Potato and Pea Curry: thank you, Madhur Jaffrey

Madhur Jaffrey’s curries to kebabs:recipes from the Indian Spice Trail is the best kind of cookbook. In the first 34 pages, she writes about “Indian Food around the world: a background” – long enough for the history and culture vultures, but not so long that it takes away from the recipes. Each chapter has begins with an illuminating essay, so cooks and readers are transported on their approach to meats, poultry and eggs, fish & seafood, vegetables, dals, beans and split peas, kebabs and soups, rice, noodles and breads, and relishes and accompaniments. The heading of every recipe has a story – giving context to flavor. Don’t be surprised if you want to make every single dish.

Potato & Pea Curry — try this one. It taps three skills: measuring, stirring and chopping potatoes. It will work during the spring with new red potatoes, in the summer with farmer’s market tomatoes, and in the winter with supermarket potatoes and tomato paste. It is sweet and hot, with the smoky taste of cumin. Serve this hot, cold or at room temperature. If, as a child, you loved mixing Campbell’s Tomato and Pea Soups to make Puree Mongol, and wondered if it could get any better, the answer is “yes.” This is it.

Cook’s notes:
1. Madhur Jaffrey adds a pinch of ground asafetida to the whole spices. I haven’t had any.
2. When you can get them, use fresh tomatoes, otherwise use 1/3 of a can of tomato paste. Divide the rest into equal size blobs, wrap and store in the freezer.
3. Although probably wildly untraditional, you may substitute frozen corn for the peas.

Whole spices:

½ tsp whole brown mustard seed
½ tsp whole cumin seeds
½ tsp dried chili flakes
[generous pinch of ground asafetida: optional]

Dry spices

½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sugar
3 T peanut oil
1 pound red potatoes, cut into chunks
2 cups frozen peas (or frozen corn)
1 cup water
1-1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 pound (2-3 medium) tomatoes, grated, or 2 oz tomato paste plus ½ cup of water

1. Put the whole spices in one small dish; put the ground spices in another small dish.
2. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet with a lid. When it’s hot, add the whole spices. Stir until the mustard seeds pop, and add the potatoes, stirring to coat with the spices. Using tongs, lay the potato pieces cut side down. Cook until one side is brown and crispy. Turn and brown a second side.
3. Add the ground spices and stir to coat the potatoes. Add the peas or corn. Add 1 cup of water and 1 tsp of the salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.
4. Remove the cover, add the tomatoes and the remaining ½ tsp of salt, or the tomato paste and ½ cup of water (no extra salt is necessary).
5. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Serve hot, warm or room temperature.

July 2006

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Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
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