Mom-in law’s Kashmiri Dum Aloo

Today I’m going to tell you about a super scrumptious potato. I was introduced to this dish fairly late which is surprising. Before I ate it I would have confidently told you that in my young life, I had probably consumed potatoes any which way they could be produced in Indian cuisine. But one spoon of this dish and I knew I’d been wrong. The first time I ate it was when I was eighteen and a bunch of us landed at my best friend’s place, desperately hungry for a snack. Unable to find his mom, he cheerfully proceeded to divide up a (major) portion of the night’s dinner among his friends. And I literally cried that all I could get as my share was two little potatoes. After that, whenever his mom cooked this dish, I was there, plate in hand, trying hard not to drool.

Fast forward light years (it seems like) forward and my best friend is now my husband, and since his mother lovingly and painstakingly wrote all her recipes in her own hand in a notebook for him, this now means that I can have this dish whenever I want. But I don’t. Because you see, the dish I am talking about is Kashmiri Dum Aloo, made in the absolute, authentic Kashmiri way. Kashmir is where my father-in-law is from. And though my mother-in-law is from the same part of India as me, she became a deft hand at cooking all his childhood food for him. This amazing lady, though a vegetarian herself, can cook absolutely perfect and succulent meat, without ever tasting the food herself. Ah moms, they are just so good with food, and they don’t even know it!

If you aren’t even vaguely familiar with Dum Aloo, this is celebration food. It is rich and warming and tastes strongly of fennel seed and cardamom, spices liberally used in Kashmiri cooking. The reason I had never eaten this before was because the dish I had previously eaten thinking it was Dum Aloo was in fact Aloo Dum, a separate different dish evolved from another region in India around the same principles. Both are delicious, however they taste completely different from each other. In a mustard and ketchup kind of way.

We made it as an early celebration for my birthday at the end of this month. This is very clearly a cool weather dish and we were worried that by the time my birthday rolled around, it might be too hot to enjoy this. Plus it means an additional day of celebrating my birthday. I have no problem whatsoever with that.

You need smallish, golf ball size potatoes for this dish. We find that the small reds that you find in mesh bags or loose in the markets work best. Firm new potatoes should do but make sure they are all evenly of the aforementioned size. They need to be cooked to desired doneness at about the same time and also have to be able to stand up to boiling, being pricked, frying and more boiling without falling apart. Mashers like russets hopelessly fall apart. “Dum” means pressure and these potatoes are cooked under pressure, so to speak. When all the ingredients are in place, the cooking vessel is covered with a heavy lid, allowing it to boil and to force the gravy into the spuds. Makes for a super luscious potato. *smack, smack, drool*

Kashmiri Dum Aloo
Serves 3-4 people

Red potatoes (small to medium) – 10
Black cardamom- 4 pods
Ginger – 1/2″, minced
Cumin – 1 tsp
Red Chilli Powder – 1 tbsp
Fennel Powder (from fennel seeds) – 2 tbsp
Clove Powder – 1/4 tsp
Garam Masala – 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste
Canola or peanut oil for deep frying

– Boil the potatoes in salted water. Peel upon cooling.
– Heat oil in a deep pan or fryer and fry the potatoes until they turn golden brown and crispy on the outside. Remove from pan and drain on wire rack or paper towels. Upon cooling, prick with a toothpick or bamboo skewer to make deep or through-and-through holes.
– Heat a large pan (with a well-fitting heavy lid), adding 3-4 tbsps of the previously used frying oil. To this, add cumin.
– When cumin starts to splutter add ginger and cardamom. Fry until ginger is light brown.
– Add chilli powder, 1 tbsp of fennel powder, clove powder and garam masala and salt as required. Cook till this gravy is medium to dark brown in colour.
– Add the potatoes and mix to coat the potatoes with the gravy. Add about 2 to 2-1/2 cups of water or just about enough water to cover the potatoes in the pan and cover with lid and bring to a boil.
– Once it’s boiling, uncover and sprinkle over remaining fennel powder evenly.
– Cover and cook for another ten minutes.

Serve hot over basmati rice.

Cook’s notes:-
I recommend you make this dish 4-5 hours before you serve it. This dish certainly does better with time and will taste even better the next day. You may see drastic reduction in the gravy but cut into a potato and you will see it all brown and lovely inside.The final boiling process under pressure forces the gravy into the pricked holes, flavouring the potato all the way through. You can serve it just upon preparing it but the rested version allows for the flavours to meld better. If any of the potatoes split when you are trying to prick them, don’t fret too much about throwing them in. Just try not to break too many of them. In Kashmir, they use whole regular-size potatoes to make this dish. Needless to say, it takes more time to cook it with larger potatoes. But it can be done.

This preparation uses spices like clove, fennel (saunf powder) and cardamom which serve to heat the body, an excellent thing, be it in the cold climes of Kashmir or a cold and rainy San Francisco day. Traditionally, the potatoes would be pricked after the first boil and before frying. We changed that a bit to cut down a little on the amount of oil absorbed by the potato. We have also tried to make this dish by brushing on some oil after the boiling stage and baking the potatoes in an oven to absolutely reduce the oil in the dish. It worked but you have to watch the oven closely to see that the potatoes don’t develop too thick a crust. Ours did and no matter how long we let it rest that time, the gravy did not work its way in. This dish is excellent served with rice and a little raw onion tossed with lemon juice, salt and pepper on the side.

2 comments

  1. MPG

    Wow! aren’t you lucky to have precious hand-written recipes from mom-in-law! and this post made my mouth water…who doesn’t like potatoes, maybe I’ll have to try this out for my dum-aloo loving husband soon 🙂

    a very Happy Birthday to you!

  2. Chilli

    Yup, its truly lucky to have her written recipes with us. She added her own tips to the recipes as they were meant for her never-tried-cooking son when he came to the US to study. Very sweet. I have hand written recipes from my dad too, which is a story for another day.

    Thanks for the wishes!