In praise of the humble potato

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

In praise of the humble potato

The ubiquitous potato is found everywhere in India. You can find it in tangy chaats like pani puri. As a food item it combines well with other vegetables or ingredients — aloo-mutter, aloo-gobi aloo-paneer. It is popular as a snack — aloo tikki, aloo bhajia, cutlet, wafers, and as a filling in masala dosa and samosa.

You can have it in its various forms for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be baked or fried, mashed or roasted. It is a popular party, picnic and fun food.  It is the key ingredients in batata vada (aloo bonda), pav bhaji and vada pav. It is easy to cook with potatoes.

In its simplest form all you have to do is boil it, slice it and then sprinkle salt and pepper on it. If you want it a little tastier with extra calories, shallow fry it.
For the multi-tasking woman of today potato is pre-processed and frozen and comes in the shape of wedges, triangles, pops, nuggets and fun shapes such as potato spirals besides potato flakes (instant mashed potatoes).

It is rich in energy-giving carbohydrates, high in vitamin C and potassium, and a great source of vitamin B6. It is the first vegetable to be grown in space with the idea of feeding astronauts and future space colonies.

So popular is potato in India that one might think it is of Indian origin. The Inca Indians of Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes as far back as 200 BC. Later, Spanish conquistadors carried the potato across the Atlantic to Europe on their ships in 1500s. Initially,  potato was considered as a food of the underprivileged people. Around 1780, the people of Ireland adopted it for its ability to provide abundant nutrition.  The Irish became so dependent on it that its failure caused a famine.

In Germany, legend has it that king Frederick William was so impressed with potatoes that he ordered peasants to plant and eat them or their noses would be cut off! Today, Germans eat twice as many potatoes as Americans.

During the Alaskan Klondike gold rush (1897-1898) potatoes were so valued as a food item that miners traded gold for potatoes.

On the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, potatoes were once used as the country’s official currency.

The potato has been an essential part of the world’s diet for centuries. Fish and chips (or  fish ‘n’ chips) is a popular take-away food that originated in the United Kingdom. It consists of fish (traditionally cod, haddock or plaice) dipped in batter, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried, and served with deep-fried chipped (slab-cut) potatoes.

Fish and chips became a popular meal among the working classes in Great Britain with the rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1860, the first fish and chips shop was opened in London by Jewish proprietor Joseph Malin.

Equally popular, the world over, are French Fries. Many Belgians believe that the term ‘French’ was introduced when American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I, and consequently tasted Belgian fries. They supposedly called them ‘French’, as it was the official language of the Belgian Army at that time.

French fries in India are often found to be soggy and oily. For this an explanation comes from K S Narayanan, managing director, McCain Foods India. “India, with an annual production of 30 million tonnes of potatoes, is the third largest potato producer in the world after China and Russia. A winter crop, potato is grown in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. But potatoes in India contain more water and therefore absorb more oil when deep fried and become soggy.”

Here is a basic aloo tikki recipe that could lead to other interesting combinations.

Aloo Tikki

Ingredients: 500 gm potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed; 25 gm corn flour; 1/2 cup green peas, boiled; 2 green chillies, chopped; juice of 1/2 a lemon; 1 tsp cumin powder; 1 tsp red chilli powder; salt to taste; oil for frying.

Method: Mix all the ingredients well, except the oil. Divide into 12 equal portions and make balls. Flatten each between the palms into discs (for sheer variety you can shape them into hearts). Heat oil in a pan and shallow fry over medium heat until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Drain and pat dry on absorbent paper. Once you have made the basic aloo tikki, you can make some variations.

Aloo Tikki Roll: Cut the hot aloo tikki and place it over a roti; add sliced onions, tomatoes and and finely chopped coriander; top with yogurt mint chutney.

Aloo Tikki Sandwich: Take one slice of bread and dress it up with onion and tomato slices; cut aloo tikki into pieces and arrange it over the salad; add tomato ketchup and cover it with another slice.

Aloo Tikki Chaat: Pour some beaten curd over hot aloo tikki; sprinkle salt, red chilli and cumin powder to spice it up; top it with tamarind and mint chutney.

Aloo Tikki with Choley (Ragda Patty): Place aloo tikki in a dish and pour hot choley over it; top with finely cut onions, green chillies, coriander and tamarind chutney.

And here’s another uncommon recipe:

Aloo 65: Parboil 250 gm potatoes adding a little salt. Allow to cool. Cube the potatoes and deep fry. Keep aside. In a pan heat 10 ml oil. Add 3 gm mustard, 5 gm chopped ginger, 2 slit green chillies, ½ an onion, 3 gm chilli powder and cook.  Finally toss the potatoes and stir fry. Squeeze a dash of lemon juice before serving.

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