Potatoes take supremely well to crisping up in oil. The brown crunchy coating that they develop, given enough oil and heat, is quite beguiling. Then again the insides consisting of the potato itself tends to be quite bland, so needs some help in the taste department. Also, potato does not hold itself together while frying, so it also needs some help in the ‘having integrity’ department. A conscience? No, a binder.
I have basically described an aalu tikki — a cake of mashed, spiced potato that is bound with some bread and fried in oil. This is a common Sindhi dish, eaten as an appetizer, a side, or an evening snack with possibly some sweet and hot chutney on the side.
My first clue that cultures have discovered this basic paradigm over and over came from a Swiss girl who interned at my work place. Invited over to our home for a meal, she spied a plate of aalu tikkis and said — ‘kartoffelpuffern!’ Kartoffel — potato, puffern — cake. Till today, this pair consists of the only German words I know.
Another such concoction is the Eastern European/Jewish latke. Here the potato is grated rather than boiled and mashed, and clearly the Indian version is more spicy, but the end result is similar. Latkes are traditionally eaten at Hannukah; we are a little late for that, but nice and early for the next one.
The recipe below makes about two dozen tikkis.
- 3 russet or other starchy large potatoes
- 1 tablespoon salt for boiling
- 3 slices bread. It should not be sweet. I used crusty sourdough.
- 1 tablespoon chaat masala, substitute with dry mango powder, substitute that with lime juice
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- Quarter to half cup finely chopped onion
- Quarter to half cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
- 3 – 4 finely sliced fresh chilies, if you are cooking for kids you can leave them out.
- Up to half a cup of oil
Boil the potatoes in about 3 – 4 cups of water. Put them in cold, add about a tablespoon of salt to the water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, till the potatoes are soft. I used a pressure cooker and it took about 10 minutes under pressure. Drain the potatoes when done and peel them when cool.
Meanwhile have the bread slices soaking in water until the crusts are softened. This will take at least 15 minutes. Now, squeeze out the water from the slices and save the bread. This will be used as the binder.
Mash the potatoes. Once the lumps are more-or-less gone, add in the squeezed bread, the spices, salt, and the minced vegetables. The point is to mix this stuff nicely into a mostly homogeneous dough. I have found that this works best with your hands. There is no other kitchen implement that has five rubbery prongs with such fine control, plus the strength of the heel of your hand.
Anyway. Once the dough is ready, one is ready to fry them. Form small fistfuls of the dough into flying saucer shaped disks and save them on a plate. Clearly this must be done by hand, but oil your hands first to get it to not stick.
Heat two tablespoons of oil at a time in a large, flat, thick-bottomed, non-stick pan. Once it is shimmering, put in as many disks as will fit in a single layer with gaps around. Flatten and spread them with a spatula somewhat. This is best done on high-ish heat with enough oil bubbling away beneath; in this configuration each side should take about five minutes.
Flip each tikki when it is browned underneath. Add more oil for this side. Five minutes on this side should suffice as well.
Remove them and place on a paper towel to soak up the extra oil.
These are best eaten fresh, with a bit of chutney or ketchup on the side; if you like sandwich a tikki between bread slices and have it that way.