Mom’s Goda Masala Batata Bhaaji

It’s no secret I love potatoes. Anyone who knows me a little could tell you that about me.  Sometimes, random strangers have been forced to hear about my life-long love affair with the aloo. I do my Ancient Mariner routine and they are forced to go through what it must feel like to be a patron of Hotel California. You can just see them, politely yet desperately move away from me while I prattle about boiled potatoes, steamed potatoes, baked potatoes, fried potatoes, the several ways the French cook their potatoes..(droool!! smack!!)…but I digress..

I am the self-anointed ultimate potato critic. When I go to a new restaurant, I will peruse it with the express intention of finding their pomme de terre dish du jour (or belonging to their permanent collection, I’m not too picky about the little things). I look to see how they serve it, what accompanies it, and then look through the rest of the menu. Yes, I know that it is most unlikely to find several dishes where the potato is the star on a menu. My philosophy is that the potato is the star, not the side, the chicken and lamb or (insert anything else here), serve only as a basis of a flavourful accompaniment. It gives me a feel of the essence of the restaurant when I find what they choose to pair my favourite with. While I’ve accepted that restaurants serving Asian cuisine are unlikely to serve patatas, most others do. So imagine my horror when I went to one that serves vegetarian food (pages and pages of it, you never saw such a vast menu!) but didn’t have a single potato on the list! Yes, Cafe Gratitude, bet no one told you that about your menu before! A combination of that, the pervading smell of pot and the bleary-eyed waitress (who didn’t know their desserts and made my friends accompany her to the display case to find out) has ensured that I will never again step through your doors. But mostly the ‘no potato’ thing.

Before the narrative above makes you envision me gobbling meal after meal filled with potatoes (my mom’s personal nightmare when she realised that leaving home I could actually do that), let me stop you. Just because you can’t get enough of George Clooney movies doesn’t mean you only watch George Clooney movies. What a boring existence that would be! Plus you have to have the absence of something to make you properly appreciate it. And I do treat my love of potatoes that way. They are easily the highest on my list of comfort food, but I don’t eat them all the time…wait, if we are all really quiet, we can hear my mom sighhh in relief.

So certainly, the recipe I will share here is just the first of several that will feature the potato. But this recipe has the distinction of being at the pinnacle of all spud creations for me. The shapely dice, the smell of the spice, the comforting way the potato goes crispy on the outside and all squashy on the inside, all add up into a sublime dish. It is the simplest thing in the world, and I’m sure there are fancier and more flourishing ways to deal with the ubiquitous batata. But this for me…is it. ‘Nuf said.

My favourite potato vegetable
Serves 3 to 4

Yellow Potatoes – 6 medium, diced
Curry Leaves – 3 to 4
Canola Oil – 2 tbsp
Mustard Seeds – 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 3/4 tsp
Red Chilli Powder – 2 heaped tsp
Salt to taste
Goda Masala – 2 heaped tsp

– Heat oil in pan. Temper with mustard seeds & curry leaves. When seeds start to splutter, add asafoetida.
– Mix for a few seconds, then add the potatoes.
– Add turmeric powder, chilli powder and goda masala and let steam for a minute. Then mix everything together until evenly coated.
– Add salt and saute until the exterior of the potatoes is crisp.

Serve with chapatis or rice.

Cook’s notes:-
You need a waxy potato for this dish. Countless bhajis (Marathi word for vegetable) have been ruined when we came to the US because we didn’t know there were solidly different types of potatoes. Try using a russet for this and you will end up with potato mush. This vegetable is a solid favourite with me and my dad. He has been eating it often since he was a child and shows no signs of tiring of it yet. I doubt I will either.

Goda (or Kala – black -) masala, as it is known for its colour,  is one of a multitude of spice mixes available in India. This one is used reglarly in Maharashtrian cooking. Though I get mine from very specific shops in Bombay, it is available in most Indian stores here and can be easily made as well. It melds together the warm flavours of bay, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and pepper, among some other spices, and stands apart from other mixtures with a generous addition of dried coconut. Here is a good recipe for it. Try it, you won’t regret it.

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