic recipes for these regional specialties.

Friends from Varanasi suffer an apoplectic fit when they encounter the restaurant avatar of their beloved delicacy and most Bengalis and
Kashmiris swear by the family recipe.

Do try this recipe shared with us by Rashmi Dar, and don’t suffer the unnecessary pangs of conscience. A spoonful of the flavourful oily gravy is enough to rejuvenate the most jaded palate and if more follows just work out a little longer the morning after!