Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aloo Mattar Deconstructed (Or, one more thing to do with mashed potatoes)

I'm always interested to hear from people if they have, historically, been food separators or food mushers. Food separators are those who observe strict boundary lines between food on their plate; they may go so far as to reject those impure motes of food which may have absorbed traces of the others. Food mushers, on the other hand, tend to take a more integrative, Gestalt approach, seeing divisions between the food on your plate as totally constructed and unnecessary, swirling it all into a cohesive whole.

Kids tend to be much more hardline about their separation/mushing practice, though it is certainly not limited to young folks. Interestingly, despite any value judgment I may have implied in my descriptions, I know great cooks who grew up in each camp. It truly is interesting to see how it's an indicator of one's approach: Separators tend to take a more measured, scientific approach. They're more likely to do careful research before cooking, even if they're creating a new recipe. You want one in your kitchen the day you get that perfect first bunch of asparagus in the spring. Mushers tend to play a little more fast and loose in their recipe creation, coming up with uncanny combinations on the fly and making the most of what's at hand and reimagining ingredients. You want one in your kitchen when you have a fridge full of leftovers that need to get used up.

That said, this one goes out particularly to those other folks who ever got excited about swirling together mashed potatoes, peas and ketchup. Doubly for anyone who would add hot sauce.

Aloo Mattar is a hearty North Indian dish featuring potatoes (aloo) and peas (mattar) in a spicy, tomato-based sauce. I first made this on a cold, damp day I really wanted mashed potatoes, much more than I wanted rice or flatbread, so I pulled the recipe apart so as to put the curried peas over the potatoes. Since then, I've used the curry over mashed potatoes idea in a few other ways, but this is still my favorite. It also leaves broader possibilities for using the leftover mashed potatoes.
The dish comes together quickly (I've done it in less than 30 minutes), is vegetarian, and could easily be vegan: make whatever mashed potato recipe you like, and omit or replace the (sour) cream. You can even make your own: one of my vegan friends swears by this recipe for cashew sour cream.

Aloo Mattar, Deconstructed

vegetarian, gluten/grain-free, easily veganified
serves 4, start to finish in 30 minutes.

    Super-Basic Mashed Potatoes

  • 5 med.-large potatoes
  • 1-2 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. milk

    Masala Mattar

  • 6-7 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1" piece ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 c. tomato puree (about ⅔ of a 28 oz. can)
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 med. onion, med. dice
  • ½ T. butter
  • ½ T. oil
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick (if you don't have it, add another tsp. of ground cinnamon later)
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp. methi (fenugreek) seeds (optional)
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 lb. (3½-4 c.) frozen peas
  • ¼-½ c. light cream or sour cream
  • fresh cilantro

  • Start with the mashed potatoes. You can use whatever mashed potato recipe you like, but this is a good basic one. It's just a base, anyway. Wash potatoes and slice into chunks about ½ to 1 inch large (you can peel them, if you prefer). Place in a large saucepan, cover with water and add about a tsp. of salt. Cover with a well-fit lid and bring to boil over high heat. Let boil until potatoes are fork-tender, then add butter, milk and salt to taste as you mash. I don't like mine perfectly smooth, and find that having some intact pieces of potato helps back this as an interpretation of aloo mattar, but it's up to you.

    I made the whole peas thing in my cast iron dutch oven, but this would also work in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

    First, prep the garlic and ginger. You have two options here: you can chop them roughly, then throw them in the food processor with the tomato and red pepper or you can mince them both finely and add them at the same time as the tomato.
    Put your large, heavy-bottomed pan over a med-high heat and start toasting the whole spices: the cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom. let them get fragrant but don't let them burn. Add the butter/oil, cumin and methi (if using) and stir/toast until the cumin seeds get sizzly and fragrant. Add the onion and let it cook for 2-4 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the turmeric, ground cinnamon, peas and tomato/garlic/ginger/chili mixture. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes, then add cream or sour cream and cilantro. Adjust salt/spicy to taste and serve over mashed potatoes.


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